All around the country, umpires on Tuesday night will tug at their face masks and cry out, ‘play ball,’ as the minor leagues start the new season. Play ball, indeed. Fans in minor-league towns have been dying to see their teams play for almost two years.
Last summer, minor league baseball at all levels was canceled by the pandemic. Not only did it hurt the fans, but the players were left with scant few opportunities to play — until now.
Poring over some rosters this evening, I found some former local players who have a chance to renew the chase for their dreams in some pretty far-flung locales.
Here are a few:
Asa Lacy, pitcher — Quad Cities River Bandits, Kansas City Royals affiliate, Davenport Iowa, High A Central. Lacy pitched in high school at Kerrville Tivy and in college at Texas A&M. Drafted out of Teas A&M in 2020 by the Royals with the fourth pick.
Jordan Westburg, infielder — Delmarva Shorebirds, Baltimore Orioles affiliate, Salisbury, Md., Low A East. Westburg played in high school for the New Braunfels Unicorns and in college for the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Drafted out of Mississippi State in 2020 by the Orioles with a competitive balance round selection, the 30th overall pick.
Jared Kelley, pitcher — Kaanapolis Cannon Ballers, Chicago White Sox affliate, Kaanapolis, N.C., Low A East. Kelley played in high school at Refugio. Drafted out of high school in 2020 by the White Sox on the second round, with the 47th pick
Hudson Head, outfielder — Bradenton Marauders, Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate, Bradenton, Fla., Low A Southeast. Head played in high school for the Churchill Chargers. Drafted out of Churchill in 2019 by the San Diego Padres, in the third round, with the 84th pick. Traded by the Padres to the Pirates Jan. 19 in the Joe Musgrove deal.
The destination is in question for another high-profile local standout. Texas Rangers prospect Josh Jung, formerly of MacArthur and Texas Tech, suffered a stress fracture in his left foot around the first of March.
Reports indicated that it might take a couple of months to heal. If he comes out of it OK, it’s possible that Jung, the eighth pick on the first round of the 2019 draft, could start his season at Triple-A Round Rock.
Forrest Whitley‘s story is another, altogether. And it’s potentially a heartbreaker. Drafted in 2016 by the Astros out of Alamo Heights High School in the first round, with the 17th overall selection, Whitley has pitched only as high as the Triple-A level.
Earlier this year, in spring training, it was determined that he had a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, which would require reconstructive surgery. So, Whitley is likely looking at a comeback in 2022 at the earliest.
Ralph Garza Jr., pitcher — Sugar Land Skeeters, Houston Astros affiliate, Sugar Land, Tex., Triple-A West. Garza played in high school at New Braunfels. He is starting his sixth minor league season in the Astros’ organization. In five previous seasons, he is 25-12, with a 3.79 ERA. Drafted out of the University of Oklahoma 2015, he was selected in the 26th round with the 769th pick.