VERO BEACH, FLORIDA – Patience is a virtue, they say. But it is one rarely exhibited in MLB, especially when it comes to rookies.
Be good or be gone is usually the modus operandi practiced by most big league ball clubs in dealing with their younger players.
Go great guns or go back to beating the bushes.
Thus, the extraordinary patience the Boston Red Sox have shown with their youngsters over the last several seasons makes them a rare exception to this MLB rule of thumb.
And the BoSox have ended up being suitably rewarded for their uncommonly understanding ways.
Here’s how it has all gone down.
Coming off a last place American League East finish in 2012, the desperate Sawx (Bah-stin pronunciation) perhaps rushed several promising minor leaguers to the majors in a “What have we got to lose?” rebuilding maneuver.
A cluster of young ‘uns including outfielders Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, Jr. and shortstop Xander Bogaerts among others were thrust into the starting lineup over the next two seasons.
Predictably, the youngsters, most notably Betts and Bogaerts, struggled initially.
Debuting in 2013 at the age of 22, Bradley would find himself on the Interstate his first two campaigns, hitting just .189 and .198.
Barely 20, Bogaerts hit for only a .240 average in his first full season in 2014. Hardly Nomar Garciaparra-esque.
Betts, too, had his ups-and-downs while transitioning from the infield to the outfield at the big league level, also at the tender age of 20.
The Red Sox still trotted the trio out almost daily in 2014 and 2015 — at the cost of back-to-back last place finishes.
But last season, the BoSox were rewarded big time for their patience.
All three of the aforementioned players blossomed and had great years leading Boston to the AL East title.
Bradley, Jr. hit .267 with 26 HRs and 87 RBIs and made one spectacular play after another in Fenway Park’s spacious center field.
Betts was an MVP candidate with his .318, 31 and 113 offensive stat line and took home a Gold Glove in right field to boot.
Bogaerts hit .294 while flashing quality leather at shortstop.
And the Boston threesome has continued their solid work this season as well, helping the Red Sox maintain a lead in their division almost the entire season.
Boston is currently three games up on the resurgent New York Yankees in the AL East.
Kudos, then, should go to the Boston front office and Sawx skipper John Farrell for having the patience of Job and 20/20 foresight.
“We may have been a little too aggressive in terms of number of younger players coming to the big leagues,” Farrell admitted to MAS. “Historically, there were examples of that happening.”
It wasn’t always easy staying the course but Farrell and Co. somehow managed to do so.
“You always held onto the fact that you still saw ability in the player,” said Farrell of the tough times. “Maybe having more of a player development background helped me balance some of that out.
“Every major league manager is in a ‘win today’ mode, so that caused an internal conflict that we were going through. But at the same time we felt it was a team that was built to compete.”
It’s no coincidence that the majority of Boston’s position players were developed internally while most of their key hurlers have been acquired via trades or free agency (see starters Chris Sale, Rick Porcello and David Price as well as closer Craig Kimbrel.)
“Scouting is the root origin of any organization,” offered Farrell. “Our philosophy has always been to take the best player available.
“But if a position player and a pitcher have equal ability,” continued John, “we’ll go with the position player because of the injury risk factor to young pitchers.”
This season and last, the BoSox have thrown several more of their top minor leaguers into the big league fire.
But this time, no patience has been necessary.
Andrew Benintendi was called up in August of ’16 to play left field and proceeded to hit .294 in 34 games in a much scrutinized debut as he helped Boston go from worst-to-first in the AL East.
This season, in his true “rookie” year, Benintendi has continued to shine. Left-handed hitting Andrew is currently batting .269 with 13 HRs and 57 RBIs (second-best on the club.)
“I’m glad it’s over,” Benintendi said of his initial MLB campaign played before rabid “Red Sox Nation” fans.
“Everything was moving so fast for me, especially off the field,” the soft spoken and extremely polite Benintendi told MAS. “I kind of got my feet wet last year and this season everything’s settled down.
“Now I’m not affected by all the (hubbub),” Benintendi revealed. ” It’s still the same game, just a lot more people watching, that’s what I always say.”
“I haven’t felt any pressure this year (to prove he’s not a flash-in-the-pan),” Andrew stated. “I just trust my ability will speak for itself.”
Also seemingly unaffected by the white-hot New England spotlight is this year’s “kiddie call-up” in the midst of yet another torrid divisional title race: 20-year third sacker Rafael Devers, currently MLB’s youngest player.
Despite his youth, Red Sox honchos felt Devers was ready for The Show. So they made room for him at the hot corner by jettisoning high-priced free agent flop Pablo Sandoval.
“Roaring start” is too weak a description of Devers’ recent debut. The Dominican Republic native was hitting .406 (with three homers) after his first 37 plate appearances.
Devers, nicknamed “Baby Face” for his peach-fuzz looks, became just the fifth Red Sox to go 4-for-4 in a game at age 20. Two of the others you may have heard of: Babe Ruth and Ted Williams.
It is probably reassuring for Devers, as it was for Benintendi after his rip-roaring start, that no one expects him to maintain such a torrid torrid pace.
Certainly not the virtuous Boston Red Sox.
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