ARLINGTON -- Last summer, Alex Speas was coaching youth baseball in the Carolinas.
A 2016 second-round Draft selection by the Rangers, Speas retired from baseball altogether following the ’21 season and decided to focus on his mental health and his family. But heading into Spring Training this year, he decided to try to give baseball one last shot.
“I would say, to be honest, fighting mental health sometimes is not the easiest thing to do,” Speas said. “There's some long nights, there's long days and it's a hard fight to get through it all, but I’m glad we made it here. I thank the organization for having trusted me and giving me the opportunity to come back and do this.”
Now with a clear mind, Speas felt ready to compete.
It has more than worked out. In the Minors this year, Speas posted a 1.00 ERA between Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock in 36 innings, averaging 14.8 strikeouts per nine innings (59 K’s) while allowing just one home run.
He earned his way to Arlington on Wednesday to make his MLB debut against the Rays. The right-hander pitched 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief with three strikeouts as Texas completed a three-game sweep over Tampa Bay with a 5-1 victory at Globe Life Field to extend its winning streak to six.
The 6-foot-3 Speas struck out three All-Stars -- Wander Franco, Yandy Díaz and Randy Arozarena -- in his debut outing. With the Rangers clinging to a 1-0 lead in the seventh, Speas was called on to replace Brock Burke with a runner on first and one out. His first big league strikeout was a swinging K against Franco, and catcher Jonah Heim threw out Manuel Margot trying to steal second for a double play to end the inning. Speas then worked a 1-2-3 eighth on 13 pitches.
“I didn't even know I was facing Wander Franco, to be honest,” Speas joked. “I was more in the moment of just being myself. Shout out to Jonah back there. He called a great game for me. We were on the same page from the beginning. He's basically showing why he was an All-Star. That's why he does what he does.
“It's a blessing at the end of the day. I’m thankful for every opportunity, and I’m glad to be here at this point. But the work continues on.”
Speas emphasized just how much being in a good mental headspace has helped him succeed this season. From Tommy John surgery in 2018 to the birth of his daughter in ’19 and the pandemic affecting the Minors in 2020-21, it was a mental grind each and every day.
Once he got himself mentally right, he felt like he could help the Rangers’ organization again.
“I missed the game a lot,” Speas said pregame. “But I'm to the point now that I understand that mental health is stronger than anything. Having that mental health helps you compete out here on the field each and every day.
“A lot of things that came at once and led me into a year of just taking it off. I wasn't myself on a baseball field. So it was hard to do. I wanted to be out helping this team and organization win, but that was the best thing for me to do at the time. A year later after coaching and being around younger athletes and players and just seeing the joy for the game, it got me back to this point.”
And coaching those kids at Legacy Baseball in North Carolina and South Carolina during his time off helped him more than he could have imagined.
“I was just seeing the game from a different perspective from the coaching side,” Speas said. “Just being around 9-year-olds and 11-year-olds and seeing how much fun they have each and every day, that’s the reason why we play this game and why we love it.”
Rangers manager Bruce Bochy knows a little bit about taking a break and missing the game. And while it wasn’t the same situation, they’re both stories about guys loving the game of baseball.
Bochy joked that he learned the same thing while coaching his grandkids’ T-ball team during his brief retirement.
“I'm just now getting to know him, but I think taking some time off did a lot for his perspective on the game,” Bochy said. “[The game], it’s not everything. It's not your sense of significance. So he just seems like he's in a really good place. I told him when he came in there: ‘This is what you came back for, kid. Have some fun with it.’”