Alexa, Tell me an Uplifting Baseball Story from 2021

Jose Siri sliding to make a catch

In 2018, the Cincinnati Reds farm system was stacked. Nick Senzel sat at the top, just ahead of Hunter Greene and Taylor Trammell. All three have had stuttering starts to their careers, but the talent of the trio is hard to dispute.

Tyler Mahle, the Reds best starter last year, ranked fourth on the 2018 list, and Jesse Winker, one of the most underrated hitters in the majors (see table below), was fifth.

The Top 10 also featured the Reds everyday catcher for the coming season, Tyler Stephenson, and exciting shortstop Jose Barrero (or Jose Garcia as he was back then).

In addition, players like Jeter Downs and Shed Long appeared on the list, plus two starters who will be rotation pieces this season in Vladimir Gutiérrez and Tony Santillan.

What I’m trying to say is, the top prospects in Cincinnati were good.

Seventh on the list was a 22-year-old Dominican with the tools to excite scouts and fans alike. In Low-A the previous season, Jose Siri slashed .293/.341/.520 with 24 homers and 46 stolen bases. Fantasy baseball players salivated.

The dynamic outfielder smashed a 40-year-old hitting-streak record for the Midwest League. And would have extended it further until intentional/non-intentional walk controversially halted the streak.

With an ETA to debut in the majors of 2020, the world was his lobster.

However, when 2020 arrived, the Reds shocked the baseball world by signing top free agent, Nick Castellanos. Siri, whose progression in the minors had stalled, was the odd man out. It wasn’t a surprise that the Reds DFA’d an outfielder – the roster was overloaded with outfielders – but it was surprising it was Siri. Although his chances of fulfilling his potential were diminishing, he still had tools, and more importantly, he still had an option remaining.

Perhaps it was a gamble by Cincinnati that Siri would pass through waivers, but it was a gamble that failed. His next stop was Seattle. The ever-shrewd Jerry Dipoto got a high-upside, low-risk player who could be given a year in the minors to develop.

Siri attended Spring Training with the Mariners, and despite only having 10 at-bats, he scored six runs, including a home run, and also stole a base. The new organisation was revitalising him.

However, the Mariners had a roster crunch of their own, and Siri’s potential was not sufficient to convince Dipoto that he was worth a 40-man spot. So for the second time in 35 days, Siri was designated for assignment. Perhaps, like with the Reds, Seattle had hoped Siri would pass through waivers, especially when most teams were trying to get down to 40.

As before, Siri’s compelling combination of power and speed was in demand, and the Giants, never shy to take up a reclamation project, claimed the outfielder and immediately sent him to minor league camp.

“He was a guy with a high ceiling for the Reds and a prospect there with tools and athleticism and power,” Gabe Kapler said. “I think that’s the general overview of Jose Siri. He’s high upside, high potential.”

With the major league season delayed and minor league season aborted, the outfield prospect was given the spot on the 60-player pool vacated by Buster Posey. But just before the 23 July season opener, he was DFA’d again.

This time, no one came calling, and Siri was outrighted to the Sacramento River Cats.

In November 2020, Siri elected free agency. He had gone from a Top-100 prospect to unemployed and unwanted. Some of the most innovative franchises in baseball had evaluated and then passed over the outfielder. At 25 years old, the dream of an MLB debut was as far away as ever.

Although unwanted in MLB, Siri enthralled crowds in the Dominican Winter League, where he scored 21 runs in 28 games and stole more bags than the rest of the Gigantes roster combined.

Then Christmas came early for Siri – two days early in fact – when he signed a Minor League contract with the Houston Astros on 23 December 2020. The deal included an invitation to major league spring training. The dream was alive again… just.

Back in the USA, the road to The Show was suddenly clearing. With long-term centre fielder George Springer signing with Toronto, there was a huge void in centre field, which it appeared would be filled internally.

At Spring Training, four candidates auditioned for the job: Myles Straw, Chas McCormick, Jake Meyers, and Siri. Unfortunately, Astros Spring Training camp 2021 could not have been much worse. Houston finished bottom of the Grapefruit League with just six wins.

