MIAMI — Of the 26 players on the Rays’ opening day roster, Jeffrey Springs was the least likely to be there.
Two recent developments changed his fate.
With Ji-Man Choi and Brett Phillips hurt, the Rays decided to expand the pitching staff to 14. And in doing so, they felt better off based on their schedule to carry more short-stint relievers, such as Springs (along with Ryan Sherriff, Ryan Thompson, Andrew Kittredge), than former starter types like Josh Fleming and Trevor Richards for longer stints.
But it also was an accomplishment because of the path Springs took to get here.
How he was a 30th round pick by the Rangers as a senior out of Appalachian State (888th overall) and signed for the minimum $1,000. How he took odd jobs during the minor-league offseasons to support himself, including working at a YMCA so he could get free use of the gym to work out. How he was traded twice within 13 months, most recently to the Rays in February after being designated for assignment by the Red Sox following a season in which he posted a 7.08 ERA.
So, yes, he most certainly is happy to be here.
Springs, 28, spent his first three seasons at Class A, splitting time between starting and relieving (and teaming with now fellow Ray Pete Fairbanks), then in his fourth went from Double-A to Triple-A to the majors in a span of seven weeks.
That it was his third straight year on an opening day roster, albeit with three different teams, makes him appreciate his journey even more.
“Obviously, I was fortunate the Rangers even gave me a chance,” Springs said. “That was kind of all I was hoping for and kind of just tried to run with it as much as I could, which, obviously, it’s paid off to this point.
“But, yeah, it was kind of a blessing and a curse. I knew I had a shorter leash than most people — just the reality of it, it is what it is. I take a lot of pride in where I come from and the journey. It’s helped mold me into who I am now.”
That included his offseason occupations, going beyond the typical pitching lessons to do landscaping and the two years at a YMCA near the Charlotte, N.C., apartment he shared with his then-girlfriend and now wife, Kristyn.
“Go to work in the morning from like 8-2, go home and eat and then go back to the gym and throw that afternoon,” he said. “It wasn’t glamorous by any means, but it was a little bit of money in the offseason. Obviously you know how the minor-leaguers get paid, so … you just kind of have to do what you’ve got to do. But it worked out.”
Springs said his co-workers knew he played pro ball, but didn’t necessarily grasp why it all worked. “Once I made it to the big leagues, the lady that was like the boss, she reached out,” he said. “I was like, ‘You know, I think I might hold off this offseason working.’ But no, they were great. They were great to work with. A lot of baseball questions, as you can imagine, but it was a good time.”
Where they came from
Breakdown of Rays’ opening day roster:
First signed by Rays (4)
• INF Mike Brosseau (non-drafted free agent, June 2016)
• RHP Diego Castillo (international free agent, March 2014)
• OF Kevin Kiermaier (39th round, 2010)
• INF Brandon Lowe (5th round, 2015)
Acquired in trade (15)
With deal; original signing status
• SS Willy Adames (from Tigers, July 2014; international free agent)
• OF Randy Arozarena (from Cards, Jan. 2020; international free agent)
• INF Yandy Díaz (from Indians, Dec. 2018; international free agent)
• RHP Pete Fairbanks (from Rangers, July 2019; 9th round, 2015)
• RHP Tyler Glasnow (from Pirates, July 2018; 5th round, 2011)
• RHP Andrew Kittredge (from Mariners, Nov. 2016; non-drafted free agent)
• OF Manuel Margot (from Padres, Feb. 2020; international free agent)
• OF Austin Meadows (from Pirates, July 2019; 1st round, 2013)
• C Francisco Mejía (from Padres, Dec. 2020; international free agent)
• LHP Cody Reed (from Reds, Aug. 2020; 2nd round, 2013)
• RHP Chaz Roe (from Braves, July 2017; 1st round, 2005)
• LHP Jeffrey Springs (from Red Sox, Feb. 2021; 30th round, 2015)
• INF Joey Wendle (from A’s, Dec. 2017; 6th round, 2012)
• LHP Ryan Yarbrough (from Mariners, Jan. 2017, 4th round, 2014)
• C Mike Zunino (from Mariners, Nov. 2018; 1st round, 2012)
Signed as free agents (6)
With last team, original signing status
• RHP Chris Archer (Pirates; 5th round, 2006, Indians)
• LHP Rich Hill (Twins; 4th round, 2002, Cubs)
• RHP Collin McHugh (Red Sox; 18th round, 2008, Mets)
• LHP Ryan Sherriff (Cardinals*; 28th round, 2011, Cardinals)
• INF/OF Yoshi Tsutsugo (Yokohama Bay Stars, Japan)
• RHP Michael Wacha (Mets; 1st round, 2012)
* minor-league deal
Rule 5 minor-league draft acquisition (1)
• RHP Ryan Thompson (from Astros, Dec. 2018)
• Some Rays cite karma when Mike Brosseau hit the ALDS-deciding homer off Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, who in September had thrown at the infielder’s head. Maybe more with the 2021 schedule, released in July, having the Yankees as the visitors for the home-opening series. And now New York will get to watch as the Rays raise their AL East and championship banners.
• Friday will be historic, with two major-league games in Pinellas County, 22 miles apart, as the Rays host the Yankees at Tropicana Field (3:10 p.m.) and the Blue Jays play their second “home” game in Dunedin, facing the Angels (7:07).
• Also, as crazy as this sounds, Friday is the first time Rays fans can see Randy Arozarena play at the Trop.
The home-opening series against the Yankees is pretty much sold out, tickets offered in pod seating groups of one through six, with capacity at Tropicana Field limited to around 9,000. The Rays will see how the first homestand goes before deciding on any changes, or increases, in ticket capacity for the next one. ... Major League Baseball had serious reasons for moving the All-Star Game from Atlanta, but it does cause some inconvenience for manager Kevin Cash and his coaches who are running the American League team: The Rays open the second half in Atlanta so it would have been a much less hectic week by staying in one place. ... Extra credit to the radio broadcast crew, which called the opening series off TV monitors set up in a Tropicana Field dining room since there was too much noise from WWE events to use their usual booth. … Most interesting thing about Cash saying Randy Arozarena’s new blond hair made him look like Sisqo is that Cash, not much into pop culture, knew who Sisqo (Thong Song, Incomplete) was. … The Rays finished second to the Brewers in Fox’s bracket-style voting on Twitter to determine the “best fan base,” the winners getting a billboard touting their superiority in another league city. That would have been something near Yankee Stadium. ... With the Blue Jays extending their stay in Dunedin through their third homestand, the Rays now have a four-game “road trip” there May 21-24. ... This year’s draft will be limited to 20 rounds; up from five in 2020 but well short of the pre-pandemic 40.
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