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#TGW: Second-Chancers

June 14, 2015

By Jon Cooper | The Good Word

– It’s common sense to make sure you’re home when opportunity knocks on your door.

Less-conventional wisdom is being home when opportunity knocks on your door, answering and telling it come back later.

That road less-traveled worked for first baseman/catcher/DH A.J. Murray and centerfielder Daniel Spingola, the latest Yellow Jackets to follow that path as far as playing collegiately for four years then getting into pro ball.

Both were selected — re-selected, actually — in the recently completed 2015 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft after turning down the lure of the pro ball the first time. Murray was selected on the 14th round (No. 410 overall) by the Minnesota Twins, while Spingola was taken on the 31st (923rd) by the Chicago Cubs.

The double-draftees gave Georgia Tech 189 players selected in program history, 128 in the Danny Hall Era, and marked the 15th straight year and 34th time in 35 years in which Tech has had multiple players drafted (that doesn’t include the five incoming freshmen that were selected).

This year’s draftees took divergent paths, as Murray was originally selected straight out of Westfield High School, by the Houston Astros in the 48th round in 2011, while Spingola was picked by the Cubs last year on the 24th round but chose to return for his senior year.

“It was great to get drafted out of high school but I knew then I was going to go to Georgia Tech and play college ball,” said Murray, a third-team All-ACC selection and ABCA all-region pick as a senior, when he crashed 15 homers, drove in 51 runs and scored 49 (all career bests). “I’d say this [year’s selection is] more rewarding just because of the work that went into Georgia Tech and all the great times I’ve had at Tech. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. The coaches and the guys I played with and playing in the ACC got me to this point. I’m very grateful for that opportunity. That’s what made this happen. It made me a better player along the way.”

“There was definitely a lot of stuff going on last year that made decisions a lot more stressful. I had a choice,” said Spingola, who was second-team All-ACC and All-ACC Tournament team as a junior and a two-time ACC Academic Honor Roll member, who put up career-best 12-game-hitting and 26-game-on-base streaks as a senior. “This year there was no hesitation on my part. I always had it in my mind that I was going to hopefully play college ball for my career and go four years like, I guess, a normal student would. Obviously the year didn’t end up as I had hoped but I definitely think it was a relief to know that I did all I could at Georgia Tech and that I have an opportunity to continue continue playing baseball, which is what I want to do.”

Both have hectic stretches as they jump into the world of pro ball beginning this week.

Murray is headed to Fort Myers, Fla., and the Twins facility for a general physical, then it’s on to Elizabethton, Tenn. (rookie level), for Appalachian League play with the Elizabethton Twins — the 68-game schedule begins on June 23 and goes until September 1. Spingola takes off for Mesa, Ariz., to get physicals, then on to Eugene, Ore., for Northwest League play with the Eugene Emeralds (short-season A level), a 77-game slate that runs from June 18 through September 6.

Both go in with their eyes open but also aware of what’s ahead, having received words of advice from past teammates. Murray talked to pitchers and former Jackets’ teammates Sam Clay, who was selected by the Twins in last year’s draft, and Luke Bard, who was taken by Minnesota in 2012.

“They’ve been filling me in about the organization, what goes on with the teams there,” he said. “It sounds great. I’m happy to play with those guys again. It should be a lot of fun.”

Spingola has the rare opportunity to go back to the same team that put its faith, and a draft pick, in him last year. Still being on the radar of Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein was a nice feeling, especially after turning them down to come back to Georgia Tech for his senior season.

“It was definitely amazing when I found out that they took me again. I’m thankful they gave me the opportunity again this year,” he said. “Just the fact that they stayed true to me and that they drafted me again means a lot to me. I’m ready for the opportunity to prove to them that it was a good choice.”

While Murray, who is 12 hours short of his degree, admits that his family might have preferred he be drafted by the Yankees (“just because they’re close to New Jersey”), he’s thrilled to continue the Yellow Jackets’ line of Twins and hopes to continue the Twins’ line of superb major league catchers. To that end he’s looking forward to spring training 2016 and talking with six-time All-Star catcher Joe Mauer.

“It’s just incredible to have that opportunity,” he said. “He’s one of the best catchers in the league and has had so much success at the major league level. I know a lot about Joe Mauer but forgot about spring training and meeting all the Major League guys. So that’s definitely something I’m looking forward to.”

For Spingola, who’s planning on completing the final hours to his degree in the fall, there’s the opportunity to get in with one of the majors’ most potent player development systems as well as hopefully someday getting to play all his home games in the friendly confines of hallowed Wrigley Field, the majors’ second-oldest ballpark, having opened in 1914 (only Boston’s Fenway Park, which debuted in 1912, has been in use longer).

“Everybody knows the history there and if I ever get that opportunity it will definitely be one of the better moments of my life,” he said. “I’m looking forward to those days and hopefully they come sooner rather than later.”

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