The first edition of the Dayton Dragons in 2000 featured three players who played in the Major Leagues this past season, 12 years after their time in Dayton. You might guess the first two, Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns. You might not guess the third.
While Dunn, Kearns, and former first round draft pick Ty Howington generated most of the attention with the Dragons in 2000, a little-known 19-year-old shortstop from Venezuela named Ray Olmedo carved out his own reputation that season with his glove. In 2003, Olmedo became the sixth Dragons player to reach the Major Leagues, and in 2012, long after the careers of most members of the inaugural Dayton Dragons had come to an end, Olmedo was still playing, and in the big leagues, as Dunn's teammate with the Chicago White Sox.
There have been several outstanding defensive shortstops for the Dragons over their 13-year history. Reds 2012 rookie Zack Cozart and former Reds starter Paul Janish are both wizards with the glove. Janish played in Dayton in 2005-'06, while Cozart was here in 2007-'08. Dragons 2009 shortstop Miguel Rojas was selected as the Midwest League's "Best Defensive Iinfielder" that season after a great year in the field. But Olmedo takes a back seat to no one, and his 14-year professional baseball career serves as his personal testimonial.
"As a defensive player, he was as good as anyone to ever come through here," says Marc Katz of the Dayton Daily News. "Sometimes he would get a little too fancy with behind the back throws. (Dragons manager) Freddie Benavides, who didn't like to offer many opinions on players at that time, told me the first day that Olmedo would someday reach the big leagues. He was not even supposed to come to Dayton that year but Jason Huth broke a thumb or finger and it opened a spot."
Olmedo was signed by the Reds as an international free agent and began his career in professional baseball in 1999 in rookie-ball in Sarasota. In 2000, he opened the season on the Dragons bench behind B.J. Hawes, but by the start of May, he was in the lineup most days at either shortstop or second base. By the end of May, Hawes was gone, leaving Olmedo as the Dragons everyday shortstop.
Listed at just 155 lbs., Olmedo did not feature much power and finished the year with only four home runs. To this day, his career high in homers is only six, set in 2009 with the Triple-A Durham Bulls. But Olmedo did produce some offense, collecting two four-hit games that season in Dayton. He had one hitting streak that reached nine straight games and another that hit eight, so his bat was not exactly a liability. He finished the year with an average of .255. But his defense was his calling card, and a story at the end of that season in the Cincinnati Enquirer stated that Olmedo "has been compared to Omar Vizquel," a tremendous compliment considering the fact that Vizquel would go on to win 11 Major League Gold Glove awards. The Enquirer rated Olmedo as the 15th best prospect in the Reds organization at the time, prior to the 2001 season. Of the 14 rated ahead of him, only Kearns, Dunn, and pitcher Dustin Moseley would go on to enjoy more big league time than Olmedo.
After his season in Dayton, Olmedo spent the next two years climbing the Reds organizational ladder and then in 2003, he got the call. He made his Major League debut as a pinch hitter on May 25, 2003 against Dontrelle Willis and the Florida Marlins. The next day, he was in the starting lineup in a Reds win over the Braves, a game when his former Dragons teammate Adam Dunn belted an 11th inning grand slam home run. Olmedo would go on to start 52 games for the Reds that season, filling in for Barry Larkin at shortstop and playing some second base. He hit a respectable .239.
For the next three seasons, Olmedo bounced back and forth between the Reds and Triple-A Louisville before leaving the organization as a free agent after the 2006 season. He played in 171 games with the Reds. Olmedo signed with the Toronto Blue Jays for the 2007 season and hit .290 in Triple-A while getting into 27 big league games with the Blue Jays. For the next four years, 2008-'11, he was an everyday player in Triple-A with affiliates of the Washington Nationals, Milwaukee Brewers, and Tampa Bay Rays. In 2012, he signed with the Chicago White Sox and spent the first half of the season back in Triple-A before getting what had to be a much-appreciated call back to the majors. As the White Sox battled the Detroit Tigers for the American League Central title, Olmedo was frequently in the Sox lineup at second, short, third, or as a pinch runner. After five years in Triple-A, he was back in the big leagues, a reward for a long career that has included more than 1,500 games in professional baseball.
Olmedo is still only 31 years old and could have several more seasons as an active player ahead. He was the sixth Dragon to reach the big leagues. Next up: Josh Hall.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.