Taking solace in some of baseball's stranger careers


Are you hoping for good things from a struggling or underappreciated player? These scenarios will probably happen again, so you're in luck.

You have a problem. You're a fan of a struggling or misunderstood player, and you want to convince yourself that he'll be okay. Better than okay. That he'll thrive and become a huge baseball superstar.

Except there's something wrong. It could be a lot of things. But if they don't straighten themselves out, they might not be around for very long.


Oh, yeah. I used to be a baseball player once. It's a tough racket.

Fear not! I'm a Pollyana, and I'm ready to tell you exactly what you want to hear. Here are some scenarios that will make you feel better about your struggling or misunderstood player:

Scenario 1: The young defensive wizard who can't hit

You have a player who is an absolute delight in the field. He can pick it, block it, or chuck it better than any of his peers. But he can't hit yet. At all. Not even close. The manager puts up with him for a while, but if the player gets into some BABIP-related funkiness, at the start of the season, the pressure will build, and eventually he could make a change.

Likely result: Yadier Molina

The catcher was always young for his league in the minors, so maybe we should have paid attention to his contact/average skills a little more. But for the first three seasons in the majors (age 21-23), Molina was pretty bad. He wasn't striking out a lot, but he would do things like post a 53 OPS+. Here are some other players who did that in 400 at-bats or more: Rey Ordoñez, Willy Tavares, Brad Ausmus, and Neifi Perez.

Then he was average. Not sure what happened between 2006 and 2007, but the 24-year-old Molina was a catcher who could at least post a decent OBP to go along with his defense. Turns out that he was rushed to the big leagues a bit, at least as a hitter, and he did his painful development right in front of us.

Don't ask what happened between 2010 and 2011, when he became Super Yadier. None of that makes any sense. Just focus on that part where he moved from bad to okay. His youth had a lot to do with it. So if you have a young, defensive whiz who's in the majors only for his defense, remember that Yadier Molina exists, and because he did it, anyone can. Even if that isn't the right way to use logic, it certainly is a way to use logic.

And if they won't take Yadier Molina for an answer, tell them about Omar Vizquel.

Scenario 2: The tools monster isn't producing in the minors

The scouts rave about him. The team spent a lot of money on him when he turned pro. But all he's doing in the minors is hovering around the league averages. Any day, the scouts say. Aaaany day.

Likely result: Hanley Ramirez

He was just bored in the minors, apparently. No, seriously, that's what they said. The season before he was dealt for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell, he hit .271/.335/.385 with six homers. He was 21 in the Eastern League -- young, but not exceptionally so. And scouts kept saying that he would break out, that he'd become a great hitter. The Marlins believed it, and for four straight years he was one of the most valuable players in baseball.

Just don't think about how his career would make a lot more sense if he's really five years older than we think because he was sent back in time between 2010 and 2011 to save his own grandfather from a train wreck. Or how it would make more sense if Molina bit Ramirez and literally ingested his hitting talent that offseason.

Neither of those scenarios are really plausible. But they make you wonder. Here, just take this pamphlet, but read it at your own leisure. No rush.

Scenario 3: The guy doing well in the minors isn't getting a call-up

Every morning, you check out the minor-league box scores. Every morning, a pet prospect is doing something incredible. Except he's not really a pet prospect because no one considers him a real prospect, and your team isn't calling him up. What gives? Maybe you're just bad at evaluation.

Instant rebuttal: Ben Zobrist

He was 23 when he was drafted about 20 picks behind Brent Dlugach, so he was already old for his level. He excelled in short-season ball. He excelled in low-A and high-A. He was fantastic in Double-A for the Astros, at which point, Astros fans had to be going a little crazy. They were coming off a pennant-winning season, but they couldn't repeat because they couldn't hit, and Zobrist never got the call. He was eventually traded for Aubrey Huff, and he did well in Triple-A for the Rays.

Zobrist never posted an on-base percentage below .400 in the minors. He hit doubles and he hit for average, while exhibiting solid strike-zone command, too. At no point did he win a starting job, nor was he ever especially close to one. He started getting playing time as a 27-year-old only because Jason Bartlett was hurt. It drove statheads crazy.

That player you're thinking of? The guy who's a little too old for his league, even if he is doing exceptionally well? He's probably Ben Zobrist. Start the letter-writing campaigns.

Scenario 4: Your pitcher is broken, and all the king's horses …

One minute you have a working pitcher, and the next you have a core meltdown. You need to convince yourself that everything's going to be alright.

Instant rebuttal: Cliff Lee

This does not -- does not -- get old to me:

Year Age Tm W L ERA GS IP H HR BB SO ERA+ SO/BB Awards
2007 28 CLE 5 8 6.29 16 97.1 112 17 36 66 72 1.83
2008 29 CLE 22 3 2.54 31 223.1 214 12 34 170 167 5.00 AS,CYA-1,MVP-12

He was a little mercurial in the seasons prior to that, but in 2008, you could hear the shwwwaawwwwwk as everything sucked into place in his head. Everyone figures that pitchers have switches in their heads that will flip magically one day. But they rarely do. One day Lee was a bad pitcher. The next year he was one of the best. This applies to Roy Halladay, too, but his rebound season came when he was much younger.

Lee was the same age as Clayton Richard is now. Imagine that shwwwaakkk upsdss happening to Richard next year, in which he's suddenly a Cy Young winner. You can't. That's the point.

Scenario #5 - You have the worst pitcher in franchise history

Likely scenario: Ryan Vogelsong

He's probably Ryan Vogelsong. Don't pay attention to his awful statistics at every stop, especially the ones in Triple-A in his mid-30s. Just make sure you sign him.

Scenario #6 - Some guy who hasn't played baseball in a while wants to take it up again

Likely scenario: Evan Gattis

He's probably Evan Gattis. Was he doing odd jobs? Did he want to check out the California guru game? We've all been there. He'll be a good major leaguer, just be patient.

Scenario #7 - A former Cy Young winner's elbow explodes before he gains 50 pounds

Likely scenario: Bartolo Colon

He's probably Bartolo Colon now.

Scenari ...

R.A. Dickey. Just teach him a knuckleball.

I suppose a better title for this would have been "Baseball Is Drunk" or "The 8 Weirdest Career Paths in Baseball (Pics)", but you get the point. Sometimes you just need a little help to be optimistic about a player you're interested in. Just use the past as your guide, and assume everything's going to be the same as it was in the past.

It makes as much sense as baseball. Which is to say, no sense.

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