MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Bush returning to pro ball after troubled past

Bush returning to pro ball after troubled past

It's been four years since Matt Bush, who will turn 30 on Feb. 8, has played a professional baseball game. However, he can't avoid the spotlight.

Bush signed a Minor League contract with the Rangers on Friday -- though he wasn't extended an invite to their big league camp in the spring -- and it wound up being another major story.

Bush is receiving the opportunity to return to pro ball after 51 months of incarceration following a 2011 accident in which he was driving under the influence and fled the scene after hitting a 72-year-old man who was riding a motorcycle. The incident occurred while Bush was in Spring Training with the Rays.

Rangers give former top pick Bush another chance

Earlier in Bush's career, the San Diego Padres suspended him following a fight outside a Peoria, Ariz., bar during the instructional league, shortly after he was the No. 1 overall selection in the 2004 Draft.

And even Bush's selection as the top pick was controversial instead of being cause for celebration. Bush wasn't even a projected first-round Draft choice that year. Then Padres general manager Kevin Towers and scouting director Bill Gayton were debating between right-handed pitcher Jered Weaver and shortstop Stephen Drew.

Former Padres owner John Moores, however, wasn't going to pay the price agent Scott Boras wanted for either player. Instead, on the advice of a friend who had seen Bush play for Mission Bay High School in San Diego, Moores decided Bush would be the No. 1 pick.

Bush wound up playing six seasons in the Minors, making the conversion from shortstop to pitcher in 2007, his fourth pro season, and finally moving above the Class A level in 2011, before the legal troubles sidelined him.

Now, Bush gets another chance, this time with Texas. Given his age, given his actual lack of activity in professional baseball, it is apparent that he is given one last chance to create a baseball career. And the opportunity is coming with the Rangers, a franchise that opened its doors to a young Josh Hamilton, who at the time had missed three seasons because of alcohol and drug use.

Hamilton thrived in his time with the Rangers. Thrived to the point that when things didn't work out with the Angels -- who signed him as a free agent after his time with the Rangers -- Hamilton happily returned to Texas.

Of the first 25 players selected in the first round of the 2004 Draft, Bush and Wade Townsend, who was the eighth player taken but did not sign with Baltimore, are the only ones who have never appeared in the big leagues.

Weaver, who went No. 12 to the Angels, is 138-81 with a 3.40 ERA in his big league career, including a 20-win season in 2012 and three All-Star selections.

Drew, who went No. 15 to the D-backs, has spent 10 years in the big leagues, having played with the A's, Red Sox and the Yankees, in addition to the D-backs.

And right-hander Justin Verlander, who was drafted No. 2 by Detroit, was not only the 2006 American League Rookie of the Year Award winner, but won both the AL Cy Young Award and the AL MVP Award in 2011.

Now it is Bush who is looking to take advantage of the Rangers opening their door for him.

The onetime shortstop phenom is looking to make good as a pitcher. Bush hit .219 in those four seasons as a shortstop, but the live arm was too good for a team to just give up on him. His pro ledger as a pitcher shows only a 7-3 record and a 4.14 ERA in 53 appearances, one start. Bush had a live enough fastball that he struck out 77 batters in 2011, despite a 4.83 ERA in 50 1/3 innings at the Double-A level.

Roy Silver, who worked with Hamilton during his days with Texas, has known Bush since before he was even drafted. And during Bush's recent bullpen session at Globe Life Park in Arlington the Rangers say Bush was consistently throwing in the mid-90s.

Silver is a believer in Bush, confident that the onetime wunderkind will be so thankful for another chance that he won't stub his toe and have a relapse. He also is confident that Bush can make it as a pitcher.

Bush, however, does not return as a conquering hero. He still has to show that he deserves one last shot. Bush is going to have to prove himself in the Minor League Spring Training camp -- on the field and off.

He said he has been sober since that wreck in Port Charlotte, Fla. He said he wants to prove he's not a bust. Most of all, Bush has to prove he turned his back on alcohol.

Bush will have a support group in his bid to come back. When he checks into Spring Training on Feb. 1, he will be accompanied by his father, Danny, who will spend the summer, as well, with his son.

The Rangers are giving Bush a third chance.

It's up to him to make good on it.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.