While most teams spent the final days preceding the deadline to sign their draft picks haggling with money-seeking advisors, members of the Red Sox’ amateur scouting staff faced an entirely different menace: swine flu.
The illness hit the department during the Area Code games, which were held in Long Beach from Aug. 5-10. Sam Ray, assistant in amateur scouting, was infected by a scout during the high-school showcase. About a day after returning to Boston, he was diagnosed and quarantined, but by that point, the H1N1 virus had likewise hit a pair of his co-workers.
Amateur scouting director Jason McLeod was next in line, as a test confirmed that he had been infected last Wednesday (with five days to go before the deadline to sign draft picks). Assistant scouting director Amiel Sawdaye completed the circuit, as he fell under the weather on Friday, with a test confirming after a weekend-long quarantine that he, too, had the virus.
And so, at a time of year that is typically among the busiest of the year for the amateur scouting staff, the entire department spent the days leading up to the Monday deadline to sign their draft picks bed-ridden and operating in a state of seclusion. They were diagnosed and quarantined in timely fashion to avoid any further spread of the virus on Yawkey Way; all three were at home recovering as the draft deadline came and went.
“It’s been pretty interesting, to say the least,” McLeod said by phone on Tuesday, as he neared the end of his doctor-ordered, week-long quarantine.
Yet despite the malady, the group was remarkably unhindered. From the time that they returned from the Area Code games, the Sox completed agreements with:
--Third-rounder David Renfoe ($1.4 million), whom the team had considered as a possibility for a first-round selection thanks to an extremely all-around skill set that has drawn comparisons to David Wright;
--A pair of high-school hitters with immense power in Brandon Jacobs (10th round, $750,000) and Miles Head (26th round, $335,000);
--Jason Thompson (11th round, $300,000), a high-school infielder whose all-around game and baseball instincts allowed him to thrive while on the national prep showcase circuit;
--A high-school pitcher with an electric fastball and huge upside (Madison Younginer, 7th round, $975,000);
--Another high-school pitcher, Renny Parthemore, with a raw-but-promising fastball and curve (18th round, $150,000;
--A college pitcher who started the year ranked among the top picks in the draft only to slip due to a decline in his stuff as a junior (Kendal Volz, 9th round, $550,000). If the pitcher returns to form under the Red Sox’ shoulder program, he would represent a lottery ticket that pays off handsomely.
The process was methodical rather than rushed. Aside from Volz, who came down in his bonus demands in the final days of negotiations and whose signing became official just a few hours before the midnight deadline, the team had almost all of its signings out of the way before the weekend.
And so, as the final moments ticked away towards the deadline, the members of the Sox’ draft team were either asleep or casually monitoring the mayhem of the biggest names in the draft, most of whose signings became official at or near midnight.
“Our area guys did a great job with communication entering the draft and especially after the draft,” said McLeod. “I think we had a pretty good understanding of all the guys and what the expectations were (regarding salaries). We felt good about our evaluations. It led to us not having such a crazy deadline night.”
Overall, the team signed 26 of its 50 draft picks, including 14 of its first 15 selections. The team went a bit north of $7 million in the signing bonuses for its draft class, meaning that the entire group cost only slightly more than did John Smoltz.
As usual, the Sox spent aggressively (as seen, especially, in the signings of picks like Younginer and Jacobs), though not quite to the level that has typically been the case in recent years.
In a year when signing bonuses continued to explode across baseball, the Sox spent about $3 million less this year than in 2008. Of its first draft picks, four (first-rounder Reymond Fuentes, second-rounder Alex Wilson, fourth-rounder Jeremy Hazelbaker and fifth-rounder Seth Schwindenhammer) signed for Major League Baseball’s recommended slot salaries.
The Sox will likely rank in the middle of the pack – somewhere between 10th and 15th – among clubs in terms of the money spent this year when all is said and done. (A couple of top picks, Aaron Crow of the Royals and Tanner Scheppers of the Rangers, have yet to sign but MLB extended the deadline for them to do so.)
So what did the Sox get? Only time will tell, particularly in a draft where the Sox plunged into pool of high-school talents, most of whom will take years to pan out (if they ever do so).
