When the Boston Red Sox received reports from their scouts on the possible future in professional baseball of Shepherd first baseman Nathan Minnich, the organization’s braintrust was told “He has already hit home runs, already shown power.”
It is the primary job of baseball scouts to predict and project what an amateur player might do if he becomes a professional player. Those scouts pay strict attention to a player’s body structure, trying to use their background and experience to guess if the prospect might grow any taller, might gain weight and additional upper body strength, or just might “fill out” if he is a stringbean pitcher.
The scout tries to evaluate a prospect’s future as a power hitter. Every team wants to find hitters on the amateur level who might project as power hitters if they are signed and join the ranks of professional baseball.
Nathan Minnich hit home runs at Shepherd. He hit home runs when playing in the summer for the Winchester Royals of the Valley Baseball League.
The Valley Baseball League used wooden bats. The scouts had something concrete on which to base their judgment of his power.
At Shepherd, the bats were made of a composite material that wasn’t much different than wood, but the bats wouldn’t break and be costly to replace for the schools with bare-bones baseball budgets.
Minnich set the Shepherd career record for home runs. He cleared fences with a startling regularity. His homers rained down on a dormitory roof and into the tangled thicket behind the none-too-distant barrier in left-center.
The Boston scouts reasoned that Minnich already hit home runs. Projecting him to do the same in professional baseball they believed allowed him to be drafted in the eighth round of the June, 2012 draft of free agents.
Minnich would reach his 22nd birthday this year.
The Boston people weren’t interested in him as a fielder . . . or a high-average hitter . . . or as fast runner with stolen base potential or unusual run-scoring ability. Minnich is 6-foot-3 and weighs about 240.
If he came with a useful on-base percentage, it would be a bonus. But it was home runs the Red Sox wanted from Minnich.
Sent to Lowell in the short-season, Class A New York-Penn League, Minnich took up residence at first base along with another typical Boston first base-type, David Chester (listed at 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds).
Minnich often struck out. After about 10 days with Lowell, he didn’t play every game. After about three weeks, Minnich had statistics that showed him with 44 official at-bats and only six hits. His strikeouts numbered 13 against only four walks.
There had been no home runs. No doubles. No triples. Minnich had a .136 batting average and a .136 slugging percentage.
The Red Sox moved him to the Gulf Coast League in Florida.
He was installed as the Class A team’s first baseman.
Minnich would play 27 games with the Gulf Coast Red Sox. The team didn’t play every day of the week. And after a prosperous start that saw Minnich go 3-for-6 one night, the hits came less often.
And there were no home runs.
When the season ended in early September, Minnich’s record in Florida showed him with 95 official at-bats and 22 hits. His batting average was .232. His doubles numbered five and he had a triple to leave him with a slugging percentage of .305.
There had been 17 RBIs and he had drawn 21 walks, but there had also been 34 strikeouts.
What will the Red Sox file away in their collective memory banks about Minnich’s summer in the New York-Penn and Gulf Coast leagues? They’ll be quick to remember it was a season without a home run.
Minnich was an eighth round draft selection. He received bonus money to sign with Boston. But the power he often displayed in college was never evident . . . and the Red Sox drafted him because of his power.