It isn’t all that uncommon for minor league players who are unsuccessful at the position for which they were signed to get a shot at trying their luck at an entirely different position before being released by the team. It is uncommon, however, for those players to actually be successful at those different positions, at least to the point where they actually have a shot at making it to the major leagues – but it does occasionally happen and sometimes with exceptional results. In fact, it happened for the Dodgers three years ago with former catcher Kenley Jansen who, as Tommy Lasorda once put it “…couldn’t hit the water if he fell out of a boat” but who possessed a rifle arm – thus becoming one of the premier relievers in the game almost overnight.
And then, of course, there is former St Louis Cardinal Rick Ankiel who completely lost his ability as a top-of-the-rotation pitcher due to an anxiety disorder but was able to not only salvage his career as a center fielder, but become an All-Star center fielder at that. (Trivia point: Rick Ankiel is the first player since Babe Ruth to have won at least 10 games as a pitcher and also hit at least 50 home runs. Ankiel is also the only player other than Ruth to start a postseason game as a pitcher and to hit a postseason home run as a position player).
I can honestly say that having watched Dodgers third base prospect Pedro Báez in person and seeing him move both up and then back down within the Dodgers minor league system, I definitely never would have considered him being disregarded as a third baseman and becoming a pitching prospect – but this is exactly what has happened with the 24-year-old Dominican native.
Báez, who signed with the Dodgers as a non-drafted free agent in 2007, enjoyed early success in the minors – enough success to be selected for both the 2009 and 2010 All-Star Futures Games. In 2010 Báez spent most of the season with the (then) Advanced Single-A Inland Empire 66ers (now the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes) but finished the year with the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts.
…and then the bottom fell out.
Báez appeared in 32 games early in 2011 with the Lookouts hitting a weak .210 before suffering an injury that landed him on the disabled list for the remainder of the season. Upon returning to action in 2012 with the Lookouts, Báez appeared to be back on track and was selected to the mid-season Southern League All-Star team, but once again things turned bad and Báez was demoted back down to Rancho Cucamonga. When the dust finally cleared, it began to look as though the once highly touted third base prospect now had little chance to even make it back to the Double-A level, let alone make it to the Big leagues.
Through six minor league seasons, Báez’s triple slash numbers are a dismal .247/.308/.391 and his 2012 numbers even worse at .221/.306/.374 with 11 home runs and 59 RBI between Chattanooga and Rancho Cucamonga. The writing was on the wall – barring a miracle, Pedro Báez was on his way out the door as a professional baseball player.
But miracles do indeed happen and it appears that one has happened for Báez – this from the popular Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness blog site on January 21, 2013: “The biggest mystery among third basemen, Báez has underachieved throughout his career and was listed as a pitcher during instructional league this past fall. Always praised for his arm, Báez could move to the mound…”
Not only did Báez get his miracle, but it took a huge leap forward this past week when he was invited to a special (and secret) “Young Guns pitching minicamp” held at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, AZ.
“They put (Báez) on the mound in instructional league and (his) fastball is really strong,” said Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt of Báez. “You talk about Kenley; when you see the ball come out of (Báez’s) hand… He hasn’t been overwhelmed by thinking too much about pitching. He just sees the glove and throws it and that’s kind of refreshing,” added an obviously impressed Honeycutt.
Is Pedro Báez the next Kenley Jansen? Who knows. But one thing is for certain – Báez isn’t wasting any time using his miracle second chance to make a first impression.