Catching up with Kevin Youkilis

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.

“In 2007 we definitely had a lot of homegrown guys that understood from the day they were drafted what being a Red Sox player meant” said Youkilis.
The 2007 team was young. It had a slew of homegrown players such as Youkilis, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and more. These young guys went on to become staples in Red Sox teams of the future. The reigning world champion Kansas City Royals drafted, cultivated, maintained, and are now in the process of retaining their homegrown crop that helped them win back-to-back A.L. pennants.
The San Francisco Giants have won three World Series since 2010 that have hinged on the backs of their homegrown core. Teams are getting younger, and because of that they are essentially making themselves more competitive. More homegrown players who are quality major-league players and pre-arbitration eligible is a good formula for a fatter wallet in your general manager’s pocket as well as a good recipe for trades during the season.

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.

“Scouting and charting today is amazing and I was more against it when I played but now coming to my senses of how it helps. I truly believe that there are way too many stats out there that do no good for a player and are better used by an organization,” said the gritty infielder. “Too much information sometimes can make an athlete think rather than utilizing his skills to be successful. It is the toughest mental game since you fail more than you succeed as a hitter.”
“Teams that use the shift and utilize the spray charts are basically the house in Vegas. It’s a numbers game where you betting on probabilities. Doesn’t always work but for the most part more hits are taken away by shifting than not shifting at all. As a hitter it can be frustrating to hit a line drive up the middle and a position player is right there. Hitters have to focus on squaring up the ball and having good at bats rather than focusing on the positioning of the fielders. Too hard to try and hit the ball where they are not.”
Just from talking to Youkilis about the game, I can see why teammates praised him throughout his career. He has the heart of a lion and played with the intensity of someone who doesn’t know when his last at-bat would be. Youkilis batted .287/.388/.487 with a 126 OPS+ during his time in Boston. He owns a .944 OPS in 29 postseason games. He ranks first among Red Sox first basemen (at least 900 games played) in doubles and HBP, and second in walks, RBIs, OPS, and extra base hits. Youkilis was three time All-Star, two time World Series champion, a Gold Glover, and the recipient of the Hank Aaron Award during his time in Boston. Not bad for an eighth rounder.

Leave a Reply