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August 22, 2008 at 10:04 AM

Q&A with Jason McLeod

In 2003, Theo Epstein brought Jason McLeod on board as Boston's Director of Scouting Administration. By 2005, McLeod took over the scouting department as Director of Amateur Scouting, and since that time McLeod has done a phenomenal job building the Red Sox minor league system from the ground up, drafting players such as Jacoby Ellsbury, Justin Masterson, Clay Buchholz, Lars Anderson, Michael Bowden, and Jed Lowrie. McLeod recently capped off the 2008 draft "signing" season by spending over $10-million in draft signing bonuses, which is believed to be a draft record. By many expert accounts, the Red Sox ended up with the top draft haul of 2008. McLeod is already well into the scouting process for the 2009 draft, but he took some time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions from Mike Andrews and the staff of SoxProspects.com.

Mike Andrews: Understanding that its difficult to evaluate a draft with much precision within a year's time, what are your impressions of Boston 's 2007 draft haul as of August 2008?
Jason McLeod: The first things that come to mind are the injury to Nick Hagadone and Anthony Rizzo’s cancer diagnosis. Both had been coming off impressive debuts (including the Instructional League) and were off to fine starts in 2008. It was an obvious disappointment when Nick went down with the UCL tear, then an even bigger shock when Anthony was diagnosed. On the bright side, Nick is progressing with the normal rehab process of Tommy John surgery and Anthony has been to Fort Myers a couple of times to do light tee drills and to take groundballs. We look forward to having both back on the field at some time in 2009.

As for the rest of the group, there have been some of the normal ups and downs, and results have varied. We took a lot of high school players in 2007, and as with the majority of high school kids in their first full years, there have been some struggles. But in those struggles have also come development, adjustments, and a better understanding of what they need to do to prepare themselves and be successful over a full season. This holds true for both the position players and pitchers. The end-of-year results may not reflect it, but the process and adjustments many of these kids have made over this year have been good, and we look forward to what those end-of-year results will look like in the future.

MA: What have been the major changes in your approach to the draft since you came on as scouting director, and what has influenced those changes?
JM: We’re not reinventing the wheel here. We are simply looking for players who can make an impact on our organization. Within that thought process, we ask our scouts to work extremely hard in getting to know these players inside-and-out. The Draft is a great mechanism that allows us to supply our organization every year with talent. It is our job to properly identify, evaluate, and put ourselves in position to select those talented players.

MA: We noticed you at a few Spinners game earlier this summer. Is that part of a self-evaluation process, or more just playing a role in the development side of things? Is there a process that you use to evaluate your success and improvement areas in the drafting process?
JM: I see all of our minor league clubs throughout the summer with an emphasis on evaluating our full season teams and writing reports on those players. I like to see Lowell and the GCL for a number of reasons. Mainly, it’s to see how our younger players (mostly the first years) are adapting to the professional environment. Also, I don’t get the opportunity to see all of the players we draft in person, so often times it is the first look I get at some of our draftees. Self-evaluation also plays a part in seeing your own organization. There are going to be plenty of times that players don’t hit the projections you’ve placed on them as amateurs, as well as times they surpass what you projected on them. It’s a learning process for me and I find myself continuously asking why a certain kid does or does not hit those projections. Make no mistake, any time I’m at a ballpark, I’ve always got the “evaluating” cap on.

MA: What are the traits that you focus on most when scouting high-school age position players and pitchers? Which of those traits are personified by Casey Kelly and Derrik Gibson?
: Athleticism is always important, but it’s not just how fast a kid can run or how high he can jump. Athleticism on the baseball field can often be defined by how easy a kid's actions are. This can be applied to both pitchers and position players. Baseball players come in all shapes and sizes, but they all have a certain way they control their bodies. Derrik and Casey are both athletic in their own way. Casey has an easy, graceful nature about him both in the field and on the mound. Derrik is more of the fast twitch, quick burst variety. What both have is an understanding of how to play the game the right way, and they have the skill and athleticism to do it. We’re always looking for tools in all the players we scout which are easily identifiable as it pertains to speed, power, arm strength, etc. The mental psyche of a high school player will always play a big part in our selecting them, because it is the mental maturity that will allow the player to handle not only the learning curve, but also the natural growing-up process involved with being away from home.

