Minneapolis — Alex Presley went into the game Friday night hitting a robust .316 with a .373 on-base percentage and slugging .421. Not bad for a guy who has been traded or released by five organizations.
“I just try to keep it day to day,” said Presley, a left-handed hitter who got the start in right field against the Twins. “It’s one of those things where I think we all play better when we get to play more. I know when I’ve gotten consistent playing time up here, I’ve played pretty well.
“But if you don’t get consistent playing time, then do your best with it.”
Presley’s journey has been a case study in perseverance and self-belief.
When he broke in with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2011, he was being groomed to be the everyday left fielder. He hit .298 with an .804 OPS (124 OPS-plus) in 52 games, and won the starting job the next season.
He played 104 games in 2012. His average fell to .237 but he hit a career-high 10 home runs. But his days in Pittsburgh were numbered because rising quickly up the system was highly-touted Starling Marte.
It was about at this point in his career Presley began to learn some of the game’s harsh realities. By early in 2013, he was traded to the Minnesota Twins in a deal that involved Justin Morneau.
“You know some guys are going to get shots (to play in the big leagues) at some point,” he said. “But for me, I knew I could still fit in in some fashion if I’m not starting because I am pretty versatile. I was thinking maybe like, Marte will come and I won’t start as much, but I will still play — that type of thing.”
The realization was dawning that, though he had been productive as an every-day player, he had been type cast as a fourth outfielder.
“I don’t think anybody wants to accept it, but you have to embrace the role at the same time,” Presley said. “Everybody wants to start and everybody wants to play every day. But if you’re not, find ways to be valuable in the role you are in.”
That’s exactly what he has done. He is a steady, reliable outfielder — at all three positions. He doesn’t have home run power, but he can hit it in the gaps, he’s a tough guy to strike out and he battles every at bat.
“He’s a grinder,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “Nothing has ever been given to him, so he’s willing to do whatever it takes. He’s a blue-collar player.”
He went to a bad Minnesota team in 2013 and hit .283. It looked like he was going to stick. But the Twins brought Jason Kubel and Jason Bartlett back before the 2014 season.
“I played well after I was traded there,” said Presley, 31. “Then in spring training, an unforeseen designation (designated for assignment). It was completely unexpected. They brought back Jason Kubel, but when they brought in Bartlett, that was how I got pushed out. It was really odd. It was a shock.”
Bartlett only played three games that year, his last in the big leagues.
Presley wound up with the Houston fAstros or the 2014 season, but he was on a nomad’s track at that point. He asked for his released from the Astros in 2015, spent the first part of 2016 with the Milwaukee Brewers before asking for his release and signing with the Tigers.
“I’m sure along the way I’ve gone through many emotional phases,” Presley said. “Over time you just learn from so many different situations. In the beginning you come up, you are playing and you’re playing pretty good and a lot of stuff doesn’t even enter your mind — like the idea that this could change.
“But later on you realize it, you learn to accept it, learn from it and move on.”
The Tigers called him up for three games in August last season but then, surprisingly, didn’t include him among their September call-ups. That after he’d hit .293 with a .360 on-base percentage at Triple-A Toledo.
Another slap in the face.
“I thought I was going to get called back up and I didn’t,” Presley said. “In the moment I was very happy about it. But I had time to think about it. After I had time to look at it, I kind of understood how things went down.”
He understood enough that when the Tigers came back during the off-season and offered him a minor-league deal with an invite to big-league camp in spring, with the center field job wide open — he didn’t hold the September snub against them.
“They pursued me again and there is something to be said for that,” Presley said.
“I trusted that I would play well and things would shake out. It’s worked out so far.”
That it has. But he’s been down this road before. Nobody knows better than him that baseball does not promise tomorrows to grinders like him.
“I am happy for where I’m at,” he said. “But I can’t get caught up in all that stuff. Just stick with what I’ve been doing and let it play out the best I can.”