Before the World Series ring, the infamous beard, and the seven year $126 million dollar contract, Jayson Werth was once just a young, hit-or-miss catching prospect. Drafted by the Orioles with the twenty-second pick in the 1997 draft, Werth put his collegiate plans of playing at the University of Georgia on the back-burners and signed with Baltimore.
After a successful stint in the Rookie league, Werth began his career in Class A in 1998.
Werth’s tall and lanky frame did not translate well behind the plate, and in 1998, he struggled at the plate as a batter as well. However, he began to hit his stride in the 1999 season in which he hit .305 in 66 games in Class A Advanced ball before getting bumped up to Double A and positing a .273 average in 35 starts.
Unfortunately, the Baltimore organization was never completely behind Werth as a professional prospect, so in December of 2000, the O’s shipped him to Toronto for lefty reliever John Bale.
Just like that the organization had shipped its number one pick of the 1997 draft for Bale, who would only make fourteen appearances in Baltimore.
And that is when Jayson Werth’s career with the Tennessee Smokies began and when his career as a catcher ended. Werth strived in Double-A Tennessee posting a .285 average while showing some flashes of power with 18 home runs while knocking in 69 RBIs in 104 games as a first baseman. His athleticism was also on display as he stole 12 bases and showed speed on the base paths.
He was once again promoted and was sent to Triple-A where he posted another 18 home run season while upping his RBI total to 82. Werth would get his first cup of coffee in the majors as a September call-up in 2002.
2003 was a struggle for Werth, and he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in March of 2004 for another relief pitcher, Jason Frasor.
Once with the Dodgers, he tore up Triple-A in Las Vegas hitting over .400 before getting called up for good to the majors. However, following the trend of his career, it was one step forward met with two steps backward.
In 2005, Werth underwent two surgeries and was released by the Dodgers; with no team and no real interest, he contemplated retirement. It was then that the Phillies reached out to him and helped resurrect his career.
After almost a decade came the beard, the World Series Ring, and, after posting huge numbers in 2009 and 2010, the Nationals gave him the $126 million contract.
While in Philadelphia Werth became something like a cult hero with his gritty play and wild facial hair, something that has continued in Washington.
A career full of ups and downs has finally steadied. Werth and the Nationals posted the best record in the National League in 2012 and are the early favorites to win the National League East.
How would Jayson Werth’s career have been different if he did not get traded to the Toronto Blue Jays organization and landed with the Tennessee Smokies? It is a fair question. After all, it was in Tennessee that he first moved from behind the plate to first base paving the way for him to eventually settle in the outfield, a position he has thrived in.
Werth’s career highlight came last season in Game Four of the NLDS when he hit a walk-off home run to give Washington their first ever home playoff win.
Jonathan Reed is a broadcast and media associate for the Smokies Radio Network. You can follow Jonathan on Twitter here: @jon__reed