His First Love Forlorn, Jordan Weems is Poised to Debut as a Pitcheron July 22, 2020 at 3:00 pm

His First Love Forlorn, Jordan Weems is Poised to Debut as a Pitcher

Every now and again I’ll conduct an interview that falls through the cracks. For one reason or another, the audio file ends up on the back burner long enough that its timeliness evaporates. Due to my neglect — and often to my consternation — the conversation never sees the light of day.

There are notable exceptions. Jordan Weems will reportedly be on Oakland’s Opening Day roster. In 2017 spring training, I’d talked to the then-24-year-old about his recent conversion from catcher to pitcher. He was in the Red Sox organization at the time, and while it was an interesting story… again, sometimes things fall through the cracks.

Fortunately I kept the audio, because it’s an even better story now. Nine years after Weems was drafted as a catcher out of a Columbus, Georgia high school, and seven months after he signed with the A’s as a minor-league free agent, he’s poised to make his major league debut as a reliever.

Weems was well south of the Mendoza line when his position player days ended midway through the 2016 season. The 2011 third round pick had a .119/.241/.134 line with Double-A Portland, and his OPS over 1,180 professional plate appearances was a paltry .568. He knew that his career was in peril, but at the same time, he wasn’t expecting a move to the mound.

“Honestly, it kind of came out of nowhere,” Weems told me in March 2017. “They had never told me, ‘Hey, if catcher doesn’t work out we’re going to make you a pitcher.’ I just knew that I had to hit, and I wasn’t hitting. When they made the suggestion, I ran with it. Everything else is history.”

That history began with Red Sox farm director Ben Crockett getting Weems on a conference call. Boston’s player development staff had not only discussed the youngster’s strong arm, but also his build. Listed at 6-foot-4 when he signed his first professional contract, Weems had always looked more the part of a pitcher than your conventional catcher.

Asked if the idea of converting had ever entered his mind, Weems suggested that it had. But only a little.

“Being a catcher, you’re always around pitchers,” he told me on the back fields of JetBlue Park. “I would always mess around with them, and they’d say to me, ‘Man, you’ve a got a good arm, you should be a pitcher.’ So it was kind of in my head, but I never thought it would actually happen.

“I tried my hardest as a catcher, and unfortunately it didn’t work out,” continued Weems. “I loved catching, but now I’m starting to really like pitching. It’s you versus the hitter, whereas with catching there are all these different aspects of your game. As a catcher you’re the captain of the squad, and now it’s all about going out and throwing strikes.”

His pitching experience was surprisingly scant. Weems had toed the rubber as a freshman in high school, but after that he was solely a backstop. He recalls his Portland teammates having assumed otherwise. Moreover, they were shocked to hear about the conversion.

So were his parents.

“After I got off the [conference call], I called my mom and dad to let them know,” explained Weems. “They felt the same way I did. We were in shock. I’d grown up as a catcher — and who doesn’t love their first love? — but at the end of the day I trusted our coaching staff and coordinators. They know what plays at the big league level.”

Weems topped out at 96 mph in his initial half season on the mound, which comprised 17 innings in the Gulf Coast League and another 15-and-two-thirds in the New York Penn League. Heater heavy, he dabbled with a curveball and a changeup. When I spoke to him the following spring, he was working on a slider.

Per The San Francisco Chronicle‘s inimitable Susan Slusser, the 27-year-old right-hander is now throwing a splitter as his primary secondary pitch. His fastball, which features good ride, has been clocked as high as 98 mph.

“It could have ended very differently,” Weems said of the decision to try him as a pitcher. “It could have ended with me going home. I was fortunate that they gave me the opportunity to get on the mound and show what I could do. While it kind of turned my world upside down, I was excited about getting another chance. Hopefully it works out.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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