The Discovery and Development of Josh Reddick
|09.02.09 at 11:12 pm ET|
At the time, his home run didn’t seem any different from the others he had hit that summer. Josh Reddick lofted a pitch from Ross Detwiler, who one year later would be the sixth overall pick in the 2007 Major League Baseball draft, over the wall at Lassiter High School in Marietta, GA, on a summer day in mid-July of 2006.
While the scouts had come to watch Detwiler’s Team USA take on Reddick’s Georgia Collegiate All-Stars, the questions started circulating about the kid named Reddick. Reddick’s home run was the only run the All-Stars would get off of Team USA and Detwiler in a 14-1 rout that day.
Yet for Reddick, the final outcome was an afterthought. He went 3-for-5 against a team comprised of the best college players in the country. Scouts buzzed about the Red Sox’ still-unsigned 17th round draft pick.
Within minutes, Red Sox director of amateur scouting Jason McLeod was receiving phone calls from other MLB scouting directors suggesting that he sign Reddick before they got the chance to pursue him. While most scouts in attendance were cursing themselves at not noticing the skinny kid earlier, the Red Sox had nailed him.
Thanks in part to their detailed efforts to learn about a player who was unknown to most, the Sox worked out a deal with Reddick and signed him for $140,000 on August 8, just three weeks after that game and two days before he was to return to his team at Middle Georgia College.
“This kid was a raw junior college kid who (Red Sox scouts) dug out of nowhere,” said Mike Hazen, the Red Sox farm director. “It’s a true scouting story. It’s a true, good evaluation, a gut instinct signing.”
And so began the professional career of Josh Reddick. The 22-year-old rookie was called back up to the Red Sox on Wednesday, his third call-up of the year. That is three more trips to the majors – with more to come – than nearly anyone expected during an amateur career spent in obscurity. His is the story of a player who in three years has come from a small junior college to a growing role in the future of one of the most storied franchises in baseball.
‘YOU JUST HAVE TO KEEP WATCHING’
Red Sox interest in Reddick was first piqued during his freshman year at Middle Georgia College. As the leadoff hitter for the Warriors, Reddick batted .462 with seven home runs and 35 RBI in 46 games that spring. His ability to drive the ball consistently – despite a free-swinging approach at the plate – caught the attention of Rob English, the team’s area scout in Georgia who had signed 16 players for the Red Sox since 2002.
English and Mike Rickard, the Red Sox East Coast cross checker, both saw potential in Reddick. They noted that his lanky body could still generate an uncanny ability to hit for power. Both told McLeod to keep Reddick on his radar.
“At that time, the ‘draft and follow’ was still in place where you could draft a kid and follow him throughout the following year,” McLeod said of a system that was changed in May 2007. “Reddick was followed by someone on our staff. He was relatively, I don’t want to say completely unknown, but he was being scouted in the community. It was kind of by design that we wouldn’t have me going because we didn’t want to send any alarms that we were on this kid.”
The freshman outfielder had already gained attention from the Red Sox, Reds and Angels. By the end of the season he was told on more than one occasion that if he entered the MLB draft he would be chosen before the 10th round.
McLeod and his team had other picks lined up they couldn’t afford to lose. Rickard and English knew that not many teams were interested or even aware of Reddick, and assured the Boston scouting director that the outfielder would be around in the later rounds.
As for Reddick, he waited around on draft day hoping and even expecting to hear his name in those first 10 rounds. He didn’t. As the rounds ticked away he became more and more frustrated. This was going to be another instance where he passed over and cast aside.
He finally stopped following the draft and went for a drive only to receive a phone call minutes later from his friend congratulating him. Reddick had beeen drafted in the 17th round by the Red Sox.
“At that point I was still mad,” Reddick said. “I told my friend, ‘What? I don’t care anymore.’ When he told me I was in the 17th round I said, ‘Well that’s not high enough for me.’ Sure enough [the Red Sox] called me and told me, ‘Yeah, we’re going to offer you this,’ and it was nowhere near what I wanted so I said, ‘No I’m going back to school, there’s no negotiations with that. I’m going back for another year unless you give me more money.’”
Little did McLeod and the Red Sox know that Reddick was on academic probation at Middle Georgia and would not have been able to play that season. He would have had to sign with the team or transfer schools in order to play. Yet Reddick tried his luck and decided to wait until the end of the summer.
Reddick was invited to play for the Georgia Collegiate All-Star team, his first chance to use a wood bat. It was a prime opportunity to keep him fresh and display his abilities with wood.
“We were planning on following him throughout the next year to see if he got stronger,” McLeod said. “But he went on to have such a good summer, doing very well against Team USA, that if we wanted to try to sign him we thought the price was only going to go up. He was going to go to school or thinking of transferring schools that fall, I think, so we made a decision to sign him that summer.”