That said, here is a look at some of the standout attributes of the new talents who are now starting their Red Sox careers:
Brandon Jacobs, 10th round. On the 20-80 scouting scale, Jacobs’ raw power probably rates at least a 70, and might edge closer to 80. Some scouts who talked to his coach, Chan Brown, at Parkview High School said that the outfielder reminded them of Frank Thomas (who, like Jacobs, was a two-sport star who signed to play baseball and football at Auburn).
“He’s got power out the wazoo,” said Brown, who coaches at a high school that has produced big leaguers such as Jeff Francoeur and Jeff Keppinger. “He hit one this past year that, our light poles are 75 feet tall, it was still going up when it hit the top of the lights. That was to right-center field (the opposite field for the right-handed Jacobs). Our centerfield fence is 375. You’re probably talking about a 475, 500 foot shot.”
At a Fenway Park tryout, Jacobs put on a show, crushing balls not only over the Green Monster but also delivering blasts high up the batter’s eye in straightaway center.
He has some work to do with his swing. Though he struck out just three times as a senior, it seems likely that he’ll have some adjustments to make, especially as he sees better breaking balls in the pro ranks. Jacobs also was just starting to learn how to backspin the ball to allow his natural power to translate more consistently into bombs.
But if he makes the necessary transitions in pro ball, he could become a sort of second coming of Kevin Mitchell, a powerful fire hydrant who does violence to the baseball.
First-round pick Reymond Fuentes has been extremely impressive thus far, transitioning to the professional game rather smoothly as evidenced by his .311 average with a .353 OBP and .771 OPS thus far since signing in June.
Miles Head shows substantial raw power, but also seems to have a fairly polished approach with the bat.
“He’s a hitter first, who also happens to have power,” said McLeod.
The biggest question about Head – a kid with a big frame – is which position, if any, will become his home as a professional.
Jason Thompson, an 11th rounder who was signed out of Germantown High School in Tennessee, is considered a true switch-hitter, equally capable of hitting from both sides of the plate, something he has done since the start of his baseball life. McLeod described him as “baseball rat” who is tireless in the batting cage and in taking grounders on the field.
The Sox expect that third-rounder David Renfroe will grow into power as he develops physically, but his controlled swing currently produces more gap-to-gap results. Still, the Sox expect his home run totals to increase as he matures.
Renfroe played shortstop in high school, and will likely split his time at short and third as he begins his professional career. Longer-term, he has the tools to be an excellent defensive third baseman, and is considered the best infield defender whom the Sox drafted.
In the outfield, it should come as little surprise that Fuentes, who is Carlos Beltran’s cousin, is an easy call as the best defensive outfielder whom the Sox drafted. Fuentes, like his cousin, covers a ton of ground. Shannon Wilkerson, who was taken in the ninth round out of Augusta State, is also considered a strong defender.
Fuentes, who drew comparisons to Jacoby Ellsbury and Johnny Damon, is clearly the fastest baserunner whom the Sox took. His baserunning instincts also grade well.
Fourth-rounder Jeremy Hazelbaker, who was pushed to Single-A Greenville, is also a speedy baserunner – he is 8-for-10 in stolen base attempts in the South Atlantic League. Jacobs is a powerful runner – he was, after all, recruited to play running back at Auburn.
While Renfroe is not considered to have great raw speed, his baserunning instincts are highly regarded.
The Red Sox had to spend $975,000 to convince South Carolina native Madison Younginer not to go to school, but the ceiling for the seventh-rounder is potentially significant. His velocity – which registered at 91-96 mph – was the best of any pitcher whom the Sox drafted.
When evaluating both velocity and command, second-rounder Alex Wilson (who signed for the slot value of $476,000) probably features the best fastball of any Red Sox draftee. It’s a powerful pitch that mostly registered from 91-93 but topped out at 95 mph as a starter, but he can use it to both sides of the plate and elevate the pitch. If Wilson ends up in a relief role, it would be likely to see an uptick in velocity.
