By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
FORT MYERS — Jacob Faria was sitting in class as a senior at Gahr High School in Cerritos, California, in June of 2011 when his cellphone kept buzzing.
Schools and teachers typically have a zero-tolerance policy for students using their devices, but on this day, Faria had a good excuse.
“I was getting too many texts and phone calls from scouts and teams, and one of my teachers was like ‘why is your phone ringing?’” Faria said. “So I told her why and she was super understanding. She the said I could answer my phone if anything happened.”
He knew his dream of becoming a professional baseball player was coming true that day, but he went to school anyway, because if he had 100 percent attendance in one class, it meant he was going to get an automatic “A” on his upcoming final exam.
“That was the only reason I even went to school that day,” Faria recalled. “It was a funny coincidence. I had to graduate from high school to sign, but it’s funny to think about that.”
He eventually became so inundated with scouts and teams trying to contact him, he had his dad come pick him up. He waited, however, to get credit for attending that one class before they patiently waited for the MLB Amateur draft.
Tampa Bay eventually selected him with the 330th pick in the 10th round of the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft.
“I was just sitting there on the couch,” Faria said. “I almost started falling asleep because I was waiting and waiting. I heard my name announced and I jumped up all excited. I didn’t really know where I was (for a moment).”
If you asked the 18-year-old Faria where he’d be in 2017, he probably would’ve told you he’d be a three-year MLB veteran. But now, as a 23-year-old, he knows it’s not as simple as he once thought.
His time in the minors has given him a perspective he once lacked.
“It’s changed a lot just seeing the process and the caliber of guys who are already here,” Faria said of his evolving perspective. “When I got here, I’d seen guys who’d sign and three or four years later they’d be in the big leagues. I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s going to be me. I can do that.’ It’s a possibility for some guys, but for a majority, you have guys who sign and hit every level.”
Faria has now spent five years in the minor leagues, with a breakout season in 2015. Evenly splitting time between advanced-A Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery, Faria had a combined 2.29 ERA in 25 starts, going 17-4 with 159 strikeouts against 52 walks.
The highlight of his career — at least on the field — came that season with the Biscuits when he threw seven no-hit innings. His career-best 14 strikeouts led to 108 pitches, so he didn’t get a chance to come out for the eighth inning, and eventually the bullpen surrendered a hit.
Off the field, a highlight for Faria came in 2014 when he earned the Erik Walker Community Champion Award, which annually recognizes a Rays’ minor leaguer who exemplifies sportsmanship and community involvement.
“It wasn’t anything I tried to do,” Faria said. “It was just being close to the community and the fans. You have to try to be as close to the community as possible. That’s your home for six months out of the year. You just have to be as tight-knit with the those people as you can.
“To know what that award represents, it was great. I wasn’t doing it for any recognition. It was cool being told what that award means. It was pretty touching.”
The award is named after a former Rays minor league pitcher who died in 2006 following is first professional season. The Rays also donated $2,500 to Faria’s favorite charity, Sammy’s Superheroes, which funds pediatric cancer research.
Faria is a member of the Rays’ 40-man roster, something he says means a lot to him. He’s appeared in four games this spring.
He looked solid in the first and fourth outings, while allowing two runs in each of the two middle appearances. In total, Faria has thrown six innings with seven strikeouts and a walk. He’s scheduled to pitch later today in the Rays’ split-squad game against the Orioles.