SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- A few years ago, Sam Long considered moving on from baseball.
An 18th-round Draft pick of the Rays out of Sacramento State in 2016, Long pitched in the Tampa Bay organization for three seasons before being unexpectedly released in March 2018. The 25-year-old left-hander returned home to Sacramento, Calif., feeling unmoored and facing hard questions about his future. He enrolled in some EMT classes and began contemplating a career as a firefighter.
“At that time, I just felt like baseball wasn’t it,” Long said during a Zoom call with reporters last week.
Three years later, Long is in his first big league camp with the Giants -- the team he grew up rooting for -- and has emerged as a surprise standout among the 20 non-roster pitchers who have been invited to Scottsdale Stadium this spring. He made his Cactus League debut against the Angels on Sunday, striking out Brennon Lund looking on a 97 mph fastball en route to working a scoreless sixth in the Giants’ 5-2 loss at Scottsdale Stadium.
"Long continues to impress,” manager Gabe Kapler said last week. “He continues to look like a guy who has a chance to be a Major League starter at some point.”
"He's kind of been turning some heads in just a few bullpens,” catcher Joey Bart added.
Long has caught the eye of Buster Posey as well. Last week, Long trotted out to the backfields at Scottsdale Stadium and was surprised to learn that Posey would be catching his bullpen session.
“Buster looked over and said my name,” Long said. “I got some butterflies going. It was pretty cool. You definitely dream of something like that. Yeah, pretty surreal.”
It’s been a remarkable journey for Long, who took six months off from baseball in 2018 before deciding he wasn’t ready to give up on his big league dream. He began training at a facility in Sacramento, where he committed himself to eating well and following a strict workout regimen. Soon, his velocity began to tick up, helping him land a Minor League deal with the White Sox.
“I decided when I did start training again that I would give everything that I had to it,” Long said.
Long spent the 2019 season with Class A Kannapolis, where he recorded a 3.06 ERA with 112 strikeouts over 97 innings in 30 appearances (15 starts). The cancellation of the Minor League season prevented him from seeing official game action in 2020, but Long said he continued throwing and lifting to keep his arm in shape during the hiatus.
When he hit free agency this offseason, Long heard from about 10 teams, but the Giants were one of the first to call and included an invitation to big league camp in their offer, which helped seal the deal.
“I was pretty excited to find out that they wanted me as bad as I wanted them,” Long said.
The pact seems to be working out well for both sides so far. In his outing against the Angels, Long retired Livan Soto on a groundout before striking out Lund on three pitches. Juan Graterol then singled to right field, but Long subsequently got Phil Gosselin to ground into a forceout to end the inning.
“I think the whole dugout was enthused by the 96 and the 97 up there,” Kapler said Sunday. “Certainly better velocity than we saw in the 'pen, and the ball has been coming out really good in the 'pen as we’ve mentioned. Very encouraging outing for Sam. His curveball and changeup were working as well.”