It was just a few years ago catcher Jon Denney was considered one of the biggest steals of the 2013 MLB Draft. The Boston Red Sox had taken the high school bat in the third round and given him a $875,000 bonus to kick off his professional baseball career and forgo college. At the time of the draft, Denney had been ranked as the 20th-best talent in the entire class by MLB.com. He was an athletic but raw catcher, who had shown plus power and the potential to have an above-average hit tool to go along with it. Denney also showed all the necessary tools to become an above-average defender behind the plate if given the right time to develop. By all measures it seemed to be another great addition to a farm system that already had a ton of talent in it. The Red Sox were not alone in wanting Denney either; the Kansas City Royals, who had the following pick, were planning to draft him if given the opportunity.
Denney made his professional debut later in 2013 down in the Gulf Coast League. In just 26 games, he hit a weak .203 with three doubles and zero home runs. He posted a strong .379 on-base percentage during this stretch, but was also averaging more than a strikeout per game. His struggles weren’t a big deal though; as a raw high school catcher there were bound to be some serious adjustments against a new level of competition. The real problems began when the 2014 season came around, and Denney was in Fort Myers for spring training.
At 19 years old, the former third-round draft pick was arrested and charged for driving with a suspended license. It had been suspended in the past because of a DUI he received back in Arkansas. After the arrest, reports quickly filled the air about Denney insulting multiple police officers who pulled him over that night during a two-hour span. According to police reports, he said “he would be out in no time because of who he played for and that he made three million a year.” In just a short period, one of the reasons why Denney had lasted all the way until the Red Sox pick became clear. There was an obvious character issue there, and it placed a negative light on the Red Sox and their scouting process.
After the arrest, Boston general manager Ben Cherington said Denney would enter some type of program to help overcome the issues that caused his arrest. This would be all fans saw and heard from Denney until he was released in October 2015 after being on the restricted list for all of 2014 and 2015.
According to Matt Eddy of Baseball America, Denney will get an opportunity with the Kansas City Royals organization in 2016 after signing a minor-league deal. After two years out of professional baseball, it will be a tough road for him to get back to where he was before his encounter with the law. But Denney is still just 21 years old, and maybe after almost losing his career he now understands what the game actually means to him. Hopefully he can take advantage of this opportunity, and get some use out of the talent so many scouts raved about a few years back.
There have been many players given chances like this over the past few seasons, and the only ones who have stuck around are the guys truly dedicated to the game. The Royals currently have a plethora of players in their organization who carry a winning and professional mindset, so it will be important for Denney to follow their steps as he tries to make a positive name for himself in professional baseball.