It would be fitting for Royals outfielder Whit Merrifield and Orioles left-hander John Means to chat during the All-Star Game festivities.
Both took unconventional roads just to get to the major leagues and faced doubters all along the way.
Merrifield was never considered one of the Royals’ top prospects and he nearly quitting baseball after having the rug pulled out from under him when a call-up to the majors was reneged.
Means, who graduated from Gardner Edgerton High School, was at Class AA Bowie last year for a third straight season and started to wonder about his future.
“I’ve never felt like that after baseball games before, where you think your career is over, you think you’re going to quit,” Means told the Baltimore Sun.
Means stuck with it, and made his big-league debut last September. He went into spring training with the Orioles expecting to be sent to the minors. Instead, he made the team as a reliever. After four appearances, Means moved to the rotation and has a 2.50 ERA, 1.077 WHIP and a 3.5 WAR.
Although every major-league team has a representative in the All-Star Game, Means earned his opportunity. He’s just not sure his teammates will recognize his face.
“I think once we get to the field, I’ll start talking to guys and maybe getting some side-eye, not sure who I am and what I’m doing here,” Means joked in an interview with MLB.com. “But no, it’ll be fun. It’s kind of a cool experience that no one knows who I am, and I’m still here.”
With all apologies to Merrifield, Means may be the most unlikely All-Star at this year’s game.
As a freshman at Olathe East High School, Means was on the squad’s “D” team, his father, Alan, told the Baltimore Sun. Means transferred to Gardner Edgerton, where he was teammates with Bubba Starling, who was taken fifth overall by the Royals in the 2011 draft. Means also was drafted that year: No. 1,406 by the Atlanta Braves.
Means chose to pitch in college, but his options weren’t great.
“I didn’t have any other offers,” Means told the Sun. “Division I, Division II, Division III — you name it, I didn’t have it.”
He played at Fort Scott Community College, then pitched for the Mohawk Valley Diamond Dawgs in a summer league in New York state in 2012. He had a 1.26 ERA and struck out 49 batters in 43 innings and earned a shot with West Virginia.
“I think that’s one of the biggest growth periods of my career,” Means told MLB.com. “Transferring in and playing against some really good competition in the Big 12. That, and just growing up as a man.”
Means was picked by the Orioles in the 11th round of the 2014 draft and made his way up the Orioles’ system. In 2018, Means had his doubts about his future, but stuck with it and earned a promotion to Triple-A and then the big-league team. This past offseason, Means returned to Kansas, but told MLB.com he commuted weekly to St. Louis where he worked on his biomechanics at P3 Premier Pitching and Performance.
“I changed things up, went to a pitching facility and learned a routine to get the most out of my body,” Means told USA Today. “I was only kind of a ‘thrower’ in the minor leagues, I wasn’t really a ‘pitcher’ yet. And I didn’t know exactly what I was doing.”
Now, after a strong first half for the Orioles, he’ll be at Progressive Field in Cleveland. A 26-year-old rookie with ties to Kansas City getting to hang with the elite of Major League Baseball.
“I’m the last person everybody who has played with me and against me would’ve thought is a major league All-Star,” Means told the Sun.
And yet, almost all of those players will be at home Tuesday night. Watching Means.