The road to MLB is not an easy one, especially if you’re re-starting your baseball career at the age of 24. Red Sox prospect Brandon Magee played in the NFL for two seasons before hanging up his football cleats for a pair of baseball cleats. Author Brandon Magee writes about his unlikely path and career so far in the minors.
Minor League rookies come in all ages: 16-year olds from foreign lands beginning a lengthy baseball journey at academies in the Dominican Republic, 18-year olds fresh from high school on their first post-parental adventure in the rookie leagues of Florida and Arizona or 21-year olds coming out of college, joining the short-season leagues in the Northeastern and Northwestern states. While each player progresses differently, the progression track for prospects are fairly standard within each of these three groups. Unfortunately, none of that helps us begin to judge a 24-year-old rookie in the New York-Penn League. How then, does one judge Brandon Magee?
Brandon Magee was first drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 29th round of the 2008 first-year player draft, out of Centennial High School. However, Magee decided to pursue his college dreams, committing to Arizona State University. In his three seasons for the Sun Devils baseball team, Magee had a total of 37 plate appearances, hitting two singles and a double, walking five times and getting hit three times. He also struck out 22 times. He was subsequently drafted in the 21st round by the Oakland Athletics. He again did not sign. He also did not play in the 2012 season for the Sun Devils due to injury. The Red Sox still drafted him in the 2012 draft, in the 23rd round, and signed him for a nominal bonus.
If you’re sensing a disconnect, it is because relevant information is being withheld. Brandon Magee was also a football player. A linebacker for the Sun Devils, he became a full time starter in 2010. He missed the entire 2011 season after an achilles tear in preseason camp, which caused his college baseball career to end prematurely as well. Coming back in 2012, he earned second-team Pac-12 Honors. While he went undrafted in the 2013 NFL Draft, he signed as an undrafted free agent with the Dallas Cowboys, receiving a $70,000 bonus. He was waived after the preseason, but signed with the Cleveland Browns, playing in eight games in 2013. He was waived by the Browns during the 2014 preseason, but picked up by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and played nine games for the Bucs last season. He was waived by Tampa Bay in March.
This is when Brandon’s baseball career truly started. Although he participated in Spring Training in 2014, it was largely conditioning, not baseball activities, as he rehabbed from a torn pectoral muscle suffered during the 2013 NFL season. March marked his first true baseball activity since the 2011 college season, four years prior. Even then, his primary focus in college wasn’t baseball, it was football. He got to experience two trips to the College World Series, but his actual participation was minor. In truth, we would need to go back to his 2008 high school season, seven years ago, to look at an athlete who was focused on the game of baseball.
With the background of Brandon Magee, it was not shocking that he was assigned to extended spring training as opposed to a full-season affiliate at the beginning of the season. Once the short-season leagues started, it would not have been shocking to see him stay in Florida with the Gulf Coast League Red Sox. However, he was assigned to the Lowell Spinners of the New York Penn League, and in his 21 games played so far, he has shown enough to understand why he was drafted by three different teams.
Magee made his professional debut in the Spinner’s fifth game of the season, starting in left field and batting eighth. In his first at-bat in the third inning, he flied out to left, but he reached base for the first time with a walk in the fifth, coming around to score his first run. He would collect his first hit the next night, a bloop to left, as an eighth inning pinch-hitter. He would play pretty much every other day through July 4th, going .227/.320/.227 with 5 hits, 2 walks and a HBP in 25 plate appearances; striking out six times. Magee injured himself on a groundout on Independence Day, leaving the game after a fourth inning at-bat. He would not reappear for nearly two weeks.
Returning to play on July 16th, Magee went 0-for-10 with a walk, a HBP and 6 strikeouts over a three-game stretch, after which he was placed back on the bench for another week. Was he still injured? Was it just a bad stretch? He would come back on July 25th, going 0-for-2 with a walk and a strikeout, and add a pinch-hit strikeout on July 30th, ending the two-week stretch with an 0-for-12, eight strikeout line. Interestingly, during this stretch he exceeded the total number of plate appearances he had received during three seasons of college baseball.
July 31st was finally his breakout from a horrible month. Batting ninth in the lineup, Magee went 3-for-4, ending the game a home run away from the cycle. It was his first multi-hit game and included his first two extra-base hits of his professional career. It was his first double since 2011 at Arizona State and his first triple since high school. He would reach base three more times the next day as well, picking up a single, a walk and a HBP. He would cool down with an 0-for-4 with a walk in his next two games on August 4th and 5th, but did have his first appearances in right field during those two games. Back in the starting lineup on the 8th, he went 1-for-2 with a HBP.
If July 31st was his breakout, August 10th was confirmation that it was not a fluke. Magee walked in his first appearance in the third. In the fifth, he would hit his first home run since at least 2008, a shot to right-center. The very next inning, he knocked in two runs with a line drive double to left field. He was then hit by a pitch in the eighth before striking out in the ninth. In this six-game stretch, Brandon has batted .467/.619/.933 with four of his seven hits going for extra bases. While he has struck out once in each game, he has also reached base six times via walk or hit by pitch.
Magee is now batting .245/.393/.388 in his first 21 professional appearances. While his 61 plate appearances is one of the lowest numbers on the team, his offensive numbers are better than some of the oldest 2015 draftees on the Spinner’s roster. 22-year old Mitchell Gunsolus, for example, is batting .239/.336/.284 in his 33 professional games. 21-year old Tate Matheny is batting only .193/.256/.239 in his first 29 games. Given the long layoff Magee had from baseball, his 2015 season shows he is quite capable of playing the game.
The question still remains: How does one judge Brandon Magee? Regardless of the layoff, he is still a 24-year old on a team that averages 20.5-years-old. He may have shown himself capable of playing the game, but can he be considered a prospect, even a minor one? The Red Sox have a number of corner outfielders above him in Greenville and Salem – Mike Meyers, Derek Miller, Nick Longhi, Cole Sturgeon – who are both younger and more advanced. Will Magee be able to jump a few of them to get constant at-bats in Salem next year? Will he be able to continue his progress as he jumps up the ladder.
Brandon Magee is obviously a tremendous athlete. He has also shown resiliency, coming back from two major injuries to play in the NFL. To be able to jump back into baseball head-first after four years, and show why he was drafted by three different baseball organizations, only confirms his athleticism and resiliency. Now comes the hard part, continuing to progress up the long ladder to the Major Leagues. Will Magee make it? While he has put himself behind the proverbial eight-ball by playing professional football first, his debut this season shows that anything is possible for this young man.