'Greek God of Walks' trying to find way to majors

Red Sox prospect Kevin Youkilis is drawing attention for his on-base ability that is almost Barry Bonds-like.

Originally Published: July 24, 2003
By Elliott A. Wiley Jr. | ESPN.com

Take Barry Bonds minus his superhuman ability to park baseballs into McCovey Cove. Without the 32 home runs, you are still left with a baseball player who has a deity-like .501 on-base percentage, and 90 hits to match 89 walks in 86 games this season. You are left with a player who does not have incredible power, but knows how to get on base one out of every two at-bats. You have a player of immense value. You have Boston Red Sox prospect Kevin Youkilis.

Youkilis
Youkilis

Through games played on July 23, Youkilis of the Portland Sea Dogs led the Double-A Eastern League with a .479 on-base percentage, approximately .030 points higher than the next player.

Although "Youk's" batting average stands at .316, there is a definitive gap between his batting average and on-base percentage. The divider is his eagle eye and ability to draw walks. Through Youkilis' first 89 games, he totaled a Barry Bonds-like 81 walks, while reaching base in all but two of those contests.

His ability to walk is a result of patience at the plate. Todd Jamison, the Sea Dogs Radio Broadcaster, estimates that Youkilis has not swung at more than six first pitches all season.

Although Youkilis draws almost a walk a game, his primary goal is to get hits by waiting for the best pitch to swing the bat.

"I just try to get a hitter's pitch, not a pitcher's pitch," said the 24-year-old Youkilis. "With two strikes you got to swing, but not swing at bad pitches."

Youkilis' ability to hit .300, combined with his selectivity at the plate, has made the third baseman the Red Sox's No. 3 prospect in the eyes of Baseball America.

"On-base percentage is an important measuring stick and an important piece of how we evaluate player," said Ben Cherington, Red Sox director of player development. "We extended that approach to the minor leagues as well. It is important in how we evaluate a player."

The Red Sox's eighth-round selection in 2001 out of the University of Cincinnati has drawn the attention of other teams in trade talks.

" Nomar is aggressive, Manny is patient, but both hit at the same average," Youkilis said. "You have to be aggressive at times and be patient at other times. "
? Red Sox prospect Kevin Youkilis

Most notably, Youkilis' patience at the plate was documented in Michael Lewis' book "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game." It explains how Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane tried unsuccessfully to acquire Youkilis in a deal.

"He's a guy who walks a ton," Beane said recently. "He's an on-base machine."

In the book, Beane expressed a fascination with Youkilis' plate prowess, which dubbed him the nickname: "Euclis: The Greek God of Walks."

Cherington says that Youkilis' "discipline numbers," which include walks and strikeouts, have been greater than the league average at each level in the minors.

Youkilis, 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, admits that it seems like every sports fan's dream to be so publicized at a young age, but maintains the ability to keep the game in perspective.

He points out the success of older baseball players such as Edgar Martinez, who still tailors his game on a daily basis.

This approach has paid dividends. In 2002, Youkilis batted .344 in 44 games with the Trenton Thunder. However, with only five home runs and 34 RBI primarily batting out of the No. 2 and No. 3 spots in the batting order, his power numbers are not overwhelming.

Youkilis is quick to mention his 21 doubles this season. He also said his current home run total is not an indication of his potential power and how it could translate in the big leagues.

Cherington agrees that Youkilis' power numbers are not a concern. His offensive production in terms of getting on base greatly increases his team's chance of victory, with any additional power dubbed as an added plus.

Outside of Youkilis' excellent vision at the plate, an aspect of his personality that hints star potential is his desire to be his own person.

"I don't try to emulate anybody's game," Youkilis said. "I am myself."

Although there is no hint of imitation, Youkilis does study players like Nomar Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez, focusing on the contrasts in their approach to hitting.

"Nomar is aggressive, Manny is patient, but both hit at the same average," Youkilis said. "You have to be aggressive at times and be patient at other times."

In a trade that seems to bode well for Youkilis' career, former Red Sox third baseman Shea Hillenbrand was traded to Arizona for Byung-Hyun Kim on May 29. While Cherington says the organization does value Youkilis highly, he also conveyed that there is no timetable to when he'll get to the majors.

"I think the Shea Hillenbrand trade was more about the here and now," Cherington said. "(Red Sox GM) Theo (Epstein) had an opportunity to acquire a pitcher that he and the rest of the organization valued highly and were able to deal from an area of strength to help out an area of relative weakness."

In the meantime, Cherington said he believes Youkilis should continue to work on his defense and athleticism.

"Hopefully I can stay with the Red Sox on my trek up to the major leagues," Youkilis said. "You never know where your trek will lead you, but I hope I will be up in Fenway one day."

You can reach Elliott A. Wiley, Jr. at Elliott.A.Wiley.-ND@espn3.com