Reddick had used a wood bat during batting practice in college but never generated much power. But that summer, Reddick flourished in the wood bat league, generating power he didn’t even know he had. The home run off of Detwiler in mid-July capped his impressive summer and led to his eventual signing with the Red Sox.
Two days before he was to head back to school, the Sox signed Reddick. The Red Sox’ final offer of $140,000 was still about $10,000 less than what the outfielder was hoping for, but it was clear the Sox wanted Reddick.
After a long journey, Reddick had signed with a major-league team. In its own way, that represented a remarkable turn of events. He had not had the typical story of a wonder kid All-Star shining in the Little League World Series or being hounded by scouts in high school.
His father, Kenny, had been electrocuted while on the job at a power company when Reddick was an infant and was forced into an early retirement due to the side effects of the incident. Kenny Reddick devoted much of his time to helping his son achieve his dream of playing baseball, bringing him to camps and practicing in their backyard. Despite the coaching, however, Reddick was cut from his middle school teams and barely avoided a similar fate in high school, starting off with the junior varsity squad.
During his last two seasons at South Effingham High School, near Savannah, GA, Reddick received some attention under the direction of coach Tony Kirkland. The grades weren’t there; school simply wasn’t his thing. Reddick was focused on baseball. Middle Georgia College, a four-year junior college, began to notice Reddick at South Effingham’s games. It was his unconventional swing that caught the eye of Middle Georgia coach Craig Young.
“A little unorthodox at the plate when you look but you just have to keep watching,” Young said. “He’s one of those guys, I told our hitting coach, ‘You can help and talk to him but don’t mess with him too much.’ Some of these guys are just natural and he had that.”
In the fall of 2005 Reddick entered Middle Georgia as a freshman, uncertain of whether he had made the right choice. By the following year, those doubts were gone.
RISING THROUGH THE RANKS
Following his excellent freshman year, he signed with the Red Sox and started the 2007 season in extended spring training. He quickly proved that his skills were such that he was ready to handle an assignment to a full-season affiliate.
And so Reddick began his move up the professional ranks, as he was promoted to the Sox’ Low A affiliate in Greenville, S.C., where he played 94 games under manager Gabe Kapler and batted .306 with an .884 OPS, 18 home runs and 72 RBI playing mostly in right field. His performance even earned a one-game call-up to Double A Portland, where he served as an extra outfielder for the Sea Dogs during the Eastern League playoffs.
Reddick then started 2008 back with Greenville, but only lasted 14 games batting .340 with a .397 on-base percentage before being promoted to High A in Lancaster, Calif. It took him little time to exhaust the Sox’ Single A affiliates. After hitting for a .343 average and .375 OBP in 76 games, Reddick was sent to Portland.
A new project on plate discipline awaited the free-swinging lefty in Double A. While it was difficult for him to lay off pitches he once would have hacked at, he knew patience and control were the fastest ways to the majors.
“The one thing that we ended up doing through the organization and here in Portland,” Sea Dogs hitting coach Dave Joppie said, “was, with each at bat, he was to take until he got a strike, just to slow things down a little bit. Arnie Beyler, the manager, was looking at him to swing away when he would get into a 2-0 count or some RBI situation so we did have some leeway with that. All the credit goes to Josh because he bought into it and didn’t fight any of it one bit. He understood for his work ethic, the things that he was doing were going to pay off in the long run.”
Reddick worked diligently at improving his plate discipline and learning the strike zone. But his production suffered while he adjusted.
He batted only .214 with six homers and 25 RBI and a .290 OBP in 34 games with Portland struggling with the more advanced pitching of the Eastern League (though there was some promise in the form of his improved walk rate – Reddick took a free pass once every 11 plate appearances, easily his highest rate at any level). He joined the Arizona Fall League at the end of that season and continued to work at the plate. When he entered Red Sox spring training in February, Joppie saw a new and improved player.
“I noticed a big difference when I saw him in spring training this year and when he started the season with us here in Portland,” Joppie said. “He looked like a much, much more confident hitter with a definite plan and a definite idea of the strike zone and what he wanted to do with each at bat. He got off to a great start here in Portland and I think a lot of that had to do with the Arizona Fall League and the experience he gained in major league spring training camp. The light was going on, I guess you could say that, and it was exciting to watch him develop.”
Reddick joined the Red Sox in spring training at the beginning of this season and then started out in Portland hoping to make the next step in his progression to the majors. The start of his season suggested that he was no longer overmatched at the level, as Reddick homered in the Sea Dogs’ first four games of the season.
