When the Red Sox made Kelly Shoppach their first pick in the 2001 draft, the thinking was that he might someday take over for Jason Varitek behind the plate in Boston. Of course, then GM Dan Duquette probably didn’t see it happening 11 years and two Red Sox World Series championships later. Nor did he know that it’d be his last draft at the helm of the team.
Shoppach, a polished catcher out of Baylor, was selected 48th overall in 2001 after Boston lost its first-round pick for signing Manny Ramirez. He proved solid right away, hitting .271/.369/.432 in high-A ball in his pro debut in 2002.
Varitek turned into an institution in Boston, but at the time, he was a 29-year-old with only one really good season under his belt. He hit .269/.330/.482 with 20 homers and 76 RBI for Boston in 1999, but he fell off to .248/.342/.388 with just 10 homers in 2000. His 2001 season was ruined by a broken elbow suffered just two days after the Shoppach pick was made. Varitek returned in 2002 and had another modest season (.266/.332/.392, 10 HR) before really coming into his own and making his first All-Star team in 2003.
Of course, the story from there took a dramatic turn. While there was much speculation in the 2004 postseason that Varitek and Pedro Martinez might be playing their final games for the Red Sox, Varitek got a four-year, $40 million to stick around. It was a choice made easier by Shoppach taking a step backwards in his first year in Triple-A. Shoppach rebounded in 2005, hitting .253/.352/.507 with 26 homers for Pawtucket. He was then shipped out as part of the much ballyhooed Andy Marte-for-Coco Crisp swap with Cleveland, a move that proved a letdown on several levels.
Now Shoppach is back in Boston, pushing the soon-to-be 40-year-old Varitek out the door. It should be an upgrade, though Varitek was just fine offensively in his two season as a backup for the Red Sox. Boston, however, needed a catcher capable of throwing out a basestealer every once in a while, and Shoppach is a big plus there.
Of course, Varitek will be missed. The Red Sox eased their restrictions to retire the number of a non-Hall of Famer three years ago, when they put Johnny Pesky’s No. 6 up on the wall. They may want to consider doing the same to Varitek’s No. 33 someday, because while Varitek won’t sniff Cooperstown, he had a terrific ride.