September 17, 2019

Ryan Westmoreland: Former Boston Red Sox Top Prospect Talks Playing Career and New Focus

January 12, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

For serious fans of the Boston Red Sox, Harry Agganis and Tony Conigliaro are familiar names. Both were top young players who saw their promising careers curtailed by tragedy and unforeseen circumstance (Conigliaro was severely injured by a beanball and Agganis died as the result of a pulmonary embolism). Another top prospect for the team was outfielder Ryan Westmoreland, who seemed destined for stardom before a serious injury forced him to prematurely end his playing career. However, he has remained involved in the game and is pursuing new avenues to keep him connected to baseball in other ways.

Westmoreland was  a coveted two-way player coming out of high school he passed up a scholarship to play for Vanderbilt University to sign with the Boston Red Sox after being selected in the fifth round of the 2008 draft. An outfielder and a pitcher, he gave up the mound upon joining the Sox and playing the 2009 season for the Short-Season Lowell Spinners. In 60 games he hit .296 with seven home runs and 35 RBIs and 19 stolen bases, cementing his status as one of the most exciting players in a stocked system.

Before the 2010 season started he was diagnosed with a cavernous malformation at his brain stem. The resulting multiple surgeries allowed him to make great strides in his recovery, but he was not able to get where he needed to be physically to return as a player.

Westmoreland joins the list of talented Boston players who were robbed of near-certain lengthy playing careers because of medical issues. Fortunately, he has been able to continue contributing his significant abilities to the game, coaching and instructing as he embarks on the next phase of his career.

Although he certainly doesn’t remember me, I had the pleasure of briefly meeting and having a conversation with Westmoreland after one of his 60 professional game. Without a doubt he was one of the most poised, intelligent and kind individuals I have ever come across in the game. Possessing qualities like those, he was already a winner without ever having to step on the field. He may not have become the next Ted Williams, but he is forging ahead with establishing a rich legacy of his own on a slightly different path than he may have originally envisioned.

Ryan Westmoreland Interview

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: My favorite player growing up was Pedro Martinez. I was really impressed how even though he wasn’t big for a pitcher, he threw like he was 6’6 and wasn’t afraid of anyone. The way he went out and dominated the best hitters in baseball at that time was extremely impressive.

Can you describe your draft experience with the Boston Red Sox in 2008- How did you find out you had been selected?: My draft experience was very much like a roller coaster ride. I went from not even being on some mock drafts, to hearing on draft day I may be selected in the first round. So, I was very unsure about if/when I’d get taken. I knew what teams were interested, but I didn’t know where I’d go in the draft.  At the beginning of the Red Sox pick in the fifth round, Theo Epstein who was the GM at that time gave me a call to tell me they (the Red Sox) we’re going to take me.

Did you do anything special for yourself/family/friends after signing, and if so, do you mind sharing what that was?: I don’t remember the signing day, but on draft day my family and friends were at my house watching the draft on TV. It was awesome. There was about 40 people over.

What do you remember most about your professional debut?: At my pro debut, I remember being very nervous. I had only played in high school in front of families, and here I was about to take the field in front of thousands. But after I saw the first pitch, the nerves settled and I just realized it was the same game I’ve always played and loved.

In your opinion, who was the most talented player you ever played with or against? What made them stand out so much?: John Smoltz was definitely the best player I ever played with. When he briefly spent time with the Sox, I got to face him in a simulated game down in Ft Myers, Florida. What made him stand out so much was how he went about his day very business-like. Even though it was in a very informal setting, he acted like he was getting ready for the World Series. I knew who he was obviously, but he was so kind and genuine and that meant a ton to me- as a 19 year old kid.

Who is one pitcher, current or from the past, you would like to face and how would you approach the at bat?: I would’ve loved to face Chris Sale. My approach would be to try to take a fastball to the opposite field. His slider is so hard and breaks so late I would want to see the ball as long as possible and not try to do too much. A base hit off of Chris Sale is hard to do but I would’ve loved the chance to try.

You were an outstanding high school pitcher. Although you played professionally as an outfielder, do you believe you could have pitched at the major league level?: I may have been able to pitch at the MLB level, although I loved hitting and the opportunity to play every day. But I had a pretty good arm and good breaking pitches- so with the right coaching I might have been able to have a future on the mound. But again, I definitely wanted to be a position player.

What are your thoughts about baseball card and autograph collecting?: Personally, I don’t collect cards or autographs, but I think it’s a cool hobby. Cards go back to the early days of baseball, so I think collecting a bit of history is pretty cool. As a player, I really didn’t like signing autographs and seeing it up for sale a day or two later. I loved signing for people that genuinely collected them and kept the autographs they got.

Was the high level of attention you received while you were undergoing surgeries and rehab more of a distraction or a positive for you?: It was definitely a positive. To know that so many people were wishing me well and supporting me from all around the world was really awesome. I got to feel like people cared about me beyond baseball, and I’m truly grateful for that.

What are you up to since retiring from playing?: Since retiring, I’ve been coaching different levels in baseball and giving hitting lessons. I’m currently looking into the sport more and seeing what’s out there for me in the professional baseball world.

Andrew Martin is the founder of “The Baseball Historian” blog where he posts his thoughts about baseball on a regular basis. You can also reach him on Twitter at @historianandrew or on Facebook.

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