It has been the most deliberate season for draft pick signings ever.
Just a week remains until the Aug. 15 deadline for most 2011 draftees to decide between signing contracts that would commence their professional careers or pursuing another career path, whether going (or returning) to college or heading to an independent league. Yet to date, just nine of 33 first-round picks have signed, and 14 of the 27 sandwich-round picks have commenced a pro career.
The Red Sox had four of the first 40 picks in this year’s draft. None have signed. Indeed, of the team’s 13 picks through the first 10 rounds of this year’s draft, just five — second-rounder Williams Jerez, third-rounder Jordan Weems, sixth-rounder Miguel Pena, ninth-rounder Travis Shaw and 10th rounder Cody Koback — are now in the system.
Here is a look at the landscape for Sox draftees from the first 10 rounds, based on conversations with a number of major league and baseball sources.
1st round (No. 19), Matt Barnes, RHP, University of Connecticut
Barnes was the eighth of 11 college pitchers taken in the first round of this year’s draft. Industry consensus typically had Barnes in the second tier of college talents — behind the trio of Gerrit Cole, Danny Hultzen and Trevor Bauer (who went with the top three picks), but depending on perception, in the mix with the group of Taylor Jungmann (No. 12 overall), Jed Bradley (No. 15) and Sonny Gray (No. 18). Many had Barnes evaluated behind that trio (explaining why he remained on the board when the Sox picked), but the separation, for many, wasn’t enormous.
That cluster of college pitching talents has created a scenario in which each pitcher seemingly is waiting to see what the other will get before signing. Just two of the college pitchers (Bauer and Gray) have signed to date. As a group, the pitchers lack leverage, since their alternative to signing is either to return to school and re-enter the draft as seniors or join an independent league.
Even so, it seems likely that Barnes will not sign before either the dam breaks on the rest of his class of pitchers or until the hours leading up to the draft deadline (whichever comes first). All of that said, it would be shocking if he didn’t sign.
1st round (No. 26), Blake Swihart, C, Cleveland HS, Rio Rancho, N.M.
In contrast to Barnes, Swihart’s negotiations could be unique. He is a switch-hitting high school catcher, in a year when there were no other catchers taken with the top 50 picks. At 19, he would be draft eligible after his sophomore season should he choose to enroll at the University of Texas, putting him in fairly strong negotiating position.
That fact, in turn, deterred a number of clubs from pursuing him aggressively in the draft. One team essentially took him out of consideration on its draft board when it heard that he was seeking a $4 million signing bonus.
It seems unlikely that the Sox would go that high, but it also seems likely that the Sox will stretch well beyond a major league slot recommendation for a No. 26 pick (approximately $1.2 million — a figure that Swihart will blow past). How far they will reach remains to be seen, but Swihart seems almost certain to receive the biggest bonus offer of any Sox draftee this year.
Swihart was in Boston last week for his first visit with team officials since being drafted (he was unable to attend the Fenway Classic event in June, a workout for Sox draftees), and he took a routine physical to avoid having that be a sticking point late in negotiations. Given the likelihood of a bonus that is well above the MLB slot recommendation, talks with Swihart will likely go down to near the deadline.
His signing bonus may well impact other negotiations, since Swihart will take a hearty chunk out of the team’s draft signing budget. If the Sox stretch to sign him toward the end, it is possible they would do so at the expense of signing other players whom they drafted.
1st round, supplemental (No. 36), Henry Owens, LHP, Edison HS, Huntington Beach, Calif.
Owens has a scholarship offer to the University of Miami, but his next trip to Florida seems more likely to take place when the Red Sox sign him and send him to Fort Myers for the end of the Gulf Coast League season. Owens, the consensus top high school talent in Southern California this year, pitched in the Fenway Classic.
While he will undoubtedly be seeking a bonus in excess of slot, it would once again be a surprise if he didn’t sign. The left-hander is surprisingly athletic given his tall (6-foot-7), lanky frame, and he has shown a fastball in the low-90s along with a good feel for pitching that has allowed him to feature an impressive curveball and changeup that was considered extremely advanced for high school competition.
1st round, supplemental (No. 40), Jackie Bradley Jr., CF, University of South Carolina
Last month at the All-Star Game, Bradley’s advisor, Scott Boras, said that the center fielder was engaged in workouts that were focused on “getting him ready to go back to college.”
Certainly, it is possible that Bradley — who entered the year being viewed as a potential mid-first-round pick — could get healthy, return to school, try to re-establish his performance and then put himself in position to improve his draft stock in a 2012 amateur class that will be weaker than this year’s crop.
Boras can cite Matt LaPorta, the Indians first baseman whom the Sox drafted but did not sign in the 14th round of the 2006 draft. The next year, LaPorta returned to Florida, put up huge numbers and was taken with the No. 7 overall pick by the Brewers, emerging by the next year as the centerpiece of Milwaukee’s deal for CC Sabathia.
However, LaPorta was a late-round selection coming off an oblique injury. Bradley still went with a high enough pick that the incentive for him to return to college to improve his position will not be as great. As a Boras advisee, Bradley is unlikely to sign before Aug. 15, but it would still be somewhat surprising if he elected to return to school.
