Nick Tropeano can smell the big leagues. He can feel it, taste it, even see it when he closes his eyes.
"It'll be very emotional," said the West Islip product, who pitches for the Houston Astros' Triple-A affiliate in Oklahoma City. "Obviously, I haven't got to experience it yet. But I can tell you it's going to be a little surreal and a dream come true."
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And it's going to be soon.
"Absolutely,'' Redhawks manager Tony DeFrancesco said when asked if Tropeano has major-league stuff. "This is the first year I've seen him, but he's showing a lot of composure right now. He's got three plus pitches and he competes very well on the mound.''
The path to the dream included stops at West Islip High School, where he was part of the 2008 county championship squad, and Stony Brook University, where he pitched for three seasons before being selected by the Astros in the fifth round of the 2011 draft.
After three seasons of advancing within the Astros' system, the 6-4 righthander is at the final plateau before The Show. But Triple-A isn't the big leagues, and Tropeano knows there are no guarantees in baseball.
"I feel like, maturity level and experience level-wise, I am [ready]," he said. "But you can't worry about that stuff. It's out of your control. You just have to stick to your game, work hard, and hopefully you do get that call-up one day."
Tropeano certainly is making a case for himself. In 15 appearances through Friday, including 12 starts, he is 5-4 with 72 strikeouts. His 2.28 ERA is almost two runs lower than his mark last season, when he pitched for Double-A Corpus Christi, where he was 7-10 in 28 appearances, with a 4.11 ERA and 130 strikeouts.
Tropeano attributes the statistical improvement to his return to a typical starter role. The Astros' lower minor-league system employs a system in which each starter alternates starts with bullpen appearances.
Although this did prepare Tropeano to pitch in different situations, so much so that he said he would feel comfortable in a bullpen role in the majors, it disrupted the all-important between-starts routine.
"I never really got into a rhythm," he said. "This year, we've been doing things a little differently and I've gotten back into that rhythm. My fastball command has been good. I feel like that's the difference between this year and last . . . Right now, I'm much happier that we're in a regular rotation."
Tropeano has thrown at least six innings in six of his last eight starts and at least seven in three of his last four. He won all three of those decisions.
"One of my main goals as a starter is to go out there and give my team the best opportunity to win," he said. "Another is to eat up as many innings as possible and give our bullpen off a little bit."
If Tropeano keeps doing that, he could leave his bullpen for another address, Minute Maid Park in Houston.
"It's always going to be in the back of your mind,'' he said. "Everyone dreams of playing in the big leagues and, obviously, we're so close to it. So it fuels you.''