Entering this season, Carlos Asuaje was a little-known prospect in the Red Sox system. He had a quiet first season for the Lowell Spinners after being drafted in the 11th round in the 2013 draft. This year, however, he’s torn up the lower minors, earning a promotion to the High A Salem Red Sox.
He leads the Sox organization with 97 rbis, and despite his small stature (the Salem website lists him at 5’9” 160 pounds) he’s belted 15 home runs. His strong season has added him to the crowded list of middle infield prospects the Sox possess. I sat down with Carlos in Salem this past week to talk to him about his experiences with the Red Sox.
You played in the Cape Cod League the summer before you were drafted. Who did you play for and what was the experience like?
The Yarmouth Dennis Red Sox. That was awesome. I would say it was the turning point in my baseball experience. It was my first real experience competing against kids who were just as good or better than me. Day in day out, playing almost every day in front of tons of scouts was really cool.
Was that the first time scouts came to your games?
Yeah pretty much. As soon as I got back home in Florida I had close to 15 meetings with teams and scouts. Stuff that you hear about, but I had never put myself in those shoes.
Were the Red Sox one of the teams that started following you at that point?
Yeah. I had a meeting with the scout (from the Red Sox) who actually drafted me in October. He was one of the first ones. They were a team that was behind me early, and then I didn’t hear from them much.
I understand your dad is a big Red Sox fan. How did he respond when they drafted you?
He told me before the draft that the Red Sox were going to draft me, and I was like “No way” because my agent and I had heard from other teams more. So I was expecting two teams in particular to draft me, so when the Red Sox actually picked me up my dad went nuts and started crying, he couldn’t believe it, and I couldn’t believe it either.
What was the draft experience like? Were you drafted where you expected to go?
I’ll tell you what, I went into it with higher expectations then where I ended up going. Organizations have plans that no player would ever understand. I had expected to be drafted higher based on my performance in Cape Cod and some media hype. I kind of read into that, and in retrospect that’s something I shouldn’t have done.
After you signed you were assigned to the Lowell Spinners in the New York Penn League. What was it like starting your professional career?
It was completely different for me. The way I put it to my friends was that it was like starting as a freshman at a new school. Everyone that you’re playing with now are new draft guys. They have their own friends and people they know, and they are looking at you to see how you do. So it was a big adjustment for me because nobody knew me. In college everyone knew who I was and that I was good. Here nobody really knows you, and there was a big adjustment to that. Also the competition, everyone is really good, you’re playing with a wood bat every day, you’re playing with foreign guys for the first time, it’s just really different. You also realize that it’s now a job, and there are expectations for how you dress, how you act, everything. There’s so much more than the game on the field, and you have to make adjustments to that.
Were you happy with your first pro season and how it went?
Well, in my first year I really struggled in the first half, and I think it most of it was because of those social changes. Just getting accustomed to the team, I wasn’t talking much, and I felt like I had to prove myself. Once the All Star break came and I had a couple days to relax and think it over, I finished up the season really strong. I felt overall that it was a big transition season for me.
What did you do in the offseason to prepare for this year?
This past offseason I didn’t really know how to do it, because it was the first time I didn’t have a coach or trainer telling me what to do. It’s all on your own. So I just stuck to the workout program that the Red Sox gave me for the offseason. I was pretty disappointed in how I hit in my first year, so I took only a few days off, and started back up hitting almost right away. I think it really helped me trust myself more leading up to Spring Training that I was prepared and ready for this. I adjusted my thinking from feeling that I had something to prove to feeling that I was ready to go.
Did you feel like the strong finish last year carried over to this season?
Yeah definitely. I felt much more confident, and hoped to get off to a hot start in Spring Training, and I did and it all worked out for me.
You had a great first half this year in Greenville. What was it like to come in and start hitting like crazy?
That was awesome. It was really like one of those stories that you hear about. It was cool just to be able to experience it. I felt like I didn’t have the same pressure as last year. I was just playing, and whatever happened happened. I was just playing baseball again, and I wasn’t pressing. I wasn’t trying to do more than I was capable of.
You were just recently promoted to Salem. How did you get the news?
My manager in Greenville had told me before the game that I was going to play centerfield, which I hadn’t played before. I said ok, because I’ve played a lot of positions this year I haven’t played before. The game was rained out, and he called me into the office after the game and said “Tomorrow, remember how you were going to play center?” And I thought he was going to ask me to come in early to work on playing center. And instead he said “Well forget about that, because you’re going up to Salem”.
What were your thoughts and feelings on the promotion?
