Anthony Ranaudo, the star pitcher from Louisiana State, had heard the same thing leading up to the draft as everyone else. Based on how hard the Red Sox were scouting him and the industry buzz, he was convinced that he would be taken by Boston in the 2010 draft.
The prospect was one that the right-hander described as thrilling. And yet, when the Sox used their third selection of the draft – their second of the supplemental first round, and the 39th overall – on Monday to take Ranaudo, it created a challenge.
“I do not own any Red Sox paraphernalia yet. I’m in the process of getting rid of all my Yankee paraphernalia,” Ranaudo, a New Jersey native, said by phone from Baton Rouge, where he is working out as he prepares to come to New England to pitch in the Cape League this summer.
“I was a Yankee fan growing up my whole life, so my heart’s there a little bit. But on Monday, when I was selected by the Red Sox, a little bit of my heart changed, my loyalty. If I do sign a contract with the Red Sox, then my heart is going to be 100 percent in Boston.”
Ranaudo represented one of the more fascinating stories of the draft, and not just because of the possibility that he will be exchanging an interlocking ‘NY’ for the Gothic-style ‘B’ on his cap.
Entering the 2010 season, Ranaudo was viewed as the top college pitcher in the draft, and perhaps even the best talent in the country aside from Sports Illustrated cover boy Bryce Harper. As a sophomore, he had demonstrated an ability to dominate in the SEC, and he was the winning pitcher of the 2009 College World Series championship game. He was the Tigers’ No. 1 starter, going 12-3 with a 3.04 ERA while striking out 11.5 batters per nine innings.
He was viewed as a pitcher with the size to create tremendous leverage on his mid-90s fastball. That pitch, combined with an above-average curve, major-league average changeup and solid command made him a near lock to emerge as at least a No. 2 starter in the majors.
But then, the 2010 season arrived, and Ranaudo started to feel discomfort on the bone on the outer side of his right elbow. He was shut down with what was diagnosed as a stress reaction (for more on his medical situation, click here), and missed four starts.
When he did return, he was performing like a different pitcher. His mechanics, velocity and command suffered, as did his results. Opponents were taking rips against him that were unheard of in his first two years at LSU.
Ranaudo said that he knew that the injury was relatively minor, and so he was not terribly concerned that his health and baseball future might be in jeopardy. But he was frustrated nonetheless.
“It was really just stiffness. It didn’t really bother me while I actually threw. It was more tightness and stiffness in between innings and after I threw,” said Ranaudo. “It was a precautionary thing early in the season. Then I didn’t progress as quickly as we thought. It took a little bit of extra time for me to get back on the mound. It took about four weeks total. I think I missed four starts.
“Then once I got back in the swings of things, it started off fine and then hit a little bit of a rough patch as far as results. But everything is good now. My arm is 100 percent. That’s a good thing.”
Ranaudo suggests that in his last five or six appearances of the year, his stuff returned. That was most notable in the SEC tournament, where he made a pair of strong appearances. He earned a win over No. 4 Florida by throwing 7 2/3 innings (his longest outing of the year) and allowing five runs while pitching comfortably in the low-90s and topping out around 95 mph.
Then, on three days rest, he politicked with his coach to allow him to pitch in relief in the SEC Championship game between LSU And Alabama. He threw the final three shutout innings of relief in an 11-inning thriller. The fact that he was on the bottom of a dogpile when LSU won the tournament was singularly satisfying for the 20-year-old.
“That feeling was unbelievable for me. The season, from an individual standpoint and team standpoint, had so many ups and downs,” said Ranaudo. “For us to go out there and take that tournament, and then for me to be that guy coming out of the bullpen, pitch those last three innings and then be at the bottom of that dogpile, it was a great feeling. It was a great experience, something I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.”
Moreover, for Ranaudo, the performances eliminated any remaining doubt that he was healthy, solidifying, in his mind, the notion that he was once again the same pitcher and prospect that he was entering the year. In a year when his statistics suffered (5-3, 7.32 ERA, 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings), it was important for him to finish strong.
“They were hard proof for me that I was healthy again, and that I was back to being me and being the pitcher I was last year, and ultimately the same talent and pitcher that I’ve been my whole life,” said Ranaudo. “It was very reassuring and exciting for me.”
THE DRAFT SLIDE
Ranaudo is well aware that he went roughly three dozen picks after he might have been selected had his junior year taken a different shape. As Sox GM Theo Epstein said, “Without the downturn in performance, he’s probably not available to us in the sandwich round.”
