Can Retherford defy more Sox odds?
Hitting prospect will even try catching to improve chances
CHICAGO -- Before taking in the following comments from Buddy Bell about infielder C.J. Retherford, one point needs to be made perfectly clear.
The White Sox Minor League Director truly is paying a compliment to one of the scrappier performers in the entire organization.
"He's kind of a beer league guy who just plays," said a laughing Bell of Retherford, who at 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, doesn't have the prototype build of a Major Leaguer. "He looks like he's playing in the backyard. Nobody expects a whole lot, but he just plays hard, and he figures it out."
Retherford will soon begin his first big league Spring Training with the White Sox, earning a 2010 non-roster invite. The right-handed hitter will enter without a great deal of pressure to break camp with the team, but Retherford has made a career of using that overlooked state to his advantage.
Retherford's baseball career actually took root at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix before he played his final two seasons at Arizona State. With just 176 combined at-bats to show for his work with the Sun Devils, Retherford went undrafted but joined the White Sox as a free agent.
Since putting on a uniform for Great Falls in 2007, Retherford never has batted below .295. His best season came in 2009 for a dominant Double-A Birmingham squad, when he batted .297 with 46 doubles, 10 home runs and 76 RBIs.
Dayan Viciedo was set at third base for the Barons. So, Retherford also adeptly handled a position switch from third base to second base.
"We all know he can hit, but the thing he does is he can play anywhere," Bell said. "We put C.J. at second thinking we didn't care how he did defensively, and he did an amazing job."
"If you can hit, they will find a spot in the field for you," Retherford said. "I take great pride in my hitting and offensive approach. Even last year, when they moved me, my main focus was just playing defense, and the hitting would come along on its own."
With Mark Teahen locked up at third base and Gordon Beckham, the White Sox top pick from the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, now set at second, Retherford understands some sort of utility-infield job would be his immediate Major League niche with the Sox. Omar Vizquel has those primary duties for 2010, with Jayson Nix and Brent Lillibridge looking to battle for the final position player spot on the active roster.
But in order to make himself a more versatile option -- even as soon as this upcoming Spring Training -- Retherford has added catching to his repertoire. His focus might fall on that part-time, amalgamation of positions, but Retherford possesses the moxie to go with the hitting resume to be an everyday player.
News of Chris Getz's trade to the Royals broke while Retherford was taking part in the Arizona Fall League, an arena where Retherford eventually launched the game-winning home run in the championship game for the Peoria Javelinas. Upon hearing the new of his friend's move to the Royals, Retherford quietly set his sights on the starting second base job for the White Sox even though he had never played at the big league level.
"I think I do have a shot, but it's what the White Sox think, if they think I'm ready," said Retherford, prior to an AFL game on that Thursday before the Nov. 5 trade. "I could compete for the job, but it depends on what they have in store for me."
Of course, Retherford quickly found out Teahen would be used in the infield, meaning there were no open starting infield spots. Two months later, Retherford's bravado hasn't taken a hit as he prepares for a Camelback Ranch arrival.
"Everyone's dream is to play every day, but you have to slowly work into that role," Retherford said. "They have always slated me as more of a utility guy.
"So, if someone should go down, I hope I'm doing well at the time where they can call on me to come in and fill in. Then, if I do a great job as a fill-in, they won't bench someone doing well. I really want to get an opportunity to show I can play."
Those successful past opportunities already have caught the attention of Ken "Hawk" Harrelson, the White Sox colorful television play-by-play announcer. Harrelson often would mention Retherford's success at Birmingham during last year's TV broadcasts, earning Retherford the nickname of "Hawk's boy" from some of his friends and teammates, according to the 24-year-old.
"It's nice to have someone on your side," said Retherford, who met Harrelson during Spring Training 2009. "He's a great guy."
Ultimately, Harrelson won't have a say as to whether Retherford gets a big league shot. That opportunity will be up to continued production from Retherford, continued overachieving, if you will. Retherford certainly has the confidence, if not the past pedigree of a highly touted prospect, to make it happen.
"There's an air about him, and he's not afraid of anything or to say anything," Bell said. "He's a 'dirt dog.' He doesn't look pretty doing it and he's so unorthodox [hitting-wise], but he figures it out.
"Sometimes you tell him to shut up and he does for five minutes," added Bell with a laugh. "He doesn't care, but that's what makes him good, too. He's one of my favorite players."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.