Toolshed: Fun MiLB facts about the champs

Looking back on Betts, Price, Pearce, other Sox in the Minors

Mookie Betts really took off during the 2013 season he split between Greenville and Salem. (Ken Inness/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | October 30, 2018 10:00 AM

Twenty-five players. Four wins. One goal. Many, many different paths there.

The Red Sox captured their fourth World Series title of this millenium over the weekend by beating the Dodgers, 4-1, in this year's edition of the Fall Classic. Twenty-five players were named to Boston's World Series roster, and all 25 took different journeys through the Minor Leagues (and even Major Leagues) to arrive at their dates with the Commissioner's Trophy. There were many, many top prospects -- Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts, David Price and Rafael Devers. There were a few Minor League journeymen like Ryan Brasier. There were short stays like those of Chris Sale and Rick Porcello while others like Steve Pearce took much longer roads.

Here are 25 Minor League-related fun facts about the 25 players on Boston's World Series roster:

Pitchers

Matt Barnes -- Despite taking the Connecticut product with their first pick in the 2011 Draft -- others from that class included Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Blake Swihart and Travis Shaw -- the Sox took a rather passive route with Barnes, assigning him to Class A Greenville to begin 2012. The right-hander responded with an appropriate level of dominance. Barnes didn't allow an earned run in his first four starts, striking out 34 and walking only four over 21 innings. When he was promoted to Class A Advanced Salem on April 30 after five starts, he led the Minors in ERA (0.34) and ranked second in strikeouts (42 in 26 2/3 frames). He moved to the bullpen for good in 2015.

Ryan Brasier -- Brasier may have had the most circuitous route to a ring among anyone on the World Series roster. The 31-year-old right-handed reliever debuted in 2007, made the Majors with the Angels in 2013, had Tommy John surgery in 2014, played in the A's system in 2015 and 2016 and moved to Japan for a year in 2017 before finally signing with the Red Sox last offseason. His 348 appearances and 594 2/3 innings in the Minors are top all pitchers on this list. 

Nathan Eovaldi -- An assignment to the California League can be tough on any pitcher, and that was the case for Eovaldi in 2010, when he posted a 4.45 ERA and a 1.55 WHIP with 58 strikeouts in 85 innings at Class A Advanced Inland Empire. But those numbers weren't inflated by the homer-friendly nature of the circuit. Eovaldi gave up only three long balls in 85 frames with his 0.3 HR/9 ranking third among the 52 hurlers with at least 80 innings in the Cal League that season. Brewers lefty Wade Miley (0.1) ranked first.

Heath Hembree -- Hembree has always been a hard-throwing right-hander. The Giants took him in the fifth round of the 2010 Draft out of College of Charleston and put him to good relief use right out of the chute. During his first full season in 2011, Hembree's 38 saves in 41 opportunities between Class A Advanced San Jose and Double-A Richmond topped the Minors. His 31 saves with Triple-A Fresno in 2013 ranked sixth that season.

Joe Kelly -- Long lauded for the "great stuff" that helped him strike out three in the eighth inning of Game 5, Kelly actually wasn't much of a K man during his run through the Cardinals system. The right-hander fanned only 45 in 72 1/3 innings (5.6 K/9) with Triple-A Memphis in 2012 before jumping to the Majors that June. He was dealt to the Sox at the deadline in 2014, and two years later, Boston moved him to the bullpen, giving him 17 appearances at Triple-A Pawtucket in 2016 to ease the transition. The result: Kelly has averaged more than a strikeout an inning in two of his last three seasons.

Craig Kimbrel -- Even the best Major League closers are typically failed Minor League starters, but that was never the case for Kimbrel. He was a closer from the day he made his professional debut on June 18, 2008. The Braves' third-rounder from that year's Draft earned a save for Rookie-level Danville in four of his first five appearances and went 42-for-47 in save opportunities over three seasons on the Atlanta farm. Then again, imagine seeing that delivery for five innings or more at a time.

