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Kelly Austin ties knot, signs with Astros in same week

Houston Astros' Kelly Austin
Courtesy of Kelly Austin

In a span of a week, Kelly Austin fulfilled two dreams. He went unselected in the MLB Draft in July, but a contract with the Houston Astros awaited him following the completion of the 20th round. Yet he hit pause on the beginning of his professional career before it even started.

The 22 year old planned his wedding with his then fiancé, Karis, for the following Saturday, July 15, four days after coming to a swift contract agreement. Planning the wedding months in advance, the two knew a quick turnaround could follow.

“She’s been my best friend since middle school,” Austin said. “We knew there was a good chance that maybe I could get a call, and if that was the case, then we’re getting married and then moving out really quick.”

The Astros gave Austin a call early on the third day of the MLB Draft, reaffirming their interest in him. The organization looked for more position players in the final rounds, though, and turned to Austin as an undrafted free agent.

“We had him in a position where we would potentially draft him,” Astros scout Tim Costic said. “It just didn’t work out numbers wise. … So once that draft ended, I got on the horn as quick as I could.”

The draft can always be a mess. Prospects aren’t always selected by the teams they believed held the most interest in them. In Austin’s case, he thought he was going to end up with the Arizona Diamondbacks or the Minnesota Twins.

Teams offered to select Austin late on the second day, an area of the draft where organizations look to save money on college players with little-to-no leverage. But those offers didn’t fit Austin financially.

“I just lucked into being with the Astros which is pretty hard to complain about given their track record with minor leaguers,” Austin said.

Austin joined fellow newcomers July 18 in West Palm Beach, Florida. He received an assignment to the FCL Astros on Aug. 3 and made his professional debut Tuesday in a game suspended due to rain.

The Astros have yet to promote any of their new pitchers to Single-A Fayetteville from the Florida Complex League, continuing a slower progression seen in recent seasons with the draft moved back.

Austin, though, believes he could find himself in that first group to make it up to affiliated baseball.

“I’d love to get my feet wet out (in Fayetteville) and compete against some people,” Austin said. “But if not, I’m going to take full advantage of what I’ve got here at the complex in the FCL for the time being.”

Austin entered the organization to a familiar face. Second-round pick Alonzo Tredwell was teammates with Austin the last two seasons at UCLA, where the two pitched in the same game at Minute Maid Park in 2022.

“Kelly is a hard worker, he’s a smart dude,” Tredwell said. “It’s cool to have someone that’s familiar with the process that you’re coming from. There are quite a few similarities between what coach (John) Savage is teaching at UCLA and then obviously what (the Astros) are preaching.”

In college, Austin wasn’t known as a hard thrower. He spotted up the zone with his four-seam fastball with high spin rates and relied more on his curveball, slider and splitter to generate outs, until the Astros got him in their system.

The Astros player development department wanted Austin to utilize more of his four-seam fastball — a push surprised him at first.

“They really liked the shape that my four-seam had, and they thought that it projected well versus pro guys,” Austin said. “What I’m enjoying right now is just trying to learn what the organization thinks that I can be really good at that maybe I hadn’t looked at before.”

Growing up, Austin modeled his play off two arms of similar style: Zack Greinke and Sonny Gray. But those weren’t the only draws. Austin found their ability to talk about pitching to be cerebral, understanding the game from their stature and ability.

Austin sees himself as a student of the game. He retains everything said by his new coaches and even teammates, eliminating his weaknesses and maximizing his strengths.

“There’s knowledge just laying all over the place,” Austin said. “I think the best thing that you can do is just try to ask people questions and figure it out, because realistically, if you don’t ask those questions, there’s no guarantee that someone else will. You might need that question in order to make the next step and progress towards MLB.”

A first-generation college graduate, Austin took every chance to further his education in parallel with his baseball career. He held a backup plan for the upcoming year, committing to Florida for his graduate season.

“Shoot, if someone is going to pay for you to get your master’s degree, that’s a pretty hard thing to turn down,” Austin said. “But at the same time, Houston has the amazing track record that they do with minor leaguers. And on top of that, they gave me a really fair offer financially for a UDFA guy.”

Kelly and Karis aren’t staying in the regular hotel housing for rookie-ball players. The two are renting an Airbnb near the Astros’ spring training complex. With it being so early in their marriage, Karis wanted to follow Kelly across the country.

Once the offseason hits, the two plan to unplug for a week and take their honeymoon to the mountains, looking for a change of pace from the past month.

“With moving out to Palm Beach and being from SoCal, we’re always around a lot of people, and now, we’re meeting a whole lot of new people,” Austin said. “To get a chance to get away and just be a quiet spot and just enjoy time with each other would be pretty cool.”

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