All the vital signs gave Stefan Welch reason enough to be concerned. He wasn’t playing every day for the Double A Altoona Curve, and on the days he did see his name on the lineup card, he wasn’t hitting.
The list of players ahead of him, not just on the team but in the Pirates’ farm system, was long.
In June, with his playing time scarce and a .149 batting average, Welch’s telephone rang. Predictably, it was Curve manager Carlos Garcia. Welch braced for the worst.
“I thought I was getting released,” Welch said.
It made the actual news — that he was being dealt to the Red Sox, not for another player but for cash considerations — feel less dreadful.
“It was actually a huge sigh of relief when he said I’d been traded,” Welch said.
In his seventh year of professional baseball, it seemed as if Welch had lived just as many lifetimes. He’s played for seven minor league teams and three organizations, taking something from each experience.
“Especially when you’re playing a game where you fail more times than you succeed, you have to be pretty strong,” he said. “The first couple years, it took me a while to learn. I used to get really down when I was struggling, instead of looking at what I have to improve or the positive things.
“You look back on it and it’s gone pretty quick, but it’s been seven years. There have been a lot of ups and downs, but it’s been a lot of fun. I just love playing baseball, so any time I get to play, I’m always happy. It’s definitely been a journey, but I have some of the best memories. Some that are going to last the rest of my life. As long as I’m playing, I’m having fun.”
Since Welch joined the Single A Salem Red Sox in June, he’s embraced the opportunity to play every day. The 24-year-old third baseman has emerged as the hottest bat in Salem’s lineup, hitting .348 with four homers and 30 RBIs in 41 games.
Over the course of his career, he’s had to learn to ride the highs and lows.
“My first couple years, when I was really younger, I used to be depressed a lot when I wasn’t doing well,” Welch said. “It wouldn’t be good, because I’d get back after the game and would always be pretty upset. But I just had to learn to stay positive. Tomorrow is always another day. You can always get better and improve the things you’ve got to work on. Just try to stay positive and keep doing your best.”
After almost every season, having struggled at some points and succeeded at others, doubt would creep in.
“When you’re struggling you always have doubt,” he said. “You always doubt yourself and wonder if you’re good enough, but I just try to stay as positive as I can. We’re playing a game, things could be worse.”
This season in Altoona was no different. When he was there, he was one of five corner infielders.
“We had a lot of guys, so it was tough,” he said. “It’s tough to come in and see your name not in the lineup and just trying to stay motivated.”
His chances to play were situational. It was either a defensive swap, a pinch-hitting at-bat, or fill-in duty if someone was injured.
“It’s tough knowing that you’re not playing every day,” he said.
It hasn’t been an issue in Salem. He’s played 41 of 45 games since the trade, at first base, third base, or designated hitter.
“It’s been a crazy year,” Welch said. “The start of the year was pretty miserable, but it’s been awesome for these last two months.”
Three to watch
Michael Almanzar, Portland: A 2-for-5 outing in an 8-7 win over the New Britain Rock Cats gave the 22-year-old corner infielder his team-leading 29th multihit game. In his last nine games, he’s hitting .406 with a double, a homer, eight RBIs, and four walks.
Heri Quevedo, Salem: In 14⅓ scoreless innings over his last three appearances, the 23-year-old righthander has gone 3-0 and struck out 12, reversing his June struggles, when he went 1-3 with a 6.35 ERA.
Dedgar Jimenez, Dominican Summer League: In his last three starts, the 17-year-old lefthander has notched 18 strikeouts in 15 innings. In nine starts overall, he’s given up just seven earned runs and fanned 38.
Change of scenery
Since being shipped to the White Sox in the deal that brought Matt Thornton to Boston, outfielder Brandon Jacobs has hit .304 (7 for 23) with six RBIs in seven games for the Double A Birmingham Barons. The production is somewhat surprising for the 10th-round pick in 2009, who was tagged as a disappointment earlier in the summer. Aside from 2011, when he hit .303 for Single A Greenville, he never had hit higher than .252 in any of his five professional seasons. He spent the majority of 2013 with Salem, for which he hit .244 with 11 homers and 44 RBIs before being promoted to Portland, where he went 3 for 8 in three games . . . Before he went deep in back-to-back games against the Frederick Keys (solo shot) and the Potomac Nationals (two-run blast), Salem outfielder Mookie Betts was in a 45-game home run drought. After hitting .296 with eight homers and 26 RBIs and a .418 on-base percentage in Greenville, the 20-year-old second baseman hit .302 with two homers and six RBIs in his first 12 games with Salem, but has fallen into a 1-for-13 stretch over his last three games . . . Lefthander Matt Maloney took another step in his recovery from Tommy John surgery, moving up to Double A Portland after striking out four in 6⅓ innings in five games with Lowell. The 29-year-old signed with the Red Sox as a free agent in February after spending four major league seasons with the Reds and Twins.