Drew Pomeranz -- The first full season for Pomeranz -- the fifth overall pick in the 2010 Draft -- couldn't have been more eventful in 2011. The 6-foot-6 southpaw got off to a stellar start with Class A Advanced Kinston in the Indians system, posting a 1.87 ERA with 95 strikeouts in 77 innings while earning a Futures Game nod and an early July promotion to Double-A Akron. On Aug. 16, he was dealt to Colorado as the player to be named later in a deadline deal sending Ubaldo Jimenez the other way, and a week after that, he moved to the disabled list after an appendectomy. Still after only five Double-A starts, Pomeranz made his Major League debut for the Rockies on Sept. 11. He was subsequently traded to the A's, Padres and Red Sox.

Rick Porcello -- Porcello's time in the Minors was limited for all the best reasons. The Tigers scooped up the slipping New Jersey right-hander with the 27th overall pick in 2007 and skipped him a level to Class A Advanced Lakeland the following year. He took to the assignment well, leading the Florida State League with a 2.66 ERA and ranking fourth with a 1.19 WHIP over 125 innings. Porcello won a Major League rotation spot out of Spring Training the following year at just 20 years old and made at least 27 starts for Detroit each of the next six seasons. He was dealt to the Red Sox for Yoenis Cespedes before the 2015 season.

David Price -- The pitching star of the Series was groomed to be a quick climber the moment the Rays made him the first overall pick out of Vanderbilt in 2007. He climbed from Class A Advanced Vero Beach all the way to the Majors in time to help with Tampa Bay's World Series run in 2008. Years before any type of narrative developed about his postseason play -- the southpaw also proved to be a solid playoff performer for Triple-A Durham that year. Price won his first professional postseason start, blanking Louisville over five innings in Game 1 of the Governors' Cup semis. Then he struck out nine Scranton/Wilkes-Barre batters over six innings during a no-decision Game 1 of the Finals. Like the Rays in the World Series, the Bells fell in the final round, but he got his first pro ring 10 years later.

Eduardo Rodriguez -- There were times when Rodriguez was one of the premier left-handed pitching prospects in the game, but those times were a little difficult to recall around the trade deadline in 2014. The Venezuelan left-hander had a 4.79 ERA through 82 2/3 innings with Baltimore's Double-A affiliate Bowie that July. Then, the Red Sox were sellers, moving elite reliever Andrew Miller to a buying club in the Orioles. So Boston got Rodriguez at a low point. The southpaw turned things around quickly and didn't allow more than one earned run in any of his six starts with Double-A Portland the rest of the way. He posted a 0.96 ERA with 39 strikeouts in 37 1/3 innings with the Sea Dogs and made his Major League debut the following season. There were some injury concerns along the way, but Rodriguez has been somewhat of a stalwart in the Red Sox rotation ever since, making at least 20 starts for the club each of his last four seasons.

Chris Sale -- The dominant southpaw and the final out-getter of the 2018 World Series has -- by far -- the least amount of Minor League experience of anyone on the Sox roster. Taken by the White Sox in the first round of the 2010 Draft out of Florida Gulf Coast, Sale played only 11 games for Class A Advanced Winston-Salem and Triple-A Charlotte -- all in relief -- before getting the call to the South Side in early August. He returned to the Major League bullpen in 2011, moved into the rotation in 2012 and didn't return to the Minors until a rehab start with Charlotte on May 16, 2014. He hasn't been back since.

Catchers

Sandy Leon -- It'd be one thing to look at Leon's offensive resume during his first season with the Nationals' Gulf Coast League affiliate and wonder how he ever moved on. The then-18-year-old batted .202 over 31 games, didn't have any extra-base hits and finished with a .526 OPS. But it's worth knowing the Venezuela native wasn't just debuting as a Minor Leaguer back then; he was also debuting as a catcher. As the now-29-year-old told WEEI.com in August, that GCL game marked his first time behind the plate. He was still adjusting to the same league and position in 2008, when he had a .524 OPS. But by 2011, he was a Carolina League All-Star, thanks in part to a 53.1 percent caught-stealing rate. A year later, he was a Major Leaguer for the first time.

