Top 100 Baseball Blog

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Ryan Westmoreland: Former Boston Red Sox Top Prospect Talks Playing Career and New Focus

For serious fans of the Boston Red Sox, Harry Agganis and Tony Conigliaro are familiar names. Both were top young players who saw their promising careers curtailed by tragedy and unforeseen circumstance (Conigliaro was severely injured by a beanball and Agganis died as the result of a pulmonary embolism). Another top prospect for the team was outfielder Ryan Westmoreland, who seemed destined for stardom before a serious injury forced him to prematurely end his playing career. However, he has remained involved in the game and is pursuing new avenues to keep him connected to baseball in other ways.

Westmoreland was  a coveted two-way player coming out of high school he passed up a scholarship to play for Vanderbilt University to sign with the Boston Red Sox after being selected in the fifth round of the 2008 draft. An outfielder and a pitcher, he gave up the mound upon joining the Sox and playing the 2009 season for the Short-Season Lowell Spinners. In 60 games he hit .296 with seven home runs and 35 RBIs and 19 stolen bases, cementing his status as one of the most exciting players in a stocked system.

Before the 2010 season started he was diagnosed with a cavernous malformation at his brain stem. The resulting multiple surgeries allowed him to make great strides in his recovery, but he was not able to get where he needed to be physically to return as a player.

Westmoreland joins the list of talented Boston players who were robbed of near-certain lengthy playing careers because of medical issues. Fortunately, he has been able to continue contributing his significant abilities to the game, coaching and instructing as he embarks on the next phase of his career.

Although he certainly doesn’t remember me, I had the pleasure of briefly meeting and having a conversation with Westmoreland after one of his 60 professional game. Without a doubt he was one of the most poised, intelligent and kind individuals I have ever come across in the game. Possessing qualities like those, he was already a winner without ever having to step on the field. He may not have become the next Ted Williams, but he is forging ahead with establishing a rich legacy of his own on a slightly different path than he may have originally envisioned.

Ryan Westmoreland Interview

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: My favorite player growing up was Pedro Martinez. I was really impressed how even though he wasn’t big for a pitcher, he threw like he was 6’6 and wasn’t afraid of anyone. The way he went out and dominated the best hitters in baseball at that time was extremely impressive.

Can you describe your draft experience with the Boston Red Sox in 2008- How did you find out you had been selected?: My draft experience was very much like a roller coaster ride. I went from not even being on some mock drafts, to hearing on draft day I may be selected in the first round. So, I was very unsure about if/when I’d get taken. I knew what teams were interested, but I didn’t know where I’d go in the draft.  At the beginning of the Red Sox pick in the fifth round, Theo Epstein who was the GM at that time gave me a call to tell me they (the Red Sox) we’re going to take me.

Did you do anything special for yourself/family/friends after signing, and if so, do you mind sharing what that was?: I don’t remember the signing day, but on draft day my family and friends were at my house watching the draft on TV. It was awesome. There was about 40 people over.

What do you remember most about your professional debut?: At my pro debut, I remember being very nervous. I had only played in high school in front of families, and here I was about to take the field in front of thousands. But after I saw the first pitch, the nerves settled and I just realized it was the same game I’ve always played and loved.

In your opinion, who was the most talented player you ever played with or against? What made them stand out so much?: John Smoltz was definitely the best player I ever played with. When he briefly spent time with the Sox, I got to face him in a simulated game down in Ft Myers, Florida. What made him stand out so much was how he went about his day very business-like. Even though it was in a very informal setting, he acted like he was getting ready for the World Series. I knew who he was obviously, but he was so kind and genuine and that meant a ton to me- as a 19 year old kid.

Who is one pitcher, current or from the past, you would like to face and how would you approach the at bat?: I would’ve loved to face Chris Sale. My approach would be to try to take a fastball to the opposite field. His slider is so hard and breaks so late I would want to see the ball as long as possible and not try to do too much. A base hit off of Chris Sale is hard to do but I would’ve loved the chance to try.

