HOUSTON -- Colby Rasmus’ tale is one of caution, a reflection in hindsight on a winding, sometimes controversial Major League journey that’s now brought the ninth-year outfielder into the open-minded Houston Astros clubhouse.
In the unincorporated community of Seale, Ala., Rasmus passed Bo Jackson for the second-most home runs in Alabama high school baseball history. His Russell County High School team won a national championship.
The St. Louis Cardinals drafted him No. 28 overall in 2005, a pairing that quickly crashed amidst quarrels with manager Tony LaRussa and the club’s front office. Rasmus was shipped to Toronto in 2010, part of a trade he adamantly requested.
“When I was younger I wasn’t scared of nothing,” Rasmus said Tuesday in his deep country twang. “Probably too cocky and they didn’t like it. They wore me out about it.”
Welcoming a new player into a clubhouse, whether a rookie call-up or a newly-acquired trade product, requires straddling this sometimes blurred threshold. Managers like Houston’s A.J. Hinch like to see self-confidence, maybe even cockiness.
It’s mitigated, though, with the due respect those new acquisitions heap upon the club, and game’s, veterans.
“They probably dominated the minor leagues, they’ve probably been a small fish in a big pond in every area from high school, to college to minor leagues, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that on the way up, you’re full of confidence and machismo, so to speak,” Hinch said. “The way you handle it is ask questions more than you give answers. You bounce ideas off your veteran players and the guys that have done it the year before. Keep your ears open, keep your mouth shut and that gains a lot of respect at this level for a young player.
“Then you play hard.”
The word is “makeup.” Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow spent most of Monday evening lauding the makeup of Alex Bregman, the former LSU shortstop who's entered the Astros clubhouse with an inquisitive, quiet confidence and without many issues among the 24 other men he now calls teammates.
What made it so seamless?
“He played at LSU,” Rasmus said. “That’s big-time baseball, I don’t care what nobody says. That’s a big school, big competition playing in the SEC, playing in front of a good crowd on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. I think that helps a lot with the makeup of a player.”
Thirteen former Tigers were on 40-man Major League rosters as of Tuesday. The Astros employ two — Bregman and All-Star closer Will Harris. Harris and Aaron Hill, who was traded to the playoff-charging Red Sox, are the only two of the 13 who did not play for Paul Mainieri.
“You feel an enormous sense of pride for the program,” Mainieri said Sunday, “because you like to think their decision to come to LSU and be a part of our program played a big role in the development of the player and helping them get to the Major Leagues.”
Though Harris, a corner infielder in Baton Rouge under Smoke Laval, played in two College World Series, he starred in an early-2000s era of LSU baseball fans choose to forget. The results could not satisfy an insatiable following but what the program instilled remained the same.
Harris is perhaps one of Luhnow’s most prized waiver wire claims. He’s endured Tommy John surgery, microfracture surgery and the offseason acquisition of triple-digit fireballer Ken Giles to become the Astros closer.
Harris’ mid-90s cutter is deceiving to accompany a hulking, stern mound presence, demonstrating a disregard for the perilous situations he’s asked to rectify.
“They teach you right away from your first day as a true freshman that you’re playing in front of big crowds and there’s a lot of pressure to come along with that,” Harris said. “It’s dealing with the pressures and the expectations that you’re supposed to produce from day one — which is how the big leagues are. There’s not a lot of time here to let guys try to figure it out, that’s what the minor leagues are for. LSU, there are no minor leagues, you have to have it figured out right away.”
It was not instant, but Harris has figured it out. Bregman, who is still searching for his first Major League hit, will require time to grasp the nuances of a new level of baseball. Ten games in the Grapefruit League as a non-roster invitee to spring training will aid in this development.
“First spring training, you just want him to be comfortable, but he really was comfortable, he was all ears, took it all in and learned as much as he could from other players,” Luhnow said. “He went out there, performed, never complained and did what we asked him to.”
Just as was taught in Baton Rouge.
“LSU did a great job of preparing this player and they have a great track record with preparing players,” Luhnow said. “There’s no doubt that college experience helped him.”