Quick Hits: The "Italian Stallion"

He isn't given the nickname after a character in a Sylvester Stallone film, and he never played football for Jack Pardee or Bear Bryant. But Class-A Boise pitcher Alessandro Maestri has already developed a fast following of friends and supporters.

"We call him the ‘Italian Stallion,'" says Hawks teammate Deryck Lewis.

"They call me that, but I'm not," Maestri says in response.

"He is A.G.G," says Cubs Director of Player Development Oneri Fleita, meaning ‘a great guy.' "Throws strikes. Great kid."

At 20, Maestri became the first Italian pitcher to sign a professional baseball contract. As if that's not humbling enough, the right-hander has gone 4-2 with a 2.16 ERA and .205 average against in 33 1/3 innings from relief with the short-season Cubs affiliate. He was a starter in his homeland.

Called "Alex" for short, Maestri stepped into the spotlight earlier this year when he pitched for Team Italy in the inaugural World Baseball Classic. His first pitch allowed was a memorable one, and not for his enjoyment. He served up a home run to Moises Alou of the Dominican Republic team.

Officially signed as a non-drafted free agent on January 6 of this year, he went to Extended Spring Training in Arizona following his stint in the WBC.

"I played baseball my whole life in Italy," said Maestri, who has 27 strikeouts to eight walks with his first minor league team. "Signing a professional contract was one of my dreams and pitching in the World Baseball Classic was unbelievable. My time here [at Boise] has been amazing so far."

Maestri self-describes his arsenal as consisting of a four- and two-seam fastball, slider, and changeup. His favorite is the slider, and coaches say his fastball ranges from 88-91 mph.

"He's got a great makeup and a good arm," Hawks manager Steve McFarland said of Maestri. "The development of his off-speed stuff is going to be key for him, but he has an above-average fastball and throws strikes."

Before arriving in the U.S., Maestri attended college in his native and majored in Biology. His college did not offer a baseball program so Maestri pitched separate of the school.

"He's another guy with a great work ethic," McFarland said. "It's nice to see guys like him that have those and are successful."

For Maestri, the real success may have only just begun.

"It's a different culture here," the former starter said. "Here, I'm pitching every three or four days. Back home, I was pitching maybe once a week. I like that because if you do badly, you get back out in a few days."

(Photographer/Gino Aguilar)

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