In honor of New Year’s Day, there were no games played in any of the Winter Leagues, leaving a void in our usual morning coverage hear at RCG. Instead, we’ll use this as an opportunity to discuss one of the players we’ve been mentioning quite often in our Minor League Recaps, outfielder Jon Weber.
There is no inspirational story here. You’re not going to leave this article with some lesson from the story of Jon Weber. Instead, you’ll find yourself wondering why life can be so fair and why so many deserving people put their heart and soul into everything they do yet see all their effort yield nothing but unremitting frustration.
Back in 1997, Jon Weber was a 31st round pick by the Oakland Athletics out of Los Angeles Harbor College in California. He did not sign. Two years later, after transferring to Texas A&M, Weber went undrafted and had to start his career as an amateur free agent with the Cincinnati Reds. The false-start that made his career harder from the start was unfortunately for him a sign of things to come.
Weber began his career with the Reds’ Rookie level Billings affiliate and had a solid debut, managing a .238/.365/.500 line with 6 doubles, 5 homers, 17 RBI, and a 15-16 strikeout to walk ratio in 22 games and 96 plate appearances. He was talented enough that the Reds skipped him to Low-A Clinton the next season, but his performance dropped off considerably as he managed just a .221/.333/.333 line with 14 doubles, 6 homers, 34 RBI, 8 of 14 stolen bases, and a 50-50 strikeout to walk ratio in 108 games and 382 plate appearances before the Reds released him in September. Weber was unable to catch on with another big league organization and was forced to sign with Canton in the Independent Frontier League. A second opportunity to join a MLB system had gone to waste.
When Weber arrived in Canton, he was just 23 years old but his prospects of even keeping his professional career seemed bleak. But once he joined the Crocodiles, something immediately began to click. Weber was Canton’s best player all season, mashing to a .307/.382/.559 line with 15 doubles, 7 triples, 18 homers, 69 RBI, 16 of 19 stolen bases, and a 51-37 strikeout to walk ratio in 84 games and 380 plate appearances. His 18 home runs led the league and he was right among the league league in just about every offensive category. Big league teams may have been impressed, but not sufficiently enough to sign Weber- after all, the Frontier League featured very young players, with an average age of 23.5 years old, and the caliber of competition was not so great. In response to that, Weber joined the Fargo-Morehead Redhawks in the Independent Northern League Central, which had an average age of 26.5 years old, and despite being up against older competition, Weber continued to impress, managing a .296/.356/.501 line with 30 doubles, 13 homers, 52 RBI, 11 of 13 stolen bases, and 70 strikeouts versus 31 walks in 90 games and 404 plate appearances. Weber began 2003 back with Fargo-Morehead and continued to stand out, managing a .309/.408/.520 line with 8 doubles, 11 homers, 48 RBI, 14 of 17 stolen bases, and a 28-31 strikeout to walk ratio in 52 games and 238 plate appearances before the Oakland A’s, the team that had drafted Weber 6 years earlier, finally decided to give him a shot.
Weber finished 2003 at High-A Modesto in the Athletics system, managing a .361/.394/.626 with 10 doubles, 4 triples, 7 homers, and 38 RBI in just 35 games and 165 plate appearances as rockets seemed to flow off his bat every time he can to the plate. Oakland sent him up to Double-A Midland for 2004 and his great hitting continued, if not quite to the same extent, as he managed a .280/.356/.468 line with 24 doubles, 5 triples, 15 homers, 68 RBI, 10 of 15 stolen bases, and a 102-47 strikeout to walk ratio in 111 games and 483 plate appearances. He finished the season at Triple-A Sacremento, hitting .391 in 47 plate appearances. His career was looking up as much as ever. Weber was a minor league free agent following the season but had plenty of suitors and wound up agreeing to a minor league contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Before he could get his season started, though, Weber faced a 15-game suspension from Minor League Baseball after testing positive for ephedrine, a drug that could have allowed him higher levels of concentration. Weber adamantly denied any steroid use, but the positive test simply put more pressure on Weber to continue to prove himself at every level. Weber responded with a strong season at the Dodgers’ Double-A Jacksonville affiliate, managing a .300/.369/.456 line with 27 doubles, 5 triples, 11 homers, 68 RBI, 10 of 16 stolen bases, and a 78-45 strikeout to walk ratio in 117 games and 503 plate appearances.
Weber was able to come back from his 2005 suspension to see time in the Dodgers’ big league camp in 2006, going 2 for 9 with 2 walks in 4 games. The regular season, though, was not nearly as kind to him. Moving up to Triple-A Las Vegas, Weber managed just a .258/.333/.358 line in 82 games and 293 plate appearances to prompt his release. Weber would catch on the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Triple-A Tuscon affilate, hitting to a .321/.374/.518 line with 18 doubles, 5 homers, and 27 RBI in 188 plate appearances as the Sidewinders would win the Pacific Coast League Championship. Coincidence or not, Weber played on a team that won a championship four seasons in a row from 2003 to 2006. The cliche remark to that is that he was a winner. What that really means is anybody’s guess, but between Weber’s hitting ability, power, speed, and solid defense in right field, he did a lot of things to help his teams win. Already 28 years old, though, he was going to be hard-pressed to find a way to bring that time of performance to the major leagues for even a brief time. Weber talked to Jonathan Mayo of MiLB.com about his frustration from going unnoticed by major league teams.
"“It’s very hard. It gets frustrating. I feel I’ve put in my time. I’ve put up the numbers. I ask, ‘Why isn’t it me?’ I feel I’ve done well enough to get up, even just for a cup of coffee. But I have no control over that. I can only control how I play the game of baseball. I’m that one guy who’s not going to fall through the cracks. I won’t let them. I’m going to keep playing until I can’t anymore.”"
Weber was excellent during his time with the Rays’ Triple-A Durham affiliate but just could never find his way to the big leagues. (Credit: Flickr user kentkessinger)
Weber’s exasperation was only amplified when he didn’t receive any big league offers after 2006 and wound up back with Fargo-Morehead to begin 2007. However, Weber managed a .283/.371/.417 line in 16 games to prompt the Texas Rangers to give him a chance- but only at their High-A Bakersfield affiliate. But Weber refused to give up, destroying pitchers to a .356/.416/.550 line with 5 homers and 9 stolen bases in 166 plate appearances before he was acquired by the Tampa Bay Rays for cash considerations. The Rays returned Weber to Triple-A with their Durham affiliate and he was solid in 161 plate appearances, managing a .265/.360/.395 line. Weber re-signed with the Rays following the season and delivered his big season since 2005, producing to a .265/.344/.447 line with 24 doubles, 13 homers, 51 RBI, 11 of 17 stolen bases, and a 99-40 strikeout to walk ratio in 108 games and 439 plate appearances. He was even better in 2009, coming through with his best season in affiliated ball as he mashed to a .302/.382/.497 line with 46 doubles, 14 homers, 69 RBI, and a 98-56 strikeout to walk ratio in 117 games and 518 plate appearances. Despite those two great seasons, though, Weber could never crack the Rays’ MLB roster and saw himself continuing to toil away at Triple-A.
Jon Weber arrived in Tampa Bay one year too late. If Weber had put up his nice 2008 season one year earlier, in 2007, he would have been a player impressing at Triple-A for a team that was going nowhere, winning just 66 games that season. The D-Rays had a strong outfield in 2007 of Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton (in his first full big league season and his best one), and Delmon Young (in his only season with the team), but Rocco Baldelli got hurt, and Jonny Gomes and Greg Norton had bad years, prompting the D-Rays to rush prospect Elijah Dukes to the big leagues. If Weber had been enjoying a nice season, how would the D-Rays not have called him to the big leagues for at least a couple games? Weber’s best chance to make the Rays’ roster was when Matt Joyce got hurt in spring training of 2009, but Joyce got healthy and Weber simply could not catch a break. Weber played well in the Rays organization, but his chances to make the big leagues just didn’t work out, and he moved on to the New York Yankees organization for the 2010 season.
Weber joined the Yankees’ major league camp for Spring Training 2010 and could not have been expected to last too long as he was joining the defending World Series champions. However, the Yankees’ trade of Melky Cabrera opened up an outfield spot on their roster, and the Yankees told him that they would give him a shot to their make their roster- although their real need was a right-handed hitter and Weber was a lefty. Weber couldn’t care less about how long the odds were. He went out onto the field and began hitting out of his mind. In 18 games, he went a ridiculous 14 for 31 (.452) with 4 doubles and 6 RBI in 18 games. He won the James P. Dawson Award for the best rookie in Yankees camp, and it wasn’t even close as the next closest rookie in terms of batting average (minimum 30 at-bats) was Francisco Cervelli over 100 points behind at .344. But despite all his efforts, Weber could not crack the Yankees’ roster, losing out to Marcus Thames, who evidently hit just .135 in 52 at-bats. Weber headed to the Yankees’ Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre affiliate, but he managed just a. 258/.333/.325 line in 47 games before getting released. He signed with the Detroit Tigers but put up only a .256/.310/.372 line in 21 games before announcing his voluntary retirement. A few days later, it turned out that Weber had tested positive in a drug test, receiving a 100-game suspension. You have to assume that his retirement had something to do with the positive test- but he didn’t test positive for performance-enhancing drugs but a drug of abuse. Doing drugs is terrible, but after seeing yet another opportunity slip away, it’s easy to understand exactly why that happened.
Weber returned to the professional baseball ranks for the 2011 season with the Independent Winnipeg Goldeyes and had a nice season, managing a .326/.391/.526 line with 30 doubles, 10 homers, and 65 RBI in 69 games. In 2012 for Winnipeg, he slipped to a .281/.357/.376 line with just 15 doubles, 4 homers, and 42 RBI in 78 games. But this winter for the Aguilas de Mexicali in the Mexican Pacific League, Weber has been revitalized. In 66 games for the Aguilas, Weber has a .325/.417/.481 line with 19 doubles, 5 homers, 35 RBI, and a 47-35 strikeout to walk ratio as Mexicali’s 3-hole hitter.
Jon Weber is going to turn 35 years old in a few weeks. He would give anything for an invite to a big league camp, let alone a day in the major leagues. The past 14 years, he has been a very good player, managing a .289/.364/.465 career line with 146 home runs and 116 stolen bases. However, he has seen countless glimmers of hope fade away and so much perseverance amount to nothing. He’s a player with his flaws. He’s 5’10”, 190, not the most athletic player you’ve even seen, and even in his younger years he lacked the range to play centerfield and the power to profile in a corner spot. He was a “tweener” in that regard, and making matters worse was inconsistent plate discipline. But with clear talent and with character off the charts, how could one major league game be so much to ask? It’s impossible to comprehend everything that Jon Weber has gone through the past several years, seeing his dream come within view only to see bad luck and factors out of his control take it away every single time. Best of luck to Jon Weber as he tries to give this story a happy ending- but after the way everything has gone, you can only expect that he will inevitably fall short.