There's something fascinating about players who make the switch from the plate to the mound. By the time a player debuts at the Major League level, they've gone through so much fine-tuning and specialization that it's hard to conceive of making the switch. Rick Ankiels are few and far between.
But for some players--those whose initial (read: draft) value is based on athleticism more than any particular skills, the chance exists early on to abandon a sinking career and make the change. Often these players would be among their high school team's best pitchers and hitters based on their physical abilities alone before the more concentrated approach of professional baseball focused them in on one role or the other.
I bring this up, of course, because this is Williams Jerez' path to this penultimate spot on our top-20 list, and to a revived career in the minors. Jerez entered the system all the way back in 2011 as a second-round pick, and for most of the ensuing five years there was very little positive to say about him. In three seasons, all of them in short-season ball, Jerez failed to break a .600 OPS.
Instead of taking his bonus money and calling it a career, Jerez went ahead and decided to give pitching a try. He has the physical talents to throw the ball reasonably hard, and as with so many other players, had some history on the mound. Worth a shot, right?
Turns out it very much was. After never making it past Lowell at the plate, Jerez breezed through short-season ball after a total of 34 innings in 2014. Finally presented with a higher level of challenege in 2014, Jerez pushed straight through both Greenville and Salem, making it all the way into Portland before the season ended. In his first 123 innings of professional pitching, Jerez has 126 strikeouts and a reasonable 3.44 ERA.
Look, Jerez' stats aren't otherworldly, and he has often been too old for his level. And if he'd been pitching for the last five years he wouldn't be on this list on the back of these performances. But the fact is he's got five years of rust, and started with all the development of a high schooler. Perhaps not even a high school senior. And any high school reliever who gets all the way to Portland in two quick years would be deserving of attention.
Is Jerez a closer? Probably not. His fastball sits more in the low-90s than the mid-90s, and his secondary offerings mostly amount to a slider which should provide him a necessary weapon against opposite-handed hitting. But as a lefty who can throw a baseball in the general vicinity of home plate, he's almost guaranteed a career of some sort, and the fact of the matter is that he's not that far off from pitching towards the end of games with a little more refinement. Hard to imagine given where he was at the end of 2013.
All this has not escaped the notice of the Red Sox, either. Jerez was named the system's Minor League Pitcher of the Year for 2015, and more tellingly, was added to the 40-man roster ahead of the Rule 5 draft. It says a lot that the Red Sox actually thought they were at risk of losing Jerez if they failed to protect him.
Taking his role as a reliever, his relative anonymity, some slightly high walk totals, and his age relative to his level into account, it's not surprising to see Jerez come in towards the end of this list in spite of his fairly impressive story. But it also would not be surprising to see him not get another shot at moving any higher due to making the jump to the majors. From Lowell to the majors in three years is unusual enough in its own right. Jerez could make that journey all the more remarkable by having made it on the mound.
- Yoan Moncada
- Andrew Benintendi
- Rafael Devers
- Anderson Espinoza
- Michael Kopech
- Brian Johnson
- Sam Travis
- Luis Alexander Basabe
- Deven Marrero
- Michael Chavis
- Pat Light
- Nick Longhi
- Marco Hernandez
- Teddy Stankiewicz
- Travis Lakins
- Christopher Acosta
- Mauricio Dubon
- Austin Rei
- Williams Jerez
Here we go, the final vote of the offseason. Let's wrap it up, and move on to Opening Day, where so help me God the weather WILL NOT ruin things! Do not test me on this, Mother Nature. If they're not playing baseball on Monday, I'm never recycling again!