Jayson Werth, 2002 Bowman, #158
One of the reasons I love baseball so much is the way it allows a kind of fandom that can be spread across the sport, without diluting the passion. For example, in addition to being a Blue Jays fan I am also a Reds fan. While the creeping grip of interleague play continues to make the American League/ National League distinction increasingly fuzzy, I am able to enjoy both teams without worrying about the potential impact on the other or go through the conflicted emotions involved with yearly battles between the two.
But more than teams, the nature of baseball allows me to embrace players for their greatness and their quirks. They are out there virtually every night, not hidden behind large padding and facemasks. They are not flying around in a brief 45 second shift before hiding from view on the bench. They stand on the field for great lengths of time and allow you to stare and embrace or reject their performances and personalities as players (or their lack thereof).
All this to say- I love me some Jayson Werth. I love that I witnessed a journey that went from this awkward looking Orioles catching prospect, to this majestic, hirsute wonder.
I am well aware of his faults on the field, and that his contract is among the worst in the game, but Jayson Werth is a player whose story appeals to me and whose willingness to show some personality is part of what I love about baseball. The eras of Jayson Werth’s career can be classified by team, and sum up the gamut of frustrations faced by up-and-coming ballplayers.
Orioles Jayson Werth: Drafted in the first round in 1997 as a catcher out of a baseball playing family (we all remember his uncle Dick Schofield, right Jays fans?) and the hype and promise that comes with being a top pick begins. But minor league disappointment that came from never really developing any power and questions about defensive mechanics led to the Orioles pulling the plug in 2000. Traded to the Jays for John Bale. The burden of potential and the creeping pace of catcher development. To quote John Sickels on Werth at the time- “I dropped his rating to Grade C, and was concerned that this was a serious case of Young Catcher Stagnation Syndrome.”
Blue Jays Jayson Werth: The promise of the young player returns. The bat begins to come alive and his prospect status returns. But the wall of positional blocking appears in the form of Josh Phelps. Phelps at the time was a highly touted prospect (who himself would eventually move off of catcher) and the Jays begin to look at Werth and see diminishing returns and injury issues behind the plate. Keith Law was in the Jays front office at the time of this decision and broke it down in one of his chats.
Klaw (1:07 PM)
Actually it was one of the first decisions JP made after I got there. I pointed out that players as tall as Werth did not last, health-wise as catchers, and that Werth’s speed made him a good candidate to move to CF. We also discovered that he already had damage in one of his knees and that he might not be able to last the season behind the plate. So while you’re right about Werth’s production, I don’t think catching was ever in the cards for him. His knees blew out even though we moved him.
The change started off a little rocky.
In his first game at the Joe DiMaggio Sports Complex in Clearwater, Fla., Werth lost sight of a fly ball and stood motionless as it banged off the fence behind him. When he looked imploringly toward the infield, he saw his teammate, second base prospect Orlando Hudson, “rolling on the ground” with laughter.
But he picks it up quickly and begins to climb the Jays prospect ranks. Third on Baseball America’s org list in 2002. Second in 2003. It is all coming together and manager at the time Carlos Tosca says he represents part of the future of the team. But the wall of positional blocking is back again. This time Simon Pond. The 1 HR in 56 PA’s and a .236 wOBA Simon Pond. Yup, that Simon Pond. Not to mention Gabe Gross and some guy named Alex Rios. So out the door again, this time to the Dodgers for Jays legend Jason Frasor, the sausage king himself.
Dodgers Jayson Werth: Welcomed with open arms by the Dodgers and performs well down the stretch in 2004. “He has meant an awful lot to our team,” Dodgers manager Jim Tracy says. “Not only in the run to win our division but also … for our ballclub in the future. He is a special player, in my mind. He’s a five-tool player.”
But then, the injuries start to pile up. An AJ Burnett fastball to the wrist and a series of medical misdiagnoses lead to the Dodgers letting him head off to free agency and an entire season missed in 2006. The physical barriers appear to be derailing his career.
Phillies Jayson Werth: Kaboom. 2007- 3.1 WAR. 2008- 4.9. 2009- 4.8. 2010- 4.9. A World Series title, an all-star appearance and two years receiving MVP votes. Redemption.
Nationals Jayson Werth: Get paid, son. $126 million. Here come the expectations. Unfortunately, there go the results. A middling 2011 and an injury filled 2012 set up this season. He’s on a Washington Nationals team among the favourites to win it all and part of the core of a deep lineup.
And he comes to the plate to the theme from Game of Thrones.
A career arc not yet finished, but filled with all types of twists, turns and roadblocks of most “late bloomer” careers.
That was a lot of words to say “I love his beard”, wasn’t it?