Less than two weeks ago, Kalian Sams was a free agent and his bags were packed for a one-way flight home to The Netherlands.
Now he's the Texas League's hottest hitter.
The 26-year-old Dutch product hit his fourth homer in five games since joining Double-A San Antonio on Sunday in an 8-3 win over Midland. He's 6-for-14 in those five games since signing with 10 RBIs. He hit two homers in his debut May 5 and has hit safely in every game since. He's added three walks and struck out just once.
"You wonder why he would even be available," Missions manager Rich Dauer said.
The 6-foot-2, 248-pound outfielder was released unexpectedly by Seattle on March 14, and with his visa set to expire, had no choice but to return home. He was all set to leave the States when San Diego reached out to his agent and expressed interest. With only about 48 hours until his visa expired, the Padres and Sams' agent went to work on extending his current visa, finally signing him on May 1 or 2, according to Sams.
"I didn't go on the flight because they were saying there was a 50-50 chance that the visa thing would work," Sams said. "I took my chance on staying here, and luckily, it worked out. If I had gone home, they wouldn't have signed me because it would've taken too long to get a new visa."
The stint with San Antonio is Sams' second in Double-A after spending last season with Jackson. He batted 24 homers and stole 26 bases across two levels in 2011, but hit just .231 with 128 strikeouts in 113 games.
In 2012, the Jackson staff went to work quieting Sams' approach. They eliminated his pre-swing leg kick and quieted a lot of unnecessary movement in his stance and load.
"They told me that I was a big, strong guy and that I should just put the barrel on the ball more consistently," he said. "They put me in more of a regular stance so I'd be able to make more solid contact more consistently. Just keep it simple."
The work paid some dividends late in 2012 as he felt more comfortable while batting .258 over his last 27 games in sporadic playing time. He continued to make strides after earning a spot on The Kingdom of the Netherlands roster in the World Baseball Classic, posting a .774 OPS over 21 at-bats.
"That was a great experience, the best I ever had in baseball," he said. "I was competing with the best of the best in any country, and it was a nice tournament for us."
Sams signed as a 19-year-old from ADO of the Dutch Major League, Honkbal Hoofdklasse, with the Mariners in 2006. He spent the next five years in the lower Minors, and finally reached Double-A in 2012. With the strides he'd made in his swing and his positive experience in the World Baseball Classic, he returned to Mariners camp hopeful for a promotion to Triple-A, but expecting to at least end up back in Jackson with an expanded role.
Instead, he pulled a hamstring in Spring Training with Triple-A Tacoma. He spent two weeks rehabbing, and when he returned, Tacoma and Jackson had full rosters. With nowhere to put him, Seattle decided to cut the outfielder loose.
"I was pretty shocked, didn't see it coming," Sams said.
Sams spent the next two months lifting weights, hitting in the cage and waiting for a phone call to keep him in the States. It finally arrived from the Padres, saving him from a one-way trip home and keeping alive his dream of reaching the Major Leagues.
"Not many teams get to add a player that comes in and hits four home runs in his first 20 at-bats," Dauer said. "He puts a presence in our lineup and he plays any outfield position and can steal bases."
"The time when I didn't have a team, that was a rough time for me," Sams said. "I got my second opportunity, and I'm not going to take it for granted. I just wanted to come and take off, and so far, it's working out."
Sams' three-run homer gave the Missions a 7-2 lead in the fourth inning Sunday. San Antonio roughed up rehabbing Midland starter Brett Anderson for six earned runs on six hits over 3 2/3 innings, with Anderson exiting for Carlos Hernandez before Sams stepped to the plate in the fourth.
San Diego's No. 8 prospect, Matt Wisler, made his Double-A debut, allowing three earned runs on two hits while striking out six over five innings. Wisler picked up the win after dodging a rocky first inning and finishing with a strong final four frames.
He allowed a one-out walk to D'Arby Myers in the first and then a two-run homer to Anthony Aliotti. He bounced back to retire the side in order in the second and third, and Dauer said he could've gone longer than five innings if not for his pitch count.
Dauer said Wisler was visibly nervous warming in the bullpen, and the skipper took it as a positive sign that the right-hander had some trepidation about stepping up another level.
"I thought that was really neat to see," he said. "A lot of players nowadays, they think they belong and should be in the big leagues already.
"The fact that he dominated where he'd pitched before and has tremendous stuff and he's a little nervous tells me he has some character and cares not only about himself, but cares that he might let the team down."