|Former teammates Bay, Sizemore reunited||09.23.08 at 9:14 am ET|
The 2000 major league draft is widely regarded as one of the worst in recent memory. Of the first 14 picks that year, only two (top overall pick Adrian Gonzalez and sixth selection Rocco Baldelli) have as many as 1,000 big-league at-bats, and only Gonzalez has an OPS in excess of .800. The eight pitchers selected in that group have combined for six big-league wins.
If one were putting together a short list of the best position players taken in that draft, Indians star Grady Sizemore (3rd round, 75th overall) and Red Sox leftfielder Jason Bay (22nd round, 645th overall) would rank among the top handful. (This is an amusing hypothesis about what a re-do of the 2000 draft might look like. Spoiler: the talent would be insufficient to round out one full round.) Remarkably, the pair was drafted and signed not only by the same team–the Montreal Expos–but by the same scout.
“I’m really proud to have my name on those guys,” said Scott Goldby, now a West Coast cross-checker with the Marlins who saw both Bay and Sizemore as an area scout with the Expos. “They’re good people and great players. They’re well rounded.”
Goldby traveled off the beaten path to Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., to find Bay, who signed for just $1,000. While Sizemore, a Seattle-area native, enjoyed a higher profile, he, too, was overlooked by many.
“The scouting bureau didn’t even have him turned in,” recalled Goldby. “Other teams didn’t have him turned in.”
Goldby had a tremendous report on the two-sport star, but Sizemore had a scholarship offer to play football at the University of Washington, and there was some skepticism about whether Montreal (a franchise that seemed constantly on the brink of bankruptcy) could afford to convince him to turn pro. But Goldby helped to sell scouting director Jim Fleming on Sizemore’s ability, and the Expos somewhat surprisingly opened the coffers to sign Sizemore for $2 million. The $2.001 million spent by Montreal on Bay and Sizemore that summer represents incredible return in a draft most remembered for those who failed to make it to the majors. (File under the What-Could-Have-Been category: the Expos also drafted but failed to sign 35th rounder Russell Nathan Coltrane Jeanson Martin.)
Despite their disparate profiles, and the fact that Sizemore entered the professional ranks out of high school while Bay was a college grad, the two became almost instant friends as minor leaguers. (Sizemore was a groomsmen in Bay’s wedding.) That was in no small part due to the impressive way in which Sizemore conducted himself when the two were both in spring training in Jupiter, Fla., prior to the 2001 season.
“He was supposed to go to University of Washington to be a quarterback. He’s one of the better athletes on a baseball field, no question,” recalled Bay. “Me and a couple college guys were out there doing our drills, and he was out there diving for balls, busting his butt. We thought that was pretty neat.
“He was a third-round pick who got first-round money. He had every reason, not to coast, but to take it for granted. But he was out there busting his butt like he was a 40th rounder.”
Sizemore, too, developed an almost immediate appreciation for Bay.
“He was a guy coming out of a smaller school who might not have gotten the looks that a guy coming from a bigger school might have gotten,” said Sizemore. “But I knew that he was a good player. You could see that. I’m just happy he got a shot.”
The two wound up being teammates the following season for the Single-A Clinton Lumber Kings of the Midwest League, with Sizemore occupying centerfield and Bay his neighbor in right.
The 18-year-old Sizemore showed incredible tools. His defensive abilities were tremendous, and his plate discipline in a full-season league suggested precocious ability. He hit .268 with a .380 OBP and .335 slugging mark, and his ability to control the strike zone suggested that he would be able to drive the ball as his physical development continued.
“I was four years older than he was and we were at the same level,” said Bay. “He had basically the plate disicipline of a guy much older.”
Bay, then 22, had been assigned initially after an exceptional spring training to High-A Jupiter before struggling there. He was demoted to Clinton, and after starting slowly in low-A, he was fearful that he might be released.
Instead, Bay caught fire. He enjoyed a huge offensive surge, and by the end of the season his high-.300s batting average was the best in the league. Late in the season, however, Bay did not have enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title, and so on a dreadful Clinton team (51-85, 36 games behind the league leaders), Bay hit leadoff. He went on to qualify for the batting title on the final day of the season, and took the crown with a .362 average that complemented a .445 OBP and .572 slugging mark.
A year later, with the Expos facing potential elimination by Major League Baseball, both players were moved. Bay was traded in spring training to the Mets for bench player Lou Frazier, and Sizemore was a centerpiece of a deal for Indians ace Bartolo Colon.
Sizemore has flourished as perhaps the best all-around player in the American League, a proverbial five-tool superstar. He has 33 homers and 38 steals for the Indians this year, and has played at a Gold Glove level in center.
Bay is a former Rookie of the Year, a two-time All-Star and now a vital contributor to a playoff-bound Red Sox team. He is the sixth player in baseball history to hit 30 homers, score 100 runs and amass 100 RBIs in a season in which he was traded.
“Look what he’s doing,” said Sizemore. “He’s putting up big numbers and having a great season.”
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