Friday, February 5, 2010

Waiting for Zach Daeges

News item: "The Red Sox today announced that 20 players will attend the team’s Major League Spring Training camp as non-roster invitees."

Lars Anderson was invited to major-league camp with the Red Sox for the second straight year, his name among those released today by the team. The much-hyped Anderson shared a neighborhood in the far corner of the clubhouse last spring with two other prospects invited to their first major-league camp.

One was Josh Reddick, who jumped ahead of Anderson and didn't have to be invited to major-league camp because he's already part of the team's 40-man roster.

The other was a player who, like Anderson, again will participate in major-league camp despite not being part of the 40-man roster. The other was Zach Daeges.

The 26-year-old Daeges seems to have disappeared from the radar of the Red Sox. He's never been added to the 40-man roster. He was eligible for the Rule 5 draft back in December, in fact, but no team took a flier on him. Should the Red Sox not add him to the 40-man roster this season, he'll be eligible once again next December. classifies him as a Post-Prospect, a player who might have something to contribute but who probably isn't going to develop much farther.

He's become the forgotten man in the Red Sox farm system.

A look at the numbers, though, reveals that Daeges really can hit. Consider his progression through the minor leagues since he came out of Creighton University:

Age 22 (Single-A): .288/.402/.409 in 198 at-bats

Age 23 (Single-A): .330/.423/.579 in 515 at-bats

Age 24 (Double-A): .307/.412/.454 in 394 at-bats

So far, so good, right?

Age 25 (Triple-A): Injured

Daeges missed most of last season with an ankle injury suffered in spring training a year ago. He played in just nine games and was credited with just 29 at-bats for Triple-A Pawtucket before he shut it down. He thought most of the season that he'd sprained his ankle, but he told the Providence Journal back in October that he had an extra bone behind his ankle that had been knocked out of place. He had surgery in September to remove that bone.

In some respects, his window might already have closed. He's 26 years old -- two months older than Jon Lester, for the sake of context -- and doesn't yet have 30 at-bats at Triple-A. He can't play above-average defense at any position. He might not have much development left in him.

He has yet, however, to get on base at a clip less than .400 in the minor leagues. He might be 26 years old, but he's only entering his third full season in the minor leagues. A big season at Pawtucket might propel him back onto the radar.

Besides, if any organization understand the value of waiting for an on-base machine who takes a while to develop and break into the major leagues, it ought to be the Red Sox. Check out this career progression:

Age 24 (Double-A): .330/.487/.465 in 312 at-bats
Age 24 (Triple-A): .170/.295/.248 in 109 at-bats

Age 25 (Triple-A): .266/.350/.403 in 154 at-bats
Age 25 (Boston): .260/.367/.413 in 208 at-bats

Age 26 (Triple-A): .322/.459/.592 in 152 at-bats
Age 26 (Boston): .278/.400/405 in 79 at-bats

Age 27 (Boston): .279/.381/.429 in 569 at-bats

You know that career progression. That's Kevin Youkilis.

When Youkilis was 24 years old, he played the bulk of his games at Double-A -- just like Daeges. When Youkilis was 25 years old, he played the bulk of his games at Triple-A -- just like Daeges would have had he not gotten hurt. Youkilis then bounced back and forth between Triple-A and the major leagues for two seasons until he got his full-time break. Two seasons after that, at the age of 29, Youkilis blossomed into a star.

Developing so late is far from common. Most teams focus more on their 21-year-old prospects than their 26-year-old prospects, and with good reason. Youkilis' feat truly was remarkable.

But before Daeges missed an entire season due to injury, he'd shown himself to be an on-base machine in the minor leagues. If he can hit in Triple-A the way he's hit at every other stop along the way, he might yet follow the path Youkilis blazed for him.

It's not likely, but it's possible.


Anonymous said...

With Belichick going forward without a defensive coordinator and taking over some of those duties (who needs a defensive, or offensive, coordinator anyway?), how long until he decides he doesn't need a QB and suits up for that role too?

Gweg said...

So if he can hit .275 with a .398 OBP for the first half of the year than he very well could be in Boston as the fifth outfielder and productive enough to think he has a shot at next year. You article makes me think that way too.