Riley Ferrell's dream of pitching for the Houston Astros, his favorite team growing up and the one that drafted him in the third round of the 2015 draft, vanished when he was selected by the Miami Marlins in the 2018 Rule 5 Draft.But an injury-ridden stint in Miami - and
Riley Ferrell's dream of pitching for the Houston Astros, his favorite team growing up and the one that drafted him in the third round of the 2015 draft, vanished when he was selected by the Miami Marlins in the 2018 Rule 5 Draft.
But an injury-ridden stint in Miami - and perhaps a twist of fate - returned Ferrell to the Astros last month, offering him a rare second chance to make his big-league dream come true.
"It was tough getting Rule 5'd," Ferrell admitted. "Growing up an Astros fan, being an hour down the road, obviously I wanted to make my debut in the big leagues with the Houston Astros."
Under MLB's Rule 5 guidelines, players who signed at 19 or older with four years of professional experience are eligible for the draft unless their team places them on the 40-man roster. Each fall, teams face difficult decisions for who they want to protect from potentially being plucked away by giving them one of those illustrious spots and who they're willing to risk losing. If a team selects a player, they pay a fee to the club losing the player, and the new team must keep him on its active 25-man roster for an entire season; if not, they can be returned to the original club for a return fee.
Miami saw potential in Ferrell, a consensus top-30 organizational prospect who ended 2018 with a 3.54 ERA with 158 strikeouts over 132.1 innings in 101 career games in the Astros' system, and took him fourth overall in the draft. The Marlins paid the Astros the required $100,000 fee in exchange.
"I thought there was probably a 50-50 chance of that happening going into the offseason," Ferrell said. "Once I got picked, I thought, 'OK, cool, I have this great opportunity with the Marlins.' They were one of the last-place teams a year ago, they're young, they're moving guys up. The opportunity was there and it was really exciting."
Ferrell learned that Miami had promoted 10 players in 2018 to make their Major League debuts. He quickly had to re-focus his vision of making his big-league debut at Minute Maid Park in Houston to Marlins Park in Miami.
"The hardest thing was that I had to go with the perspective of it's not your goal to make your debut with a certain team," he said. "Being Rule 5'd gave me the perspective that the goal has always been to get to the big leagues, not necessarily with your favorite team or the team you get drafted by. This game's not going to wait on you or adjust to you."
Ferrell said he was throwing harder and better than he's ever thrown during 2019 Spring Training, but biceps tendinitis in his throwing arm derailed his progress toward the end of camp. He was assigned to rehab with Double-A Jacksonville and Triple-A New Orleans in mid-May, but soreness in his side slowed his return.
The Marlins lost patience and placed Ferrell on waivers, offering him back to the Astros for the $50,000 fee. Ferrell's dream of pitching for the Astros was rejuvenated.
"For a whole day, I was sitting there not knowing what was going to happen," he said. "I'd been out of the organization for about six months. I don't know what (Astros) big-league camp was like."
He leaned on Marlins pitcher Tyler Kinley to help him through the uncertainty of moving through waivers and returning to your former team. Kinley was a 2017 Rule 5 pick of Minnesota who was designated for assignment in April 2018 and sent back to Miami.
"I think the best advice he gave me was: 'You'll never forget the first time you get DFA'd or put on waivers, and it's not going to be the last time,'" which Ferrell said helped humble him. "There's no good way of making you feel better about this. But the goal doesn't change. The goal is to get to the big leagues, and I got DFA'd, and the goal is still to get to the big leagues."
Ferrell said the Astros gave him the option to stay home to recoup for a few days before heading to the Spring Training complex in West Palm Beach, to which he eagerly replied: "Get me on a flight to Florida tomorrow."
The TCU product spent four days there with Astros medical staff, pitching coaches and took calls with Astros Minor League pitching coordinator and former Hooks pitching coach Bill Murphy.
"I came back and they said 'oh, we're doing this now,'" Ferrell said. "Six months really changes things. It was good for me to go and learn all the new things they've been studying. There are probably five or six things I think will really make a difference for me."
Ferrell said he and Murphy made a few adjustments to his motion that they feel will boost his velocity and help with command.
It didn't take long for him to re-establish himself in the Astros system. He struck out eight over 6.1 one-run innings in five games with Corpus Christi before being promoted to Triple-A Round Rock on July 14, the next step toward achieving his goal.
"I'm just really happy with the way things have gone," Ferrell said before his promotion to Round Rock. "If this ends up being a chance for me to make my debut with Houston, it'll mean the world to me."