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Through a loud offseason, Shay Whitcomb grounds himself on morals, beliefs

Houston Astros' Shay Whitcomb
Shay Whitcomb | Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When his name was thrown around all offseason, Shay Whitcomb couldn’t help but think about what his future held in the following months. Rule 5 Draft protection came and went, leaving him exposed to what could have been the end of his tenure with the Houston Astros.

Entering his fourth year in the system, Whitcomb felt a rush of what-ifs scenarios. They creeped into his mind, but he was quick to turn to his faith to ground himself from allowing his mind to wander from the game he loves.

“I think if you focus on those things it’s just going to become hard to play the game,” Whitcomb said. “I pride myself in not worrying about all of the details on the outside of the game.”

Yet even after being left unprotected and off the 40-man roster, Whitcomb couldn’t say he wasn’t bummed. His goal has always been to contribute to the big league team by the end of the 2024 season, and his beliefs reaffirmed that perspective.

Whitcomb felt the gratitude of being in that conversation. He’s learned to not let what’s out of his control affect his feelings toward off-the-field decisions. And at the end of the day, he went unselected in the Rule 5 Draft, keeping him in the organization that drafted him in 2020.

“I’m glad that it all worked out the way it did,” Whitcomb said. “Because I love the staff, all the dudes and all my friends in that organization, so I’m more than grateful and so excited for another year.”

Ultimately, the noise around his name didn’t affect him at all. Whitcomb leaned into his faith to find the happy medium through a two-month period where evaluators mentioned his name and dissected his stat sheet. A resurgent 2023 season drew not only more attention from outsiders; it put more attention on his name for the organization.

The Astros invited 22 non-roster players to major-league spring training last week, and Whitcomb was one of them.

“That’s what I’ve been working towards this offseason is just to prepare myself and be ready for that invitation,” Whitcomb said.

Manager Joe Espada called Whitcomb with the news. The two are familiar as Whitcomb joined the big league club for 13 games in the Grapefruit League last year. Espada, an infield coach, got his hands on Whitcomb early, displaying “elite” coaching and communication skills to the 25-year-old shortstop.

“I think that shows in our caliber of infield,” Whitcomb said. “One of the things I’m looking forward to the most is just being able to be around and learn from guys like (Jeremy) Peña, (Alex) Bregman and (Jose) Altuve even more than I have previously just for the opportunity to be around them.”

Whitcomb prides himself on improved defense the last two seasons. When he struggled at the plate in 2022, he mastered three infield positions, knowing he’d put everything together offensively with time.

One person he credited for those advancements was Astros minor league infielder coordinator Mike Ramazzotti. The two didn’t cross paths while Ramazzotti was on staff for High-A Asheville in 2022, but their connection to Southern California and infield prowess built an offseason bond the last two winters.

“I think one of the areas where I can be more consistent is some backhand plays,” Whitcomb said. “And so that’s what I have been emphasizing on specifically, but overall, just always getting more reps and being comfortable in every position, so that I can keep being consistent.”

Where Whitcomb made the most noise last season was at the plate. He clubbed the most home runs in Minor League Baseball with 35, earning the Joe Bauman Home Run Award. But even as he stacked up extra-base hits in a healthy season, he recognized where he needed to improve.

Whitcomb struck out 178 times in the 133 games he split between Triple-A Sugar Land and Double-A Corpus Christi. He put his focus on limiting his chase rate and improving his swing decisions this offseason.

“I always know that my success comes from the work that I put in,” Whitcomb said. “If I’m going to change anything, if I work at it and understand it and put in the amount of reps, I think that I’ll always be able to have some success.”

Putting his mind at peace has also been a focus for Whitcomb. He surfed this offseason, disconnecting himself from baseball — a much needed separation from the longest season of his career.

During the season, though, Whitcomb can’t take a day off to surf. Southeast Texas isn’t home to his pastime, and the one day off each week usually involves travel to many inland cities in the Pacific Coast League.

Whitcomb actively sought out a way to find that same feeling last year. He found it through his faith to calm himself during slumps, putting himself in a mindset of knowing he can perform and compete at his level.

“The more that I think about it, the more that I realized sometimes even good branches get pruned, right? Even success gets pruned,” Whitcomb said. “The more I’ve thought about it, a lot of the time you just have to ride it out and do your best and trust that the Lord is going to have provision over your path. It’s really a matter of trusting.”

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