Jace Vines was unhappy — and for good reason. It was July 19 and the starting pitcher for the Lexington Legends, a Class-A minor league affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, had just allowed 10 hits and 10 runs in fewer than four innings of work. By far, it was his worst outing of the season.
The 2013 Prosper High School alum was also a little confused. He had been enjoying an evening with his visiting fiancée, Emily, when he got a text from Legends manager Scott Thorman, asking if he was home. He had never received a text from him before.
“We were kind of weirded out. Me and my roommates were cleaning the house up real fast because the manager was coming over,” Vines recalled.
But Thorman wasn’t there to critique his pitching performance or suggest a change to his delivery. He wasn’t there to talk about the game, at all. Rather, Thorman wanted to congratulate Vines in person. He had been promoted to the Advanced-A Wilmington Blue Rocks, one rung higher on the minor league ladder that leads to Major League Baseball.
“It was kind of a whirlwind of emotion. You go from a pretty rocky start, definitely worst one of the year, to getting promoted. So I guess that’s all it takes. You just gotta have your worst start,” Vines joked.
Since Vines was named an all-district pitcher for the Prosper Eagles in 2013, he has been doing two things: playing baseball and moving.
“When I left high school and left Prosper, I wasn’t a prospect, Vines said. “I didn’t have any offers out of high school.”
His father gave him two options. He could either go to Collin College in McKinney and work, or attend a junior college and try his hand at baseball. For Vines, there was only one option.
He started on what became a tour of Texas college baseball teams. He first spent a year redshirting at Weatherford College, but was not asked to return to their program. He transferred to Tyler Junior College for one year, where he had a breakout season, and finally landed at Texas A&M in 2016, spending one year with the Aggies.
After going 6-1 with a 4.76 ERA in College Station, the Kansas City Royals drafted Vines in the fourth round of the 2016 MLB Draft.
Three years after deciding between community college and junior college, Vines signed a $375,000 signing bonus with the Royals. Now, he is touring the country as a professional baseball player.
In 2016, he pitched for the Idaho Falls Chukars, where he posted a 1-6 record with a 6.47 in 12 games. The Royals saw some minor things they didn’t like in the way Vines pitched and during spring training 2017, they tinkered with his delivery.
“In Idaho last year and in college, I was stepping across my body a lot,” Vines said. “I was pitching from the first base side of the rubber and then I was stepping across my body, which doesn’t allow you to consistently to have the same arm slot and the same release point, so my command was really down.”
Now, Vines sets his feet on the third base side of the rubber and pitches out of the stretch — not the windup — which is rare for a starting pitcher. So far, so good. In Lexington, even including his final start, Vines went 9-5 with a 3.42 ERA.
Legends pitching coach Mitch Stetter worked with Vines in Lexington and assisted in the slight modifications to his delivery.
“Now he has a very good action fastball,” Stetter said of Vines. “He’s got a four-seam and a two-seam and they both move and he gets a lot of ground ball contact with it.”
Vines typically operates with a fastball that hovers around 91 or 92 miles per hour, but at one point this year, touched 96. He also throws a changeup and a slider, which he will focus upon improving.
The minor league climb is not an easy one. In his first Wilmington start, he gave up four earned runs in four and two-thirds innings. But Vines is one step closer. To reach the major leagues, he has more rungs to hit. Above Wilmington, there are two more levels: Double-A and Triple-A, before the big leagues.
But Stetter, a former major-leaguer with the Milwaukee Brewers, has told his players, including Vines, about the reward if you can successfully climb the minor league ladder.
“All this hard work and stuff you do down here and the bus trips and everything that goes into it, even if you get one game in the major leagues, you’re forever a major leaguer. It’s worth the experience,” Stetter said.
The minor league experience has treated Vines pretty well. He loves to travel and has enjoyed seeing various pockets of the country. And although he doesn’t mind missing Texas summer heat, he remembers Prosper fondly.
“I loved Prosper, I loved my time going to Prosper. I always tell everybody, I would go to high school again in a heartbeat,” Vines said. “It was a great place for me.”
And Vines is not the only Eagle getting paid to play baseball. Fellow Prosper alums Torii Hunter, Jr. and Chad Hardy were also selected in the 2016 MLB Draft by the Angels and Red Sox, respectively. And Brandon Grudzielanek, a 2013 Prosper alum, is in the Blue Jays system.
Still in his first full year playing professional baseball, things are going well for Vines. He was named to the South Atlantic League All-Star team and now finds himself one step closer to the majors.
“I think with him being so young in his pitching career, I feel like he can definitely be a guy that is an impact pitcher in the major leagues,” Stetter said.
That statement would have seemed far-fetched when Vines graduated from Prosper High School with no Division-I college interest and certainly no professional scouts reaching out to him.
How would 18-year old Vines have reacted if you’d told him where he would be in 2017?
“I would’ve just laughed at you,” Vines said without hesitation. “I guarantee anybody that knew me at 18 … I think we all would’ve laughed at you.”