The Sad Saga of Tagg Bozied

Tom DubberkeCorrespondent IJune 21, 2011

Robert Tanios Taggert Bozied, better known as Tagg, is possibly the best hitter in North America who has not played even one game in the major leagues.  His story, which I will set forth as follows, is one of bad decisions, bad luck and bad health.

Tagg was born in Souix Falls, South Dakota and went to high school in Arvada, Colorado, a suburb of Denver.  He was enough of a prospect to be selected in the 50th round by the Twins in the 2007 Draft, but not enough of prospect to be recruited to an absolutely top-flight college program.  He enrolled at the University of San Francisco in the West Coast Conference (WCC), which is made up largely of Jesuit colleges and has produced its fair share of major league ballplayers.

As a sophomore in 1999, Tagg had one of the great years in WCC baseball history.  It was probably the worst thing that could have happened to him.

That year Tagg hit .412 and set a then-WCC record with 30 HRs, ten more than the runner-up Jason Bay, who played for Gonzaga that year.  Tagg also tied the league record with 98 runs scored and tied for second in league history with 82 RBIs.

His success went straight to his head and also that of his “agent” Scott Boras (amateur players are not supposed to have agents, but, of course, in practice they do).  Unsurprisingly , after his amazing 1999 season, Tagg came back to earth in 2000.  He had some injury problems that year, but still hit .356 with 14 HRs and a 1.133 OPS.  Pretty terrific, but not necessarily a first round talent coming out of the WCC.

In the 2000 Draft, the Twins selected Tagg again, this time in the 2nd Round with the 42nd overall pick.  Well, that wasn’t good enough for Bozied and Boras.  They were absolutely sure that Tagg was a first-round talent, and they were going to get first-round money, or else.

The Twins, who are not a team to pay well above slot unless they are absolutely sure they’ve got a player worth more than where they drafted him, took “or else”.  In Bozied’s case, that meant going back to USF for his senior year.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again.  Bozied’s decision to go back to college for his senior year didn’t hurt Boras nearly as much as it hurt Bozied.  Boras represents so many top college prospects that if he plays hard ball with one, it means he’ll sign his next ten amateur clients for more than they would have gotten because teams know that Boras will send his clients back to college or to an independent A league if they don’t pony up the money Boras thinks he and his client should be getting.

Bozied went back to college in 2001, and he didn’t have a good year. His batting average dropped to .335, his HR total dropped to 12 (in more ABs than the year before) and his OPS dropped to 1.014.  Still pretty good, but Tagg had now regressed two years in a row, and he was a year older going into the 2001 Draft than he’d been the year before.

The Padres selected Tagg in the 3rd Round with the 90th overall pick, which is exactly what you would expect given all the facts available going into the 2001 Draft.

Boras/Bozied were still convinced they should be getting 1st round money, or at least more than what the Padres were initially willing to offer.  Tagg didn’t sign and went to play for the Souix Falls Canaries of the Independent A Northern League.

Yet another questionable move.  It worked for J.D. Drew, but it didn’t work as well for Tagg Bozied.  He didn’t have a bad year, hitting .307 with an .805 OPS for the Canaries, but it wasn’t a particularly good year either, at least not from an alleged top prospect playing at this level.

Eventually, Bozied signed with the Padres for a reported $700,000.  That’s better than 3rd Round money, but in the long run, it probably wasn’t worth it, because Tagg had now wasted a year of his professional development.  It was also a lot less than the Twins’ final offer the year before, which this article states was $999,000.

However, it wasn’t the end of the world, since Tagg was still only 22 years old and had 58 games of what is probably A+ class ball under his belt.  In the Class A+ California League in 2002, he thumped the ball (.298 batting average, .923 OPS) well enough to get promoted to AA at the All-Star Break.

Tagg didn’t play well at AA in 2002, hitting only .214 with a .657 OPS, but the Padres nevertheless advanced him to AAA Portland in 2003.  He hit a respectable-for-a-23-year-old .273 with a .762 OPS, and the next year, still at Portland, he got off to a great start.

