Lakeland, Fla. – Nobody has to explain the cruelties of this game to Cameron Rupp.
Coming off two productive seasons with the Phillies, the organization that drafted him and groomed him since 2010, Rupp avoided arbitration before the 2018 season by signing for $2 million. After playing parts of five seasons with them, hitting 30 home runs from 2016 and 2017, he was ready to settle in as the Phillies' backup catcher.
Two months later, he was designated for assignment.
“Welcome to the business side of baseball,” said Rupp, who the Tigers signed as a non-roster invitee on Friday. “They made their decision. I can essentially complain and be unhappy just like everybody else would. But this is how I support my family, my kids and my wife.
“I’ve got to figure it out. I can't sit here and cry about it. A little bit of that got to me last year.”
It did get to him. It sent him on what is now a five-team journey to regain his footing in the big leagues.
“It was a situation I’ve never been in and didn’t know essentially what to do,” he said. “I just have to get back to where I was and hopefully stay. I always heard getting to the big leagues was easy, staying is hard.”
He sees a path back to the Major Leagues with the Tigers, though it may take a few months. The Tigers are expected to open the season with two relatively inexperienced catchers, Grayson Greiner and John Hicks, who will be going through their first full big-league seasons.
At the Triple-A level, the Tigers also have veterans Bobby Wilson and Hector Sanchez. So how that will all shake out remains to be seen.
“I am just here to compete for a job,” he said. “I don’t know what the situation is here.”
It’s been a heck of a journey for him.
He signed first with the Rangers last season. On June 1, he was hitting .274 with eight home runs at Triple-A Round Rock. He felt he’d earned a promotion.
“What else could you have asked for?” he said. “I told them to call me up or I’m going to go find another job. Well, I went looking for another job and didn’t find one.”
The Twins signed him to a minor-league deal, thinking they could use his veteran presence down the stretch if they were still in the hunt for a wild-card spot. But they quickly fell out of contention and Rupp moved on to the Mariners.
Same scenario there. They were in the hunt, and then suddenly, they were not.
Still, he produced 15 home runs and 44 RBI over those three stops, while mentoring three different pitching staffs. During the offseason, the Tigers were among the teams that came calling.
“There was interest,” Rupp said. “The Tigers called right as I was about to make my decision with San Francisco. But they did show a lot of interest.”
Again, bad timing for Rupp. While the Tigers signed Wilson and Sanchez, Rupp signed on with the Giants before they restructured their front office. He was fighting to be the third catcher behind Buster Posey and Aramis Garcia.
But the Giants later brought in Rene Rivera, Stephen Vogt, Joey Bart and Hamlet Marte. Even if Rupp hadn’t read the writing on the wall, the Giants spelled it out for him.
“A few days ago, we started talking about opportunities,” Rupp said. “They felt like my opportunities might be better over here, so here I am. That’s all I can ask for, an opportunity to get back to the big leagues.
“They respected the time I had, being around for a while. They gave me the option to stay and compete for a job (with the Giants) or go where there’s a better opportunity. Of course I took the place where there’s a better opportunity.”
Rupp is 30. In five seasons with the Phillies, he slashed .234/.299/.407. He also threw out 31 percent of base stealers in 293 games behind the plate.
The Tigers sent three prospects back to minor-league camp on Sunday.
Shortstop Willi Castro, who made a favorable impression in his first big-league camp, was optioned to Triple-A Toledo. Shortstop Sergio Alcantara was optioned to Double-A Erie.
Also, non-roster outfielder Jacob Robson was reassigned to minor-league camp. His stay in camp was shortened by a hip injury. He is expected to start the year at Toledo.
The Tigers have 50 players in camp, including eight catchers.