A year ago, the Red Sox went to the Cape to see if their much-hyped draft pick Anthony Ranaudo once again looked like a top college pitcher. What they saw was a hurler who looked very much like he was rounding back into his top-of-the-rotation form…and an opponent who was even more dominant.
Ranaudo allowed just one hit and struck out eight over 6 2/3 shutout innings for Brewster. But, if possible, even that outing was upstaged by an electrifying performance from University of Connecticut right-hander Matt Barnes.
Barnes, pitching for Wareham in the Cape for the second straight summer, allowed one run on four hits while striking out 14 in seven innings of work. The Sox front office was there in full force to see the performance.
“Matt was excited and wanted to pitch that night,” Wareham coach Cooper Farris said last night. “I thought Matt outpitched him. I know the Red Sox had just about everyone here. It was a quick game, didn’t last very long, under two hours. Matt was on top of everything. Ranaudo had trouble with his off speed stuff that night. His fastball was really good. It was a great matchup and fun to watch.”
Barnes was the headliner of the Sox’ first day of the draft. As a result of the free-agent departures of catcher Victor Martinez to the Tigers and third baseman Adrian Beltre to the Rangers, the Sox had four of the first 40 overall selections, and sought impact from a variety of players.
They started with Barnes, a college right-hander, with the No. 19 overall selection of the first round. They followed that by grabbing high school catcher Blake Swihart with the No. 26 pick of the first round, tabbed high school southpaw Henry Owens with their third selection (No. 36, in the sandwich round) and concluded their day with college outfielder Jackie Bradley (No. 40, in the sandwich round).
Certainly, the Sox were pleased to emerge with four players whom they think can have a strong impact on their organization. They view both Barnes and Owens as future big league starters, and Swihart and Bradley as potential middle-of-the-field lineup members. That said, the team tempered its enthusiasm with the notion that it will require many years before the impact of the draft will be known.
“We’re real happy with how today went. I think 30 clubs feel that way coming out of the draft room,” said GM Theo Epstein. “There’s a little bit of anxiety to see if the guys you like are going to be there. More often than not, you end up getting the guys you like because the reality is that all 30 clubs have these guys evaluated differently. We do our high fiving and feeling good coming out of the room, but I feel like 29 other clubs were doing it the exact same way. Then you circle back in five or 10 years and see how you did. Certainly we felt like some things broke our way and we were able to get four players we feel really good about.”
A closer look at each:
MATT BARNES, RHP, UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT
Selected: 1st round, No. 19 overall
Vitals: 6-foot-4, 203 pounds
Stats: In his junior year, he is now 11-4 with a 1.62 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 116 2/3 innings. Last summer, went 1-2 with a 2.18 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings on the Cape before going 3-0 with a 1.42 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 19 innings for Team USA.
Trivia: First college right-hander taken by Sox with their first overall pick since Aaron Sele in 1991. First first-rounder from Connecticut ever taken by the Sox. The last time the Sox had the No. 19 overall pick, they also went with a college right-hander, grabbing Roger Clemens in 1983.
Profile: Barnes was undrafted out of high school in Connecticut, but by his sophomore year, when his velocity ticked up into the mid-90s (topping out at 98 mph), he had established himself as a prospect.
Farris suggested that Barnes had explosive stuff after his freshman year for Wareham, but that by the time he came to the Cape following his sophomore year, his curveball showed significantly more polish, along with improved command. Barnes had also worked hard to develop a changeup, though Farris characterized that pitch as remaining a work-in-progress.
Wareham has served as something of a pitching factory for the Sox, with the summer team also having produced Daniel Bard and Justin Masterson in recent years. Farris said that the seemingly effortless delivery and explosive life on Barnes’ pitches reminded him of the flamethrowing Bard. He also raved about the pitcher’s work ethic, noting that he and UConn teammate George Springer were the first players to field every day, typically arriving by 10 a.m.
This draft season, he had been projected as high as a top five pick before slipping a bit among a strong class of college pitchers. Still, the Sox were elated that he remained on the board when they were picking.
Scouting director Amiel Sawdaye said that the Sox view him as a “middle of the rotation guy” with “three plus pitches.”
“We were excited to get him,” said Sawdaye. “Given the fact that he was at 19, we got really excited. I’ll leave it at that.”
