Memory Lane: Boston Red Sox draft infielder David Eckstein
The Boston Red Sox drafted David Eckstein in 1997. He played in MLB for 10 years, made it on the leader boards, and reinvented our outlook on players’ size.
David Eckstein paved the way for changing how scouts and fans view players of smaller frames. Eckstein was listed as being 5’6 and 170 pounds. He was tiny in comparison to other Major League players. The Boston Red Sox took a (long) shot on him by picking him in the 19th round of the 1997 Draft.
He spent four years in the Red Sox minor league system before being picked up by the Anaheim Angels in 2000. Eckstein didn’t last long with the Sox but he got his foot in the door with them. Unfortunately, it was with other teams that he made a name for himself.
The Red Sox and the Angels both gave up on Eckstein. It was with the St. Louis Cardinals where he finally unleashed his potential. After 10-years in MLB, Eckstein was a 2x All-Star, 2x World Series player, a Willie Mays World Series MVP, and he was the AL Babe Ruth Award Winner in 2006. He has a career .280 BA, .345 OBP, and .355 SLG. Not too shabby for a guy that was drafted in the 19th round.
In Power Ball, Rob Neyer writes “Before Jose Altuve, the last little guy to make a big impression was probably David Eckstein”. During his time at the University of Florida, Eckstein’s goal was law school. In 1996, he was a baseball All-American and an Academic All-American. What couldn’t Eckstein do?
Within the baseball world, Eckstein was an underdog. The Cardinals signed Eckstein to a 3-year, $10.25 million contract. In 2005, ESPN’s Jayson Stark ranked the signing as the number one worst free-agent signing. Adding to the negative buzz around Eckstein, Neyer wrote:
"“And Baseball America? In their first-ever Prospect Handbook, they didn’t rank Eckstein among the Angles’ ten best prospects. Or twenty. Or thirty. In fact, they didn’t mention Eckstein at all.”"
Could Eckstein have been successful without carrying a chip on his shoulder? It’s possible, being an Academic All-American shows that he’s intellectually very talented. He was likely to be successful at whatever he wanted to achieve. But I think that chip carried him, it drove him to beat people’s expectations. That motivation inspired him to make a splash. Whether he realized it or not at the time, he was changing the future for generations to follow.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame shows the scouting report written by Red Sox Scout Luke Wrenn. In the report, he lists Eckstein as being 5’9, which we know is a bit of an exaggeration. He was compared physically to Jody Reed. Wrenn keyed into a very powerful observation,
"“This guy has the work ethic and attitude you love to see. Overachiever type that I would like to have. Will hang around a long time in Pro ball because managers are going to love him”."
Wow. As it turned out, Wrenn completely nailed his analysis of Eckstein. One of the many contributing factors leading to his induction in the Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame back in 2015.
The Red Sox currently have three players that are listed at 5’9 (Dustin Pedroia, Mookie Betts, and Christian Vazquez) and four players that are 5’10 (Brock Holt, Michael Chavis, Sandy Leon, and Andrew Benintendi). Are we placing too much attention to the sabermetrics and not enough attention to the qualities that players have? You can teach a player how to be more tactical, you can enhance their skills, but you can’t teach someone about work ethic. They either have it or they don’t. Eckstein is a perfect example that there’s too much weight being placed on the size of a player.
Eckstein joined the Pirates in January as a Special Assistant of Baseball Operations. It’ll be interesting to see what he can bring to the operations side and the changes that he makes in the league. His career and achievements all started with the Red Sox back in the 1997 draft. I find myself wondering what history he could have made in Boston, had he stayed with the team. Regardless, Eckstein’s grit changed the way many people viewed “small” players.