The Texas Rangers won again on Wednesday and extended their now season-long winning streak to six games. It was a complete team effort as the Rangers became the second team to sweep a series against the Tampa Bay Rays, joining the Phillies' sweep of the Rays from July 4th-6th. It was great to get the win, but the story of the game was about Alex Speas and his journey from being a youth baseball coach to pitching on a major-league mound, all in the span of six months.
Speas long and winding road to get to Arlington
Alex Speas was drafted in 2016 in the second round out of high school in Georgia. He came armed with an electric fastball that reached the mid-to-upper 90's. The Rangers slow-played his development and kept him in the rotation for the first couple of years. In 2018 he was transitioned to pitching out of the bullpen. That should have put him on the fast track to Arlington.
It would have, except that he went down with an arm injury. In June 2018 and had to undergo Tommy John surgery. That ended his 2018 season and kept him out for most of 2019. Something happened while he was rehabbing. His fastball jumped from the mid 90's to over 100mph. Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News tells the story of how the jump in velocity spooked Rangers player development staff so much that they shut him down after just two appearances in 2019. They did not want to re-injure the ligament.
If 2020 had been a normal season, he would have likely opened the season in Frisco, moved up to Round Rock by July-August, and maybe made his MLB debut in September. It was not a normal season. The pandemic hit and shut down minor-league baseball for an entire year. Teams opened up alternative training sites and in the Rangers' case invited most of their prospects to work out and some made their MLB debuts. Alex Speas was in camp, but was not promoted to the major league squad at any point in 2020. His control had deserted him that summer.
That lack of control carried over into 2021. He pitched most of that season for Frisco, while also spending time in Arizona. The control issues persisted throughout the entire season. He finished the 2021 season with 23 strikeouts and 21 walks and had a 11.25 ERA.
Unknown to fans and maybe even some in the team he was dealing with some off-field issues. He had just become a new father, was dealing with issues that come along with that, and dealing with the mental health challenges that came with the onset of the pandemic that continued through 2021. It was a lot for the young man to deal with in addition to the mental challenges that come with being a pitcher. After 2021 Speas took all of that into account and decided to step away from the game and did not report to camp in 2022. He was placed on the reserve list and was not a part of the organization in any capacity in 2022.
Speas' time away from the game reinvigorated his love of the game
In 2022 Speas took a step back from playing the game. He worked for a baseball academy, that was located in North and South Carolina, and trained players from nine years old all the way up to high school. He was just 24 years old and so not much older than the players he was helping. He got to experience their love of the game and see what made baseball fun.
That year away recharged his batteries and at the end of the year he had a decision to make. Did he want to want to continue training young players or did he want to come back and play? In February of this year he made the call to the Rangers and said he wanted to come back. He reported to camp with the other minor leaguers and immediately started to impress coaches on the back fields. His stuff was still there even after taking a year away from the game.
He was sent back to Frisco to start the 2023 season. No one knew what to expect. He had struggled so much back in 2021 in Frisco. This time was different. He was older and more mature and passed every test Texas threw at him. They kept him in Frisco much longer than maybe they normally would have. They wanted to make sure that there would be no regression for Speas. He only got better as the season went along. He walked six batters in April and then four in May. Then in June he had 20 strikeouts to just 3 walks in 12 scoreless innings pitched.
Speas was finally promoted to Round Rock at the end of June. He just continued his comeback story with the Express. He gave up two runs in his second appearance, but after that, he put up nothing by zeros in the run column. He made three more appearances for Round Rock, totaling 4 1/3 innings and struck out eight and walked two.
Speas gets the call
Tuesday night after Round Rock lost to Reno, the manager for the Express Doug Davis got to deliver the news to Alex that he would be promoted to the Rangers on Wednesday morning. The former 2nd round pick who had endured injuries, a complete loss of control, and dealt with a pandemic and mental health issues was realizing his dream of becoming a major leaguer.
Speas learned about it on Tuesday night, but fans learned about it on Wednesday morning in the hours before the afternoon first pitch with this tweet.
The pregame show on Bally Sports Southwest made mention of the promotion, they interviewed him prior to the start of the game, and then showed him sitting there in the bullpen next to Grant Anderson. His family was there, but it was uncertain if he would get into the game. If the game went as planned Bochy would have held off on using him.
The game plan changed the minute Gray was drilled by a line drive right off his lower left leg. It was a 112mph line drive that forced him to leave the game with a bruise. That brought Brock Burke into a 1-0 game in the fifth inning. He pitched brilliantly for the next two innings. Then in the seventh with one out Bochy came out of the dugout to remove Burke and Speas was brought in to hold the 1-0 lead.
The 6'3 25-year-old Speas got started against all-world shortstop Wander Franco with Manuel Margot standing on first. Franco worked the count full as Speas was feeding him a steady diet of cutters. Then on pitch number six the remarkable happens.
Speas strikes out Wander Franco and Manuel Margot is thrown out at second. It was a magical moment that I am sure Speas and his family will never forget. If you thought that was going to be it for Speas you would be wrong. He was brought back for the eighth and retired the side with two more strikeouts including a strikeout swinging of Randy Arozarena that caused him to lose control of his bat.
Make no mistake about this fact that Speas is auditioning over the next 13 days for a long-term role in this bullpen. Chris Young is still in trade exploration phase to see what teams are asking for and likely trying to decide what the Rangers need. If Speas is good then that certainly lessens the need for an additional bullpen arm. The Rangers can enter into negotiations and not be desperate about seeking bullpen help that would likely lead to a regrettable trade.
After Speas was removed the Rangers added to their lead with a 3-run home run by Jonah Heim. Cody Bradford closed out the game after giving up a solo home run to Jose Siri. The Rangers as a team won 5-1. The real winner on the day was Alex Speas for never giving up, and never losing sight of his dream of becoming a major league pitcher. He now joins a very exclusive club and what happens next in his career will be up to him.