Red Sox scouts saw something special in a young Dustin Pedroia

July 24, 2013 - 6:23 am
Dustin Pedroia'€™s impending seven-year, $100 million deal with the Red Sox is intended to keep him in Boston for the rest of his career. The open market could have paid more handsomely for Pedroia as a free agent in 2014, but the second baseman said Tuesday that he wants to continue rewarding the faith the Sox showed in drafting him in 2004, when every other team in the majors passed over him at least once. '€œThat'€™s really important. The Red Sox drafted me,'€ Pedroia said Tuesday. '€œA lot of teams passed on me because of my size and stuff like that. It'€™s pretty important. That'€™s why I want to make sure I work as hard as I can to make sure that they made the right choice in drafting me and me being here my whole career.'€ Even at the time, the Red Sox were surprised to see Pedroia fall to them with the 65th pick of the 2004 draft given his success at Arizona State. In his final year there, he hit .415/.645/.515 with 43 walks and just 11 strikeouts. Now, it seems ridiculous to think that no other team saw what the Sox did in Pedroia. He'€™s hitting .306/.384/.420 through the first 101 games of the season, ranking second among second basemen with 25 doubles, and he recently played in his fourth All-Star Game. Since establishing himself as the Sox'€™ full-time second baseman in 2007, the 29-year-old is a career .305/.374/.461 hitter who also plays above-average defense, a player who could have been a cornerstone for any of the other 29 MLB teams. Instead, he has become the face of the Red Sox. David Finley, now the director of player personnel for the Sox, was the team'€™s West Coast cross-checking scout in 2004, making him largely responsible for shaping the organization'€™s image of Pedroia. In addition to Pedroia, he had also been following catcher Kurt Suzuki, now of the Nationals, at Cal State Fullerton, and the Sox thought highly of both players. '€œThere'€™s no doubt, when it got close, when it got about 10 picks away, we had both of those guys rated really high,'€ Finley said. '€œWe would have thought both of them for sure would be gone, and when they were both staring at us, it became a pretty heated discussion of which one to take. '€œFortunately, I was in the West. I had seen both of them play probably the most at the time, and I was the West Coast cross-checker, and Dan Madsen was the area scout for both of those guys. And we both had Pedroia ahead of Suzuki. Not that Suzuki'€™s not a great player, and he would have been good, but Pedroia just embodied everything that we were looking for back then, and he still does today. The more and more you watched, the more and more you loved him.'€ Finley said he was shocked to see Pedroia fall to the Red Sox late in the second round. While he said he understood other teams'€™ concerns about Pedroia'€™s size and strength, he said there was no dissent within the Sox scouting department about selecting him. '€œEverybody loved Dustin Pedroia,'€ Finley said. '€œLooking back at the report, there'€™s not one person who didn'€™t think he'€™d be at least an average major league player. '€¦ I'€™m not going to lie to you, we didn'€™t think he was going to be an MVP-type player, an All-Star every single year -- the way he'€™s going, probably a Hall of Famer. I'€™d be lying to you if I said that. But we thought he was going to be a really, really good baseball player because of the attributes that I mentioned.'€ Finley emphasized Pedroia'€™s hand-eye coordination, the rarity with which he swung and missed, and his steady defense as some of his strongest qualities. Sox hitting coach Victor Rodriguez said those same attributes at the plate have helped Pedroia develop into a remarkably consistent major league hitter. '€œYou've got to have good hand-eye coordination, and I think he recognizes pitches early,'€ Rodriguez said. '€œSo at times, even when he commits early, he still recognizes and swings at good pitches. '€¦ At times his body's not in a good position, but his hands and his eyes, he can adjust and hit the ball where it's pitched. So it's a special ability that he has.'€ That coordination allows Pedroia to make contact with more pitches than the average player (88.1 percent compared to the league average of 79.6 percent, according to Baseball Info Solutions). He also makes contact with more pitches outside the zone than most hitters -- 81.7 percent compared to 66.8 percent -- illustrating the fact that when he does swing at a pitch outside the zone, it'€™s likely one he knows he can hit. Craig Breslow knows from experience how tough it is to face a hitter who controls the strike zone the way Pedroia does. Breslow faced the Sox star three times from 2009-2011, and although he retired Pedroia twice and walked him once, he said he'€™s not sure there'€™s an ideal way for a pitcher to approach him. '€œI don'€™t think it'€™s possible to throw a ball out of the strike zone up, because I think if the catcher can catch it, he can hit it,'€ Breslow said. '€œWhen you watch him, he'€™s so active in the box -- if the pitch is away, he runs toward it and hits it the other way. If the pitch is in, he backs up and hits it and pulls it. I think he'€™s just a guy that you pitch kind of carefully, move the ball around, change speeds, and hope that he'€™s going to get himself out. There are a handful of guys in this game that you can make quality pitches and they can still produce results, and he'€™s one of them.'€ Of the top 20 on-base percentage leaders in baseball, Pedroia is the only one who walks more than he strikes out -- he has 51 walks to go with 50 strikeouts this year and 400 walks to 379 strikeouts in his career. He may not have the home run power of the man who hits behind him most nights, David Ortiz, but between his ability to get on base by any means possible and his capacity to hit line drives to all parts of the field, he'€™s equally valuable to the Sox. Pat Murphy, Pedroia'€™s coach at Arizona State, said Pedroia'€™s '€œintent'€ and focus at the plate set him apart, allowing him to be just as dangerous with two strikes as he is when ahead 2-0. '€œTwo strikes for him is not a death wish like some hitters,'€ Murphy said. '€œSome hitters, they'€™ll emotionally put themselves out with two strikes. He'€™s just letting you believe he'€™s in a hole, and that'€™s your biggest mistake if you'€™re a pitcher.'€ Murphy said he had no reason to believe Pedroia wouldn'€™t enjoy the same success in the majors that he had in his past, given his approach at the plate. Breslow, who was Pedroia'€™s teammate in Triple-A Pawtucket in 2006 in addition to facing him later as an opponent, echoed that sentiment. Yet the doubts famously persisted, to the point that he has surprised even the Sox scouts who believed in him. '€œHe'€™s exceeded everything that we thought, and he'€™s a lot better player now than he was in college,'€ Finley said. '€œHis body'€™s better, he'€™s a better runner and he'€™s stronger.'€ Pedroia has never hidden his ultra-competitive nature, and the role that nature has played in making a player who'€™s listed at 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds into a superstar is clear. Murphy said Pedroia'€™s relentless determination to avoid making outs, coupled with his natural gifts at bat and in the field, put him in elite company. '€œI bet they were saying that about Pete Rose back in the day, you know -- it'€™s just what Pete Rose did,'€ Murphy said of Pedroia'€™s competitive drive. '€œHe didn'€™t know any other way. Dustin doesn'€™t know any other way. I'€™m going to tell you, you seeing him in Boston, he'€™s special and you'€™re watching it right before your eyes. It'€™s not going to change. '€¦ He'€™s the best example, in my mind, of a winning player that you could ever imagine.'€ Red Sox manager John Farrell had similarly high praise for Pedroia on Tuesday, speaking after Pedroia told reporters that making sure he played his last game with the Sox was his priority. '€œWhat Dustin means to this team is the example which he demonstrates every day, whether it's his early work, the way he competes inside a game,'€ Farrell said. '€œHe sets the tone for us. He embodies everything that we value as far as a player -- the respect to the game that he has and the effort which he puts forth every night.'€