So of course, we’ll be breaking down Thunder batboys today. Or shortstops, your call.
David McDonough is the featured writer in our position-by-position breakdown of the Thunder’s All 15 Year Team, and has covered the team since their inception in 1994. He brings a smooth and unique writing style, not to mention a knowledge of the team’s history and players that few others have. In short, few are as qualified as he is to be doing this.
The following is Dave’s breakdown, mine will follow after all of his are done…
Nomar Garciaparra: Arguably, Nomar has had the greatest major league success of any Thunder player, although he has not been too good in recent years. The question is, do we honor for what he accomplished in the big leagues, or what he did in Trenton? Because if we are just talking Double-A ball, he’s not getting my vote. You have to remember, we had Nomar before Nomar was No-Mah!.
Nomar showed up in Trenton in 1995 sporting maybe 165 pounds on his 6’0 frame. He was the Red Sox first round pick in 1994, and big things were expected of him. He was solid in a Thunder uniform, sporting the best glove the young team had seen at shortstop. He had good speed, stealing 35 bases. But as a hitter, he was average, showing the occasional flash of power. In 125 games, he hit .267 with 8 homers and knocked in 47 runs. Not that anyone expected him to bat in runs; he was hitting at the top of the line-up. After all, this was a skinny, speedy 22-year-old shortstop with great leather, in only his first full pro season. He was expected, when he filled out, to man his position at Fenway with élan, hit between 15 and 20 homers, and bat between .280 and .290.
Then, the next spring, Nomar showed up for work with the Triple-A PawSox about thirty pounds heavier, all muscle. Hits that had gone “crack” the year before now went “woomph.” He had 16 home runs in 43 games with Pawtucket before getting hurt, and everyone knows the rest of the story. The one-time lead-off man had become a masher. For half a dozen years he reigned supreme in Boston, where he became ‘No-Mah!”, a regional icon. He even had his number retired in Trenton, but that had a lot more to do with his great years in Boston than his year in Trenton.
There was even some trepidation that he might be less than gracious about the number-retiring ceremony, since his relationship with the fans and press in Trenton had been a little strained. He had become annoyed one day in ’95 when he made an admittedly great play in the field, and the crowd failed to recognize it. Nomar said as much to the reporters afterward, and then was dismayed when we ran his comments. His big mistake was attempting to deny that he had said it. Some put his distrust of the press as beginning at that moment, but I think he was just always uncomfortable talking to reporters, partly out of genuine shyness.
He was always going to be a good ballplayer, but no one who saw him in Trenton in 95 could have said how good. Remember when A-Rod, Jeter and No-Mah were the great, future Hall-Of-fame triumvirate shortstops in the American League? Well, two of them are going to Hall of Fame, but injuries have knocked Nomar out of contention. As the guy in my Italian deli said to me once, “You know, I said to him, ‘You never know, you know.’”
Adam Everett: How about this: when Adam Everett hit Trenton in 1999, the player he most resembled was the 1995 stripped-down version of Nomar. He was a 22-year-old first round draft choice who was playing his first full season in the pros. He was six feet and weighed about 170. He was a great shortstop – even better than Nomar, in my opinion – who the Red Sox hoped would fill out and become a decent hitter. He played 98 games in Trenton before getting hurt, and batted .263 – about the same as Nomar – with 10 homers. And he batted at the top of the line-up, just behind David Eckstein, with whom he formed the best keystone combination in the league.
The sequel is a little different than Nomar’s. The Red Sox shipped him off the next winter to the Astros for power-hitting Carl Everett (after all, the Sox did have a pretty decent shortstop named Nomah at the time). Adam never did get heavier or become a good hitter, but he has carved out a good living as one of the top defensive shortstops in the National League. He signed a one-year contract with the Twins this off-season.
Donnie Sadler: About a quarter of the way into the 1996 season, the Red Sox announced that their fleet, diminutive (5’6) Trenton Thunder shortstop, 21-year-old Donnie Sadler, was now the Red Sox center fielder of the future. They sent him off to Florida for a couple of weeks for tutelage, and then brought him back to Trenton and installed him in front of the center field scoreboard.
And he hated it. A very shy, immature kid, Sadler liked the excitement of the infield, and hated the boredom of waiting for four or five chances a game in the outfield. After 30 games, the experiment was halted, and Sadler went back to shortstop. But the experience seemed to leave a bad taste in his month. He began to pal around with a couple of team vets who were known as malcontents. Most veterans are helpful to a young player; these guys were not. Sadler ended up with a mediocre season and a mild reputation as an unreliable guy. He became a utility infielder, bouncing around baseball, getting 416 games of big-league ball in eight years. In 2007, while playing Triple-A for the DBacks, he was suspended for 50 games for drug violations.
Can all this be blamed on one failed experiment in 1996? Probably not. But if the Sox had been paying attention, they might have realized that a shy, small town kid just a couple of years out of high school needed to stay out of the spotlight while he matured.
Ramiro Pena: There’s nothing wrong with Ramiro that good health and the ability to master Double-A pitching won’t cure. He’s got the glove, but hasn’t gotten his average over .252 in parts of the last three years with Trenton. He looked like he might be starting to hit when he broke his wrist in 2006, and hurt his shoulder in June, 2007, missing the rest of the season. In 140 games with the Thunder, he has yet to homer, and he doesn’t steal much. He’s not in Baseball America’s Top 30 Yankee prospects. The good news is, he’s only 22. But health and hitting better come soon.
