Everyone loves an underdog story, so much so that there’s no need to explain why. It’s understood. In sports, the underdog story is usually about a team or player who doesn’t look like it should be successful, beating the odds. Books and movies are made about underdogs. In the area of baseball nerd books alone, there’s Michael Lewis’ Moneyball and Jonah Keri’s The Extra 2%, about lowly teams outsmarting the league to beat the odds and be successful. Just about every great baseball movie is an underdog story, from Major League to Rookie of the Year to Bull Durham to The Sandlot.
The Padres are a consistent underdog. Maybe the biggest underdog in baseball. They rarely have the necessary talent, the financial means or the front office acumen to compete with the rest of the league, and when somehow they are able to be competitive, it’s a delightful surprise. Many of the reasons why they’re an underdog are the fault of the people who have run the franchise, but I don’t want to get into that right now.
The biggest underdog playing right now for arguably the biggest underdog franchise is Daniel Robertson. While four members of Padres Public, Brady from Lobshots, and Megan Olivi were out in the right field bleachers delightfully shooting the shit during the FSSD broadcast Wednesday (thanks for the shout out David!), I was falling in love with the guy wearing number 92 and starting just to the bloggers’ right, in right field.
I knew of Daniel Robertson before he went 2-4 with a triple, single, and a couple very nice plays in the outfield. I knew he was drafted the same year as once highly touted prospects Jaff Decker, James Darnell, and Logan Forsythe. I knew that he had risen through the system while playing on several excellent Padres minor league teams, like the 2009 Ft. Wayne Tincaps who won 100 games and the Midwest League Championship, and the 2011 San Antonio Missions team that won 94 and the Texas League Championship.
I also knew he was short. I knew that he is listed at 5’8” online but that, even with cleats on, he’s probably more like 5’6” at the most. I knew that this was what makes Robertson an underdog. Being a 33rd round draft pick after playing 4 years of college ball isn’t what made him an underdog. He’d been one long before that.
After lettering for 3 years playing both baseball and football at South Hills High in San Antonio, Texas, Robertson didn’t get any division 1 scholarship offers. He started his college baseball career at Concordia University, Irvine (CUI). A short drive from the UC Irvine campus, the Eagles baseball team plays in the NAIA Division 1, along with schools like San Diego Christian College (my sister’s alma mater) and Cal State San Marcos. Robertson excelled so much at CUI that he transferred to Oregon State in his senior year, started 50 of 52 games for the Beavers, and was named to the All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention team.
Had it all ended there, that would have been a great story to tell his grandkids someday, but not only did the Padres draft Robertson in 2008, he keeps performing well and they keep promoting him. He competently plays all 3 outfield positions, has consistently hit .300 with a .370+ OBP, and he’s stolen at least 18 bases a year. He played the entire 2012 season for AAA Tucson, and he’ll start the season there again in 2013. Robertson is now 27 years old and knocking on the door of the major leagues.
Here comes The Daniel Robertson Problem. I want to root for Daniel Robertson. How could you not want him to be on the Padres? It’s a great story, and watching him play baseball is exciting and heartwarming. The problem is that for Robertson to be anything more than a September call-up for the team, something will have had to have gone terribly wrong.
If Robertson played SS, he’d be in the majors right now, be it for the Padres or someone else. Unfortunately, he plays in the outfield, and there just aren’t a lot of opportunities for a player his size to get a chance in the majors. The Padres have plenty of guys who can play outfield already on the 40 man roster, and 2 on the 25 man roster, Will Venable and Chris Denorfia, that can play CF if Cameron Maybin misses time this year.
Fellow 2008 draft pick and frequent Tucson to San Diego Southwest Airlines flyer, Blake Tekotte, may have been traded to the White Sox in November after being DFA’d, but that’s just one obstacle Robertson has to overcome. Carlos Quentin will likely miss time this year, but converted outfielders Kyle Blanks and James Darnell provide more offensive potential than Robertson and are much more likely to take Quentin’s spot on the big club if he needs another likely DL stint.
If Robertson is called up, it likely means that the Padres have three injured outfielders at the same time. The likeliest are Quentin, Maybin, and Blanks. It’s actually fairly possible. Maybin has a chronic wrist issue, Quentin his bum knee, and Blanks has been prone to injury throughout his career. And it’s not like Venable, Denorfia, and Guzman are immune to injury issues either. However, this circumstance would be disastrous for the team, and as fans we’d likely be looking at another losing season approaching 90 losses or more if we see Robertson out there roaming the outfield.
So that is why I’m personally rooting for Robertson to succeed this year, but I’d like to see him do it as much as possible while remaining in the minors. No offense dude, because I think you’re great and what you’ve accomplished is excellent, but I’m rooting for the Padres to win a lot of ballgames, and if you’re on the field, chances are they aren’t.
If you want more of me, I’m on Twitter @The_NV. I tweet a lot. The Vocal Minority posts on Mondays…usually.