BLAKE SWIHART, C, CLEVELAND HIGH SCHOOL (N.M.)
Selected: 1st round, No. 26 overall
Vitals: 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, switch-hitter
Stats: Hit .602 with 27 extra-base hits (5 HR) and 24 walks in 28 games as a senior in Rio Rancho. Last summer, hit .448 with a .492 OBP and .845 slugging mark for Team USA, a run that included a ridiculous 12 extra-base hits (5 HR) and 17 RBI in 17 games.
Trivia: First catcher taken by the Sox in the first round since John Marzano was selected with the No. 14 pick in the 1984 draft. First high school catcher taken in the first round by the Sox since Kevin Burrell in 1981.
Profile: The first thing that seems to stand out about Swihart is his ability to impact a baseball. He already shows impressive power – as evidenced by his Team USA performance – even as there is the potential for more as he continues his physical maturation.
“He’s got such quick, quick hands and great bat speed that the ball flies off his bat. It really jumps,” said Garye LaFevers, who coached Swihart with Team USA last summer. “He’s got good power from gap to gap and he’s a switch hitter. He hit a lot of balls right-handed to the right center gap. He isn’t afraid to go to the opposite field for power or use his power get his arms extended to the other half of the plate to go to right-center or if he’s hitting left-handed to go to left-center.”
LaFevers added that while Swihart showed impressive hand-eye coordination and bat speed that allowed him to impact a baseball, there is still room for development.
“He is a good enough hitter that he can be patient at the plate and look for his pitch early in the count and not go after the pitchers’ pitch early in the count,” said LaFevers. “That was one of the biggest things that we worked on.”
Swihart is relatively new to catching, having just started working at the position late in high school. With Team USA, he caught and played first, while during his senior year in high school, he shifted between work behind the plate and several positions.
Indeed, Swihart played many doubleheaders as a senior in New Mexico, catching for one game and playing in the field for the next. That schedule permitted the Sox to conclude that he has the attributes needed to remain at catcher.
“We got a really good chance to see him behind the plate but also to see his athleticism in the field, so a guy that we were really excited to get because the tool set and athleticism really fit behind the plate,” said Sawdaye.
Epstein, meanwhile, suggested that Swihart’s bat would have drawn the Sox to him regardless of his position. The fact that he does play a premium position made him even more appealing.
“Yes, he’s a catcher, but he’s also a very legitimate bat, a switch-hitting bat at that, and an excellent athlete with great baseball instincts as well. It was the whole package. It wasn’t so much what position he played. We certainly never draft for need,” said Epstein. “But he stood out for his bat, for his athleticism and the fact that he projects to be able to stay behind the plate and be a solid receiver back there, thrower back there only added to the attraction.”
While LaFevers wondered whether the Sox might contemplate moving Swihart to another position since working behind the plate could slow his movement through the farm system, he also made clear that the prep star has the ability and makeup to stick behind the plate.
“If they decide he is going to be a catcher he will do a good job,” said LaFevers. “He will do everything he can do to be the best catcher they have ever drafted. That would be pretty good.”
Swihart has a scholarship offer to the University of Texas. As a 19-year-old, he would be draft eligible after his sophomore year, meaning that he has even more leverage than the typical high school player when negotiating with the Sox. As such, the switch-hitting catcher is said to be seeking a significant bonus – well in excess of slot – in order to start his pro career.
HENRY OWENS, LHP, EDISON HIGH SCHOOL (Calif.)
Selected: Supplemental 1st round (No. 36 overall)
Vitals: 6-foot-6, 190 pounds
Stats: 12-0, 1.03 ERA, 99 strikeouts, 13 walks in 78 2/3 innings as a senior. Last summer, went 3-0 with a 2.33 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings for Team USA.
Trivia: Highest high school left-handed pitcher taken in the draft by the Red Sox since first-rounder John Curtice was selected out of Virginia by the team in 1997. Indeed, under Epstein the Sox had never before take a high school left-hander in the first 10 rounds, though two caveats are in order: 1) Epstein was Assistant GM, and played a significant role in the draft, when Jon Lester was taken in the second round in 2002; and 2) The Sox have given first-round or sandwich-round money to prep southpaws before (Mike Rozier, a 2004 12th-rounder, and Drake Britton, a 2007 23rd-rounder).
