William Bergolla: 12th Dragon to the Major Leagues
The 2002 Dragons team featured seven players who would eventually go on to play in the Major Leagues. The youngest of the seven actually got there the quickest, a 19-year-old middle infielder with a smooth swing who had been signed by the Reds out of a Venezuelan try-out camp. This is the story of the 12th Dragons player to reach the Major Leagues, second baseman William Bergolla.
Bergolla (pronounced burr-GOY-uh) was just 16 years old when he was spotted by Johnny Almaraz, the Reds Assistant Scouting Director at the time, in 1999. By 2001, he was playing at Billings, batting .323 for the Mustangs to earn a promotion to Dayton for the next year. In 2002 with the Dragons, Bergolla was one of the youngest players in the league.
The '02 Dragons did not feature the big names that had passed through Dayton over the club's first two seasons of existence. Sluggers like Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns, Wily Mo Pena, and Stephen Smitherman were either already in the Major Leagues, or were on their way. But the '02 Dragons featured a collection of players that, while not as highly-touted, would come together to form an excellent team that reached the playoffs and produced a 13-game winning streak that still stands as the club record. The batting order was deep with capable hitters including talented third baseman Edwin Encarnacion, power-hitting outfielder Chris Williamson, hustling center fielder Noochie Varner, and other dangerous threats at the plate like Randy Ruiz, Jesse Gutierrez, and Wandel Campana. The team batting average of .261 is just three points off the current club record and there were home run threats throughout the order.
The second baseman on that '02 Dragons team was Bergolla, the youngest position player on the roster. Marc Katz of the Dayton Daily News noted during a spring training visit to Sarasota that the Reds were projecting Bergolla as the lead-off hitter in the Dayton lineup. And Bergolla started the season well with the Dragons, generating a 10-game hitting streak in April and batting as high as .286 into May. But from there, he began to struggle in Dayton. His average dropped to .230 on June 26, prompting a decision by the Reds for the youngster. Despite collecting eight hits over his last three games (including four doubles and a triple in 13 at-bats), he was shipped back to Billings at the start of July for the remainder of the 2002 season.
Bergolla's time in Dayton was productive in his development, and upon his return to Billings, he tore up the Pioneer League, batting .352, third best in the league. At the end of the season, Baseball America rated Bergolla as the 21st best prospect in the Reds farm system and second best second base prospect, just behind the once highly-regarded but fading Gookie Dawkins. Baseball America reported that Bergolla "started (the) year as one of the youngest prospects in the Midwest League. While he wasn't overmatched, he spent the second half in (Billings)...He projects as an above-average second baseman with good hands."
Bergolla moved on to Carolina League in 2003 and then to Double-A in 2004 with Chattanooga. At the age of 21, he hit an impressive .283 with 26 doubles. Over the 2003-'04 seasons, Bergolla also stole 88 bases and led the Reds farm system both seasons.
The next season, 2005 with Triple-A Louisville, he got off to another hot start. A week into the month of May, the now 22-year-old Bergolla was hitting .298 as the # 2 hitter in the team's batting order. When Wily Mo Pena went on the disabled list on May 9 and a roster spot came available, the Reds promoted Bergolla to the big leagues. Less than three years after playing at Fifth Third Field, he had beaten all of his former Dragons teammates to the Major Leagues.
Bergolla's first two weeks with the Reds consisted exclusively of pinch running, pinch hitting, and late-inning defensive work. He did not enter a game prior to the eighth inning until May 20, when he made his first of six starts in the big leagues, a 2-1 Reds win over the Indians. Bergolla went 0 for 4 but was back in the lineup the next day and collected his first Major League hit, a first inning line drive single off Indians starter C.C. Sabathia. A week later, Bergolla was sent back to Louisville. He returned in June for two more pinch hitting assignments that turned out to be the final big league appearances of his career. His final numbers in Louisville in 2005 included a batting average of .293.
The 2006 season featured a return to Louisville for Bergolla, where he slipped a bit to .279. On August 11 of that season, the Reds played a 14-inning game against the Phillies and used nine pitchers in the game, including the next day's scheduled starter, Aaron Harang. Short on available pitching for the next day's game, the Reds called up veteran Chris Michalak from Triple-A. To activate Michalak, the Reds had to clear a spot on the 40-man roster. Bergolla was the player they selected and he was designated for assignment, much to the surprise of many fans. At age 23, his career in the Reds organization ended that summer.
Bergolla hit .306 with the Giants Triple-A club in 2007. Unable to find a job in 2008, he spent most of the year with the Washington Nationals Double-A affiliate. He did not play at all in 2009 or 2010. In 2011, he returned to professional baseball, strangely as a 28-year-old Single-A player in the Detroit Tigers system. He did not play in 2012.
It is difficult to determine why Bergolla never reached the status once predicted for him. Truthfully, many prospects play well all the way to the big leagues before the level of competition rises dramatically. He is not the first player to reach the big leagues at the young age of 22 and then never make it back, but the occurrence is a bit uncommon.
"He was very young when he was here," remembers Katz. "I didn't quite see the potential that the Reds saw in him. I didn't think he was very strong at second base. They were very high on him and they hoped he would develop and he eventually made it to the Reds for a short time."
Bergolla was an interesting prospect to follow in the Reds organization and he became the 12th Dragons player to reach the Major Leagues. Next up: John Koronka.
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