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August 27, 2009 at 8:22 AM

Q&A with Jason McLeod

As Boston's Director of Amateur Scouting, Jason McLeod has been the man in charge of the Red Sox draft board since 2005. In his first two drafts (2005 and 2006), McLeod drafted and signed ten players that have gone on to play in the majors, including Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, and Daniel Bard. The Sox have also drafted a number of intriguing prospects on McLeod's watch, including Casey Kelly, Josh Reddick, Ryan Kalish, Lars Anderson, Michael Bowden, and Ryan Westmoreland. This year, McLeod managed to sign twenty-six of Boston's fifty 2009 draft picks prior to the August 17 signing deadline, and Jim Callis of Baseball America rated the Red Sox 2009 draft haul as the fifth best draft class in the league, stating that Boston "lived up to its reputation as the most aggressive team in the draft." Despite recently being quarantined with the swine flu, McLeod graciously took the time to answer some questions from Mike Andrews and the staff of SoxProspects.com.

Mike Andrews: You reportedly brought several players into Fenway for private workouts just before the draft. What is that process like? Is it mostly about getting one last look at a player, talking numbers, and getting physical examinations taken care of?
Jason McLeod: The private workouts at Fenway aren’t necessarily geared toward evaluations. You need to be careful not to place too much emphasis on evaluating the Pre-Draft workouts because there are a myriad of factors that could skew a player's performance in these private settings. We like inviting players to Fenway as it gives us an opportunity to spend some one-on-one time with them, try to get to know them a little better as a person, etc. As Scouting Director, the games I attend around the country are usually crowded with other scouts, so often times I will not get to personally meet with players. Bringing them to Fenway allows me to look them in the eye and ask them direct questions about themselves. It's a bonus to see how they react in a major league setting, but we don’t place a whole lot of emphasis on evaluating at the private workouts.

MA: Did you find that many of the “signability” players went a lot earlier in the draft this year than they had in previous years? If so, was there a point in the draft that you felt like that you had to significantly adjust your approach to drafting such players?
JM: We’ve seen over the past two years players who were considered tough signs being taken in earlier rounds. We do employ certain strategies when lining up our board, but it’s a fine line to walk because you must stay true to your evaluations and the information that our area scouts have obtained in order to correctly identify and select those players in the Draft.

MA: It’s been reported that the front office was blown away by Reymond Fuentes in pre-draft workouts. What aspects of his game gave you this impression? Do you see his power and arm strength progressing a lot in the future?
JM: Those reports aren’t fully accurate as Reymond also played very well for us during games. He just so happened to have strong workouts as well. Puerto Rico doesn’t have a normal high school baseball schedule like we do here in the States. The majority of games are played on weekends for club teams or during tournaments like the Excellence Games. Because Reymond’s speed has been well-documented, I believe it was assumed we drafted an athlete who will have to learn the finer points of the game. However, we felt all along that we were drafting a baseball player who can already hit and just so happens to already be an 80 runner. I don’t expect Reymond to ever lead a league in home runs, but he does have whip in his bat and will be able to drive the ball into the gaps with home run power as he matures. He has arm strength currently, but will need to work on lengthening out his throwing stroke to get the most out of it, and this is something that will be part of his daily development.

MA: How do college relievers Alex Wilson and Kendal Volz compare to some of the college relievers drafted by the Sox in previous years?
JM: Both Alex and Kendal spent the majority of their college careers as starters and this is how they will be developed entering their professional careers. Alex is off to a great start in Lowell being on our first year pitching progression and Kendal will not throw until the Instructional League. They are different in style from each other and from others we have drafted in the past. Alex has a bulldog mentality with an attacking style, while Kendal has more of a controlled aggressive approach.

MA: There’s obviously a lot to like about third-round pick David Renfroe. Please tell us about his skill set and what factors may be determinative regarding whether he will play shortstop or third base down the line.
JM: David is a quality athlete with easy actions on the field. He was the quarterback of a very successful high school program in Mississippi, with his only loss in two seasons coming in the state championship game of his senior season. He had multiple inquiries from D-1 programs to play football, and Houston Nutt wanted him to walk on at Ole Miss. On the baseball diamond, he was a legitimate two-way prospect, with many teams liking him as a right-handed pitcher. We believe he has the skill set to be a premium defender, along with the barrel control and future strength to hit for average and power. He’s nearly 200 pounds, so his lower half mobility will be one of the determining factors of whether he stays at short or moves to third base. He’s never been able to concentrate on one position - or one sport for that matter - so we are looking forward to his future development.

