As the book closed on 2014 and a new one was set to be written in 2015, Keyvius Sampson was also set to write a new chapter of his story. The San Diego Padres, the team which selected Sampson in the 4th round of the 2009 draft designated him for assignment to make room for an acquisition of their own in Shawn Kelly. In 2009 when Sampson was drafted, Kevin Towers was leading the way as General Manager of the team. Skip ahead six years and Towers was now employed by a new club, the Cincinnati Reds who made the move to claim Sampson just days after the Padres waived him.
Sampson who had grown up in the Padres system was eager to prove to the Reds that he could be a future difference maker on the mound. Unfortunately for Sampson a minor elbow injury held him back in extended spring training while the Reds affiliates got their seasons underway. With the first month of the season almost complete, Sampson was set to make his 2015 debut with the Pensacola Blue Wahoos at the Double-A level. Sampson would spend a little more than a month in Pensacola making a total of eight starts. In 43 2/3 innings of work, Sampson struck out 41 and limited runners from scoring posting a 1.85 ERA.
In June, Sampson would once again be promoted to the Triple-A, a level that had challenged the right hander in the past. Sampson who features a mid-90’s fastball and a change-up which ranked as the best in his prior organization struggled early on during his time with the Louisville Bats. Facing more veteran and patient hitters, Sampson’s walk rate rose to just over five per nine innings. The added runners on base got the right hander in trouble as he allowed 22 runners to score in his 39 innings of work. Although he had some struggles adjusting at the AAA level, Sampson flashed his potential in a career changing start on July 24th.
Sampson faced off against the Indianapolis Indians, the Pittsburgh Pirates AAA-Affiliate. The right hander threw 111 pitches over eight innings of work, keeping the Indians off the scoreboard. He also showed good control only walking two batters while striking out four. This start was an indication of what his potential could be when he challenges hitters and throw strikes. With the Reds set to make a slew of changes at the big league level this turned out to be a perfect audition for Sampson who got the news just a few days later that he would be heading to Pittsburgh to join the Reds.
Sampson unexpectedly was thrust right into action when he arrived in Cincinnati . The Reds got off to a large lead against Pirates starter A.J. Burnett and in the 8th inning of the game, Reds manager Bryan Price made the call to the bullpen and Sampson took the ball from Price and after a few more warm-up tosses stepped on the mound to face Jaff Decker. Sampson induced a ground ball out against Decker and followed that up by recording his first major league strikeout against Pirates infielder Pedro Florimon. Sampson would also get Travis Ishikawa swinging to earn his first inning of work in the major leagues.
Shortly after the game ended it was announced that Mike Leake had been traded to the Giants and that Keyvius Sampson would take his place in the rotation. Sampson’s tune up against the Pirates out of the bullpen turned out to be the perfect bullpen session for him to prepare for his first major league start, which would also come against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
With a few days until his start, Sampson was able to arrange for family and friends to make the trip from Ocala, Florida to Cincinnati to witness an event that he had spent parts of seven seasons in the minor leagues striving to achieve. Sampson didn’t disappoint in his first major league start. He pitched five strong innings throwing 51 of his 79 pitching for strikes. He struck out six, including a first inning strike out of Andrew McCutchen. The Reds could not muster any run support off of Pirates starter Charlie Morton and went down in defeat with Sampson picking up his first loss. It wouldn’t be long before Sampson would find his name in the win column.
Sampson’s next start would result in his first major league victory. Pitching on the road, Sampson held his opponent, the Arizona Diamondbacks to just one run over six innings. A Brandon Phillips home run gave the Reds a lead that they wouldn’t look back from and Marlon Byrd added an insurance home run to give the Reds a 4-1 victory.
Over the course of the remainder of the season, Sampson took the ball on a regular basis as a member of the Reds starting rotation. While Sampson faced some ups and downs in his first taste of big league action it also prepared him for what he can expect in 2016. The rebuilding Reds are set to start 2016 with an extremely young pitching staff. Sampson hopes that he can build upon his 2015 and impress the Reds in spring training and earn a spot in the starting rotation or if called upon as a member of the bullpen. Regardless of the role, Sampson is poised to be apart of the Reds rebuilding process in 2016 and into the future.
Seven Questions with Keyvius Sampson
1. In 2015 you made your MLB Debut against the Pittsburgh Pirates. How did you get the news you would be going to the major leagues?
