INDIANAPOLIS – In some respects, the most significant Red Sox news of the Winter Meetings has been a reflection of how good a run the team had while former director of amateur scouting Jason McLeod was in charge of the team’s draft. McLeod left the Sox last week to join the San Diego Padres as their Assistant GM, but the significance of his work in Boston has remained plainly apparent.
The team announced on Monday that Casey Kelly, a first-round pick by the Red Sox and McLeod in 2008, had committed to a future on the mound. That, in turn, reflected on the assessment made by McLeod and Sox scouts that Kelly’s ceiling was higher as a pitcher than a shortstop.
That view was borne out in 2009 when the prospect produced a 2.08 ERA at two levels of A-ball to put himself on the fast track to the majors. In the process, Kelly made himself all but untradeable for a Sox organization that believes he has an elite future.
The news of the three-way trade that sent Curtis Granderson from the Tigers to the Yankees offered another reminder of the quality of players acquired under McLeod. The Sox, according to a major-league source, were told that they could acquire the left fielder, but that the cost would be either center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury or pitcher Clay Buchholz. The Sox declined, instead electing to keep a pair of first-round choices taken in 2005, McLeod’s first year as the head of the team’s draft.
“[McLeod] has got pretty unique scouting instincts,” said Sox Assistant GM Ben Cherington. “He really is a good evaluator, and he’s one of the few really good subjective evaluators who understands how to layer the performance and objective stats on top of that to get a really good feel for the player.”
He also helped to implement a number of measures that positioned the Sox to make better evaluations of their draftees, from convincing the scouting staff to buy into the concept of using video, performing more extensive background research and using summer leagues to make better evaluations of players. McLeod, who was an area scout with the Padres before being hired by the Sox, brought together the sensibilities of scouts with the Sox' interest in finding ways of improving on the quality of the information that they sought.
That is not to say that McLeod and his department enjoyed a spotless record of success. Nor was it to suggest that the Sox’ draft achievements represented solely on the presence of one person, as opposed to an effort that reflected on a front office and staff of scouts.
Nonetheless, it did offer a reminder of the impressive major-league pipeline that McLeod played an important role in establishing. And it helps to explain why the Sox tried so hard to keep him before finally letting him go to the Padres last week.
Before the Padres requested permission to discuss the job with him, McLeod anticipated staying in Boston. He oversaw one of the most aggressive amateur scouting departments in the game, trusted with significant resources as well as a great working environment. McLeod’s input, moreover, extended beyond just the draft, as he was one of the organization’s most trusted evaluators.
But, when the Padres requested permission to talk with McLeod in the first days of November, the Sox initially refused to grant San Diego that right. The process was surprisingly prolonged, with Boston going almost a month before finally allowing McLeod to interview formally for the position last week.
Over that time, McLeod realized how rare an opportunity he had in San Diego. There would be the promotion to the role of Assistant GM in charge of Scouting and Player Development, and with it, an interesting and challenging set of new responsibilities. There was the opportunity to take such a job with Padres GM Jed Hoyer, with whom McLeod had worked for six years in Boston. And there was the opportunity to take such a job in his hometown.
Upon reflection, as he waited to find out whether the Sox would allow him to pursue the job in San Diego, McLeod realized that the Padres job represented the perfect storm.
“At the end, when it finally happened, there was a sense of certainty and relief,” said McLeod, who has worked with Epstein for 13 of the last 15 years, and counts the Sox GM as one of his closest friends. “It was very bittersweet, because I have tremendous relationships over there. I love those guys over there. There was sadness there in leaving.
“On the other side, it’s a great job opportunity, working with Jed,” he continued. “The responsibilities for the job will be great. And then just going home, my son is going to get to grow up three minutes from his grandparents and 10 minutes from his cousins.”
The Sox made a concerted effort to keep McLeod. They offered changes to improve upon a job that he already enjoyed immensely. But, in the end, McLeod realized that he wanted to join Hoyer and the Padres, and so when granted permission last week, he accepted the position.
“It was flattering to know they were really happy with the work I had done,” said McLeod. “They made an incredible effort to keep me. It was everything I could possibly ever want, if not for this one opportunity.”
With McLeod having left for San Diego, and with the Sox fighting to keep the players drafted under him, it seems a reasonable time to look back on some of the more memorable picks made while he was a scouting director for the five drafts from 2005-09.
BEST DRAFT PICK:
Clay Buchholz. Many teams walked away from Buchholz due to makeup questions after his arrest for stealing laptops while at McNeese State in 2004. But after he transferred to Angelina Junior College, and emerged as a completely dominant pitcher, McLeod was part of the Sox’ effort to maintain and even intensify their evaluations of the pitcher.
