Greatness, I think, most would agree is easy to spot.
It’s not hard to see what makes players like Pablo Sandoval or Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain great. That’s not just in sports, or baseball, but life in general. We always notice the talented people. We always notice those who are in the spotlight. But, I’ve also got a soft spot in my heart for guys that have deficiencies — sometimes glaring, painful deficiencies — and yet have other skills that almost bridge the gap from flawed to useful. Skills that almost get them to a place where they can be considered an option for a major league roster. Players with amazing defensive abilities, but without the ability to hit; players with immense raw power, but without the ability to make contact; or pitchers that throw tremendously hard, but have little idea of where the ball is headed. These are all nearly the same player-type in one way or another.
You could call this my ‘Darren Ford Complex’. Ford is a player that has undeniable skills on the baseball diamond: he’s one of the fastest runners I’ve ever seen, he plays a mean center field, and it’s not too hard to dream on him just a little. However, he’s never hit much — save maybe for his 2009 in San Jose — and at age 26, he’s accrued all of 14 at-bats in the majors. (However limited his playing time has been, we all know this play.) Ford is currently in the Seattle Mariners camp trying to fight for a bench spot on the team.
Enter this year’s Darren Ford: Tyler Graham.
There’s something about a player like Tyler Graham that I admire. Call it the ideal of doing what you love. Call it whatever you want, but the facts speak for themselves.
* Drafted in the 19th round of the 2006 draft by the San Francisco Giants
* Six years played in the minor leagues.
* That’s 539 career games, 2008 plate appearances, and 1786 at-bats in the minors to be more specific.
* 221 career stolen bases vs. 59 caught-stealing (78.9% success rate).
* Zero games, PAs, or ABs in the majors. Zilch. Nada.
Graham, by all accounts, isn’t much of a hitter. Over his minor league career he boasts a career batting line of .281/.342/.362. There’s some on-base in there, but not much else. He’s not a high average hitter. He doesn’t hit for power. Really, what is there to like?
That’s from the Giants and Angels game this past Saturday. That’s Graham in center running nearly a football field to track down a long flyball for a tumbling out. And dang if that doesn’t impress the heck out of me. Of course, I could be high from all that defense, but jeez would you just look at that?
If you needed another visual aid to tell you how insane that was, try this one:
That’s roughly the area where Graham started as the pitch was hit, and roughly where he ended up. Distance. That’s a lot of distance to cover.
Ultimately, it’s unlikely that Graham will break camp with the team. To this point, he’s had all of nine at-bats this spring. Gregor Blanco seems to be all the rage right now (and for good reason) and Graham making the team as a 4/5th OF seems like a real long shot. However, that won’t change the fact that if Graham does make it to the majors sometime this season, I’ll be excited to watch him wheel it big in center field. And, hopefully, make a few more highlight reel catches along the way.