Five seasons ago, just prior to the Tigers current string of division titles, the team was hitting the reset button. That year, manager Jim Leyland welcomed six rookie players to his team who ended up playing a key role.
One of those players was Austin Jackson, a fleet center fielder. Another was Alex Avila, a sturdy catcher with a pretty left-handed swing. But the player who was most heralded and for whom their was the most anticipation was neither of these future stars and Detroit mainstays. The player most acclaimed as a future star in 2010 was Brennan Boesch.
Boesch spent just three seasons with the Tigers before being released during spring training two years ago. He latched on with the New York Yankees that season, but he starts 2015 with his third club since being exiled from Detroit having never lived up to expectations.
As a teenager in North Hollywood, Brennan Philip Boesch was a perfect athlete. He was big, strong, good-looking, and he excelled at every sport he tried at Harvard-Westlake High. In his junior year he hit .466 and was named to Baseball America‘s list of the top 25 prep players in the country. He did nothing to quell that lofty status as a senior, when he hit a sizzling .490 with 22 doubles and seven home runs in fewer than 50 games. He had college scouts drooling at his potential. He agreed to play for Berkeley where he steadily improved against better competition and was named to the All-Pac 10 team as an outfielder.
Boesch was drafted by the Tigers in the third round of the 2006 amateur draft and was signed for a bonus of $445,000. His first professional stop came in Oneonta (NY) where he played for the Tigers Single-A affiliate. He tore up the New York/Penn League with Oneonta, driving in 54 runs in 70 games to earn a promotion to the West Michigan White Caps. By 2009 he had ascended through the Tiger system and was knocking on the big league door. He impressed Leyland in a spring training look but it wasn’t until 2010 that Boesch broke through and earned a spot on the Detroit roster.
Avila, Jackson, Scott Sizemore, Will Rhymes, and Danny Worth joined Boesch on the ’10 team as rookies who got a chance to show their stuff. After terrorizing pitching in Toledo for about three weeks, Boesch was promoted to the Tigers when Carlos Guillen was injured. In the majors for the first time, Boesch flourished, and at the All-Star break, the big left-handed hitter was batting .342 with 19 doubles, a dozen homers, 49 RBIs, and a slugging percentage near .600 — heady numbers for a first-year player. Obviously Boesch wasn’t intimidated at all by big league pitching and it appeared he was on his way to a great rookie year. But in the second half of that season Boesch fell off dramatically, hitting a paltry .163 with a puny nine extra-base hits after the All-Star break. Still, Tiger brass thought Boesch was far closer to being the player they saw in the first half than the second half of the 2010 campaign. The outfielder finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting.
In 2011 Boesch was Leyland’s right fielder out of spring training and responded with a .319/.390/.451 slash line in April. But he went into a funk and his numbers dipped drastically in May, and even after he righted himself in June, Boesch’s bat faded as the summer heated up. In August he tore a ligament in his thumb and missed the rest of the season. As a result, he was unable to take part in Detroit’s run to the ALCS.
Boesch was in right field to start 2012, now in his third season in the Detroit outfield. But now, as Jackson and Avila were stars in the Tiger lineup, pressure was on Boesch to live up to his potential.
“He’s shown us some things [in the past], now he has to put it together and have a consistent season,” Leyland said as the team broke spring camp.
But the 2012 season would prove to be uneven and disappointing for Boesch and it was his last in a Detroit uniform. Only for a brief stretch in July did he show any lightning with the bat, and he was hitting a powerless .247 in mid-August when he was sent to the bench in favor of Don Kelly and Quentin Berry. Boesch didn’t respond well to losing his job and he hit a measly .196 in the final six weeks of the season. As a result, when Leyland and GM Dave Dombrowski sat down to construct their roster for the postseason, Boesch was left out. He wore a uniform in October of 2012 but he had to watch as a spectator from the bench as the team advanced to the World Series before being swept by the Giants.
Then in 2013 with just two weeks left in spring training, Boesch was released by the Tigers in a somewhat surprising move. He was 27 years old and entering what would be his fourth big league season, meaning the Tigers could control him for three more seasons before he could be a free agent. Boesch had shown some flashes of excellence and he was a popular player with the fans, especially female fans. He was a good teammate. But, just like that, he was let go.
Boesch signed a deal with the New York Yankees in 2013, but they let him go in July after he played only a handful of games at the big league level. He had to take a job as an outfielder in the Dominican League and these last two years he’s bounced from team to team. His post-Detroit career has been rocky. He began the 2015 season as a fourth outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds.
In two days, Boesch will turn 30 years old. He’s a long way from his big splash in 2010 as a rookie for the Tigers, but Brennan Boesch is still battling to earn a place in baseball. In June the Tigers and Reds will play four games against each other, and maybe we’ll get to see Boesch again, this time in a different uniform.