In early June, Houston Astros scout Tim Costic made a last check on a Cal Poly game. As he scrolled through the boxscore, his eyes caught the name of Derek True, a right-handed pitcher Costic watched earlier in the season and one he set his sights on last draft cycle.
Costic knew True sat out most of May with soreness in his right arm — a precautionary move made by a team trainer with the draft nearing — but Costic never heard an update on True’s return. True made his final appearance May 26, over a month after his previous outing.
Seeing True back on the mound, Costic texted him immediately. True reassured Costic he built himself back up to pitch again and was fully healthy.
“I said, ‘God, had I known that I would have invited you to our workout,’” Costic said.
The workout was two days later, June 8, but the time constraint didn’t faze True. Over 200 miles separated him from the present and his future.
He took the trip with his mother, Lesli, down to Huntington Beach from San Luis Obispo, California, joining other area prospects in a workout in front of Astros’ brass.
“It was definitely rushed but in a good way,” True said. “I was going to do whatever I could to go throw in front of the Astros and all their people.”
True was one of the first players there. He flashed 96 mph on his four-seam fastball, and Costic raved about the bullpen, admiring True for his “stoic” and “businesslike” approach on the mound.
“Had he not let me know that he was healthy and ready to go, and we didn’t get to see him live and in person and show that he was healthy, there’s very little chance that we would have taken him,” Costic said. “So the workout for him was huge.”
Costic did his due diligence of checking in on the California and Pacific Northwest players he scouted as the season ended. He looked back on players that endured setbacks as they crossed the finish line this past spring, and he ended up landing his guy in the process.
In July 11, the Astros selected True in the 18th round of the MLB Draft. A late workout solidified True’s name on Houston’s draft board, finding the 22-year-old righty taken two rounds earlier than he went the previous summer.
Last year, the Oakland Athletics offered True his first opportunity in professional baseball. But after being selected in the 20th round, he declined to sign. With one more season at Cal Poly, two opportunities turned him away from the A’s.
True wanted to fine tune his pitching arsenal in his senior season, and he also looked to complete his degree in agricultural business. True knew if he had signed with the A’s it would’ve stalled his goal of graduating.
“It would be pretty tough for me to finish and take me a lot longer than last year,” True said. “It was more so the fact that I just didn’t feel like I was finished yet with my college career, and I wanted to go back and have a solid year and do what I knew I was capable of doing.”
Looking back on his decision, True believed he made the right one.
He toed the rubber 17 times in his senior season, posting a 3.90 ERA. The righty struck out 38 batters in 32.1 innings and lowered his walks and hits per nine.
“My demeanor as a pitcher was better this past year and more under control and confident out on the mound than I had ever been before,” True said.
Through True’s development, Costic admired his cutter — a pitch the Astros have added to many of their farmhands in the last two years. Cal Poly pitching coach Seth Moir suggested the addition to fool hitters that looked for True’s fastball.
“He’s an untapped kind of guy,” Costes said. “I think there’s still some upside with this kid. … His stuff just continued to progress. Just every year, it just continued to tick up. And I think he’s got the arsenal, he’s got the repertoire, that if we decided we wanted to try to do so, we could probably try to start the kid.”
True added a cutter to his pitch mix this past season, but it’s not the only new weapon that he’s quick to draw. Complementing his cutter is a slider. True dialed in the development of it last summer in the Northwoods League.
He spent his last two offseasons with the Eau Claire Express. Facing other draft prospects and collegiate standouts, True toyed with his stuff, contributing to more success in his senior season at Cal Poly.
“What Derek can do is not only sweep it, but he can also throw a true slider that’s got a little bit more three-quarters shape to it, a little more tilt to it,” Costic said. “And our guys are very good at changing shapes of these pitches. I’m really excited to see what they can do with this slider.”
Express pitching coach Vic Cable felt confident whenever True took the mound from his maturity to his stone-faced approach. To Cable, True defined how a baseball should carry himself from the mound to off the field.
“Off the field, when you get to know him, he can be a card,” Cable said. “I’d take nine of him on my team any day.”
Even with four college seasons under his belt, True held a backup plan. He committed to Georgia on July 8 with the goal of learning under coach Wes Johnson, the former renowned pitching coach at LSU.
“It definitely was a tough decision again,” True said. “It was going to be a great opportunity for me to go learn from (Johnson) and be able to pitch in the SEC. … But I felt that I was ready to go start my professional baseball career, and luckily enough, the opportunity presented itself, and I decided to go with that.”
After signing with the Astros on July 17, True departed for the spring training complex in West Palm Beach, Florida. Travel baseball drew him to Georgia and Florida for summer tournaments, so the move across the country doesn’t feel new to the California native.
“It’s a business, and it’s my job now, so I can’t complain about anything,” True said. “I’m lucky enough to be able to play baseball, so that’s how I look at it.”
True was assigned to the FCL Astros on Tuesday, but he has yet to make an appearance. The Astros aren’t always quick to get their new pitchers’ feet wet after the draft due to innings limits or injuries that they carried into the organization.
For True, though, he entered open-minded and is now learning more on the keys to his own development.
“The goal is to win games (in college baseball),” True said. “But I feel from what I’ve learned so far is that pro ball is lesser on that. Obviously, we still want to (win), but we’re more on the development side and trying to make each player better to have success.”