LOWELL – Though Anthony Ranaudo and Brandon Workman are unlikely to throw a pitch for the Lowell Spinners, they have already presented the minor league club with an unprecedented challenge.
The two towering pitchers, both of whom signed with the Red Sox on Monday, reported to Lowell a few minutes apart from one another prior to Friday night’s contest. Ranaudo and Workman were outfitted in their first professional uniforms just before the first pitch of their new club’s contest against Hudson Valley.
But there was a problem.
Del “Dog Man” Christman, the Lowell clubhouse manager, assembled a uniform for the 6-foot-7 Ranaudo, believed to be the tallest pitcher in Spinners history. But when Workman followed his new teammate in for a fitting, Christman was unsure how to proceed.
“I have no pants for the other guy now,” Christman said.
Ranaudo, a supplemental first-round draft pick out of LSU, and Workman, the second-rounder from the University of Texas, are physically imposing power pitchers with impressive college pedigrees. They faced each other in the championship game of the 2009 College World Series, with Ranaudo and the Tigers defeating Workman and the Longhorns.
Both were, at various times, regarded among the top college pitchers in the 2010 draft. At times, it seemed unlikely that either would be available to the Sox in the draft, and so the Sox were thrilled that both pitchers slipped to them for different reasons.
Ranaudo, who went 5-3 with a 7.32 ERA, spent six weeks in the middle of the year in which he was either sidelined or struggled due to a forearm injury. Workman, 22, dominated the Big 12, going 12-1 with a 3.35 ERA, but signability questions scared off some clubs, leaving him available to the Sox with the No. 57 overall pick.
Yet for their excitement about having been able to draft both pitchers, for much of the summer, it was unclear whether the Sox would be able to sign either.
The team did not begin discussing a contract for Ranaudo, a Scott Boras client, until Monday night, with little time left before the midnight signing deadline. And the Sox spent much of the summer far apart from Workman, unwilling to approach the $1.25 million that other teams had told the Texas right-hander they would offer if he slipped to them in the draft.
As late as Monday, the Sox remained uncertain whether they would sign the two heralded right-handers. And both Ranaudo and Workman were experiencing similar uncertainty.
RANAUDO'S 50-50 PROPOSITION
Ranaudo had spent the days leading up to the deadline working out on LSU’s campus before arriving in Boston on Sunday night in anticipation of a physical on Monday. As he waited in Boston to find out whether he would begin his professional career or return to LSU for his senior year, he felt comfortable with either outcome.
“I knew it was going to be a win-win situation,” said Ranaudo. “I had no idea. I was hoping we could get a deal done, but at the same time, being in Baton Rouge, I was kind of hoping to come back for my senior year. I was kind of 50-50 with it.
“I love LSU, and being in school there, I was real comfortable. But there were some [stomach] knots, because my dream was to play professional baseball, and an organization like the Red Sox with all the tradition and everything, I was excited to hopefully be part of it.”
The right-hander felt comfortable that he had re-established his value as one of the top college pitchers in this year’s draft class after a dominant summer pitching for Brewster of the Cape League. He had exceeded his own expectations, not allowing a single earned run in almost 30 innings.
All the while, a groundswell of interest in his future in New England grew. His summer success on the Cape took place in plain view of the Red Sox fan base, creating a unique experience for Ranaudo.
“They live and die with their team. Anything that can help them, they see that as an asset,” he observed. “Once I started doing well up here, people got excited. I’d never seen anything like it. It was really fun to be a part of.”
By the end of the summer, the 20-year-old felt that he’d left behind the injury concerns and emerged as a better pitcher than he had been a year earlier. He had regained his stuff, and at the same time become a more mature pitcher after having overcome the most adversity he’d faced in his pitching career.
That being the case, he was comfortable with whatever direction the negotiations might take. If the Sox wanted to pay him like one of the top pitchers in the draft, then he would fulfill a lifelong dream by starting his professional career. If they did not, he had no qualms about returning to LSU for a shot at another national championship, and then going back into the draft after his senior season.
That attitude was somewhat atypical. As the signing deadline for draftees nears, some college juniors will feel a sense of urgency to sign. The possibility of returning to school and losing leverage over the course of a senior season can be unnerving.
Yet Ranaudo felt no such misgivings about the prospect of returning to school. He felt certain that if the Sox did not want to give him the bonus he felt he deserved, then another club would do so after his senior year.
“I was definitely confident. That’s why I was considering going back. If I didn’t think I could do it, I wouldn’t have considered going back,” said Ranaudo. “The senior thing, it all comes down to talent. I believe in myself and the team. If our team did well, I felt like I could have done well for myself in the draft. But that’s in my past, and I’m ready to move forward. I’m just happy to be part of the Red Sox right now.”
Ranaudo ended up signing for $2.55 million, three times the Major League Baseball slot recommendation for where he was taken in the draft. Though he was taken with the 39th pick in the draft, he received the second largest bonus given to a college player, behind only the $2.65 million that the Indians gave to left-hander Drew Pomeranz, the sixth pick in the draft.