Blake Swihart -- A big reason why Swihart stands third on the Red Sox catching depth chart is because he's well behind Vazquez and Leon in the defensive department. (Most catchers are, it should be noted.) But it's also worth remembering there was a time when Boston and many prospect evaluators were big believers in the 2011 first-rounder's glove and arm. In 2013, the organization named Swihart its Minor League Defensive Player of the Year after he threw out 40.7 percent of attempted basestealers at Salem. He bumped that up to 45.6 in 2014 at Portland and Pawtucket, but has dropped to just 27.2 percent over four seasons in the Majors. With his framing also lagging behind that of the other two, Swihart was forced to adopt more of a utility role, especially this past season when he was out of options.

Christian Vazquez -- Except for a 2011 season in which he hit 18 homers and produced an .863 OPS for Greenville, Vazquez's strengths always leaned away from the offensive and toward the defensive side of things. He was always impressive with his arm with a career 37.3 percent caught-stealing rate in the Minors. His best season with an individual club came in 2013 with Portland, when his 46.5 percent rate led the Eastern League. No one else on that circuit threw out more than 40.3 percent of attempted basestealers. In third place that season: Harrisburg's Sandy Leon at 37.9 percent.

Infielders

Xander Bogaerts -- From the moment he signed out of Aruba in 2009, Bogaerts became one of the most widely followed prospects in the Boston system and for good reason. He topped out at No. 2 on the 2014 edition of MLB.com's preseason Top-100 list, shortly after winning his first ring in 2013. What may be lost to history is that his twin brother, Jair Bogaerts, also signed with the Sox at the same time and spent two seasons as a catcher/first baseman in the Dominican Summer League. He is also the answer to the trivia question, "Which prospect did the Red Sox send to the Cubs in the Theo Epstein trade?" However, Jair never played in the Cubs system and moved on to become an agent.

Rafael Devers -- Devers certainly made a lasting offensive impression on most everyone who saw him in the Minors, and that included this website. The 22-year-old third baseman was a Red Sox Organization All-Star in all four of his Minor League seasons. The most impressive of those feats may have been in 2014, when he hit .322/.404/.506 with seven homers in 70 games between the DSL and GCL and helped the latter to a league championship -- all before turning 18 that October. "It'll be exciting to watch him grow," director of player development Ben Crockett said after that season. Guess so.

Brock Holt -- Holt wasn't the most highly touted prospect in the Pirates system after getting taken in the ninth round of the 2009 Draft, but he showed fascinating potential when he batted .351 over 47 games for Class A Advanced Bradenton in 2010 before MCL surgery cut the season short. Two years later, he backed that up by hitting .344 over 126 games between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis, producing the sixth-best average among full-season Minor Leaguers. That was enough for the Pirates to give him 24 games during roster expansion in September, and three months later, the Red Sox picked him up, along with reliever Joel Hanrahan, in a six-player deal with Pittsburgh. Holt and Mark Melancon were the only two of the six to feature in the Majors in 2018.

Ian Kinsler -- The 17th-round pick out of Missouri in 2003 could have been destined to be a footnote as the guy pushed out of Arizona State by Dustin Pedroia until he essentially followed the Barnes model of dominating Class A out of college. Kinsler compiled a slash line of .402/.465/.692 with 11 homers, 42 total extra-base hits and 16 stolen bases in just 59 games for Class A Clinton in 2004, leading the Rangers to push him straight to Double-A Frisco. His 51 doubles that season between both stops tied for most in the Minors.

Mitch Moreland -- The Rangers took Moreland in the 17th round of the 2007 Draft out of Mississippi State with a potential eye at moving him to the mound someday. (He made 16 relief appearances for the Bulldogs, striking out 28 and walking only three in 19 2/3 innings.) He claimed he'd rather stay at the plate and in the field and backed that up by hitting .324/.400/.536 with 18 homers and a 67/60 K/BB ratio in 122 games at Class A Clinton in his first full season. He was named a Midwest League midseason and postseason All-Star for his efforts, but wouldn't make an All-Star team anywhere else until he was selected to the American League squad this summer.