Though slowed by an oblique injury that cost him the month of May, he was still enjoying an excellent year as Portland’s leadoff hitter. He was batting .277 with a .352 OBP, 13 home runs and 29 RBI though 63 games on July 31, the day of baseball’s trading deadline.
GETTING THE CALL…AND A GROOMING
The Sea Dogs were on the road in Harrisburg, Penn., when Reddick was called into Arnie Beyeler’s office in the visitor’s clubhouse. Some rumors were swirling that Reddick might be included as a piece in a trade. The young outfielder also realized that he could be in line for a promotion to Triple A. He was in a state of significant uncertainty.
“The day that I found out I was leaving Double A, it was kind of frustrating,” Reddick said. “They had just kind of told me to pack and get ready to go and I didn’t know where I was going at that point in time. I kind of got freaked out, thought I was traded at first; that was the main thing in my head. They thought there was a slight chance I was going up to Triple A.”
Reddick recalled thinking aloud to his roommate how surreal it would be if he were called up to the majors but cast the idea aside, not wanting to get his hopes up. As it turned out, Reddick was indeed heading to the Red Sox, off to join the team in Baltimore.
Joppie had been at the gym when word got out about Reddick and saw a message from Beyeler on his phone in the hotel. Joppie had to compile a transition sheet, an information sheet passed from level to level within the organization on a player.
He normally sent the sheet to Pawtucket manager Ron Johnson and hitting coach Russ Morman, but this time it was going to Terry Francona and Dave Magadone in Boston. Joppie noted the task of preparing the sheet for Boston was nerve-wracking. He didn’t even get to see Reddick before he left for Baltimore.
Not that he would have recognized Reddick. Before his call-up, Reddick was instructed to take a trip to a makeshift barber shop in the Sea Dogs visiting clubhouse to clean up his appearance.
“He had a quite a wild Mohawk going that he would slick and spike up and a moustache along with it too,” Joppie said. “It was kind of a bad look but it was funny. I think he ended up doing it about two to three weeks before he got called up because he was going through a bit of a rough stretch offensively. (With) how superstitious baseball players are, they’ll try anything to get a couple of hits so he just went into the bathroom of the clubhouse one night after a game with the electric trimmer and went at it.”
Joppie later learned that Beyeler corralled Reddick before his trip to the big leagues, telling him a Mohawk and matching moustache were not the best first impression for a big-league club.
Reddick packed his bags and headed for Baltimore clean-shaven. He was used as a pinch runner that night for Rocco Baldelli and was in the Sox starting lineup the next two days getting his first major league hit and home run that first weekend.
“That first hit I tried not to smile too much and just hit it,” Reddick said. “Even when the home run happened I just kept my head down because I was smirking to myself. So I just kept my head down most of the time and went back to the dugout and was expecting to get the treatment of nobody coming up, but they ended up meeting me. Everything that I’ve done since I’ve been here has been jaw dropping for me and definitely a huge experience that I needed to have for me to be up here full time.”
Reddick lasted nine games with Boston before heading back down to Pawtucket to keep fresh for September. As Joppie often tells his Portland players, the highway runs from Portland to Boston just as it does from Pawtucket to Boston. Everybody is one phone call away. With the milestone hit and home run out of the way and his first series in Yankee Stadium under his belt, Reddick is ready for his return to the majors.
“He certainly has exceeded my expectations,” McLeod said. “I thought we were just getting a skinny kid that could hit a little bit. From the first time I saw him in that summer league in 2006, I couldn’t believe how much power he had. Rob and Mike Rickard nailed this kid.
“The first time I watched him I saw someone that reminded me of a throwback,” McLeod continued. “I felt like I was watching black and white footage game from the 50s; he plays extremely hard. Kind of a throwback kid, he’s a confident player.”
That confidence has helped the lanky, southern junior college product to travel an unlikely road. The Red Sox scouts saw something in that swing and gave a chance to a player who was not considered good enough to make his middle school team. Now Reddick is once again a major leaguer, with a potentially significant role for the Red Sox lying on the horizon in days, and perhaps years, to come.
- Red Sox non-tender Ryan Kalish, Andrew Bailey
- Fall/Winter League Roundup: Jesus Loya solid at the plate in Mexico
- Help Wanted: Staff Editor, Scouts
- SoxProspects.com Podcast #48: The Slow Season
- Fall/Winter League Roundup: Attention shifts to Caribbean, Jerez shining in Venezuela
- Luis Ortega traded to Brewers for reliever Burke Badenhop
- Red Sox re-sign infielder Brandon Snyder
- Cecchini, Ranaudo, Brentz added to 40-man roster
- Red Sox 40-man roster additions expected
- Fall/Winter League Roundup: Surprise wins title, struggles continue for Webster