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Long finally in big leagues for Giants after bumpy road

NBC Sports
Sammy Long

To say Sammy Long came out of nowhere wouldn't be accurate. He's the latest in a growing group of Giants who have their roots in the organization's territory, having grown up in Sacramento, where he would drive down to Oracle Park to see his favorite player -- Barry Bonds -- crush homers. 

But in terms of his professional prospects, Long did kind of come out of nowhere. He was a little-known minor leaguer when he started opening eyes in spring training this February, and he followed that run with a dominant stretch in Double-A and Triple-A. Just 60 games into the season, Long finds himself in the Giants' pitching plans.

After striking out 22 batters in 15 innings in Double-A and then 15 more in 7 2/3 Triple-A innings, Long got the call to join the Giants on this road trip. He's expected to provide bulk innings at some point after Zack Littell starts as an opener on Wednesday. Manager Gabe Kapler said the conversation bringing Long up to the big leagues was "short and sweet."

"Congratulations, you're doing great work, and we're excited to have you," Kapler said to the left-hander. 

The biggest call of Long's professional career might have gone by quickly, but the journey to get here was a bumpy one. Drafted out of Sacramento State in 2016 by the Tampa Bay Rays, Long initially was turned into a sidearmer. He had solid numbers but didn't throw hard, and the Rays released him right before the start of the 2018 minor league season. 

 

A decade ago, that likely would have been the end of Long's story, but he now qualifies as one of the potential poster boys for what is possible in this era of specialized training and finding jobs via unusual methods. 

Long went back to Sacramento and enrolled in EMT classes, but before jumping all-in on life as a firefighter, he decided to give baseball a second shot. He changed his diet and started working out at Optimum Athletes in Sacramento, where he went back to an over-the-top delivery and started seeing velocity gains. 

"I felt like I missed a shot, and not only because I had the game taken from me. I also felt like I could have given more of myself to it," he said this spring. "When I started to get back into shape I made that my number one priority. I didn't want to leave any stones unturned."

Long made a short video of a bullpen session and it was promoted by the Pitching Ninja, getting tens of thousands of views overnight. The Chicago White Sox had previously shown interest, and they signed Long and sent him to A-ball. Long continued to show promise and see his velocity increase, and when he became a free agent after the 2020 minor league season was canceled, the Giants called right away. 

Kapler credited Long for standing out on the second day of camp this year and kept mentioning him throughout February and March. Buster Posey and Joey Bart also praised the left-hander, who turned heads even more once he went to Double-A. 

In six minor league appearances this year, Long has a 1.99 ERA and 37 strikeouts to five walks. His fastball now sits in the mid-90s and he has a looping curveball that has been a devastating out pitch. 

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The Giants need a fifth starter right now because Logan Webb and Aaron Sanchez are on the IL. Long isn't fully stretched out, but he should be able to provide three or four innings at a time, either as a starter or bulk innings guy out of the bullpen. 

"He's made a lot of adjustments along the way and his stuff has improved at each step," Kapler said. "He's been able to show us that he can maintain his stuff throughout an outing and that it's not just a sprinter's mentality. He can provide potentially some length for us and we can look at him as a bulk (innings) option and then ultimately in the future he's going to determine his own role based on how he performs."

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