After work in AFL, Sogard hopes to crack Houston 'pen
Left-handed reliever continues quick ascent through Astros' farm system in Arizona
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Alex Sogard methodically rattled off the names of former teammates he watched make their Major League debuts last season, a list that includes Josh Zeid, Kevin Chapman, Brett Oberholtzer, Paul Clemens, Jarred Cosart and Marc Krauss.
"It's awesome seeing them get the call and do so well," he said. "A lot of those guys did really well, so that was cool."
Sogard, a left-handed relief pitcher who split 2013 between Triple-A Oklahoma City and Double-A Corpus Christi, hopes to be able to re-join those guys at some point next year. But first he's pitching in the Arizona Fall League, where he is 2-1 with a 1.59 ERA in eight games, including one spot start for Peoria.
"It's been a lot of fun," said Sogard, who's staying with his brother, A's infielder Eric Sogard, while in the Phoenix area. "It's my second time to be down here, so obviously I'm a little more comfortable. It's always an honor to come here and there is some great competition."
Alex Sogard, who is 26 years old and 14 months younger than Eric, was selected by the Astros in the 26th round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of North Carolina State. He's made steady progress through the system, getting his feet wet at Triple-A last season before winding up in Double-A.
Sogard has struggled with his control at times, walking 29 batters in a combined 48 innings last year. He fared much better at Double-A (2.88 ERA in 16 games) than with the RedHawks (9.39 ERA in 22 games) and figures to land in Triple-A to start next year.
"I'm working on overall consistency," he said. "I know in the past I've struggled with command issues. I'm just working on mechanical stuff with the coaches and trying to find the consistency and go from there."
In addition to Dave Borkowski, the Astros' pitching coach at Class A Quad Cities who is serving as pitching coach for Peoria this fall, Sogard has been getting instruction from Major League pitching coach Brent Strom, who lives in Tucson, Ariz., and Minor League pitching coordinator Dyar Miller, who spent some time with Sogard on Tuesday.
"He's actually doing fairly well," Borkowski said. "He's had one outing when he kind of sprayed it around a little bit, but for the most part he's been around the plate and angled the ball well. Even his misses are good misses. They're not the really scattered misses."
Unlike his 5-foot-10 older brother, Sogard has good size at 6-foot-3, which makes him a formidable presence from the left side. His fastball sits in the low 90s, and he has a changeup and a curveball.
"He'll be a reliever at the big league level if he dials it in a little bit," Borkowski said. "He can be a very effective, a very durable power arm in the back end of that bullpen."
Sogard began last season at Double-A before being moved to Oklahoma City in May and back down to Corpus Christi in early August. He allowed only one earned run in his first 15 appearances of the season, but surrendered 31 in his final 23 outings.
"I think I made it harder than it was," he said. "I tried to be a little bit too perfect. I think I got away from being the same game. I tried to make everything better instead of just doing the same thing."
It's not yet known if Sogard will be in Spring Training competing for a spot in the bullpen, but there's no reason to believe he couldn't be a key bullpen piece in the future if he continues to refine his control, which would reunite him with some familiar faces.
"I know the ability is there, but it's just finding a consistency level," he said. "I played with a lot of the guys from the start of the season that ended up in Houston. We're obviously going young, and it's a good place to be. If you prove yourself, you're going to get a chance, and that's what you want."