Photo by Sonny Johnston/Sugar Land Space Cowboys

A conversation with Sugar Land Space Cowboys manager Mickey Storey: Part II

Former Astros pitcher Mickey Storey is in his fifth season as a minor league manager in the organization, and his fourth at the Triple-A level. Storey sat down with Gallery Sports on Sunday, and in part two of our conversation, he discussed the development of Korey Lee and Pedro Leon, the emergence of Corey Julks, and predicted who could be the next Julks.

Here’s part one if you missed it.

Gallery Sports: Korey Lee was surprised that he got sent down, how have you seen him handle that demotion, and has his mindset been what you wanted it to be?

Mickey Storey: “It’s been even better, to be honest. As a former player who has dealt with those tough decisions coming out of spring you can go one of two ways. You can go down to Triple-A and be upset about it and see what happens, or you can go down to Triple-A and go back to work and know that you’re a Major League player that has to do some things in Triple-A to get back, and since day one Korey’s come in with a professional attitude knowing exactly what he needs to do down here to get where he needs to be. This is a player that has all the tools to be everything we know he can be at the big league level, just a couple of finishing touches. We chipped away at it last year, and then he was elevated to the big league team, and didn’t get to continue to work on some of those things because when you’re in the big leagues you don’t have time to work on finishing touches, you have to perform, but down here he gets the ability to work on stuff on a daily basis and then play a ton. I think the big thing was he was going to get to play a ton here. If he’s in the big leagues he’s gonna be sharing some time, and he needs game experience, he needs game calling, he needs to work with a number of pitchers, he needs to iron some things out offensively, he needs to do a lot of those things, so down here’s the best place to get those things accomplished, and he’s been nothing but great about going about his business.”

Is there an area that you’ve seen real growth from him over the last month or so?

“A number of areas. Leadership is one, which is big for a catcher, which is big for a guy that we put so much trust in to be potentially a guy that we lean on at the big league level for a number of years. His leadership has grown, he’s a young player in the sense that we drafted him (four) years ago and he’s already in the big leagues and in Triple-A, and when we had him last year he was still the young prospect. He’s still a young prospect, but he’s kind of transitioning himself into a leadership role in our clubhouse, preparing himself for what it could be at the big league level. Game calling’s been so much better, just getting equipped to game awareness situations. His experience in the big leagues last year elevated him a ton. I think that was great for him, and then to come down here, and I can speak from experience, when you go to the big leagues and you come back to Triple-A the games slows down a little bit, and I think it’s a little bit slower for him, and he’s able to really elevate his game because of that.”

You saw Pedro Leon every day last year,  he got hurt, so he missed spring training, but how have you seen him grow over the last year?

“I think mentally some of these players with the COVID year and the way the seasons have unfolded, they’ve got to the upper levels pretty quick in their careers, where in the past you would go up one level at a time. Some of these guys got to Triple-A so quick… it’s a tough level, and I think Pedro, being here a whole year, and he had a piece of 2021 in Triple-A, is just in a better mental and physical space where he knows what his skills are, he knows what his tools are, and he’s a little more confident in his ability against his peers, so I like what I see out of Pedro. He’s always had tools, he’s always had the ability. It’s just comfort and knowing that I’m in Triple-A with the skills of a Major Leaguer, and he’s just got some things to iron out before he’s ready to play in the big leagues full time.”

I think a lot of people think that when you get to Triple-A you’re right on the door step of the Major Leagues, but because of the COVID year are some of these guys going to need extra time at this level just because they got here a little quicker than some would have expected?

“Possibly, and I think a lot of it had to do with the strength of our big league team. We have a really good big league team, and the depth up there is really good, so we have the time down here, so you might as well maximize it, that way when they get to the big leagues (they’re) ready to go. It never hurts, it’s not like football where you go from college to Sunday, there’s a farm for a reason, this game is difficult. There’s learning curves, there’s age, there’s maturity, there’s many areas where you need to improve, and it takes time, so I think it’s a luxury we have of having such strength at the big league level. I also think there’s some value in learning how to play in the big leagues, too, but if you can get to the big leagues and be clicking on all cylinders I think that’s a little bit better of a situation.”

You had a front row seat for Corey Julks last season, what’s it been like for you seeing that translate at the big league level?

“It’s what I expected, to be honest. Corey Julks has shown me that he can hit at every level. He’s shown me a work ethic, it’s incredible. I tried to tell anyone I could, the amount of work he put in to being in the lineup last year, we played him at third base 60-plus games, just to keep the bat in the lineup, and what he did to work as a third baseman when we knew that more than likely he was gonna be an option to play the outfield in the big leagues, was just a character trait that you don’t see often. He just wanted to be in the lineup, he wanted to play. He’s the kind of guy that goes out there and sweats and gets dirty and does everything he can. To see him make the team the way he did, couldn’t be anything but more proud, but to see what he does in the (batter’s) box, I saw that in 2018 as a Low-A player. He knows how to hit. He’s made swing adjustments over the years and added power to his game, so for me, someone who’s seen him so much, it’s nothing that surprises me, but it’s really cool to get to see him not only play in the big leagues, but play in his hometown in Houston and have his own fanbase and family be at all these games. Playing for the hometown team, the world champions and to be apart of that culture over there that’s gonna make him so much better of a player.”

I talked to an opposing pitcher after he had faced you last season and I asked him specifically about Leon and Lee, and he told me what he thought about them, but then he added, “Julks is a problem”. It seemed like everyone around the league understood how good he was, so were you surprised given the reputation that he had, that he didn’t get picked in the Rule 5 Draft after getting left unprotected? How does he get overlooked like that?

“A lot of times those things are age related. He’s not the youngest guy, he’s never really been on prospect hot sheets. He’s just not that player for some people. Corey Julks is the type of player that when he’s in house and amongst the league you know what he is, but sometimes those things don’t get seen by front offices or writers, it kind of goes unnoticed, but internally we knew the value of Corey. A lot of it was probably age appropriate. He’s an older guy, you don’t traditionally get protected that late in their careers or even Rule 5’d. A lot of people weren’t sure where he’d play. We showcased him at third base some, so maybe it confused some people, but we always knew what we had, and him clearing the Rule 5 Draft, we’re obviously reaping the benefits of it right now.”

Who is the next Corey Julks on your roster?

“J.P. France is one who was in the same boat. He did get protected by us on the 40-man roster, and he’s throwing the ball really well. Same sort of thing there where he hadn’t been really big on the prospect sheets, but when you have him, and when you watch him pitch you know that he really competes. He’s got the arsenal; he’s got the work ethic. He’s gonna be a big league pitcher. There’s a number of guys, J.J. Matijevic is one, who has been up, been down, he’s been off the roster. His work ethic is similar where he’s going to find a way (to the Majors) either with us or someone else. We have a lot better (organizational) depth than we get credit for by the writers, but there’s always those players where they go unnoticed, but internally, they’re surely noticed.”

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