Profile: Owens has a significant track record of success for a high schooler, both based on his competition in Southern California and his Team USA performance. His feel for pitching is considered relatively advanced for such a young pitcher.
That said, his current stuff doesn’t necessarily jump off the charts for everyone who saw him. His fastball was mostly a high-80s to low-90s offering. Still, at 6-foot-6, his ability to command a three-pitch arsenal (fastball, curve, changeup) for strikes already allows him to compete at a high level.
“It surprised me a little bit that he went this high, but I’m very happy for him,” said LaFevers, his Team USA coach last summer. “Between his junior and senior year, he was like a string bean. He hadn’t hit that second growth spurt where you start to put on weight and fill out a little bit – big, tall, lanky.
“He was sneaky fast. He had a nice delivery and good mechanics, but he’s so big and had such long levers that he was sneaky fast. He threw 88-90 easily, very fluidly. Obviously, as he grows and continues to learn to use that leverage and puts on strength in his core, his velocity will increase. If he’s left-handed and throwing 88-92, and he’s throwing strikes, he’ll be OK.”
The Sox, however, saw him touch 94 mph with his fastball at times as a junior, and they view his frame as a projectable one, with forecasts of more power being reasonable. And, even the present package was intriguing for the club.
“He throws three pitches for strikes,” said Sawdaye. “For a high-school kid, that’s unique and certainly something that we covet.”
“He’s always performed well against the best competition,” added Epstein. “Left-handed or right-handed, he stood out as somebody we liked, and the fact that he’s lefthanded was an added bonus.”
JACKIE BRADLEY JR., CF, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA
Selected: Supplemental 1st round (No. 40 overall)
Vitals: 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, bats left, throws right
Stats: As a junior, hit .259 with a .361 OBP, .468 slugging mark and six homers in 37 games before requiring season-ending surgery on his wrist in early May. However, in his first two years, he hit a combined .358 with 24 homers, and he hit .345 with two homers and nine runs batted in en route to Most Outstanding Player honors in the 2010 College World Series. Hit .318 with a homer and 12 RBI for Team USA last summer.
Trivia: Bradley is the Sox' third first- or sandwich-round pick out of the University of South Carolina, joining Adam Everett (1998) and Eddie Ford (1974). Only one other institution -- Georgia Tech, which has produced Matt Murton (2003), Mark Fischer (1997) and Nomar Garciaparra (1994) -- has yielded as many early Sox draft picks.
Profile: Bradley entered 2011 viewed as one of the top center fielders in college baseball. He was coming off of a season in which he had been the best player on a national champion, something that garnered him not only Most Outstanding Player honors in Omaha in 2010, but that also had him labeled as a preseason All-American and viewed as a potential middle-of-the-first-round pick.
Yet his performance took a hit in his junior year, and his season ended abruptly when he injured his left wrist while trying to make a diving catch in an April game. It was his third surgery in college, following a procedure to have a rib removed in order to address a blood clot during the fall of his freshman year and surgery on a broken hamate bone as a sophomore.
While health and his performance in 2011 contributed to a bit of a slide in the draft, the Sox don’t believe that he has medical issues that will cloud his future.
“He had the wrist injury. Jackie’s not officially part of the organization yet, so it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment in detail. But obviously we reviewed the medical file,” said Epstein. “It’s something our medical staff was really comfortable with, that he’ll be able to come back at 100 percent.”
That being the case, the team selected a player who has demonstrated an ability to impact the game both offensively and defensively. Moreover, he has shown an ability to thrive under pressure.
His most notable moment came when — with South Carolina one strike from elimination in the College World Series — he delivered a game-tying RBI single against Oklahoma in the 12th inning, then scored the game-winning run.
It is possible, noted ESPN.com analyst Keith Law, that Bradley could play in the Cape League this summer in an effort to re-establish his value before signing, in a fashion similar to Sox supplemental first-rounder Ranaudo last summer. At the least, Bradley is taking a playful approach about his future.
“Decisions decisions decisions :),” he wrote on his twitter account on Monday night, with a picture of a Red Sox cap on top of a USC lid.