Both Younginer and Wilson once again head this category. Younginer has a big breaking curveball that he shows in flashes; if he can gain greater consistency with the pitch, it will be a plus offering. Wilson has a power slider that he commands well. Wilson, in fact, generally features the best overall command of any of the Sox’ draftees this year. That notion has certainly been evident in his early performance with Lowell, for whom Wilson has a 0.67 ERA, 25 strikeouts and five walks in 27 innings.
TALENT BEYOND THE HYPE (AND MONEY)
The tendency is to follow the money in evaluating where the talent lies in a given draft, for obvious reasons. Typically, bonuses of half a million dollars or more suggest an industry consensus about a player’s skills.
But money alone does not serve as an indicator of ability. One need look no further than a Sox organization that features an eight-rounder who made a $12,000 bonus (Kevin Youkilis), a 22nd-rounder who accepted a take-it-or-leave-it $1,000 bonus (Jason Bay) or a 17th rounder who took signed for a relatively modest sum ($140,000) and now looks like he could be a starting outfielder for the Sox within the next year or so (Josh Reddick).
The Sox have a few such players who didn’t receive a ton of hype but who are nonetheless intriguing.
Ninth-rounder Shannon Wilkerson, who signed for $100,000, was the Division II player of the year after hitting 24 homers with a .441/.502/.891/1.393 line. He heard a few comparisons to J.D. Drew (from an ability standpoint) from the scouts who saw him in Georgia.
There is something vaguely Youkil-ish about Chris McGuinness, a slugger from the unheralded program at the Citadel. His college profile has some similarities to the one that Youkilis amassed at the University of Cincinnati. McGuinness has tremendous command of the strike zone, as evidenced by the fact that he led college Division I batters with 65 walks as a junior this year. He also shows an ability to square the ball with regularity. The first baseman was named an All-Star in the New York-Penn League.
Alex Hassan, who hails from Milton, was a two-way player at Duke, closing and playing the outfield. He was drafted as a pitcher, but signed for $90,000 as an outfielder after a strong showing as a position player on the Cape. He’s athletic, currently hitting quite well in Lowell, and his low strikeout rate and raw power is intriguing. There’s some question about how his power will project in games (the right-hander’s swing is more driven by contact than power right now) as a professional, but there’s plenty to like, especially for a 20th-round selection.
Among the pitchers, 18th rounder Renny Parthemore, who signed for $150,000, has the potential for a fastball with good velocity and shows an ability to spin a breaking ball. He’s still learning his mechanics, but if everything can click – and it may be years before the high-school product has that happen, particularly because he is from a cold-weather climate (Penn.) who doesn’t have a huge amount of playing time – there’s a decent ceiling.
ONES THAT GOT AWAY
Three years from now, the Red Sox might find it impossible to avoid playing the “what if” game with at least a few of the players whom they drafted but did not sign. In recent years, for instance, the team took fliers in the lower rounds on players such as Pedro Alvarez, Matt LaPorta and Jason Castro, but could not (or did not try to) reach agreements with them. Alvarez, in particular, represents a case of “the one who got away” for the Sox.
This year, the Sox didn’t come particularly close to signing any such talents this year, but still drafted a few players whom they would have loved to sign but couldn’t.
The team’s foremost disappointment this year was the inability to sign Brenden Kline, a sixth-round selection out of Maryland. Outside of the first couple of rounds, many in the organization viewed Kline as the top pitcher whom the team had taken, and saw the potential for a power fastball and excellent breaking ball. But Kline did not play in a summer league, and it became clear that he was committed fully to the idea of honoring an academic and athletic scholarship to the University of Virginia. Though the Sox never really had a meaningful shot at locking him up, they were dismayed that they couldn’t add him.
Luke Bard, the brother of Red Sox reliever Daniel Bard, also has a very high ceiling as a pitcher. The Red Sox made an effort to see if they could sign the 16th-round pick, but the two sides were never particularly close, and Bard will honor his commitment to Georgia Tech.
The Sox also made a run at 38th rounder Zeke DeVoss, a five-tool player with the athleticism to play both middle infield and the outfield at Astronaut High School in Florida. But while some headway was made in negotiations, the sides never came close enough to a deal for DeVoss to take a physical. He will instead honor his commitment to the University of Miami.