OAKLAND -- The A’s might have one of the best feel-good stories in baseball this year with right-hander Jordan Weems.
Arriving to Spring Training a long shot to make the club as a non-roster invitee, Weems got word from A’s manager Bob Melvin on Sunday that he was added to the club’s 40-man roster and would begin the season in the Major Leagues.
The journey to this point has been quite remarkable for Weems. Selected as a catcher by the Red Sox in the third round of the 2011 Draft, Weems’ development in the Minor Leagues was growing stagnant as he struggled to hit even in the lower Minors and never got past Double-A in his first six seasons. Aware of his strong arm behind the plate, the Red Sox approached Weems in 2016 while playing at Double-A and told him they were going to try him out as a pitcher.
“I remember we were playing the Blue Jays farm team. I had just got back from lunch and my phone rang,” Weems said. “The manager, Carlos Febles, who’s now the third-base coach for the Red Sox, called me and asked me to come up to his room. That’s never a good thing, so I immediately thought this is it and I’m getting released or sent down.
“They told me they felt I would have success on the pitching mound. It was a lot to take in just that instant. When that happened, it was a lot. I had to process it really quickly. But the Red Sox had done nothing but lead me in the right path and I trusted them.”
Weems essentially hit the reset button on his career. He was sent down to rookie ball and started from scratch, finding himself on a pitching mound for the first time since travel ball as a ninth grader. It didn’t take him long to feel like he belonged as a pitcher, though, as he posted a 1.06 ERA over 17 innings in the Gulf Coast League.
“In my head, I wanted to show that I belong as a pitcher,” Weems said. “When I broke with the GCL, I had success and I think then is when I opened my eyes and felt I might have something here. I showed [the Red Sox] something.”
While Weems did not reach the Majors with the Red Sox, he showed enough promise for the A’s to offer him an invite to Spring Training earlier this year. The 27-year-old righty impressed in spring, then continued to pitch well in Summer Camp, drawing rave reviews from several A’s hitters who faced him during simulated games.
But still, Weems wasn’t sure if his performance would be enough to make the team given the talent the A’s already possess in their bullpen. So when Melvin broke the news, Weems broke down.
“It was an emotional one. It’s been a long, tough grind for me,” Weems said. “It was a leap of faith for me so it was emotional when Bob told me the news.”
Weems isn’t the first case of a converted pitcher the A’s have dealt with. Sean Doolittle, now the closer for the Nationals, was once a first baseman in the A’s organization before later finding major success in Oakland as a reliever. Weems looks at players like Doolittle and Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers closer who was also once a catcher in their system, as reassurance that he can do this. He'll get his first big shot this season as a member of the A's bullpen.
“It’s kind of crazy but you’re starting to see it more,” Weems said. “There’s a lot of talent in this sport, so when guys maybe struggle at one end, they still have something that makes them special in another sense, whether it’s their arm or their speed. I like to look at it that way and know there are other guys out there, so why can’t I be the same?”