Troy Stokes Jr., now a minor-league outfielder with the Pittsburgh Pirates, was searching for a place to work out last year after his fractured hand had healed.
Stokes was a three-year starter at Calvert Hall before the Milwaukee Brewers took him in the fourth round of the 2014 MLB Draft. The 25-year-old has been slowly climbing up the minor-league ladder since then. He began the 2021 season at the Pirates’ alternate site, and he will likely play for Triple-A Indianapolis when its season begins in May.
But Stokes needed to get some work in when he contacted Calvert Hall coach Lou Eckerl, now in his 20th year, and asked if he could come back home for that. Between the pandemic and the hand injury, Stokes sat out all of 2020. High school players will listen to coaches, but they’ll really pay close attention when a pro player talks and teaches.
“The kids and the players were really excited to see him,” Eckerl said. “He’s got a great personality, and the kids just loved him. He worked with a couple of our players — kind of coached them up — and it looked like he had a good impact on them.”
Now, Stokes wants to make an impact on the Pirates. He is waiting to make his major-league debut. The outfielder is not frustrated about playing in the minors from 2014-2019 before sitting out last year.
“In baseball, it’s weird, so it’s all [about] opportunities,” Stokes said.
Sometimes, players just need to wait for their chance in the big leagues, and that takes patience. During his six seasons in the minors, Stokes has hit .250.351/.411 with 57 homers and 246 RBIs. He can play all three outfield positions but feels center is his best, most natural spot.
The 2021 season might mark the closest Stokes has been to the majors. After playing at Triple-A San Antonio in 2019, he was claimed off waivers by the Detroit Tigers. However, the Minor League Baseball season was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19, and he didn’t get the chance to take part in action at summer camp or the alternate site due to his broken hand. Pittsburgh picked him up off waivers this past winter.
After the Pirates acquired Stokes, they designated him for assignment, got him through waivers and sent him outright to Triple-A Indianapolis. He was a non-roster invitee to spring training this year and hit .212/.235/.424 with two homers and five RBIs in Grapefruit League play.
But Stokes likes being with the Pittsburgh organization and feels he’s in a good spot. The Pirates are in a rebuilding phase, and that could give Stokes a chance to crack the roster at some point this season thanks to his speed, defense and utility skills.
“I’m happy. To be with the Pirates is a great spot to be in,” he said. “I feel like a lot of people have written me off. I just think about playing well. I just want to play. Not playing all last year was tough. I just want everybody to see what I can do.”
Stokes first showed his skills when playing varsity baseball for four years at Calvert Hall. He made the team as a freshman and became a starter the following season. The Cardinals won the MIAA A Conference title twice with Stokes in the lineup.
Eckerl said it was not too difficult to see Stokes’ ability, even during his high school days.
“He was a special player,” Eckerl said. “He was an impact player for us. He is well grounded and willing to give back a little bit.”
Stokes also played a lot of summer ball during his high school career at Calvert Hall and feels that the combination really helped him.
“The structure of things was [good],” Stokes said. “Calvert Hall was really good for my career. In turn, summer ball might have been better for my career, but high school was good for me because of the structure.”
At this point in his career, it might just be about opportunity. Injuries always create openings on major-league rosters throughout the season, and last year, ongoing challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic did the same.
Stokes said he’s going to push hard in 2021, so he will be ready if and when the chance comes.
“In my mind, I feel like I’ve got to put my foot on the pedal,” Stokes said. “I’m 25 now, and I’m still ahead. I’m happy but I’m not satisfied. I’m grateful. I’ve been very lucky and fortunate. [Making the majors] would be a huge, huge thing in my career. It would probably be the happiest day for me.”
And it would likely mean a lot to those Calvert Hall players who Stokes took the time to work with recently while trying to better his own game. After all, not every teenager receives the opportunity to practice with someone in the majors.
“His ego has not gotten in the way,” Eckerl said, “and I doubt it will.”
Photo Credits: Courtesy of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Calvert Hall