MA: In the early rounds you selected a few college-age pitchers without a ton of "mileage" on their arms, including Bryan Price, Stephen Fife, and Kyle Weiland. Each are excelling at Lowell so far this year. What attracted Boston to those pitchers? Is the plan to use them each as starters in 2009?
JM: Simply put, we liked the size and stuff of all three and felt they all had a chance to start down the road. Price and Weiland were relieving in college, but our staff felt they had the attributes we look for in starting pitchers. As with most college relievers, they weren’t easy to see because it’s rare you get a guarantee on whey they will pitch. However, with the looks we did get we were confident that with their ability and the work of our player development staff, they would be able to make the transition. Stephen Fife was pitching in a launching pad in Utah, but really came on midway through the season, and we liked that he could sink the baseball while showing us a plus curveball and a very usable change up. Their early results have been good, and we look forward to continuing their development in the Instructional League with the thought of all three being in starting roles next year.

MA: College catchers Ryan Lavarnway and Tim Federowicz were selected back-to-back in the sixth and seventh rounds, respectively. What can you share with us in terms of the differences and similarities of their present tools? Might Lavarnway get some time in the field at other positions?
JM: Catching is always a position of need, and you can never have too many. There are differences in their games with FedEx being a bit more advanced defensively, and Ryan being a more offensive oriented guy. Ryan is just coming back from a hand injury that sidelined him for about three months, so he’s rightfully gotten off to a slow start as he gets his timing back. FedEx has been very good defensively and has been impressive throwing would-be base-stealers out. We selected both because we feel they have major league potential as catchers, so right now there are no plans to expose either one of them to another position.

MA: Pete Hissey and Ryan Westmoreland both inked above-slot signing bonuses at the August 15th deadline. What attributes did you see in those players that other teams might have missed in passing on them?
JM: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so I wouldn’t say other teams “missed” on them. We felt (and feel) that both players have a chance to be very good, and their bonuses are a reflection of that. It is true that there wasn’t a lot of scouting activity on them, at least while I or other members of our crosschecking staff were in attendance. This could be due to the cold weather high school factor, as well as both being good students with commitments to quality academic institutions. As for their abilities, both players are very athletic and showed advanced hitting approaches from the left side of the plate. Both are plus runners and have shown quality actions in centerfield during our time scouting them. Physically, Ryan is the stronger of the two as he is big and broad, with Pete being more lean and slender. We’ve had the opportunity to see both play against quality competition in the summer with wood bats, and they did nothing but solidify our convictions of their abilities.

MA: Since you have become the scouting director, it has been apparent that the Sox attempt to take full advantage of the period between the draft and the signing deadline(s) to evaluate the late-round "signability picks". How has this evaluation process evolved - is it as much a scouting process as it is a recruiting process?
JM: I think anytime you have the opportunity to “control” a players' draft rights (in the case of a summer follow, it’s approximately two months), you establish a relationship with a player and his family. During this relationship building, there is a natural recruitment process that goes on as it pertains to informing the player about our organization. You have to remember, most of the high school players we draft have already signed scholarships from the prior summer or fall, so that particular university has had 9 – 12 months of relationship building. In the case of a summer follow who is unsure of signing, we have about two months to inform them of what it would be like to be a member of our organization.
Most of the summer process is simply scouting the player and getting to know how important the game is to him and if he truly wants to sign now. A perfect example is the Lars Anderson signing in 2006. Most clubs thought Lars was unsignable. He didn’t have the best spring to support the purported bonus amount that was being thrown around, and on top of that he was a 4.0 student with a scholarship to Berkley. We took him late in the draft and got to spend plenty of time not only evaluating, but also getting to know him and his family that summer. By the time August rolled around, it was apparent to us that he was one of the better high school hitters in that draft. Most importantly, after educating him about professional baseball and the Red Sox organization, he wanted to sign.

MA: What function does the "Fenway Summer Classic" play in that process?
JM: The Fenway Classic was the great brain child of my assistant, Amiel Sawdaye. It provided us the opportunity to see our drafted players against quality competition in a major league setting. In addition, it allowed the players and their families to get a feel for our organization and access to ask any questions that came to mind. I’m proud to say we ended up signing eight of the players who attended that day.

MA: Its been reported that the Red Sox spent over $10-million in signing bonuses in this draft, which is likely a draft record. Did you go into the signing period looking to make a big splash, or was it just a matter of really liking the players that fell to you in the draft?
JM: We go into each draft looking to take the best players we possibly can. With 29 other clubs selecting, it’s tough to predict who is going to be around at a certain selection. It’s just so happened that we’ve identified players whom we believe have high upside with a chance to reach our projections, and those players have been on the board when we’ve selected in later rounds.