You were an outstanding high school pitcher. Although you played professionally as an outfielder, do you believe you could have pitched at the major league level?: I may have been able to pitch at the MLB level, although I loved hitting and the opportunity to play every day. But I had a pretty good arm and good breaking pitches- so with the right coaching I might have been able to have a future on the mound. But again, I definitely wanted to be a position player.

What are your thoughts about baseball card and autograph collecting?: Personally, I don’t collect cards or autographs, but I think it’s a cool hobby. Cards go back to the early days of baseball, so I think collecting a bit of history is pretty cool. As a player, I really didn’t like signing autographs and seeing it up for sale a day or two later. I loved signing for people that genuinely collected them and kept the autographs they got.
Was the high level of attention you received while you were undergoing surgeries and rehab more of a distraction or a positive for you?: It was definitely a positive. To know that so many people were wishing me well and supporting me from all around the world was really awesome. I got to feel like people cared about me beyond baseball, and I’m truly grateful for that.

What are you up to since retiring from playing?: Since retiring, I’ve been coaching different levels in baseball and giving hitting lessons. I’m currently looking into the sport more and seeing what’s out there for me in the professional baseball world.

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, January 6, 2019

2019 Boston Red Sox: Questions to Ponder and Things to Look Forward To

Believe it or not, the start of the 2019 baseball season will kick off with the commencement of spring training next month. Fresh off their dominant regular season last year and their World Series victory, the Boston Red Sox will have a tough job of exceeding what they just accomplished. They are still in the midst of the Hot Stove League, but there are already some things to look forward to and some questions to ask as the trucks start to get packed up for the trip south to Florida to start another season.

Look Forward To: The continued development and improvement of third baseman Rafael Devers.

Now 22 and about to enter his third major league season, this could be the coming-out party that the team and fans have been waiting for. To be fair, he has already hit .254 with 31 home runs over his first 179 games, but the general consensus is that there is more there; potentially much more. Conditioning has been an issue in the past and now that he is a “grizzled” veteran of a championship team it will be interesting to see if the maturity of his play and preparedness follows him as he gets older. The projections used by FanGraphs forecasts a healthy bump in his production in 2019, so stay tuned to see if this comes to fruition.

Need to Question: What does second baseman Dustin Pedroia have left?

Once a franchise cornerstone, the 35-year-old infielder has become somewhat of an afterthought after playing just three games in 2018, which followed missing approximately two months of the 2017 campaign—all because of injuries.

If Pedroia can get anywhere near his 2016 season, where he produced 201 hits and 15 home runs, the team should be ecstatic. However, that seems incredibly optimistic. While he still has three years and $40 million remaining on his contract, the pressure should be relatively light for him to show what he can still do, as the team is loaded with potential replacements if his body fails him yet again. Brock Holt and Eduardo Nunez are primary candidates to hold down second if needed, or the team could choose to go the way of a youngster like Tzu-Wei Lin.

Need to Question: Is Matt Barnes the next closer?

With the possible exit of free agent closer Craig Kimbrel, Boston will need a new pitcher to close down games in the ninth inning. Many signs indicate this may be the right-handed Barnes, who has pitched well, but not great, in middle relief for the team over the last four seasons.

Like Kimbrel, Barnes can suffer from lapses of control. Although he throws hard and has a good slider, he doesn’t have quite the same raw stuff of the man he may replace. He has a 4.14 ERA and two saves for his career, so the lack of a track record may work against his candidacy for a new role. On the other hand, the market for available closers seems to be dwindling. Even Kimbrel, who was once rumored to desire a new contract that would pay him Scrooge McDuck money, has reportedly seen his market shrivel up to the point that a return to Boston may not be out of the question.

Look Forward To: How much better can Mookie Betts be?

The reigning 2018 American League MVP had a season for the ages, hitting a league-leading .346 with 32 home runs, 30 stolen bases and 129 runs scored; all while playing generationally great defense in right field. The crazy thing is that he still may have room to improve.

Betts will play the entire 2019 season at the age of 26. Stats also show that as he has aged he is making better and harder contact and putting the ball in the air more, which has all contributed to his star production.  With an excellent lineup around him, he also has the luxury of not having to carry the team on a daily basis. Finally, the plan to drop him to second in the lineup should only open up even more opportunities for him to put his myriad skills to use.

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You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew