“Tierra de peloteros”
What do Rafael Batista, Ricardo Carty, Pedro Guerrero, George Bell, Joaquín Andújar, Sammy Sosa, Robinson Canó, Johnny Cueto, Jorge Polanco, Raimel Tapia, Fernando Tatis Jr. and, the subject of this article, Jerry Gil have in common? All of them were born in San Pedro de Macarís, a town of some 200,000 inhabitants in the south-east of the Dominican Republic.
San Pedro de Macarís is a rather young town: it was established in the early 1800s as people migrated from the country’s capital Santo Domingo to the east. As such, there isn’t much history to talk about, but the town has been able to make a name for itself thanks to its affiliation with sports and especially baseball.
The city is renowned for baseball. It is home to the second oldest team in the LIDOM, Estrellas Orientales, who, despite a long history, have historically struggled to find success despite the city being the birth place of most players in the history of Dominican baseball and, according to a 2020 study undertaken by the University of Toronto, also being the place of origin where most MLB-players that have debuted since 2000 come from.
That was probably not the main reason why the Diamondbacks signed Jerry Gil in November 1999, but it sure didn’t hurt.
His boots were not made for walkin’
When Gil starts his professional baseball career in 2000 he isn’t assigned to the DSL or AZL rookie teams but heads straight to the Missoula Osprey. There he is one of the worst if not worst hitters on a roster that would produce only a handful of other major leaguers, all of whom fit to appear in this stream of forgotten D-Backs players. One of his major flaws can already be seen clearly in his first season: Gil hardly hits for power and walks in just 4% of his plate appearances. Which would be a record high in his time with the Diamondbacks.
But despite the poor performance we can see a clear parallel with what happened in Josh Kroeger’s minor league career of which I wrote in a previous piece: despite putting up poor numbers he is continuously promoted.
It goes as far as that after a .259/.275/.352 batting line in 2003 in Class A, walking in just 2.2% of his plate appearances, he is promoted directly to Tucson in Triple A.
Of course Gil sets career records in Tucson with a .767 OPS (and again a BB% of 2.2, including 1 intentional base on balls - what’s in a name) and it obviously is enough reason for the Diamondbacks to add him to the major league roster in August 2004.
At 21 years of age he becomes the 8th youngest player in the MLB to debut that year, joining D-Backs Josh Kroeger and Edgar González in a top 10 list of youngest players to make their debut in 2004, amongst whom we can also find Miguel Cabrera, David Wright, Edwin Jackson and Jose Reyes, to put the Diamondbacks into perspective.
After 5 games and 13 at bats in August, Jerry Gil is still doing remarkably well with a triple slash of .308/.357/.385. But in the following 73 at bats he struggles to just 11 more hits while drawing 0 walks.
“Also worthy of a dishonorable mention is Jerry Gil, who appeared in 29 games with the horrible 2004 squad, and in 88 PAs, hit .174/.182/.221, a .403 OPS. Gil deserves recognition, because that’s the most career PAs without a base on balls by a non-pitcher, since the fabulously-named Overton Tremper went 94 walkless for Brooklyn in the 1927-28 season.” - Jim McLennan in a 2011 article on the AZSnakePit
In 2005 the organisation rethinks a bit, maybe takes a look at some basic data and pays a licence for Excel, and makes the wise decision to return Jerry Gil to the level where he probably should have played: AA. His numbers improve a bit in 2005 and 2006.
2006...I was with Arizona in Double A and Triple A...it was my best year but at the same time I felt bad because instead of promotion to the MLB they wanted me to change...to put up bigger numbers...and I hit almost 30 homeruns...and instead of promotion they wanted me to change positions. You have to be tough mentally, because you see others going up who have put up lesser numbers than you.” - Jerry Gil in a 2022 YouTube Podcast
But new farm director A.J. Hinch isn’t convinced that Jerry Gil will ever be major league material:
“AJ Hinch said that I wasn’t going to go to the majors because he said I wasn’t going to go to the majors.” - Jerry Gil in a 2022 YouTube Podcast
A strong arm
The Diamondbacks and Cincinnati Reds are willing to do a swap and so Jerry Gil finds a new warm home in Ohio:
“The Reds today acquired SS Jerry Gil from the Arizona Diamondbacks for A+ Sarasota reliever Abe Woody. Woody is a middling prospect who walked too many in A+ ball serving as closer for Sarasota. Gil is a 24 year old weak hitting SS. You can never have enough of them.” - Tom Diesman in a 2006 article on redlegnation.com on the Jerry Gil trade
“Offseason knee surgery shouldn’t be a factor in his development, because there wasn’t much developing going on, anyway. Scouts rave about his defense and particularly his arm, but offensively, his OBP has never topped .300. With the list of hitter friendly leagues and ballparks on his resume, that’s inexcusable.” - quote from Baseball Prospectus on redsreporter.com in a 2006 article on the Jerry Gil trade
But just a few weeks into the season he gets injured and needs surgery. It looks like his batting career is over, but Gil thinks he might stand a chance in converting to a pitcher:
“I was in training with Cincinnati, I entered a game for Ken Griffey in CF, all cold, I didn’t warm up sufficiently and I blew out my arm and when I returned to the dugout I told one of the guys that it felt like I left something out there...then we went to Detroit and I couldn’t even pull up my arm and I needed Tommy John. It took a whole year to return and the next year when I returned to Triple A it went bad...my arm felt hard and I asked if I could pitch...and I threw 97 mph.” - Jerry Gil in a 2022 YouTube Podcast
It would make for a great story if I would write right now that he would issue barely any walks, to make up for one of his flaws of batting. But that is too far from the truth, although you have to give Jerry Gil credit for the transition he was able to make and he did find some relative success as a relief pitcher.
After 3 years of training in the Reds minor league system, starting at the lowest level again at 25 years of age, he establishes himself in 2011 in Triple A.
“At the beginning it was really hard, and very different, but now I am used to it and really do love it now.” - Jerry Gil in a 2013 article on didthetribewinlastnight.com
The arm definitely intrigues and in each of 2011, 2012 and 2013 he is signed on minor league contracts by the Reds, Blue Jays and Indians with invites to Spring Training and has some moderate success but is not able to reach the MLB.
“I was granted an opportunity to pitch and I kept it up for some years, I didn’t reach the leagues, but was like 4-5 years in Triple A.” - Jerry Gil in a 2022 YouTube Podcast
However, he does find bigger success in his home country, where he pitches in the LIDOM in 3 consecutive seasons for his home town baseball team Estrellas Orientales.
“It’s like a dream. I am very excited to wear the uniform of the team I love most since I was a child.” - storytelling in 2011 on the press conference where Jerry Gil was presented as player of Estrellas
And although he doesn’t win a big price with his Estrellas, in 2011 he forms part of the Dominican Republic team that wins the Caribbean Series, one of the biggest achievements a Dominican can reach:
“Dominican baseball shows you a lot because you have a mix of many different players from MLB, Triple A, Double A...every day. Baseball is baseball everywhere...but the pressure of pitching in the Dominican Republic...you understand everything the people are saying, shouting...and in the Caribbean Series pressure is much bigger than in the MLB because you know you are representing your country. Nelson Cruz said as well you should play in the Dominican because then it is easier to play in the MLB.” - Jerry Gil in a 2022 YouTube Podcast
According to baseball-reference Gil walks away from baseball in 2015 after a couple of stints in the LMB and Canadian Indy ball (although according to the player himself he also had a stint in Taiwan) and a baseball career of 15 years.
He obviously never gave up hope.
He never walked alone.