Tagg was hitting .315 with a terrific 1.003 OPS when disaster struck on July 20, 2004.  He hit a walk-off grand slam and, while jumping up and down on home plate with his teammates, the patella tendon in his left knee popped.

Tagg missed the rest of the 2004 season, and large portions of the next two, appearing in only 26 games in 2005 and 60 games in 2006.  His OPS numbers both seasons were well over .800, but it’s hard to get promoted when you aren’t playing much.

Tagg was healthy again in 2007, but after missing most of the previous two and half seasons, he was rusty.  He hit .264 with an .839 OPS at AAA Memphis — pretty good, but not good enough for player who was now 27 years old.

Tagg’s bat came all the way back at AAA Albuquerque in 2008.  He hit .306 with a .951 OPS, but he compiled these numbers in an extreme hitters’ park as an injury prone 1Bman over age 27.  The perennially penny-pinching Florida Marlins, for whom the Isotopes were the AAA-affiliate that year, didn’t even bother to give Bozied a September call-up that year, although he certainly deserved one.

In fact, the Marlins apparently weren’t even interested in signing Bozied for the 2009 season, because Bozied started the season playing for the Brother Elephants of the Taiwanese League.  It’s hard to believe none of the major league teams thought enough of Bozied’s 2009 performance to offer him a 2010 contract.

Perhaps Tagg thought playing in Taiwan would be a back-door method of getting in the Japanese leagues, where a player of Bozied’s obvious hitting talents might have a lucrative career.  However, NPB teams like American players who have played at least a little in the majors.

At any rate, Bozied didn’t last long in Taiwan and finished out the season with 56 games played for the AAA Indianapolis Indians, the Pirates’ top minor league team.  He hit .288, but his power was missing, and he finished his AAA season with only an .807 OPS.

The Pirates are truly the last refuge of the career minor leaguer who can hit a little.  Garrett Jones is a great example. In fact, Bozied is a much better hitter than Jones, at least if you compare their career minor league numbers, although, in fairness to Jones, he can play more major league positions than Bozied.

I don’t know whether the Pirates gave up on Bozied, or if Bozied decided to test the waters elsewhere, but prior to the 2010 season, Tagg signed with the Phillies’ organization.  However, the Phillies decided that 36 year old Andy Tracy would be their AAA 1Bman in 2010 rather than the 30 year old Bozied, and sent Bozied down to AA Reading in the Eastern League.

Andy Tracy is a terrific minor league hitter (career minor league OPS of .858), but Tagg is even better (career minor league OPS of .875).  One has to think that either Tagg’s 1B defense is terrible, which seems strange for a former 3Bman, or there is something about his personality that rubs people the wrong way.

Tagg terrorized Eastern League pitchers in 2010.  His .315 batting average led the league, and his 1.033 OPS was 117 basis points better than the next best Eastern League regular.  However, Tagg continued to have trouble staying healthy, playing in only 104 of the Reading Phillies’ 141 games.

The Phillies have promoted Tagg to AAA Lehigh Valley this year, and he continues to pound the ball.  While his batting average is only .256, he leads the Iron Pigs with a .998 OPS as I write this.  However, he has played in only 30 of the Iron Pigs’ 70 games so far.

Tagg is in the Iron Pigs’ line-up right now, and if he can just stay healthy and continue to hit in accordance with his career norms, you have to think the Phillies will give him a call-up in September.  Realistically, Tagg doesn’t have much of a chance to have a major league career at this point, but at age 31 this year, he’s still young enough to have a career in Japan, if he can just get enough at-bats at the major league level to peak a Japanese team’s interest.  Needless to say, I’m hoping Tagg manages to do it.

(As a final note, the player who broke Tagg Bozied’s single season home run record in the West Coast Conference was another fine minor league hitter who managed not even a single major league plate appearance.  Gonzaga’s Nate Gold slugged 33 home runs as a senior in 2002.  After being selected in the 10th Round by the Rangers in the 2002 Draft, Gold played eight seasons of professional baseball, including more than two full seasons at the AAA level, and logged a career minor OPS of .837.  The Rangers probably should have given him a cup of coffee, but it never happened.)