Brock Holt ranks as one of the most improbable and most unusual Red Sox All-Stars ever. By his own admission, his addition to the American League squad represented a “pretty surreal” landmark for a player who didn’t open the year as a regular member of his team’s lineup.
He’s a ninth-round draft pick who was already a rare species as a player capable of contributing at seven positions — just the fifth Red Sox ever to play all four infield and all three outfield positions in the same year (something he has now done in consecutive years). To do so at an All-Star level? Absurd. To do so after having been a secondary piece in a trade? Ridiculous.
Yet that’s precisely what became official on Monday night, with the news that Royals manager Ned Yost had selected Holt as a jack-of-all-everything All-Star.
“I’m just honored to be able to represent the Red Sox and the organization at the All-Star Game,” said Holt. “I’m humbled and it’s something I didn’t expect coming into the year, but I’m glad it happened, and I’m excited about the opportunity.”
So how did this all happen? How did the Red Sox end up with a man who has added new dimensions in Boston to the meaning of the term “superutility player”?
Perhaps the beginning of an answer can be found with the 2005 Kansas City Royals. It seems a strange place to start, but it isn’t if you consider the biography of Nate Field, the Red Sox pro scout whose recommendation played a central role in the Sox’ acquisition of Holt from the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Field pitched for six seasons in the big leagues, including four with the Royals from 2002-05. He retired after the 2009 season, and began working in the Red Sox pro scouting department late in 2010.
He spent a year and change learning the ropes, and by 2012, he graduated to a full-timer responsible for the coverage of multiple organizations. Among them: the Pirates and Twins.
The Double A affiliates of those two teams met in New Britain, Conn., in early August. The New Britain (Twins) and Altoona (Pirates) both featured big-name prospects, including Gerrit Cole, Aaron Hicks, and Oswaldo Garcia.
But over three days from Aug. 3-5, 2012, Field kept noticing an unheralded Pittsburgh minor leaguer who never cracked Baseball America’s Top 100 or, for that matter, top 20 lists of Pirates prospects.
“There were some pretty big prospects on the field at the time. But there was just something about Brock,” said Field. “You look at his size, and when you watch him, nothing stands out as plus. . . . But then you watch him and he does everything right. You kind of gravitate towards him. It’s tough not to watch him and like what he does.”
As he watched the way that Holt played the game, Field conjured a comparison from his time with the Royals in 2005 — one that proved surprisingly prescient given Holt’s multipositional future.
“I was fortunate enough to play with Joe McEwing a little bit in Kansas City. [Holt] reminded me a lot of him,” said Field. “He always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. He just did it. Without having to think about it, he just did it.”
McEwing is one of the original superutility players. In six different seasons, he played seven different positions, tied for the most ever. Yet McEwing was a player who couldn’t contribute with the bat. Field viewed Holt as a different animal.
Field was impressed with Holt’s approach, his hand-eye coordination, the way the barrel of the bat traveled to and through the strike zone. Holt hit .322 with a .389 OBP that year in Altoona, and Field thought those numbers accurately portrayed a player whose bat was an asset.
“I thought he was going to hit,” said Field. “I thought he was going to have a high average. I really liked his approach. I thought he would be an everyday second baseman. That’s what I projected him as.”
Close to Christmas, Field received a call from Sox pro scouting director Jared Porter. The Sox and Pirates were working on the framework of a deal built around an exchange of All-Star closer Joel Hanrahan for Sox reliever Mark Melancon.
Straight up, such a deal would have been a disaster. Hanrahan — whom the Sox considered a closer candidate not just for 2013 but also for a potential extension — blew out after nine appearances and hasn’t pitched since. Melancon, meanwhile, has emerged as one of the most dominant bullpen arms in the game and was named to his second All-Star team last night.
But because the Sox sacrificed four years of Melancon for one of Hanrahan, they needed an additional piece in the deal, and based on Field’s report, they focused on Holt.
The Pirates needed some additional pieces back if they were giving up Holt, so the Sox included Stolmy Pimentel (a pitcher whose arm the Sox had long prized, but who was entering his final season with minor league options and thus had a ticking clock on his time with the club), as well as depth options Ivan De Jesus Jr. and Jerry Sands.
The deal has morphed into something impossible to anticipate. As good as Melancon has been, Holt arguably represents something more unusual and more valuable.
He’s delivered standout top-of-the-order performance (.295 average, a .383 OBP that’s seventh in the AL) as a super superutility player who can now claim a wildly unexpected title of an All-Star, validating the faith that the Sox showed in him even as Holt blew past even their most optimistic projections.
“I don’t think anybody could have [anticipated Holt’s career path],” admitted Field. “We knew he had good instincts. We knew he was athletic. We knew he’d be OK at shortstop and second base, but to see him go to third base and be productive there, and what he’s done in the outfield — I don’t think anybody could have foreseen what he’s ended up doing.’’
“It’s funny. That’s kind of my first trade that I was a part of, that I weighed in on. We gave up some pretty good players to Pittsburgh. Once Hanrahan didn’t really work out, it was basically just Brock. You see what Melancon is doing in Pittsburgh,” said Field. “It was a little nerve-wracking, but I was also excited. I felt like we got a really good player in that trade.”