Jared Williams knew an athlete when he saw one.
Sports were embedded in Williams growing up in Washington, D.C.
He played travel baseball with former big leaguer and Giants first-round pick Emmanuel Burriss. Williams starred on the football field, too, as a cornerback and kick/punt returner at national powerhouse DeMatha. In his 2001 senior season, Williams’s team finished 11-0, securing the No. 23 spot in the country in USA Today’s top 25 rankings. Roughly 19 players from that senior class, including Williams, received Division 1 football scholarships.
Williams attended Wagner College as a two-sport athlete, lettering in football and baseball.
That’s where he met a different type of athlete in pitcher Andrew Bailey, a freshman from New Jersey. Bailey’s frame, however, didn’t match the chiseled and stocky build Williams possessed and was used to seeing.
“He was fat,” said Williams with a smile. “But he threw 92-93 as a freshman, and velocity always plays. He could also pitch. He was special.”
The words “special” and “Bailey” have been uttered in the same sentence a lot this baseball offseason. With his hiring as Red Sox pitching coach comes the expectation that he will guide the staff toward success. His days as pitching coach for the Angels and Giants earned him this hype.
“Bails has a motor that is second to none,” said former Giants manager Gabe Kapler. “He can connect with anyone and is the ultimate teammate. He doesn’t have to be the one getting credit for things or be the expert in the room.
“He’s disarming because he knows how to work as a collective pitching group, rather than having to be right or have answers on the spot. He knows how to go get them.”
Expectations followed Bailey to Wagner, too, given his stuff on the mound. Williams, now a baseball trainer in D.C. running his own company, Exclusive Results, noted that Wagner was a low Division 1 program, so the velocity and command that Bailey had were an anomaly in the Northeast Conference.
After his junior year in 2005, Bailey was drafted in the 16th round by the Brewers but didn’t sign, electing to return to Wagner for his senior season. That decision paid off. Bailey moved up 10 rounds the next year, with the Athletics nabbing the righthander in the sixth round.
An outing during the conference tournament that year — Bailey’s last game — sold the A’s.
“Our scout Jeff Bittiger recommended Andrew, and he has a history of discovering diamonds in not-so-obvious places,” said longtime A’s executive Billy Owens. “I knew Bailey was a dude after his bullpen and early in his starting appearance.
“He was sitting 95-96 m.p.h. with his signature natural cut and hammer for a curve. The competitiveness and strike-throwing ability jumped out.
“Looking around and gauging the scouts in attendance that day, I thought we had an excellent chance of drafting him.”
Bailey was an All-Star reliever in his first two seasons in the big leagues, winning Rookie of the Year in 2009 following his 1.84 ERA in 83⅓ innings. His career, however, lasted just eight years because of injuries. Yet Owens believed that there was still something he could offer to the game.
“Once Andrew was done playing, everyone realized his leadership and communication skills would be an asset in a coaching or front office role,” said Owens. “Ultimately he had multiple teams pursuing him for a coaching role.
“He did an excellent job in San Francisco. Kevin Gausman went from a talented pitcher to an ace under Bailey’s tutelage. Carlos Rodon had arguably his best season with Andrew. Alex Cobb rediscovered his All-Star form. Logan Webb took his game to perennial Cy Young contention.
“Now, the Red Sox made an excellent hire in bringing Andrew Bailey close to home.”
Strike throwing remains at the fulcrum of Bailey’s process. Filling up the zone and limiting walks are paramount.
The work Bailey has in front of him is a tall order that will warrant getting better pitchers on the roster indeed, but, equally, development.
And, considering his reputation for fulfilling expectations, it’s an order that the Red Sox expect to be delivered.
“The one question I wanted to ask him but never did,” said Williams, “was, with all his talent, how the hell did he end up at Wagner?”
Certainly, it’s evident how he ended up in Boston.