2nd round, Williams Jerez, OF, Grand Street HS, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Jerez is the top Sox pick to sign, having agreed to a slot deal for $443,700. He is off to what the Sox have considered a strong start in the Gulf Coast League, having hit .289 with a .304 OBP, .368 slugging mark and .672 OPS in his first 17 games. The Sox have been impressed thus far with the quality of his approach at the plate, and he has received high marks for his on-field aptitude and willingness to learn.
3rd round, Jordan Weems, C, Columbus (Ga.) HS
Weems has received the biggest bonus to date of any Sox draftee, getting $500,000. He endured a major growth spurt during his senior year in high school, shooting up from 5-foot-10 to 6-foot-4. Though he’s been athletic enough to maintain his footwork and stay at catcher to date, if he’s not done growing — or if he can’t add strength and weight — that could change.
Nonetheless, he exhibited a loose, easy swing and an advanced approach for a high schooler, and his athleticism and hands both project to solid behind-the-plate skills. He’s 1-for-10 in the GCL to start his pro career.
4th round, Noe Ramirez, RHP, Cal State Fullerton
Ramirez, a close friend of Blue Jays ace Ricky Romero, had one of the better college track records in the draft this year. In another year, when there weren’t quite so many high-end college arms, he might have gone higher than the fourth round.
Ramirez is a Boras client, which means that he’ll likely sign late, and he’ll hold out for an over-slot bonus. And he’ll get one. Just as the Sox gave both seventh-rounder Chris Hernandez and eighth-rounder Matt Price the sort of money that often goes to third round picks last year, they’ll offer Ramirez a bonus based on the talent, rather than the draft position. In his case, that likely means something in the second- or third-round vicinity.
5th round, Mookie Betts, SS, Overton HS, Brentwood, Tenn.
Betts has up-the-middle athleticism, speed and a plate approach that made him the top recruit at the University of Tennessee. Yet for now, signs point to Betts going to college after he turned down an offer from the Red Sox that was commensurate with a slot recommendation for a player taken in the second round. There is still time for that to change, but for now, negotiations between the Sox and the shortstop have reached something of an impasse.
6th round, Miguel Pena, LHP, San Jacinto College (Texas)
Pena, a slight lefty, is off to a nice start for the Lowell Spinners after signing quickly for an $85,000 bonus. He was motivated to get his pro career under way, taking less money from the Sox than he was offered when drafted in each of the last two years.
Pena is 1-0 with a 2.35 ERA, 22 strikeouts and three walks in 15 1/3 innings.
7th round, Cody Kukuk, LHP, Free State HS, Lawrence, Kan.
Kukuk has been to Fenway on multiple occasions to meet with the Sox, first for the Fenway Classic and again last week to take a physical that the Sox would require in order to sign a high-school lefty to a bonus in line with a pick in the top couple rounds. The left-hander is relatively raw — not uncommon for a player out of the Midwest where, much like New England, the short seasons limit the amount of baseball that can be played.
Even so, he is an athletic, 6-foot-4 left-hander who has run his fastball up to 94 mph in the past. He has also shown a promising if inconsistent breaking ball, as well as a changeup.
Kukuk sent out an email to all 30 major league clubs prior to the draft specifying that he was seeking a $1.05 million bonus (in line with a slot recommendation for a late first-round pick), and that if he did not receive it, he would enroll at the University of Kansas, where he would be a two-way player. To date, the Sox have not shown a willingness to meet that asking price, but they will certainly make a hard push to sign a left-handed pitcher whose velocity and raw stuff suggests a high ceiling.
8th round, Senquez Golson, CF, Pascagoula (Miss.) HS
Golson may rank as the best athlete whom the Sox drafted, a player with tremendous speed both on the bases and in the outfield as well as someone with the bat speed to suggest significant upside. However, he is considered a pro football prospect as well, and he has enrolled at Ole Miss, where the cornerback is currently slated for playing time as a true freshman.
Signs to date point to Golson going to school (insofar as he is already taking part in football practices).
However, the Sox could still make a run at him prior to the signing deadline, just as the Diamondbacks were able to make a surprise signing of two-sport star Ty Linton a year ago, giving the outfielder a $1.25 million bonus to sign as a 14th-round pick after he’d enrolled at the University of North Carolina. The fact that the new NFL collective bargaining agreement appears to have had a drag on bonuses for football draftees could make a significant offer by the Sox more appealing from a financial standpoint.
That said, for now, Golson appears the least likely of the draftees whom the Sox took in the first 10 rounds to sign. He is no better than a longshot for the Sox.
9th round, Travis Shaw, 3B, Kent State
The big, 6-foot-4 corner infielder signed for $110,000 and has been mashing for the Lowell Spinners. He is hitting .273 with a .415 OBP, .469 slugging mark, .884 OPS and six homers at the short-season affiliate.
The son of former All-Star closer Jeff Shaw hopes to follow in his father’s footsteps to the majors. Though he played third throughout college, he has been playing both first and third in Lowell.
10th round, Cody Koback, OF, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point
Koback signed last week and is now 6-for-13 (.462) with a pair of doubles in his first four games in the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League. He’s played against less advanced college competition than most college players, explaining his assignment to the GCL, but he’s an athletic, speedy center fielder with a short swing. He has the potential to be a player with above average speed and defense in the middle of the field; his offensive development will likely dictate his career path.