Asadoorian trying to make it to majors as pitcher
May 25, 2007
By Joe Barbieri, Director of Media Relations, Southern League
Special to PA SportsTicker
The Cincinnati Reds already have facilitated the turnaround of one 1999 first-round pick's career. Now they are working on another.
Chosen first overall by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 1999 draft, Josh Hamilton played in just 251 professional games - including 23 in the Southern League - through 2002 before a series of injuries and substance abuse troubles sidelined him for more than three full years.
After working his way back to the professional ranks toward the end of the 2006 campaign, Hamilton was chosen by the Chicago Cubs in December's Rule 5 draft and shipped to the Reds as part of a prearranged deal.
Hamilton impressed in spring training, homered in his first major league start and was named the National League's Rookie of the Month for April.
By now, Hamilton's inspiring comeback story has been well documented. Fellow 1999 first-round pick and 26- year-old Rick Asadoorian's tale is just beginning to unfold, however.
A tremendous athlete with speed, a powerful throwing arm and an impressive offensive resume in high school, Asadoorian was drafted 17th overall by the Boston Red Sox in 1999. With Fenway Park less than an hour drive from his home of Whitinsville, MA, Asadoorian grew up a big Red Sox fan and was ecstatic to become a member of their organization.
"It was like a dream come true," said Asadoorian, who received a signing bonus of $1,725,500 - the highest obtained from the Red Sox before Daisuke Matsuzaka got a $2 million bonus last year. "Given the opportunity to be with that organization at the time for me was second to none. ... "It was a very exciting time, it's almost like you're an instant celebrity."
Asadoorian's fame was short-lived in Boston, however. He struggled in his first full season against professional pitching, managing just a .212 average at lower-level Class-A Augusta before being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in December of 2001.
A change of scenery didn't seem to do the trick for Asadoorian, who batted under .250 in 575 Class-A at-bats in the Cardinals system. He was traded to the Texas Rangers in May of 2003 before being selected by the Reds in the minor league phase of the 2004 Rule 5 draft.
Former Red Sox infielder Tim Naehring was Cincinnati's director of player development at the time.
"I remember (Naehring) scouting me way back in high school," Asadoorian said. "Growing up a big fan of his, it's a cool thing to be able to talk to him on a consistent basis. I feel close to a lot of people (in the Reds organization), coaches and players, and feel very comfortable making a home here."
Although Asadoorian did show improvement at the plate while playing in the Southern League for the Chattanooga Lookouts, he arguably looked most comfortable after being called upon to pitch at West Tenn on July 5, 2006.
With the game in the 12th inning and Chattanooga's relief corps having already logged six frames, manager Jayhawk Owens elected to bring Asadoorian in from right field to pitch and help preserve his bullpen.
Asadoorian responded by striking out five batters in two scoreless frames and was credited with the win after the Lookouts scored twice in the top of the 14th. Among Asadoorian's strikeout victims were 2006 Southern League All-Stars Scott Moore and Eric Patterson.
"(Owens) knew that I had pitched once before on the side, kind of messing around a little bit, and knew I could throw some strikes," Asadoorian said. "He put me in there and I pitched really well. It was a lot of fun."
Asadoorian's feat was impressive, especially considering he had given up pitching regularly following his junior year of high school and only made the occasional appearance as a closer during his senior year. Despite more than seven years between organized pitching appearances, Asadoorian brought a relaxed demeanor to the mound.
"I had nothing to lose," Asadoorian said. "It was a lot of fun and kind of put a smile on my face. When a position player comes into pitch, it's an exciting thing. It was more exciting than it was nerve-wracking."
With his gift discovered, Asadoorian was summoned to the mound twice more last year and produced two additional scoreless innings with a pair of strikeouts. A free agent this past offseason, Asadoorian entertained the Reds' suggestion of giving full-time pitching a shot and focused on that role in instructional league.
The 6-2, 205-pound Asadoorian consistently gets his fastball in the 93 miles-per-hour range and keeps hitters off-balance with an array of supplementary pitches, including a splitter, changeup and slider. Though new to full-time pitching, Asadoorian displayed exceptional command of his offerings in the Class-A Florida State League to begin 2007.
Asadoorian posted a 1.29 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 14 innings at Sarasota before being promoted to Chattanooga. It took just five weeks for him to reach Double A on pitching merit after he needed four years to reach that level as an outfielder.
In fact, pitching full time at Double A nearly happened sooner.
"There was talk that I actually had a chance to make (the Lookouts staff) out of spring training," said Asadoorian, who is in his fourth Double-A season overall. "I know the game here, I know what the talent is. I've been around the game for awhile now. It just came down to my arm not being ready."
In his first appearance in a Lookouts uniform this season, Asadoorian worked two scoreless frames and struck out two at Tennessee on May 13. Including last year's three appearances, the righthander went unscored upon in his first six career innings at the Double-A level before finally allowing a run on May 17. Although his Double-A scoreless streak came to an end that night against Mobile, Asadoorian fanned the side to give him 24 strikeouts in 21 career innings pitched.
"So far I've had nothing but positive feedback," Asadoorian said. "Opportunity comes into play and you've got to be in the right place at the right time."
The right place has been with the Reds organization, which has developed a reputation for being open minded. In addition to giving Hamilton an opportunity, Cincinnati executed a trade with the Oakland Athletics in April for converted outfielder Marcus McBeth, who is exactly one month younger than Asadoorian.
In eight Class AAA appearances with Louisville, McBeth produced a 1.13 ERA and four saves to earn a promotion to Cincinnati on May 15. Hamilton certainly has drawn plenty of attention in his first 1 1/2 months in the majors, connecting for eight home runs in his first 85 at-bats and leading the Reds with three outfield assists. His talent caught the eye of Asadoorian nearly a decade ago.
"I remember playing against him in high school just at some showcases and I've never seen anybody throw the ball the way he did," Asadoorian said of Hamilton. "I always thought I had a pretty decent arm and felt good about the way I threw, but then he got up there and I was like, 'Oh my gosh.'
"He's probably one of the most gifted players you're ever going to find, and it does obviously throw for pointers - I guess like myself - that second-chance mentality.
The paths of Asadoorian and Hamilton have crossed before on the baseball diamond. Years later and after a number of twists and turns that might have permanently thrown others off the road, the two might meet again in Cincinnati.
"I never ever gave up hope, even as an outfielder," Asadoorian said of making the major leagues. "It's just a matter of being at the right place at the right time."