The Astros, after years of rebuilding, reaching the postseason for the first time in 10 years before losing in the AL Division Series against eventual World Series champion Royals. With a young team and plenty of premier talent, the Astros players will need to get used to spending time in front of a large national TV audience.
Derek Fisher has a head start in that fashion, taking part in the Arizona Fall League’s Fall Stars Game, which was televised nationally by MLB Network. Fisher also got plenty of screen time in the 2014 College World Series, when Virginia made it to the CWS Finals before losing to Vanderbilt.
Fisher says the college experience, especially the College World Series, helped him ease into pro baseball and learn to control his emotions and handle the pressure of playing in front of larger crowds.
“Everything I’m doing right now definitely goes back to the University of Virginia and NCAA baseball,” Fisher said. “When we were there (in Omaha) and there are 35,000 in the seats—when you’re playing Ole Miss and you’ve got some of the best fans in the country—it’s something you’ve got to learn and something you’ve got to control. Your emotions are always going to be jumping around … for as long as we were there, you begin to know that it’s the same game.”
Fisher also is sure that he made the right decision to attend college. Projected as a possible first-round pick from Cedar Crest High in Lebanon, Pa., the lefthanded-hitting outfielder fell to the sixth round before getting selected by the Rangers, which he attributed to his solid commitment to UVa.
“I gained everything by going to the University of Virginia,” Fisher said. “I’ll tell everybody straight up, going to college was the most impressive decision I think I’ve made in my entire life … I got everything and more. The person that I am and the player that I am—I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
The scouting report on Fisher pegs him as a corner outfielder, likely limited to left field due to a below-average arm, but with the power and speed to put up 20-20 seasons in the big leagues. He recently showed off his plus-plus raw power with a couple of long home runs that had Fall League crowds buzzing, including a three-run shot off Arizona righthander Yoan Lopez that landed well up the distant, multi-tiered batter’s eye at Salt River Fields. With one week left in the season, Fisher is batting .216/.375/.392 with two home runs and three stolen bases.
Fisher spent his first pro year in short-season ball, hitting a combined .303/.378/.408 in 42 games, mostly with Tri-Cities of the New York/Penn League. He broke camp in 2015 with the Astros low Class A affiliate in Quad Cities, batting .305/.386/.510, before earning a earning a late May promotion to high Class A Lancaster.
His debut with the Jethawks in a road game at High Desert was truly a performance for the ages. Fisher went 4-for-6 with three homers and an astounding 12 RBIs. He then struggled a bit in June before finishing the season with a solid last two months, batting .262/.354/.471 during his time with Lancaster.
It would be easy for the rest of the season to feel anti-climactic after his record-setting first game with Lancaster, but Fisher quickly learned that he couldn’t rest his on his laurels.
“I think it was a learning experience for me,” Fisher said. “I went from a game that I feel like I couldn’t miss … every swing I took was a strike and every swing I took was squared up, and better yet was a home run. The rest of my season shows that no matter how good you are on one given night, the game of baseball is different on every single day you play it.”
That’s why Fisher says that his main goal for the Arizona Fall League—and, really, for the rest of his career—is consistency.
“Going about every single day the same way,” Fisher said, “and don’t get too high, don’t get too low … the scoreboard resets at the end of the game, good or bad. When you have a bad game, you’re on to the next (game), and if you have a good game, it’s the same way. You have the same exact game coming the very next night.”
• Glendale outfielder Austin Meadows (Pirates) is the latest significant player to leave the league, citing personal reasons for his early departure. The Desert Dogs also lost catcher Kyle Farmer (Dodgers) and pitcher Chris Cotton (Astros).
• Salt River first baseman Dominic Smith (Mets) has been out of the lineup for more than a week due to a minor injury, but is still with the team and is expected back in the Rafters’ lineup for the last week of the season.
• The annual championship game will be held Saturday at Scottsdale Stadium at 3:08 p.m. Eastern, with national TV coverage by MLB Network.