From ASU to the major leagues - East Valley Tribune: Sports

From ASU to the major leagues

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Posted: Saturday, June 28, 2008 12:26 am | Updated: 10:10 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Most observers will shake their head twice while watching Dustin Pedroia. The first time comes when laying eyes on the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Red Sox infielder, figuring there’s no way he can successfully play major league baseball.

Dustin Pedroia - Overachiever’s early success, hard play earn him praise in Boston

Most observers will shake their head twice while watching Dustin Pedroia. The first time comes when laying eyes on the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Red Sox infielder, figuring there’s no way he can successfully play major league baseball.

ASU’s fantastic four make it to the majors

Then they see him gobble up every ball at second base and hit line drive after line drive at the plate, and the head-shaking turns from doubt to awe.

“That kid, ain’t no mountain high enough,” ASU coach Pat Murphy said. “He’s the ultimate overachiever.”

After leaving high school undrafted, Pedroia had an illustrious career for the Sun Devils, making first-team All-Pac-10 each of his three years and finishing with a school single-season record in doubles as a sophomore with 34.

One subpar month to open last season had some critics questioning his ability, but it’s been smooth sailing ever since.

Pedroia was named the American League Rookie of the Year after batting .317 with eight home runs, 36 doubles and 50 RBIs last season. He hit .283 with two home runs and 10 RBIs in the postseason, and tied Derek Jeter for most runs scored (12) by a rookie in the playoffs.

This season, Pedroia is batting .289 with seven homers and 34 RBIs and is playing his trademark stellar defense.

With 166,000 more votes than the Rangers’ Ian Kinsler — another former ASU player — Pedroia will likely be the starting second baseman at the All-Star game in Yankee Stadium.

He’s become a fan favorite of Red Sox Nation.

“I play hard, and they obviously enjoy that and love the passion that I play with,” Pedroia said.

The ultimate gamer, Pedroia seems to be a perfect fit in baseball-crazy Boston.

“It’s the best place in the major leagues to play,” he said.

Jeff Larish - After sliding in draft, first baseman proves critics wrong

Jeff Larish was all set to go to junior college when ASU coach Pat Murphy decided to take a chance on the skinny Tempe McClintock shortstop about whom assistant Jay Sferra had a good feeling.

Larish filled out and had an impressive sophomore season at Arizona State. If he could have been drafted then, teams would have been clamoring for a shot to get him.

But a slump as a junior — the first year of draft eligibility — sent him tumbling down draft boards.

A stellar senior season didn’t do much to improve his stock, and Larish sat until the fifth round before the Tigers finally called his name. Instead of teams choosing to see his gifts, they focused on his drawbacks.

“At Arizona State, you get dissected,” Murphy said.

Larish didn’t waste much time proving the critics wrong.

He hit .267 with 28 homers and 101 RBIs last season in Double-A and was named Detroit’s minor league player of the year.

He got the call to the big club on May 27, when Gary Sheffield went on the disabled list. Larish struggled mightily at first — batting .121 (4-for-33) in his first 10 games — but finished 3-for-5 for a .200 batting average in his first taste of the major leagues.

When Sheffield returned from the disabled list Larish was sent back down to Triple-A, but for a player that Murphy said 'eats, sleeps and breathes baseball’, it’s not enough.

“I’m trying to enjoy my time as much as possible, but at the same time I know there’s work to be done,” Larish said. “I’m definitely not where I want to be yet, but it’s coming along.”

Andre Ethier - Move down to junior college pays off in big way for outfielder

While his counterparts have experienced growing pains in their professional careers, Andre Ethier took his biggest lump as a freshman in college.

As an unproven outfielder from Phoenix St. Mary’s in 2001, Ethier couldn’t crack the outfield rotation as a freshman at Arizona State. Coach Pat Murphy advised him to play at Chandler-Gilbert Community College for a season, where he would get consistent at-bats.

“He was ready to play, but there was still some immaturity there,” Murphy said.

Ethier begrudgingly complied.

“Growing up all my life in Phoenix, that was my goal (to play for ASU), maybe even more than professional ball,” Ethier said. “Having that goal and dream taken away was a gut check.”

Ethier tore up the junior college ranks and returned to ASU, where he had two impressive seasons. In 2003, he was a second-round pick of the Oakland Athletics.

Ethier was named the organization’s position player of the year in 2005, and seemed to have a bright future with the club. However, he was traded to Los Angeles for Milton Bradley on Dec. 13, 2005, where he quickly ascended the minor league ranks.

Ethier was recalled to Los Angeles on May 2, 2006, making his major league debut against the Diamondbacks.

In two seasons platooning in the outfield, Ethier combined to hit .294 with 24 homers and 119 RBIs in 843 at-bats.

This season, he’s had the chance to play more regularly after a knee injury to Andruw Jones cleared up a logjammed outfield.

Once Jones gets back, the outfield shuffle will resume, but Ethier won’t complain.

“I’m happy to be where I’m at,” he said. “You have to put your time in and you’re better for it in the long run.”

Travis Buck - Slugger getting back on track after demotion, early-season struggles

Travis Buck ran into the outfield wall recently at Triple-A Sacramento, causing him to miss some time with a mild concussion.

But that’s not the wake-up call that hurt the most this year.

In his first year on the Oakland A’s last season, Buck performed admirably, battling injuries to hit .288 with seven homers and 34 RBIs in 82 games, exactly the type of production the team was looking for when making him a supplemental first-round draft pick in 2005.

After an offseason trade of Nick Swisher, Buck had a spot in the outfield and was counted on heavily.

He was the leadoff hitter on opening day against Pedroia and the Red Sox in Japan, but an 0-for-5 performance was a sign of things to come.

Buck hit .160 in 106 at-bats this year for the big club and has been sent down to Triple-A twice, most recently on June 13. That’s where he’s stayed.

“When they traded Swisher, it was like I was the face of the franchise,” Buck said. “I just put so much pressure on myself. The spotlight was on me. I struggled like everyone struggles, but for me it just happened to be at the beginning of the year.”

Buck is hitting .337 in the minors, getting back to the happy-go-lucky style of play that has served him so well.

Behind the laid-back attitude is a player that badly wants to succeed.

“Buck acts very aloof,” ASU coach Pat Murphy said. “He acts like he doesn’t care, but in reality he’s very intelligent and courageous.”

In Buck’s mind, it’s not a question of if he will get another shot at major league baseball, but when.

“I’ve been there now and I know I can play at that level,” he said. “I’m excited to be the player they knew I was going to be.”

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