This article also appears in the fourth edition of the Fresno Grizzlies Play Ball magazine that can be picked up for free by attending the homestand that runs Thursday, May 21st through Thursday, May 28th. Learn about the promotions for the eight home games and purchase tickets here.
Alex Presley has been in this situation before. Surrounded by top prospects and other outfielders with a foot in the door due to being on the 40-man roster, Presley is left making sure his talents stand out to the coaching staff and in the box score every chance he gets in order to force a callup back to the big leagues.
The Louisiana native is in his second season with the Houston Astros organization, but is back in the Triple-A circuit for the first time since 2013. In a numbers game that went against Presley, he found himself the odd man out in an Astros outfield at the end of Spring Training and began the year with the Grizzlies. Needless to say, it’s rekindled a fire that burnt back in 2010 when he was part of a rebuilding Pittsburgh Pirates organization.
Then a 24-year-old who was making his first foray into Double-A ball, he wasn’t even listed among the Top 30 Prospects in the Pirates organization. Outfielders Jose Tabata, Starling Marte, Gorkys Hernandez, and current Grizzlies teammate Robbie Grossman were the buzz of the Pirates farm system, while non-prospects like Wesley Freeman (out of baseball), Rogelios Noris (out of baseball), and Quincy Latimore were even listed ahead of him.
“I’ve never been that big prospect, whether it was high school, college, or pro ball. I’ve always had to outperform others to get a chance.”
Later in that 2010 season, he finally received that chance. With Pittsburgh fans and media clamoring for a callup, Presley received it thanks to a combined .320 average that included 28 doubles, 13 triples, 12 home runs, and 85 RBI between Double-A and Triple-A ball. Two seasons later, he’d play in a career-high 104 big league games on a Pirates team that won 78 games. However, a year later with the Pirates in playoff contention for the first time in 20 years the odds struck against him when he was packaged in a trade to Minnesota in exchange for first baseman Justin Morneau.
He finished the year with the Twins, but then found himself in a battle for a roster spot with Twins prospect Aaron Hicks the following spring. After Presley struggled through Spring Training, he was put on waivers by Minnesota and claimed by the Astros where he’d appear in 89 games.
“I had a pretty versatile role with the Astros last year, which is what I’m pretty good at and have become known for. It’s not the easiest job when you’re not out there every day, but the role you play can constantly change.”
Through all the twists and turns in his career, he’s kept a focused mindset that doesn’t fluctuate too high or low. Whether there’s been an up-and-comer on his heels or competition with his fellow teammates, he refuses to allowed his demeanor to be influenced by factors out of his control. Proof of that outlook is in his start to the 2015 season, where he’s batted .320 (31-97) through his first 27 games, which is good for second best on the team.
He’s even connected with the local Fresno fans, as evidence by his 20-minute dugout chat with 11-year-old Jackson Standifer shortly before first pitch on April 15th. Going mostly unnoticed, Presley spoke with the youngster who was three months removed from beating Stage-4 Burkitt’s Lymphoma.
“I try to focus on where I am now and do the best I can with that situation.”
That commitment to making the most of his time with Fresno can be credited to his years growing up just outside of Monroe, Louisiana. Whether it was encouraging his father to take him to the batting cage for extra work, being the kicker on his high school football team his senior year, allowing his older sister to persuade him into doing back hand springs, or setting records for the University of Mississippi as a wide-eyed freshman, there’s an energy that permits the 29-year-old to embrace the moment when given the opportunity to showcase his talent.
You can begin to notice that there’s more to Alex Presley than what you glance at in a box score, and that’s precisely what the first place Astros will look to add in the coming months. They’ll need someone with a fire that can push away fear in a key moment.
“Another opportunity will be there,” he says when discussing the chance to join the big league club.
That appears to be a given considering his determination to make it happen.