Every player who puts on a major league uniform had to follow the minor league path. While no journey to ‘The Show’ is easy, some roads are more direct and some are broken. Kansas City Royals farm hand Jace Vines’ career is definitely the latter.
From the outside looking in, it might appear that Jace Vines has had a straight shot to this point in his career. He was a fourth round selection of the Kansas City Royals back in 2016 out of Texas A&M, but the real story of his career is masked by what is appears to be on the surface.
Vines started out as many others do. He learned the game from his dad and just continued to play. He proved useful defensively in high school playing catcher and infield, but his bat, or lack thereof, led him to become a pitcher in order to keep his career going.
Focusing on the mound was supposed to get Vines into college to get an education and continue his baseball career. The only problem he ran into was that there were no offers. That is until one of his pitching instructors, Jason Jennings, connected him to a JUCO school named Weatherford College.
“It was an absolute blessing to go to JUCO,” Vines said. “I didn’t have any offers out of high school, so walking on at Weatherford was my only option.”
So, Vines seized the opportunity to keep his baseball career alive. This was step one in his baseball journey, and it taught him a valuable lesson.
“I just learned how to really work hard to achieve my goals,” Vines said. “A lot of trust in the Lord and His timing opened one door and then another, and eventually I landed at A&M.”
With his career still alive, things seemed to be looking up. As we know, Vines would soon be off to Texas A&M…if only things were that simple.
Weatherford did not ask Vines to return the following year, so he had to walk on at Tyler Community College. After a season there, it was time to commit to a Division I school. This is when Vines chose, you guessed it, Baylor. After a coaching staff was dismissed, the Texas grown pitcher chose to attend A&M.
That is a lot to endure for a college-aged kid. All the uncertainty, and all the ups and downs are enough to drive the faint of heart away from the game. When reflecting on this time in his life Vines frequently says “It’s all a God thing.”
For Vines, it is his faith that gives him strength. When a door closes another opens, just as it did with Weatherford and Tyler. The key was to never lose the faith that keeps him going through any obstacle.
“Faith means everything to me,” Vines said. “I believe God has given me this opportunity to play professional baseball to glorify Him and point people to Him. My story and my journey is filled with examples of God’s grace and His plan. I couldn’t have accomplished any of things I have without Him.”
Through college, Vines had accomplished quite a bit. He went from a high schooler with no offers to a pitcher at Texas A&M. The next logical step was professional baseball. However, the mental toll of having to bounce around and cling to whatever opportunity surfaced had gotten to Vines.
“I honestly had never even thought about the draft because I never thought I was good enough,” Vines said. “Once I got to A&M, I had a couple scouts talk to me, and I guess that’s when it became real to me. But it honestly never felt like a realistic thing until I actually got drafted.”
All the perseverance and abundance of faith in a greater path was finally paying off. The same kid who fought for his baseball career and didn’t think he was good enough for the next level became a fourth round draft pick of the Kansas City Royals.
Being selected so high may not have been the end of the road in terms of fulfilling a dream, but it was certainly a nice reward for all of Vines’ hard work.
“I was shocked,” Vines said when asked about being a fourth round selection. “Looking back at high school and JUCO, it’s unreal to think I made it this far. And once again, I think that shows it’s all a God thing.”
Vines jumped into Rookie ball in 2016 after throwing 62 innings in college and felt the effects of the professional learning curve and the workload. His ERA was over six in 57.1 innings across two levels, but his fortune would soon change.
Starting the season fresh in 2017 helped Vines to a 3.42 ERA across 100 innings for the Lexington Legends. He even threw well enough to earn a spot start at the Triple A level where he surrendered a pair of runs over six innings.
“[Triple A] hitters were definitely a lot more mature,” Vines said. “They didn’t swing at bad pitches, and they had a good approach at the plate. But honestly, I think having success at that level has given me the belief that I can actually make it to the big leagues.”
Ah, the big leagues. Every player has dreams of tying their cleats and stepping out onto a field as an official MLBer.
The long term goal may be clear throughout the minors, but the best way to do that is one step at a time. It is rare for big jumps to occur. So, each season needs to be about proving something new to the club. In the case of Vines, he has his goals for 2019 set.
“My main goal for every season is to make every start,” Vines said. “Staying healthy throughout the year is key. Getting better command with my offspeed is another key for me. I really just try to control what I can control and not worry about numbers or promotions.”
That strategy has worked well for Vines thus far. The promotions have been coming each year. He got a taste of Triple A in 2017, and after ending 2018 with the Naturals in Double A, he very well could see Omaha once again in 2019.
Even with all the goals in mind, Vines has done his part to prepare for life after baseball. He graduated from Texas A&M in January, earning a degree in University Studies with a business concentration. Something that was not easy to do while balancing a baseball career.
“I took a full semester last spring during the season, a couple classes in the summer, and then finished with a full semester,” Vines said.
It might seem crazy to take on a full class load during baseball season, but it just goes to show the things that can be accomplished when you listen to your mother.
“My mom really encouraged me to finish,” Vines said. “And I was already really close to finishing. Baseball is going to end at some point so it’s good to have that degree.”
Vines is right, unfortunately baseball is eventually going to end. And for a lot of people, it would have already if they had to go through what he did. It just goes to show how strong Vines’ faith is and how much mental toughness he has.
Between God, his mom, and his wife and dog, there is a very good support system for Vines. He was quick to credit his long and bumpy road as a big reason behind the player he has turned out to be. Now, he just has to find that belief in himself.
“I think it would have to be to just to believe in myself,” Vines said recalling helpful advice. “I’m the kid who wasn’t the best player growing up and I had to struggle to get to this point. So, I’ve always questioned if I was good enough to compete at the next level. But now, God’s blessed me with the ability to perform and compete at this level, and I just need to go out and do my best.”
Belief is something that hasn’t failed Vines yet. Whether it be faith that he is being led down the right road, or faith in his ability to make a hitter chase an 0-2 breaking ball, keeping his faith is what has gotten him this far.
With each passing season Vines is inching closer to wearing a Kansas City Royals uniform; he just has to control what he can control and never lose faith.