Eduardo Núñez -- Núñez has made his bones at third base for much of his time in the Majors, especially of late when he shared hot-corner duties with Devers down the stretch, but that was hardly the case in the Minors. The 31-year-old had 649 starts at shortstop during his time at the lower levels, compared to only 22 at third, 19 at second and two in right field. But because he was a rough project at the six-spot with multiple seasons of 30-plus errors, he became even more of a utilityman in the Majors following his Major League debut with the Yankees in August 2010.

Steve Pearce -- It shouldn't be a huge surprise to anyone who followed that narrative of the past few weeks, but Pearce featured in the most Minor League games of anyone on this list with 737, beating out Nunez by 12. His best season came in 2007, when he batted .333/.394/.622 with 31 homers and 113 RBIs and ranked fourth among full-season Minor Leaguers with a 1.016 OPS between Class A Advanced Lynchburg, Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis. As was the case with Holt later, that forced the Pirates to bring him to The Show that September. But he never caught on with the Bucs, moving onto the Twins in 2012 only to be cut that spring. He later featured for the other four AL East clubs as well as a monthlong spell with the Astros in 2012 before a June 2018 trade brought him to Boston. He'll be a free agent this offseason, but that should go differently than that first trip with Minnesota.

Outfielders

Offseason MiLB include

Andrew Benintendi -- Benintendi was in the Majors only 14 months after the Sox took him seventh overall out of Arkansas in 2015, and a big reason for that was his remarkably consistent nature in the Minors. The outfielder produced a monthly OPS below .800 only once in the Minors. That came in May 2016 when he hit just .258/.324/.344 without a homer and a .668 OPS in 24 games, in part because he made the jump from Salem to Portland midway through the month. He was back to his dominant self in June, batting .305/.362/.524 with four long balls and 11 doubles in 27 games with the Sea Dogs the following month. By the start of August, he was in the Majors.

Mookie Betts -- Need a good date for when Mookie became Mookie? Try May 10, 2013. On that date with Greenville, the 2011 fifth-rounder picked up his first career four-hit game, with a homer and two doubles, at home. Before that stretch, he had showed solid on-base skills (30 walks, .393 OBP) in 28 games, but had yet to show much power or pick up hits in bunches (.198 average, .341 slugging). From then on, Betts hit .342/.424/.547 with 12 homers and 32 stolen bases in 99 games the rest of the way for Greenville and Salem. The following offseason, he showed up in Top-100 lists for the first and only time before his big league debut in 2014.

Jackie Bradley Jr. -- The ALCS MVP is known for his golden glove in center field and streakiness at the plate, but in 2012 -- his first full season -- he was one of the Minors' most productive and patient hitters. The South Carolina product ranked fifth among full-season Minor Leaguers with a collective .430 on-base percentage over 128 games at Salem and Portland and also produced an almost-even 89/87 K/BB ratio. He rode those numbers, as well as a hot spring, to the Opening Day roster in 2013. Bradley has just a .317 career OBP in the Majors, but don't think for a second it was his glove alone that got him to The Show.

J.D. Martinez -- Much has been made about Martinez's transformation from a cut Astros non-prospect to one of the game's most dangerous right-handed hitters, but the 2009 20th-rounder's turnaround didn't magically happen in the Majors. The first results came at Triple-A Toledo in April 2014 after he'd signed a Minor League deal with the Tigers. Martinez put 52.1 percent of his batted balls into the air with the Mud Hens, up from 34.1 percent with the Astros the previous season. He reaped big rewards, belting 10 homers and producing an .846 slugging percentage and 1.212 OPS over just 17 games with Toledo that April. Four of those 10 dingers came in an April 19 doubleheader at Columbus, including three in the first game. He was called up the next day and hit .315/.358/.553 with 23 homers in 123 games for the Tigers the rest of the way.

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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