Baseball is a game defined by its numbers. No way around it. Less than 5.6 percent of high school ballplayers go on to play at the collegiate level. Less than 11 percent get drafted by major league clubs. First-round draft choices have a 66-percent chance of making it to the big leagues. As the rounds get later, you may have guessed that the chances of seeing big-league action get slimmer and slimmer, and the light at the end of the tunnel for players who have worked their whole lives to compete on a major-league field seems dimmer and dimmer with each passing round. The attrition rate in rounds six to ten of the draft is 80 percent. Very few of these athletes make it to the bigs, fewer succeed, and and even fewer win a World Series championship.
But for eighth rounder Kevin Youkilis, he was part of the 20 percent who could pass the test and make it to a major league club. Not only did he make it, Youkilis enjoyed a very solid ten-year career in the major leagues as a player for the Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, and New York Yankees.
Most players don’t spend their entire careers with one team. A first baseman these days with a solid glove, fantastic on base skills, power at the plate, and a passion for the game that grows larger and flows through his veins more swiftly with each passing at-bat would be a journeyman and would find himself on many postseason rosters as insurance.
Youkilis, however, was not a journeyman. In nine of his ten seasons he donned a Red Sox uniform. A fan favorite, “Youk” was a mainstay in Boston’s lineup for years and was a part of two championship Red Sox teams. After he got drafted in 2001, Youkilis quickly grasped what it mean to be a Boston Red Sox. Making his debut in 2004, the season that famously “reversed the curse,” Youkilis got a taste of being around a winning ball club and never looked back.
As a special assistant to GM Theo Epstein of the Chicago Cubs, Youkilis shares a strong belief that the keys to winning are homegrown talent and pitching.
“I don’t believe there is a perfect model to winning a World Series,” said Youkilis, “but one thing that I know helps is high character guys. Homegrown talent today usually means younger players since free agency is as wild as ever and the turnover of players is immense. I do believe that the strength of an organization tiers to the talent throughout the system. Pitching, pitching, and more pitching is always the motto, in my opinion, for success.”
With teams remodeling their bullpens using the Kansas City blueprint, a three-headed monster is nothing that would have made Youkilis stray away from his approach were he still playing.
“Nothing ever scared me where I didn’t think I could have good at bats and have success. It’s definitely not fun facing three top arms in a series,” said Youkilis. “You make your money off the fourth and fifth starters, but my approach overall never changed unless I had good scouting or prior experience with a pitcher.”
As a corner infielder for his entire career, Youkilis never experienced playing the corners how players do in today’s game. With teams implementing defensive shifts more and more each season, Youkilis sees all of that as a game within the game.