It does not have the same impact as a potential Johnny Damon signing, but when the Rays handed Matt Bush, the first overall selection in the 2004 draft, a minor league contract, I was intrigued. If nothing else, Bush serves as an interesting storyline to follow throughout spring training and at the minor league level in 2010.
Selected first overall by the Padres because they did not want to pay out a large bonus, Bush was pretty much destined to be a bust as the top overall selection from day one. That said, he did not help his case at all on the field with his lackluster play, and it didn't take long before his number of transgressions off the field nearly matched his number of games on it.
In 2007, the Padres decided that he would never become a major league short stop, and Bush was converted into a right handed pitcher; he had been an ace at the high school level. Not surprisingly, after less than 10 innings of minor league ball he blew out his arm and would need Tommy John Surgery.
In early 2009, the Padres designated Matt "F'in" Bush for assignment to make room for none other than Cliff Floyd. The Blue Jays took a quick flier on him and acquired him for a player to be named later. Soon after, Bush would violate the conduct policy the Jays set for him and he was released. This past summer he had yet more legal issues pop up including a video of the former top pick in tears during an arrest.
Most of us had written Bush's playing career off. That was until yesterday when our favorite MLB team gave him a minor league deal. Taking the reverse role than they did in the Josh Hamilton situation (not comparing talents), the Rays are now the team taking a low risk move on former number one pick with skeletons in his closet. Like Hamilton, Bush is a young talent (just 24 years old) who is in need of a change of scenery and a fresh start.
Please don't think that I am trying to play the sympathy card here because Bush has nobody to blame but himself for the problems he has faced. However, he wouldn't be the first, nor the last, player to put a checkered past behind him in favor of a better future. If he never plays a game for the Rays you still hope that he can have a productive life regardless of career path.
I'm not going to speculate on what that career path may be from here on out, but the regardless of criticism that surrounds his selection spot in the draft, Bush has real talent. And anytime you can add that talent with no risk, it's worth a shot. If it works, great. If not, there's nothing lost except a few dollars and some time.
In a small twist of irony, his roster spot (in theory) takes that of another troubled youth, Andrew Bellatti, who recently saw his life change due to an off-field incident that occurred in San Diego of all places.