Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Rising to stardom: Dustin Pedroia
By David Schoenfield
Dustin Pedroia is hitting .312 with 57 RBIs and a terrific glove at second base.
The Red Sox made Dustin Pedroia a second-round pick 2004. They didn't have a first-round pick that year, so he was their selection. He wasn't big, didn't have much power and wasn't particularly fast. He was just a baseball player.
A shortstop at Arizona State, Pedroia had hit .393 with nine home runs as a junior and struck out just 15 times in 244 at-bats. But at 5-foot-8, most teams were scared off by his size. Boston selected him 65th overall (one pick after Houston drafted Hunter Pence). The Twins had SIX picks before Boston took Pedroia and drafted Trevor Plouffe, Glen Perkins, Kyle Waldrop, Matt Fox, Jay Rainville and Anthony Swarzak.
Pedroia was an immediate hit in the minors, batting .357 with three home runs in 157 at-bats, with a 19/7 walk/strikeout ratio. He didn't commit an error. John Sickels gave Pedroia a B grade, writing "Pedroia is the ultimate skill player: he has unparalleled instincts for the game. He controls the strike zone like his life depends on it. He has a quick bat, and more pop than you expect from a small guy. ... The question now is, what kind of major leaguer will he be? At worst, he's David Eckstein. My friend Jim Callis at Baseball America likes to compare him to Jody Reed."
In 2005, Pedroia hit .324/.405/.526 at Double-A and then .255/.356/.382 at Triple-A, where he was slowed by a wrist injury. He moved to second base to accommodate Hanley Ramirez at shortstop and drew rave reviews there, being named the best defensive second baseman in the Eastern League. In a loaded Red Sox system that included Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie and Clay Buchholz, Baseball America named Pedroia the No. 5 prospect (Andy Marte, No. 1!) and No. 77 in the majors.
In 2006, with Ramirez shipped off to the Marlins, Pedroia returned to shortstop and Triple-A, once again hit .300, once again rarely struck out (just 27 times in 423 at-bats), and once again made few errors in the field. So he dropped to Boston's No. 7 prospect as Daisuke Matszuaka, Buchholz, Michael Bowden, Daniel Bard and Lars Anderson jumped ahead of him. Bard and Anderson hadn't played a game of pro ball yet. Pedroia wasn't ranked in the top 100 prospects in the minors, as perhaps too much weight was put on a poor September showing in the majors when he hit .191 in 89 at-bats.
"Pedroia is undersized and needs to get stronger so he can avoid the nagging injuries (wrist and shoulder) that have bothered him the last two years. His speed, range and arm strength are below-average, but that hasn't stopped him yet," Baseball America wrote. Oddly, Pedroia had swiped just one base in Triple-A in 2006, but clearly scouts missed the boat on his range, as he's developed into one of the best fielding second baseman in baseball. It's easy to get fixated on his size -- I'm not sure what size and strength has to do with nagging injuries -- instead of focusing more on his amazing hand-eye coordination, doubles power (that turned into home run power) and ability to improve (he's stolen 20-plus bases three times in the majors).
Pedroia won the second-base job out of spring training in 2007 but he hit just .182 in April. Many organizations would have lost confidence in him at that point, but Terry Francona and Theo Epstein were believers. He stayed in the lineup and finished the year hitting .317, won the AL Rookie of the Year Award and the Red Sox won the World Series. In 2008, he won the AL MVP Award.
Not bad for the next David Eckstein.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.