That was honestly one of the best feelings ever. It wasn’t that I had expectations to move up earlier, but I had been playing well all year and accomplishing a lot of things. So I was kind of hoping to be moved up, and to finally get that nod was such a relief.
What’s been the biggest adjustment to moving up a level?
I noticed right away that the experience level is so much higher. There are guys here who have been playing professionally for four or five years. They really know what they’re doing. The pitchers here know you’re here for a reason, you didn’t just get lucky. At Greenville, guys would look at me and think well he’s small, I’ll throw him fastballs and get him out. Here, they’ll mix things up, throw you three straight breaking balls, whatever they feel you can’t hit.
What do you feel your biggest strengths are as a player?
I think my work ethic is my biggest tool. It’s a bit frustrating for that to be my biggest strength, because it’s something you can’t see. It’s something that’s behind the scenes and if you’re not here for practice you’re not going to see it. I think I’m a solid hitter, I think I have a good approach at the plate, but my work ethic is really my biggest strength as a player.
Are there things that the coaching staff have asked you to work on? Is there a development plan that they go over with you?
A lot of their comments to me are to work on positions I haven’t played before. I’ve made the transition this year from just an infielder, and specifically a second baseman, to more of a super-utility guy. They want me to be one of those guys like Brock Holt or Ben Zobrist that plays everywhere. I think Brock has shown teams and especially the Red Sox that there’s a lot of value in a guy like that. So that’s pretty much what they’ve been pushing me to do.
What positions have you played this year?
Second, short, third, left and DH. That’s it so far. I’m still dreading the day when they tell me to put catcher’s gear on.
What do you think is your best position? Where are you most comfortable?
I’m most comfortable at second base, I’ve played that the longest. Anywhere on the infield really… I like third base, although I’m not really projectable at third due to my size and my tool set.
Where’s the power coming from? You don’t have the size of a typical power hitter, so how have you done that this year?
Honestly I’ve been surprised myself. I do work hard in the weight room, and the strength coach says I’m one of the stronger guys in the organization. I think my swing just works with good mechanics to hit home runs. I hit a lot of fly balls and line drives because of how my swing works. I try to use my legs as much as possible, because with my size if I only use my arms I won’t drive the ball. So the way my swing works with the leverage I generate, I can get the ball out to any part of the field except center.
What is life like off the field in the minors?
It’s definitely one of those things where you have to be comfortable being uncomfortable. It’s the minor leagues and you’re not going to be able to live a lavish life. It’s not strange to have four or five guys living in a two bedroom apartment. That ends up being a good team building experience, a good way to make friends. Being young, that’s ok, you’re used to that. Your world revolves around baseball for seven months and you just live with it that way. You don’t try to do too much outside because you don’t want it to affect your job, which is baseball.
What do you do in the down time? Video games, things like that?
I’m a big reader, so I’ve read quite a few books this year. I’m actually starting up school soon, taking classes in Business Administration. For down time, we go to the lake on off days, or go to the mall and watch a movie. Every guy on the team has a NetFlix account, because a lot of places we go don’t have too much to do.
How rough is the travel?
You can definitely get those long rides. I had one ride last year in Lowell which was 18 hours, so that was pretty tough. Thankfully this year it hasn’t been too bad. It’s just part of the job really, the toughest part is staying mentally focused. After the first year, you get used to sleeping on buses. As long as you stay positive, just realize that the travel is part of it, you’ll be alright.
How about food and nutrition? How do you manage that part of it?
At home it’s very easy. You have your apartment, you cook, or if you don’t know how to cook you find a roommate who cooks. You cook a lot of your own meals, you save money that way. I’m the road it’s kind of tough. You get your stipend and meal money. Personally, I go to a store and find stuff that’s cheap and easy but also gives me nutritional value so that I can play well.
What are your goals for the rest of the season and heading into next season?
My goal for the rest of the season is to reach 100 rbis, which would be nice. Outside of that, I want to stay consistent. Play hard day in and day out, because you start to feel it after a long season. So I want to stay consistent with my effort level and energy on the field. Going into next year, continue getting bigger and stronger in the offseason, and plan to be ready to compete. Maybe make it to Double A, whatever, the goal is always to move up. I want to be ready to compete with the highest level guys.
Have you started to feel the grind of the long season?
Yeah, this is the first time I’ve played this long of a season, so I’m definitely feeling it mentally and physically. I’m always a high energy guy on the field, so I just try to stay strong mentally and find a way to get it done.
Do you guys pay attention to the playoff race?
Yeah, we talk about it every day. We look at the standings before the game and after the game. We’re trying to win some games and hopefully qualify for a playoff spot, and then make a run for another championship like last year.