One of the coolest things about this All-Star Game is all the guys who’ve had to prove a lot of people wrong.
Paul Goldschmidt was a eighth-round draft choice. You know what that means? Scouts for every Major League team couldn’t envision a great career for him. Even though who loved his work ethic and smarts and heart and all that stuff wondered if he had enough of the right stuff to make it.
Allen Craig was also taken in the ninth round. He was undrafted after his junior season at Cal, then seemed to be an afterthought pick by the Cardinals in 2006.
Word is that he was almost released in rookie ball because he didn’t have the quickest bat or the most athleticism or any of that stuff scouts can measure.
“In my situation, I don’t think I just had to prove myself,” he said. “I think I had to do way more than that. I had to hit my way up the ladder.”
His teammate, Matt Carpenter, would understand. He was in his fifth year at TCU when the Cardinals took him in the 13th round. Jeff Luhnow drafted both Craig and Carpenter, and he emphasizes he believes both players would get to the big leagues.
He said that part of a scouting director’s job is understanding how other clubs see a player and where is the most economically efficient place to draft him.
But it’s also clear that neither Craig nor Carpenter were slam dunks.
“We had to overachieve to prove people wrong,” Craig said.
Pirates closer Jason Grilli is here, too. He turned 36 last fall and is playing for his sixth organization. He probably was long since past the point of thinking he’d ever make it to an All-Star Game.
For him, the challenge was to keep proving he belonged. Plenty of people were surprised after last season when Pirates general manager Neal Huntington traded his closer, Joel Hanrahan, to the Red Sox for a setup man named Mark Melancon.
The Pirates believed Grilli could close for them, which is a huge leap of faith for someone who had five career saves in his first 10 Major League seasons.
“Look,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said, “whenever Jason has been challenged, he has done well. We feel really good about Jason.”
Hurdle spoke those words during Spring Training when he was asked about Grilli. Five months later, Grilli is leading the National League with 29 saves and was just chose to his first All-Star Game.
Together, he and Melacon have helped give the Pirates a lockdown bullpen in the late innings and are huge parts of one of baseball’s best teams.
Chris Davis grew up in East Texas dreaming of playing first base for the Texas Rangers. When they took him in the fifth round of the 2006 draft, he was thrilled.
He was in the big leagues two years later, and even with Josh Hamilton on the roster, the Rangers thought Davis might be the better power hitter.
When he hit 21 home runs in 2009, the Rangers thought his time had arrived. And then he hit .192 the next season. His confidence and swing seemed shattered.
Some wondered if grabbing Justin Smoak in the first round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft showed Davis the organization had no confidence in him. Midway through the 2011 season, he was traded to the Orioles.
That’s when Buck Showalter worked his magic. He told Showalter he believed in him in a way the Orioles never did. He said together they would do great things.
And so Davis is here too, leading the big leagues with 37 home runs and on a pace to hit 60. He has become everything the Rangers envisioned for him and then something.
To know him is to root for him. He’s a big, strong country boy, one of those people everyone likes and roots for. To see him here now, to see him with Goldschmidt and Carpenter and the others is one of the real special things about this All-Star Game.
There are plenty of guys who took the fast track to stardom, but there are a bunch who had to overcome all kinds of doubts. As Allen Craig said, they had to prove people were wrong about them and then they had to prove them wrong again and again.
They’re an example to every kid out there that hard work matters, that confidence matters, that sometimes gifts aren’t easily recognized by those who are paid to make such decisions. It’ll be cool to Manny Machado and Bryce Harper and all those overnight stars out there being introduced before the All-Star Game, but it’ll be especially great to see people like Paul Goldschmidt and Matt Carpenter, the guys who had to do more than just perform. They had to prove they even deserved a chance to perform.