Cody Ross may be this season’s most underrated player. Think Red Sox and you think drama, David Ortiz, Josh Beckett, and Bobby Valentine. You certainly don’t think Cody Ross. Well now, you might. After all, he’s hit three three-run home runs in the last two games, including a walk-off three-run bomb last night. Ross is having a great season this year for the Red Sox, and quite frankly, he’s been having an impressive career. Yet, last season, when Ross was a free agent, no one seemed to want him.
The truth about Cody Ross is that he has been under-appreciated his entire career. He was drafted in the fourth round of the 1999 draft by the Detroit Tigers. That in and of itself was an example of how unexpected Ross’ success in the majors has been. He went to high school in Carlsbad, New Mexico. Surprisingly, there have been three other players drafted from that same high school. Ross has had the best career.
In an interview with the MLB Blog “Inside the Giants Clubhouse” in 2010, Ross said, “We always said in Carlsbad that in order to get scouted in high school, people had to really want to find you because it’s not easy to get there.”
He wasn’t kidding. You can’t fly into Carlsbad. “You fly in to El Paso then drive two-and-half hours to a little city in New Mexico called Carlsbad. There’s nothing in between. It’s just all desert.”
But someone saw him, and the Tigers gave him a chance. Just not much of one. After making his way to Toledo in the International League, the Tigers’ Triple-A affiliate, and proving himself worthy, Detroit called him up in 2003. He hit a meager .211/.286/.421, but Ross was only given six games. Detroit made up their mind, and decided to cut him loose. In April of 2004, he was traded to the Dodgers.
Things didn’t get much better with Los Angeles. Ross spent the entire 2004 season in Triple-A. He was called up in 2005 but only appeared in 14 games for LA. He hit .160/.192/.200. It was not the start to a career Ross had hoped for or expected.
But things would get better. Just not with Los Angeles. Ross did play in 8 games for the Dodgers in 2006 and hit .500, but they traded him to the Cincinnati Reds in April of 2006 for a player to be named later. Ross spent the majority of his time (and majority is a relative term here) with the Red’s Triple-A affiliate. He played 15 games for the Louisville Bats. His time with the Reds’ big league ball club was limited to two games. In those two games, Ross picked up one hit – a single.
The Florida Marlins purchased Ross’ contract in May of 2006. The Reds had traded away Ben Kozlowski (the player to be named later), but thought so little of Ross, they allow him to be purchased by the Marlins after just a month in their system. But it was in the city of Miami that things finally started to click for Ross.
He got some action during the 2006 season, but it was in 2007 that Ross really broke out. In 66 games, he hit .335/.411/.653. He also clubbed 12 home runs. It was the start to a display of power and average that Ross had not yet shown in his career. In total, Ross spent five seasons with Florida. In that time, he hit 80 home runs, posted a respectable 104 OPS+ and made a combined $7,445,000.
The Marlins placed Ross on waivers in August of 2010, and that’s when things got interesting. It was reported that the San Diego Padres were interested in Ross. The Marlins seemed willing to trade Ross, but he would have had to clear waivers for that to happen. Reports surfaced that the Giants put a claim in on Ross to prevent him from going to the Padres – they were in a pennant race with the Giants at the time. As it turned out, the Giants got Ross and his remaining contract.
In reference to the rumors that the Giants only claimed him to prevent the Padres from doing so, Ross told “Inside the Giants Clubhouse,” “I didn’t worry about it. I just went out and did my job. I was in a lot of talks back in July about getting traded. It was all in the rumor mill and that can put added stress on you. But I tried to just block that out. And once this did go down, my initial feelings were sad because I was leaving a bunch of my friends I had played with for five years in Miami.”
In 33 games with the Giants, Ross helped push that team to an unlikely World Series berth. He hit .288/.354/.466 down the stretch. In the postseason, Ross hit .294/.390/.686 with five home runs. It was a performance that surely helped the Giants clinch their first World Championship since moving to San Francisco.
But Ross had a backslide year in 2011. He hit just .240/.325/.405. He was granted free agency at the end of the year but found little interest. Eventually he signed with the Red Sox for $3 million. It was a $3.3 million pay cut from his previous season with San Francisco.
The consistency of teams under-appreciating Cody Ross has been incredible. This season is further proof of Ross’ talent. And he’s 31 years old. Had he been valued better, and used consistently, there’s little doubt that Ross would have been even better in his career. From 2007 on, Ross has never had a slugging percentage under .400. He may struggle with average at times, and his OBP is up and down, but his ability to hit for power has almost always been there.
The Red Sox are reaping the benefits of teams across the league ignoring Ross. He is currently hitting .269/.345/.557, good enough for a 134 OPS+. He’s almost single-handedly won the last two games for Boston, and he’s once again showing his propensity for power.
Ross has been worth 1.6 WAR to this point. If he finishes the season here (which is unlikely – he should finish higher), he will have been worth about $5 million. This means the Red Sox are saving at least $2 million. However, the word is out on Ross. He is competitive, fiery, and talented After this year with the Red Sox (as long as he continues to hit), it’s certain that teams won’t miss on him again.