Twenty years ago, graphic-designer-turned-second-year-law-student Mike Andrews launched a passion project meant to keep his web-design skills sharp as he changed careers. In its first year, SoxProspects.com — which offered rankings of Red Sox minor leaguers as well as statistical information — received about 5,000 pageviews, a standard that seemed reasonable to Andrews moving forward.
Instead, from that relative obscurity, SoxProspects.com is flourishing after two decades and counting. With a staff of roughly 20 front- and back-end contributors at any given point, the site has assumed a prominent place in the ecosystem of Red Sox fans, players and their families, officials, and competitors.
“It is kind of mind-boggling,” said Andrews, marveling at the projected 18 million pageviews the site will garner this year.
The site is now a one-of-its-kind repository of detailed scouting reports on every player who enters the Red Sox system, and also includes regularly updated prospect rankings and features. It occupies a critical place in coverage of the minor league system that is unmatched in any other market.
“When I first started [working in player development for the Red Sox in 2014], I thought this was normal,” said Sox farm director Brian Abraham. “And then I realized that this is not the norm for other teams.”
“I’ve never experienced anything else like that,” said Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen, who became familiar with the site as a Red Sox official (including farm director) from 2005-16. “I don’t know that other teams have anything like that. We don’t have anything out here that’s like that.
“The depth in the description of the players, the scouting reports, it’s an impressive collection.”
While sites such as Sons of Sam Horn offered messageboards for discussions of Sox minor leaguers for like-minded fans, and Baseball America covered the minors broadly with a national perspective, Andrews recognized a void.
He thus designed a website dedicated solely to coverage of the Red Sox system. His first set of rankings featured some impressive forecasts — he had Kevin Youkilis as the top position prospect — and some whiffs (Chad Spann over Hanley Ramirez).
After introducing his work on a personal website, Andrews, who grew up in the Boston area hoping to work in baseball or write about the game, launched SoxProspects.com on Sept. 20, 2003. It didn’t take long for the site to enter the consciousness of at least some with the Red Sox.
“I really did pay attention to it,” said former closer Jonathan Papelbon, who was drafted out of Mississippi State in the fourth round by the Sox in June 2003.
Papelbon started taking stock of the rankings early. So did his mother, Sheila, who would post to the site’s messageboards.
“I had to have that talk with my mom, ‘OK, mom, we’re not in school anymore. We are going to let your son fly the coop,’ ” said Papelbon with a laugh.
Papelbon, never short on confidence, enjoyed seeing how the site stacked him up against other prospects, loved the back-and-forth with longtime minor league teammate Jon Lester, and came to understand that fans harbored significant expectations for him long before he arrived in Boston in July 2005.
“People started to pay attention to me,” said Papelbon. “I loved it because I immediately knew, when these people knew who I was before I even got up there, ‘OK, they’re gonna expect a lot.’ I didn’t want to be in any place other than that.
“You look at SoxProspects, they were one of the first ones to start making the minor leagues relevant.”
The SoxProspects.com staff (mostly enthusiastic readers who volunteered their time) and site grew. With some income derived from advertising and eventually crowd-sourced funding, Andrews and other staffers started making annual trips to Fort Myers, Fla., to scout the minor league back fields during spring training.
Under Chris Mellen and later Ian Cundall, the site developed detailed scouting reports. Chris Hatfield reported on news about prospects and the system. The value, quality, and audience for the information grew. It became a key destination for not just fans but front office members.
“I read it every day,” said Hazen. “As the farm director, I was curious to see what people were saying about our prospects and watching their rankings. A lot of times, the outsider perspective was valuable to me.
“They offered an outside perspective with a little bit of information. There was a little ‘wisdom of the crowds’ stuff. They had some information, but not inside information, so I always found it to be valuable.”
The information wasn’t the only thing that had value to the Sox. While some minor leaguers tried to ignore what the site said about them, others followed the Papelbon precedent of tracking their standing in the organization.
Righthander Chris Martin was a Sox minor leaguer from 2010-13. Despite runs of dominance, he never cracked the site’s top-20 rankings.
“My dad was looking at it and then I started getting on there, and I’d be pitching good and still nothing,” said Martin, who was traded away after the 2013 season but returned this year via free agency. “I still think about it to this day. It put a chip on my shoulder sometimes, just because I was never really ranked as a prospect. They had me slated as an up-and-down, fill-in arm. I used it as fuel.”
Others viewed SoxProspects.com as a definitive resource.
Andrews recalled walking through the press box at Double A Portland and seeing literally every laptop opened to his site. Cundall, who sits in the scouting section while covering 40-50 games per year, regularly saw Sox players sitting nearby while charting games and a wealth of scouts consulting the site during games.
“Scouts have told me for years that they go to the site whenever they need information or they’re interested in background heading into a series,” said Cundall.
‘Blows my mind’
SoxProspects.com has often been ahead of the curve in identifying prospects before they explode into national prominence, particularly young players who turn heads during fall instructional league shortly after turning pro.
Scouts regularly solicit feedback from the site’s writers as they shape evaluations of potential trade, Rule 5 draft, and free agent targets. Contributors to the site are now well-known and enthusiastically received by Red Sox officials.
“They are very in the know, very on top of everything that goes on, whether it be rules and transactions or asking interesting questions,” said Abraham. “The amount of effort and time they put into being there in, for most of them, their second job, their night-shift job, is incredible.
“The passion they have for the Red Sox and baseball I think is probably unmatched throughout baseball, never mind just Red Sox blogs or websites.”
Yet at its core, the site is driven by the desire of Andrews (who remains the site’s editor-in-chief as a side project while working as associate general counsel to the Boston Beer Company) and the others atop the masthead — Hatfield (executive editor), Cundall (director of scouting), and James Dunne (managing editor) — to share their passion for the game.
“When I was young, I wanted to work in or cover baseball when I grew up,” said Andrews. “I ultimately decided to go down a different path, but publishing the site publicly has allowed me to fulfill that dream in a small way on an ongoing basis.
“We have connections with the Red Sox front office, with professional scouts, with players, media people read it and respect it — it kind of just blows my mind. It’s nothing I ever thought would be possible. I didn’t think it would come this far.”