The Astros' pitching experiment

Four elite pitching prospects are adjusting to an unfavorable home ballpark

Updated: April 18, 2014, 12:20 PM ET
By Alex Speier | ESPN Insider

Mark AppelLarry Goren/AP PhotosMark Appel, the first overall pick in the 2013 MLB draft, is having to adjust to life at The Hangar.
It's called The Hangar, and it's one of the most inhospitable homes for pitchers in all of professional baseball.

The ballpark's altitude and the howling winds that whip through it create jet streams that offer the possibility that any ball hit in the air in Lancaster, Calif., home of the Houston Astros' high Class A affiliate, can fly out of the park, particularly to right field. The spacious outfield dimensions, meant to cut back the huge home run totals, leave plenty of lawn for outfielders to cover. The dry air transforms the infield into a sort of lunar surface, with balls not so much hopping but rather "exploding" off the dirt.

The conditions are sufficiently adverse that JetHawks pitching coach Don Alexander, who is in his fifth year (out of the past six) in Lancaster, feels compelled to deliver an annual speech to brace his pitching staff for what awaits it.

"The first day we get into town for our first workout out of spring training, we have what I call a 'Welcome to the Caster' talk," said Alexander. "In that talk, I go through all the situations -- the weather conditions, the travel, the [long commuter round-trips to play other California League affiliates], the wind, all that stuff, that we have to deal with on a daily basis out here. And then we don't talk about it again.

"I tell them that this is what it is, and now we've got to figure out what to do and work from there," he added. "We take the challenge of pitching in those conditions. If you figure that out, you've got a pretty good handle of what you're doing on the mound."

It is an attractive ballpark but, for some, not an ideal environment for developing pitchers. Far from it.