But given that he did feel healthy at the end of the year, he was satisfied. Ranaudo recognizes that even if a player slides because of his performance leading up to the draft, it does not need to impact his major league career.
For proof, he need look no further than his childhood idol, Roger Clemens, whose intensity Ranaudo came to admire when the pitcher was a member of the Yankees. Clemens was one of the top prospects in the draft after his sophomore year, but an inconsistent junior season caused him to drift to the middle of the first round, where the Sox grabbed him. Clemens hit the ground running in pro ball, and never looked back.
Ranaudo hopes to do the same.
“Just because of the hype going into the season, I knew I could have been up there if I’d performed well when I got back from my injury,” he said. “I’m more concerned at this point about developing this summer and hopefully getting with the Red Sox and getting in the right organization, with the right people, and developing from that standpoint and making it to the major leagues. That’s what it’s all about.
“No matter where you’re taken in the draft, the goal is to get to the major leagues, be successful in the major leagues and help a team win a world championship. That’s what I’m more excited about. I realize that there are bigger things ahead for me than just draft day.”
WHAT LIES AHEAD
Ranaudo wants to build upon his late-season performance by pitching in the Cape Cod League. Though he has not yet determined which team he will be pitching for, he will come to New England within the next week.
“It’s a new start for me. Honestly, I feel like I’m in midseason form right now,” said Ranaudo. “I told my dad the other day after my start, I wish I had five or six or seven more starts. Hopefully I can get that under my belt in the Cape, really develop some more and show the Red Sox that I’m still the same pitcher I was last year, still the same talent, and go from there.
“The strides I made at the end of the season were significant. I feel like I’m pitching the best I pitched for a long time,” he added. “Hopefully I can go to the Cape, prove myself more and show the baseball world that I’m still the same pitcher and still the same talent that I was entering the season and all of last year.”
While the pitcher has not yet discussed the exact timetable of how he will proceed in negotiations with the Sox, his understanding is that he and the club will gauge his performance over the summer and then negotiate.
“I’ll go up there, start a new season for myself, start a new chapter, start clean, continue the good pitching I’ve had from the last five or six outings, and kind of roll from there,” said Ranaudo. “Then we’ll see where we stand with both parties and hopefully come to a decision from there.
“From what I’ve heard from advisors and coaches and other scouts all around the league from different organizations, Boston and the Red Sox have one of the best organizations in major league baseball. I’m really excited about that. Hopefully everything works out with the negotiations and I can get into it and start my career.”
He is eager to turn pro, describing the opportunity to do so as “a dream come true.” He hopes to build upon his strengths (competitive intensity, a powerful fastball and plus curve) while also developing his command and refining his changeup.
“Those things are going to come with experience and development,” said Ranaudo. “Hopefully those are things I’m going to learn when I get into the system and that’s why I’m looking forward to it so much.”
Despite that enthusiasm, his negotiations with the Sox could be complicated.
Ranaudo acknowledges that one of the reasons why he expected to be taken by the Sox was because there were “signability” questions attached to him. His advisor is Scott Boras, an agent whose clients have, on occasion, either returned to school for their senior year (Jason Varitek) or left school and played in an independent league (J.D. Drew, Luke Hochevar) if they did not get the bonus they sought.
He is coming off a year in which he was injured, and in which his performance suffered. Yet if he can demonstrate that he is healthy, he may seek a payday that is more in line with an early first-rounder than with a supplemental first rounder. (For reference, Red Sox supplemental first rounder Bryce Brentz, taken three picks before Ranaudo, has agreed in principle to sign for the MLB slot recommendation of approximately $891,000.)
Ranaudo says that he has not considered whether he might explore alternatives to signing with the Sox this summer, prior to the mid-August signing deadline. Nor does he have a goal in mind as far as what kind of bonus he will seek, or whether he would hold out for a major-league contract (something that the Sox under Epstein have given to only one other draftee: Boras client Craig Hansen in 2005).
“To tell you the truth, coming into the year I never had a number. I didn’t have a goal that I wanted this much or this kind of deal. I was kind of figuring it out as it goes, seeing what happened with the season, and that’s kind of the same way I am right now,” said Ranaudo. “I haven’t thought about options too much or talked about them with anybody. Right now, the way that I’m pitching is so comforting to me that I’m just focused there and getting ready for my next season in Cape Cod. I’m excited to get up there.
“That’s what I’m focused on: developing more, continuing the good pitching and good success I’ve had the last couple weeks and carrying that through the summer. Then once the summer is over I can kind of re-evaluate everything and go from there.”
And then, Ranaudo will be able to figure out whether he must complete the purge of his Yankees wardrobe.