Tim Wakefield is one of the best-known knuckleballers in MLB history and is certainly the one that Red Sox fans remember most. An All-Star in 2009 at age 42, his 15th season with the franchise, Wakefield compiled a 186-168 record over 17 years and took home two rings in Beantown. He wasn't much of a hitter — he didn't get an opportunity, really, because of the designated hitter rule — with a career .117/.148/.162 slash line in 130 regular season plate appearances. There was also Steven Wright, earning an All-Star nod in 2016 thanks to his knuckleball, though he never recorded a hit.
Now, imagine that the next Red Sox knuckleballer casually batted .298/.346/.458 and was one of the most feared hitters in the American League. Impossible, right?
Wrong, so long as you think that Alex Verdugo can back up his word as a potential two-way player. He was, in fact, a two-way player not so long ago, going 10-0 for Sahuaro High School in 2013 before recording a 4-3 record with a 2.26 ERA in 2014. With 93 strikeouts in 52.2 innings pitched, Verdugo ranked No. 5 on MaxPreps writer Kevin Askeland's list of the top ten high school left-handed pitchers in 2014. He also noted that Verdugo batted a casual .532 that season and could easily end up in the outfield if he wasn't selected as a pitcher.
That's obviously what occurred, though Verdugo may have wished the draft process and his assimilation in to the pros went a little differently.
"I like to pitch, but I love to hit... my thing is, I hated the fact that they made us choose one, you know what I mean?" Verdugo told Chris Rose on "The Chris Rose Rotation" from Jomboy Media. "I really wish that right out of high school they would have let me just do the two-way in pro ball and never lose that feel of, you know, working those certain muscles."
That doesn't mean, however, that Verdugo has given up his dream of playing as a two-way star in the bigs. It might not be an immediate change, especially with how well he and the Red Sox are playing right now, but it's certainly something he's weighing for the future.
"...I definitely could, I feel like I could pitch," Verdugo said. "I wouldn't want to be a starter. I would probably want to play the outfield, do what I do, and come in in the eighth or ninth, or come in to get a tough out or something like that. That would be cool. But those dreams, that would be like two, three years away. I would have to build up that arm strength again, I would have to do a lot of throwing programs and try to get the arm going again.
"I want to, at some point, I really do want to... I want to start in my offseasons. I'm going to start really incorporating a throwing program and taking care of my arm better, kind of how I did when I was a two-way, because my arm felt a lot better for outfield throws and everything, so I know it's going to benefit me to get my throws even harder than what I'm at right now."
Better than what his arm is capable of right now? It's already pretty strong... and any stronger is a scary thought.
Clearly, he'd have some power pitches with that arm strength, and Verdugo said he could maybe pump 96 or 97 mile per hour heat. But he's also got a pitch that can raise some eyebrows: that aforementioned knuckleball.
"If I got on the bump this year, I would just throw knuckles and maybe sneak in a hard one," Verdugo said, much to Rose's surprise. "Yeah, I have a knuckle. I'm not a knuckleballer, but yeah, if I pitched in a few years, I will feature a knuckleball."
So he's got the fastball, he's got the knuckleball... there aren't too many other boxes left to tick. He definitely has the confidence factor down, using a pretty well-respected teammate as an example of who he could strike out if he pitched today.
"I'll strike out Julio — J.D. Martinez — I'll strike him out," Verdugo said. "I've said this to him. I love Julio, man, he's my guy. The banter, the way we talk to each other, he's made this year super fun for me and it's cool to have a veteran kind of take you under a little bit, and try to just make you do the right things and just really teach you more. For us, we have a really good banter, man. We always are jawing at each other and getting under one another's skins and he's my guy, but I think I got him."
And what does Martinez, the three-time All-Star and near Triple Crown winner have to say about that?
"He says no chance, obviously."