Meyers went 0-for-14, McCormick hit 2-for-26 with zero home runs and zero stolen bases. Straw, favourite to win the job, didn’t have the power to go yard but hit .310 (14-for-42). Although Siri offered more power and matched Straw’s runs and walks, he racked up more strikeouts than any other Astro.

The job was Straw’s, but Siri was likely to get his shot sooner rather than later.

For the first half of the season, Straw offered excellent centre field defence and speed on the base paths, so his .665 OPS was manageable given the power available from the rest of the Astros roster. That is until he was traded to Cleveland at the deadline.

An opening. Was this Siri’s big moment?

Down in Triple-A, Siri was on fire. He had launched 11 homers with 19 stolen bases in just 66 games and a .864 OPS. However, Meyers – remember the guy who went 0-for-14 in the spring – was the best player on the Sugar Land Skeeters (Astros’ Triple-A affiliate) roster. He demonstrated power, speed, and a .400-plus OBP. Meyers got the call to make his debut.

Meyers and McCormick remained entrenched for the rest of the month until injuries to Taylor Jones and Zack Greinke opened up a spot on the 40-man roster. After nine years and over 800 games in the lower levels, Siri was called up to make his MLB debut. He brought 16-home run, 24-stolen base, .316 AVG form with him.

On 3 September 2021, Siri came on as a pinch runner at the top of the ninth inning, replacing slugger Yordan Alvarez who had just doubled. The dream was realised.

Then moments later, a fielding error by Eric Hosmer at first base allowed Siri to come round from second to score. The dream debut had just got a little bit better.

The next day, Siri received his first major league plate appearance – a strikeout looking with Dinelson Lamet on the mound. Damn, those big league pitchers are tricky.

Siri was exclusively a pinch runner in the Mariners’ series and then was surplus to requirements in the first two games of the Angels rubber. When knee discomfort forced Michael Brantley out of the third game of the series, Siri was summoned for his first significant slice of action.

After a nine-pitch at-bat against Angels’ starter Jose Suarez, Siri stroked a line drive to right field for his first big league hit. Moments later, he added his first big league steal. Two batters later, Siri trotted home to score. His dynamism was everything the Astros had hoped.

There are thousands of young lads in the Dominican Republic, dreaming of their first MLB hit or first stolen base. However, what happened next was beyond most teenage imaginations.

Siri got his first MLB start in the opening game of the series at Texas. Batting eighth, just in front of catcher Garrett Stubbs, the debutant only had to wait until the second inning for his big moment. And he seized it by hitting a line drive off Spencer Howard, went from first to third on a Stubbs single, and was then driven in by Jose Altuve. Another big league run.

Pitcher A.J. Alexy was on the mound when Siri next came up to bat. Alexy, who was part of the package in the Yu Darvish trade, had been brilliant in the minors. He then made two sensational starts after promotion to the majors, allowing only two hits over a total of 11 innings. He had a 0.00 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning when Siri came to the plate. The outfielder promptly pulled the ball into the left-field stand for a two-run homer. Siri was on fire.

Alexy loaded the bases in the top of the sixth but was pulled by Chris Woodward with Siri at the plate. Hyeon-jong Yang was given the ball – a starter in the KBO – the Korean lefty was struggling to work from the bullpen since his move stateside.

In the second pitch he saw, Siri drove the ball sharply to allow Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker to score.

Three hits, four RBI, two runs (including a home run), his first big league start could not really have gone any better. Except, with two out at the top of the eighth, Siri came on to face Hyeon-jong Yang again, and this time on the second pitch he saw, he lifted the ball into the crowd for a solo homer. Dreams really can come true.

Fast-forward a couple of weeks, and the Astros were in the postseason again, and Siri was named on the Astros postseason roster.

It was hard to shine in a stacked Astros lineup intent on demolishing the Chicago White Sox and then the Boston Red Sox, but Siri’s dream moment came in Game 2 of the World Series against the Atlanta Braves. With the scores tied 1-1, Siri hit a firm single to drive in Tucker and then scored himself after a fielding error with Martin Maldonado at the plate.

At the start of September, Siri had struck out three times in a 0-for-4 outing in his 688th minor-league game. For eight years, he had toiled, and the chance of the big time seemed to have passed him by.

Don’t give up on your dreams; just don’t.

Photo by Rob Tringali and Elsa/Getty Images

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