Before heading to his first spring training in March 2002, Boston
Red Sox third base prospect Kevin Youkilis got more than just
advice from his dad, Mike. "Can you get me a couple of
autographs?" Mike asked Kevin. Two weeks into camp Kevin filled
his father's order, overnighting him eight baseballs signed by
players such as Nomar Garciaparra, Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe.
Kevin figures he still has some paying off to do. After all, his
dad bought him his first ball and glove, and, as the 24-year-old
Youkilis says, "If it weren't for my family and friends, I
wouldn't be where I am."
And where is he? These days he's most likely to be on base. As a
member of Boston's Double A Portland Sea Dogs and the Triple A
Pawtucket Red Sox this season (he was promoted on July 29),
Youkilis had reached base in 68 consecutive games through last
Saturday, three from the minor league record set by Boston first
baseman Kevin Millar, in 1997 (a record Millar set while playing
for the Sea Dogs). Only twice in 2003 had Youkilis failed to
reach base in a game. He had also scored 24 runs in his last 24
games and walked 64 times in 68 games. His on-base percentage was
an outstanding .473, and he was batting .312.
Michael Lewis's best-selling book Moneyball hails Youkilis for
his ability to get on base and calls him the Greek God of Walks.
In fact, several times over the last couple of seasons Billy
Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A's who was the central
figure in Moneyball, has asked the Red Sox about Youkilis's
availability; each time Boston has refused to deal him.
Outstanding numbers, however, don't guarantee that Youkilis will
be with the Red Sox next month when major league teams expand
their rosters to 40 players. "We're in a pennant race, and
especially in the market we play in, [the dynamics of the race]
can dictate our call-ups," says Boston director of player
development Ben Cherington, noting that the Red Sox already have
a solid third baseman in Bill Mueller. "We need to be careful
what pieces we add to the puzzle. He's [Youkilis] controlling the
part he can control. Eventually, whether it's this year or next
year, he'll get the opportunity to play in the big leagues."
That wasn't always a certainty. Despite earning All-America
honors at the University of Cincinnati, the 6'1", 215-pound
righthanded hitter went undrafted in 2000 as a junior; a year
later he was selected in the eighth round by the Red Sox. For
some scouts he was less a five-tool player than a one-trick pony.
He hits the gaps more than he clears the fences (23 doubles and
only six home runs in 100 games this season), has little speed
and an average arm. "At every level he's been told he was not
good enough to play at the next level," says Brian Cleary,
Youkilis's coach at Cincinnati, "but he's always excelled."
Clearly Youkilis's greatest strength is his patience at the
plate, where he tries to avoid swinging at off-speed pitches and
sits on fastballs. "I'm basically trying to take an early lead in
the count," says Youkilis, who grew up in Cincinnati. "I usually
never swing at the first pitch."
Says his dad, "If he's playing Ping-Pong or shooting pool, he's
totally focused on winning. He's focused on everything he does."
Including getting autographs. If all goes well, one day Youkilis
will not just be getting them but he'll also be giving them.
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: DAMIAN STROHMEYER (2) PATIENCE Youkilis, who has averaged nearly a walk a game, has a .473 on-base percentage in 2003.
COLOR PHOTO: DON CAREY (UTLEY) Utley
See You in September
Five other top prospects with good shots at being called up when
major league rosters expand next month
POS. PLAYER TEAM/AFFILIATION AGE
RHP Jose Dominguez Oklahoma RedHawks/Texas Rangers 20
Starter throws a fine changeup and low-90s fastball; was 5-0 in
Double A before moving to Triple A
CF Grady Sizemore Akron Aeros/Cleveland Indians 21
Scouts think this lefty swinger can win a batting title in the
bigs; was hitting .303 in Double A
2B Chase Utley Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons 24
Strong contender for International League MVP; .314 average, 18
home runs and 95 RBIs in 2003
RF J.J. Davis Nashville Sounds/Pittsburgh Pirates 24
A booming bat (22 home runs, 58 RBIs and 22 doubles this season)
is his ticket to the major leagues
SS Bobby Crosby Sacramento River Cats/Oakland A's 23
Should be the replacement for free-agent-to-be Miguel Tejada in
the A's starting lineup next season
All stats through Saturday