Not On the Ballot: Freddy Sanchez: Freddy played 113 games at shortstop for Trenton between 2001 and 2002, and 11 games at second base, so why he is on the ballot at second eludes me. The man was an on-base machine. He holds the club record for hitting safely in 27 consecutive games, hit .327 in 489 at bats over the two seasons and had a combined OBP around .400. He’s the only Thunder player to hit 4 doubles in a game. Stole a few bases, too. And defensively, he was better than average. He was a 2002 Eastern League All-Star.
Naturally, since he was only 5’10, the Red Sox had to get rid of him. He went to the Pirates for Jeff Suppan in a multi-player trade in 2003. Suppan went on to win three games for the Red Sox, while Freddy was the 2006 National League batting champ. Meanwhile, the Red Sox have had five shortstops in five years. Not one of Theo Epstein’s smarter moves.
Dave’s Vote Goes To: Freddy Sanchez
Ashmore’s Thunder Thoughts: At first glance, some fans may look at the ballot, see “Nomar Garciaparra” and vote for him without even looking at any of the other candidates. Not me…
Nomar Garciaparra: If you’re looking at this contest based solely on what the player did while he was in Trenton, then Garciaparra’s 1995 season doesn’t really stand out above the others. He hit .267 with eight home runs and 47 RBI. He also swiped 35 bags on the basepaths, and committed 23 errors in the field.
Baseball America named him a Double-A All-Star, and he was an Eastern League All-Star as well.
Get your hate mail ready Thunder fans…but as the Thunder’s shortstop, Garciaparra was kind of overrated. It was in Pawtucket the following year where he became the complete player that you saw in the big leagues for years, before injuries eventually limited him in the field and took away a lot of his power.
While he’s gone on to great things after playing for Trenton, countless other players made more of an impact at Waterfront Park than Garciaparra did.
Adam Everett: You could make a case that Adam Everett did more in his one year in Trenton than Nomar Garciaparra did, he just didn’t have the accolades Nomar did.
He hit just four points less than Garciaparra did, hit two more home runs and drove in seven less runs, all in nearly 30 games less than Garciaparra had to compile his statistics.
Along with David Eckstein, he also formed one of the most dazzling double-play combinations seen anywhere, no less Trenton.
It would be interesting to look at how many of the guys on these ballots never got to accomplish anything in a Red Sox uniform, and Everett would be a part of that list. He was traded for another Everett, the controversial Carl, who went on to lead the league in umpire headbutts, inappropriate body part grabbing and odd comments. While Carl now enters his second season of independent ball, Adam goes to the American League with the Twins after seven seasons in Houston, including one World Series appearance.
Donnie Sadler: Does every Thunder shortstop on this list have eerily similar statistics? Sadler’s 1996 stats: .267, 6 home runs and 46 RBI.
Sadler made it to the big leagues with the Red Sox just two seasons later, and has been every bit of a journeyman since then. Parts of three seasons at Fenway. Splitting another with Kansas City and Cincinnati. Another split year between the Royals and Rangers.
After that? 77 forgetable games in Texas in 2003, and 19 games over the past four seasons for Arizona.
Sadler could never hit at the Major League level, with a career average of .202 in 768 at-bats. Not even the alleged use of performance enhancing drugs changed that, as he was hit with a 50-game ban in July of last year.
Once traded with controversial Thunder alum Michael Coleman, Sadler now finds himself without a job for 2008.
Ramiro Pena: It’s hard to believe that Ramiro Pena would be considered one of the more memorable players in Thunder history. However, at just 22 years of age, he still has time to blossom into an Alberto Gonzalez sort of player, i.e. someone with a legitimate chance for a Major League opportunity.
But so far, in parts of three seasons with the Thunder, Pena hasn’t shown that. 514 Double-A at-bats have yet to yield his first home run, and he has just 29 extra-base hits in his entire career. He also doesn’t steal any bases, with just 20 bags swiped in 223 career games.
In the field, he’s solid but unspectacular, and it’s going to have to be his defense that moves him up the ladder. Hindsight is always 20-20, but it would seem as though the Yankees thought they had more than they actually did in Pena, and attempted to rush him as a result.
Not On The Ballot: Freddy Sanchez. “Fab Five” Freddy, as I nicknamed him after his move to third base in Pittsburgh, was certainly one of the better players to ever wear a Thunder uniform. Just imagine him and Kevin Youkilis in the same lineup…well, they almost were in 2002. When Sanchez finally got his well-deserved call-up to Triple-A in July, it was Youkilis who was summoned from Sarasota to take his spot.
The pattern repeated itself next year, but with more disastrous results. Youkilis was called up to Pawtucket at the end of July. However, two days later, it was Sanchez who was traded to the Pirates…forever eliminating the possibility that the two would play together in the big leagues. And what did Theo Epstein — who I foolishly walked right past when he was picking up his tickets for Roger Clemens’ rehab assignment — get in return? Former Thunder pitcher Jeff “Chicken” Suppan, Brandon Lyon and Anastacio Martinez.
The Pirates got the eventual NL batting champ.
You tell me who got the better end of that deal. But hey, that’s how most trades seemed to work out when the Thunder were affiliated with the Red Sox…
Mike’s Vote Goes To: Adam Everett. Easily my most controversial pick to date, but he was a large part of why that 1999 team was one of the best minor league baseball has ever seen.
Our ballots so far:
C: Walt McKeel (McDonough), Virgil Chevalier (Ashmore)
1B: Tony Clark (McDonough), Shelley Duncan (Ashmore)
2B: David Eckstein (McDonough), David Eckstein (Ashmore)
SS: Freddy Sanchez (McDonough), Adam Everett (Ashmore)
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com