“I just thought whatever was fair for my talent, and whatever my agent thought was fair for my talent, would be something I would sign for,” said Ranaudo. “At the end of the day, that’s what it was. I thought it was fair. Theo and the Red Sox all agreed that they valued me the same way I valued myself. We all came to terms and it was a great day.”
Before driving to Lowell, Ranaudo was at Fenway Park on Friday where he signed his contract and received a tour of the field and the clubhouse. He had been on big league fields before, but admitted that this experience stood out.
“It is a little different,” he said. “It’s kind of business. It’s something you’ve been working for your whole life and you kind of see that as the final destination. I see it as a goal, a place that I want to be someday, where hopefully I can contribute to the big league club. I know I’ve got to work my way up, and work hard each day to get there. But I look forward the challenge and the task ahead of me.”
WORKMAN'S EXERCISE IN NERVES
Like Ranaudo, Workman was staring down the possibility that he might end up returning to school for his senior season. But unlike Ranaudo, the possibility was not one that he relished.
The right-hander was eager to begin his professional career. There had been first-round buzz surrounding the power pitching prospect for much of the year, and it even seemed possible that he wouldn’t be left on the board when the Sox made their first overall selection, the No. 20 pick in the first round.
His power arsenal had already established him as a prominent college pitching prospect. Yet following his sophomore year, Workman recalled, he was “messing around, trying to get some movement on the fastball,” when he discovered a grip for a cut fastball that became a tremendous weapon for him in 2010. That pitch seemingly helped to push his draft stock even higher.
Certainly, he had received plenty of calls from teams prior to their selections in both the first round and then again in the sandwich round to gauge his asking price. While there was some disappointment for the 22-year-old when he slipped to the No. 57 pick, that fact did little to diminish his excitement for the possibility of joining the Sox.
“I definitely expected to do better than [the second round], but it’s what happened, and there’s nothing I could do about that,” said Workman. “I was sold on the idea as soon as they drafted me that the opportunity would be amazing. I was ready to start my professional career. As soon as they picked me, I was convinced of what I wanted to do.”
Yet negotiations proved more challenging than anyone anticipated. Other clubs had told Workman that he could command a seven-figure bonus, and so when the Sox made clear they would not approach such an asking price, talks between the two sides stalled.
For Workman, the fact that negotiations with the Sox had been characterized by a fairly sizable gap between what he sought and what the team was offering proved unnerving.
The Sox had already concluded that there was little chance of a deal. As a result, they made a hard push for other players whom they selected in later rounds, reallocating money that had been set aside for Workman. (The team’s signing of outfielder Lucas LeBlanc, an 11th-rounder, to a $500,000 bonus probably wouldn’t have taken place in the absence of a negotiating stalemate with Workman.)
Workman, meanwhile, had no idea what his future held as Monday progressed.
“I was trying not to worry about it much, but you can’t help but to worry about it some. I was trying to stay as calm as I could, relax, let whatever happens happens. But I was still nervous,” said Workman. “I really honestly wasn’t sure if it was going to work out. I was hoping it would. I was ready to [sign]. I was glad it did work out.”
Workman’s desire to begin his professional career ultimately drove a deal to get done. He signed for $800,000 – quite a bit more than slot money for a sandwich pick, but short of the $1.25 million that had seemed within reach.
It was not easy to compromise those financial expectations, but ultimately, Workman decided it was worth doing so in order to start a Red Sox career in 2010.
“It was difficult, but I’m trying not to think about that right now. It’s over with,” said Workman. “I’m trying to make the best of it as possible.”
In some respects, that is easy for Workman, given what he has already experienced of baseball in New England and Boston.
Workman was a Cape League All-Star following both his freshman and sophomore years of college. He led the league in strikeouts after his freshman season, then picked up the win in the All-Star contest at Fenway following his sophomore campaign.
The opportunity to stand on the mound at Fenway had made an indelible impression on Workman.
“It was wild to think of all the history that’s happened there,” said Workman. “I don’t even know how to describe that. I was out there pitching, thinking of all the other guys who had been out there pitching before me, all the players who have played there.”
Now, Workman and Ranaudo have taken their first step towards joining in that tradition. They have now begun their professional lives, wearing the uniforms of their first club in the Sox minor league system. (After some scrambling, it is worth noting, the Spinners did find Workman a pair of pants.)
The two are in Lowell not to pitch in games, but instead to begin their education in professional baseball. They will be trained in the organization’s shoulder program, and learn about the rhythm of professional baseball before they get back on the mound to pitch during the Sox’ Fall Instructional League.
Even though they will not be on the mound in Lowell, the two pitchers will inevitably capture plenty of attention with the Spinners, owing both to their sheer size and the considerable potential that both exhibit.
“It’s pretty exciting to see those two,” said Sox scouting director Amiel Sawdaye, “and hopefully watch them grow together.”