July 31, 1997: Sox get Tek: What we wrote

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jason Varitek was a minor league catcher with an uncertain future when the Red Sox acquired him, with pitcher Derek Lowe, from the Seattle Mariners for reliever Heathcliff Slocumb. Much of the media coverage of that trade dealt with the Sox's ridding themselves of Slocumb, but here is what several media outlets said about Tek at the time of the trade.

I was with The Boston Globe at the time. I wrote:

The Red Sox, who were in the market for a catcher, took Varitek, 25, who came out of Georgia Tech touted as the best college catcher ever. He was drafted at No. 14 by the Mariners, two picks after the Red Sox took Garciaparra.

The year before, Varitek was drafted in the first round by Minnesota but didn't sign. He returned for his senior year at Georgia Tech, batted .426, and was named an All-American by Baseball America for the third straight year.

"If you were building a perfect catcher's physique, you'd start with Jason," said University of Miami baseball coach Jim Morris, who had Varitek his first three years at Georgia Tech.

When Varitek was a freshman, he played with Darren Bragg, the Red Sox outfielder, who was then a Georgia Tech junior.

"He's a good ballplayer, man," Bragg said last night. "He was young when I saw him, but he had a strong arm and he definitely looked like he had some pop."

Varitek did not immediately sign with the Mariners. He played a season with the St. Paul Saints in the independent Northern League before coming to terms in 1995 with Seattle. He played two seasons in Double-A, before being promoted to Triple-A Tacoma.

Varitek went 0 for 3 in his last game for Tacoma last night in Colorado Springs. He finished with a .254 average, 15 home runs, 13 doubles, and 48 RBIs. He also threw out 31.1 percent of the baserunners who attempted to steal on him, a considerably higher percentage than the current Red Sox catching corps.

"He's a switch-hitting catcher with power," [general manager] Dan Duquette said. "He could benefit from some more experience in Triple A."

Tony Massarotti, Boston Herald:

Varitek, 25, is a former first-round selection who has never fulfilled the expectations set for him in the minor leagues. He is a switch-hitter with power and an excellent throwing arm, but there is some question as to his ability as a receiver. He was a teammate of Sox players Nomar Garciaparra and Darren Bragg at Georgia Tech.

"He has good skills and he's played for a winning program at Georgia Tech," Duquette said of Varitek, who was the consensus college player of the year in 1994.

Sean McAdam, Providence Journal-Bulletin:

In Varitek, 25, the Sox may have gotten their catcher of the future. A former All-American at Georgia Tech, where he was a teammate of Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, he was selected in the first round by the Minnesota Twins in 1993.

Varitek, winner of the Golden Spikes Award given annually to the top college player in the nation, couldn't come to terms, and on the advice of maverick agent Scott Boras, took the unprecedented step of returning to college for his senior season.

The following June, he was selected in the first round again, 14th overall this time by Seattle.

A switch-hitter, Varitek has good power and arm strength, though his catching skills need some refining. He had been playing at Triple-A Tacoma for the Mariners. He is said to have excellent work habits.

Before last night, Varitek was hitting .257 with 15 homers and 48 RBI in 86 games for Tacoma of the Pacific Coast League.

--Meanwhile in Seattle, the Mariners had made another deal, and were bemoaning the loss of outfield prospect Jose Cruz Jr., who they traded to Toronto in a deal for Mike Timlin. Varitek was barely mentioned.

"The toughest part was giving up Cruz," Mariners general manager Woody Woodward said from his Seattle office at the end of the dizzying day. "I've said it before: If I had to give up young players to keep us in the pennant race, I'd do that. I did it the last two years, and I did it this year."

Cruz would play 12 years in the big leagues, and hit 30 home runs in back-to-back seasons for the Jays in 2000 and 2001, but was unable to maintain that level. Varitek and Lowe helped the Sox win a World Series in 2004, and Varitek again in 2007. Lowe is still pitching, for Cleveland.