It was crazy! I was with my brother and I had just dropped him off at the airport and I got a call from our manager Delino Deshields asking me where I was. I let him know I was just walking in and I was thinking I was in some sort of trouble. So when I got to the park I went right to his office to see him and he told me to pack my things that I was going to the big leagues. The Reds needed me there today, I actually thought he was kidding at first but then he continued congratulated me. It was just crazy, I had to pack my stuff up at the field, grab my belongings from the hotel room and I made it to the ballpark 10 or 15 minutes before game time in Cincinnati.
2 What was the feeling like when he made it to the clubhouse and saw your jersey hanging up in your locker?
It was surreal. It was my dream come true and something I wanted so bad growing up. I was finally going to get to live out that dream and when I got there I saw my jersey and everyone around the locker room. I had a lot of people coming up to me and congratulating me. I had my family texting me trying to get the first flight out so they could get there too. It really was just a dream come true, it was everything I ever imagined plus more.
3. What do you remember most about your Major League Debut? Were you able to share this moment with family and friends?
The advise I got from some of the guys which was don’t look up when you run out onto the field. You know the big stadium, the lights, the big crowds. What I most remember is just going in and getting on the mound, I said hello to Bryan Price and I just took it all in. Just being on a major league field, in a major league jersey, hearing the fans scream and myself on the jumbotron. It was just a crazy moment. Friends and Family are real big to me, without them I feel like you are nothing or alone. My family, my parents, my godparents, my brothers and sisters were able to come out. They didn’t get to see my debut because it was so last-minute but they did make it there to see my first start which came in that series against Pittsburgh. To have them share that with me and to be able to see them and hang out for a few days it was really great to take it all in with them.
4. You made your debut out of the bullpen but for the rest of the season you were part of the Reds rotation. How do you prepare yourself for each role?
It was a little bit different for me. When I came out of the bullpen they actually had me go through my starting routine when I was warmed up that night. I’m not sure if they already knew Leake was going to be traded and they were going to need a starter. Coming out of the bullpen is a different animal and I had only done it a few times in my career. You have to prepare to come in and possibly put a stop to whatever might be going on. Your job is to go out there and put up a shutdown inning and put that zero up on the scoreboard. As a starter its your job to set the pace of the game and try to get into a good rhythm.
5. The Reds are set to start 2016 with a young team after dealing the likes of Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake and Todd Frazier. During your time in the big leagues was there anyone in particular that you were able to lean on for advise for both on the field and also on how to handle things off the field?
The Reds are so good at making sure you feel comfortable. Bryan Price is so easy to talk and Mack Jenkins the bullpen coach was always wanted to work. They players were great as well, Brandon Phillips would always come up and talk to me. Marlon Byrd was great also offering to help me out with anything I need. Jay Bruce told me to let him know about my living situation or if I needed a place to stay. The whole team was made up of a bunch of great guys. Just to be sitting on the bench with guys like Sean Marshall and Homer Bailey and we would sit down and talk pitching, talk about what they would throw in different situations. It was really a great learning experience for me to be able to sit and talk to those guys.
6. You had the chance this off-season to be a part of the Reds winter caravan. What was that experience like and what were some of the highlights for you?
It was a great experience. I had Bryan Price and Tom Browning in my group. Tom Browning was “Mr. Perfect” so it was really nice to talk to those guys. Ivan Dejesus and Alex Blandino were also in my group. I had never been apart of anything like that before. We did a home takeover which was really cool. We got to hang out with them and see all the Reds memorabilia they had collected and here some about the Reds history. It great to be able to reach out and interact with the fans and sign some autographs. I saw some people with my jersey on, it was something that I never thought I would see but it certainly was cool to see the fans supporting me.
7. Have you talked to anyone yet about what your role is going to be with the Reds as the 2016 season approaches?
I haven’t asked too many questions. I think the ball is really in my court. I have to come out and perform in Spring Training. If I can come out and show them that I’ve made some improvements and I’ve learned from the time I did spend in the big leagues last year that I think I can fight for a job in the starting rotation. I know the Reds have a lot of big prospect coming up and they traded for some talented guys as well but I think it still comes down to me doing what I need to do. I love starting and doing what I do but If I have to move to the bullpen to help out the team I have no problem with that either.
A special thanks to Keyvius Sampson for taking some time out of his schedule and training routine to talk with us. We look forward to following him all season long as he continues to establish himself as a member of the Reds pitching staff. Please give Keyvius a follow on twitter @K_Samp2 and like us on Facebook and follow us on twitter @CTD_Sypien as we continue to bring you an inside look at players big league debuts.
If you missed it, read our original story and interview with Keyvius, you can read it here Chasing The Dream: The Keyvius Sampson Story