Cole Sturgeon was a senior at Louisville when the Red Sox selected him in the 10th round of the 2014 amateur draft. He settled for a $10,000 bonus because what other choice did he have? It was either take that or give up baseball.
Sturgeon has since made his way to Double A Portland and last season appeared in two games for Triple A Pawtucket. The 25-year-old outfielder isn’t a prominent prospect, but he’s already accomplished more than most.
The Sox have noticed. Tuesday night’s 9-2 victory against the Pittsburgh Pirates marked the eighth time in spring training that Sturgeon was called up from minor league camp.
Teams have unlimited rosters for spring training and the lineup card for every game is supplemented with minor leaguers. They’re an insurance policy more than anything else but often get to play an inning or two.
Through bench coach Gary DiSarcina, the major league team requests a certain number of bodies for a particular game. Typically it’s 8-10 players.
Minor league field coordinator Dave Howard selects the players with help from pitching coordinator Ralph Treuel.
“Often it is about sending an experienced and/or reliable player who is trusted to make routine plays or throw strikes,” vice president of player development Ben Crockett said. “But it certainly can be a reward for positive play in minor league camp or a chance to challenge or expose a less-experienced player to the major league environment.”
Sturgeon played in seven spring training games last year and got to spend a little time talking about hitting with David Ortiz. This year, he has paid close attention to outfielders Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts, and Jackie Bradley Jr.
“You try and take in as much as you can, especially meeting Papi,” Sturgeon said. “They’ve all been awesome. It’s a good clubhouse to be in. I played with Benintendi last year and he’s an easy one to talk to, Mookie and Jackie, too. They’re all close to my age. It’s great to talk about the game with them.
“Being around the big league team and seeing how it works make you want it that much more. It shows you it’s not that far away.”
Sturgeon, who bats lefthanded, is 2 for 6 with three RBIs and a walk while playing for the varsity Sox. He played three innings in left field Tuesday and grounded out in his only at-bat.
“In the opportunities that he’s been given, that’s a pretty good-looking swing,” manager John Farrell said. “He hangs in well against lefthanders. Wish we could give him more time.”
Farrell understands how Sturgeon feels about the opportunity; his three sons are all involved in professional baseball.
Jeremy Farrell played eight seasons in the minors before becoming a coach in the Cubs’ organization. Luke Farrell is a righthanded pitcher with the Royals and was invited to spring training this season. Shane Farrell was drafted but pursued a career in scouting and also works for the Cubs.
“I like seeing players like Cole with the team. In their minds, it’s within reach,” Farrell said. “Some of them were in the same lineup with Benintendi and now here he is on top of our lineup. That’s what you’re always hoping to do, connect the dots in their minds.”
Sturgeon helped lead Louisville to back-to-back berths in the College World Series. The final game of his collegiate career was played before a capacity crowd of 17,612 fans.
His first game as a professional, only a few days later, was in front of 3,166 fans in Troy, N.Y.
“We landed, I cleaned out my apartment, and then went to Lowell. It was a whirlwind,” Sturgeon said.
Sturgeon hit .268 with a .686 OPS in 119 games last season. He hopes to start the season with Pawtucket.
“We don’t have much control over stuff like that. If it’s not Pawtucket, I’ll go back to Portland and play there,” he said. “That’s part of it. You just have to enjoy it as much as you can.”
That he’s trying to make it with the Red Sox seems fitting. His father, Mike, has been rooting for the team for years.
“They were my favorite team, too. I was lucky they picked me,” Sturgeon said. “It’s a great organization and they do things the right way.”
Sturgeon was married four months ago and recently purchased a home in Kentucky, where he is from. During the season, his wife, Whitney, will pursue her career back home while he plays.
Sturgeon understands the Sox have a young, talented outfield and breaking into that lineup is a long shot. For now, he is enjoying the journey.
“Things happen. You can’t look at the future too much. You have to keep doing what you’re doing,” he said. “It’ll drive you crazy otherwise. Go about your business and let everything take care of itself.”