Ultimately, where some teams peeled off of Buchholz, McLeod bought into the makeup evaluation of area scout Jim Robinson that it was an isolated incident. The team pushed to dig deeper on the pitcher’s character, and McLeod – in his first year as amateur scouting director – was willing to put himself on something of a limb in remaining committed to Buchholz.
Now, with the 25-year-old being viewed as a key member of the rotation going forward, the Sox are enjoying the fruits of that pick.
Honorable mention: Nick Hagadone. Some teams believed that Hagadone was a reach when the Sox selected him with their first pick of the 2007 draft. The left-handed reliever was taken 55th overall by the Sox, a place that seemed a bit unexpected for a college reliever in the Northwest. But McLeod and the Sox bucked the industry view of the pitcher, and were rewarded with a pitcher who proved a key component of the deal for Victor Martinez last summer.
When he entered the Sox’ system, Hagadone’s velocity played up, reaching the mid- and even high-90s as a starter. Though he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2008, he fulfilled the Sox’ makeup evaluations, working tirelessly to get back on the mound. His velocity again reached 96 mph, and the left-hander showed a return of the stuff (fastball, swing-and-miss slider, with the potential for a decent changeup) that projects him to be a potentially dominant closer.
Josh Reddick. There were instances in which the Sox spent big on late-round draft picks to add significant talent, but Reddick stands out as an instance of the club identifying, drafting and signing a diamond in the rough.
Few teams scouted him at Middle Georgia College, but area scout Rob English was a vocal advocate of Reddick’s talent. English and cross-checker Mike Rikard also realized that because few other teams were on the outfielder, that they could wait until the 17th round of the 2006 draft to select him.
When Reddick had a standout summer while playing with a wood bat following the draft, his stock rose. Had he gone back to school and re-entered the draft in 2007, there is no chance he would have been available at such a late stage of the draft. But the Sox – in one of several instances under McLeod in which they used the summer after the draft to get a more precise assessment of a player’s skills and worth – selected a diamond in the rough, a potential big-league starting corner outfielder for the relatively small price of $140,000.
Honorable mention: Luis Exposito. The Sox were one of the few teams on the catcher when he played in an obscure high school program in Florida. They selected Exposito as a draft-and-follow in the 31st round of the 2005 draft, and watched as his stock soared as a Junior College player at St. Petersburg in 2006.
The Sox heard that other teams might consider drafting Exposito as early as the third round should he re-enter the draft. They didn’t let that happen, and so found a player with a big-league future on Day 2 of the draft.
Jonathan Egan. The Red Sox had a terrifically successful draft in 2005, as each of their first five picks that year (Ellsbury, Craig Hansen, Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie, Michael Bowden) have reached the majors. But in the second round, the team was less fortunate.
Several future big leaguers – including Nolan Reimold, Chase Headley, Kevin Slowey and Yunel Escobar – would go later in that round. But with the 57th overall pick, the Sox selected a player whom they viewed as a potential starting catcher of the future in Jon Egan, a high schooler out of Georgia.
Egan’s tools as a power-hitting catcher were terrific, but the Sox had makeup questions about him – his commitment to the game, as well as his overall maturity. The Sox scouted him extensively, but ignored the personality issues. He performed poorly, experienced both disciplinary and back problems and ultimately retired in spring training of 2008.
Honorable mention: Scott Blue. Taken with the pick after Egan in 2005, Blue was a left-handed pitcher who popped up on the Sox’ radar late. As a result, they did not perform their typically exhaustive examinations of the pitcher’s makeup.
Blue was an unqualified bust almost from the beginning. He got hurt, requiring a renegotiation of the bonus. He then broke his hand the next year in extended spring training and lied about the fact that the injury occurred from punching something, resulting in a suspension. He returned to the Sox in ’07, but more incidents led the Sox to release him.
ONES THAT GOT AWAY:
The Sox liked both Matt LaPorta (2006, 14th round) and Pedro Alvarez (2005, 14th round) for their potential to develop into middle-of-the-order power hitters. But the cost of both proved prohibitive at the time.
The Sox never made an offer to LaPorta when told, after a junior season at Florida when he struggled, that he was seeking a $2 million bonus (a number that he hit when he re-entered the draft the following year). And while the team was willing to offer him money commensurate with a late first-round or sandwich-round pick, it was not enough to prevent Alvarez from enrolling at Vanderbilt, where he developed into one of the top college players in the country before getting drafted second overall in 2008.