MA: Outfielders Jeremy Hazelbaker and Shannon Wilkerson were both selected in the top ten rounds, and both have spent time in Lowell and Greenville this season. What impresses you most about these two players and what areas might they need to work on?
JM: Both players are athletic and can play in the middle of the diamond, in centerfield. Shannon put up big numbers at Augusta State, garnering a lot of post-season accolades. We like his strength, athleticism, and aptitude with the ability to hit. Coming from a small college, he plays with a bit of a “something to prove” attitude that we like. Jeremy is just coming into his own as a baseball player. He was moved to the outfield his junior year, so he’s still learning the nuances of the position. He’s another kid who’s athleticism and speed stuck out, and he also happened to have a strong performance last summer which carried into the spring. Both are going to have to make the normal adjustments to the wood bat and fine tune the skill set that will allow their athleticism and natural ability to play up.

MA: Many readers are curious about the process of drafting the “tough-to-sign” players like Branden Kline and Luke Bard. Prior to the draft, is it more often the case that these players tell the team: (1) that they’re inclined to sign for the right number; or (2) that they’re planning on heading to school, and you just need to change their minds?
JM: Situations vary ... we strive to make the right selections with the information in front of us on Draft day. We understand there are going to be times when that information changes, and unfortunately it will change sometimes after selecting a player. We never begrudge a kid who has an opportunity to go to college and wants that experience. If there is a situation where a player tells us flat out that he’s not going to sign, then we won’t make him a priority in the early rounds. In those instances, we’d be more inclined to take a “flyer” on him somewhere deeper in the Draft.

MA: Please tell us a little bit about seventh-round pick Madison Younginer. What does he need to work on to become a Major League starting pitcher?
JM: Madison is strong and athletic with plenty of arm strength and the ability to spin a tight curveball. He wasn’t used in a traditional starting role like most high school kids. On one hand, it’s a good thing as we know he has a fresh arm and wasn’t abused by his coaches. On the other, he doesn’t have the innings under his belt the majority of high school kids his age would normally have. He will be on the same development path with the same goals in mind as all of our pitching prospects: fastball command, incorporation of his off-speed pitches for strikes, and consistency in repeating his delivery.

MA: It seems as if you took more shots on power potential guys this year in players like Seth Schwindenhammer, Brandon Jacobs, Willie Holmes, and Miles Head. Was this part of a concerted effort to interject some power into the system, or did they just happen to be the best players available at the time?
JM: We liked all of their abilities to hit, and it just so happened that they all have power as well. There is a need for power in our system, but we don’t line up our board based solely on that premise. Seth has gotten off to a tough start in the GCL, which isn’t that uncommon for a cold weather high school kid. We felt good with our evaluations of Jacobs and Head during the spring, and Willie Holmes performed well in a JuCo conference in Southern California.

MA: After initially drafting Alex Hassan as a pitcher, what inspired the Sox to sign and use him as an outfielder?
JM: Alex had performed well in the ACC over the past two years as a position player. The one area he didn’t put up big numbers was in the power department, but Duke is one of the tougher parks to hit home runs in the ACC. We drafted him as a pitcher because we liked how his arm worked, and we felt that he had a chance to work with 3 average pitches. Over the summer, Alex took batting practice at Fenway and played in our Summer Classic game, and he performed well at the plate. He continued swinging a hot bat out on the Cape, and as we watched him more, we determined that he had a chance to make more of an impact as an athletic right handed hitting outfielder.

MA: You've had a lot of big draft hits in recent years, but there have also been the inevitable few misses on players that just seem to quickly discover that professional baseball is not their thing. I'm sure there is a process in place to get to know these players and their aspirations before they are drafted. Has that process changed at all over the past five years? Or is this something that's largely left up to the individual scouts?
JM: We have a process in place that is constantly being tweaked and updated. Ascertaining the makeup of a player is one of the hardest things - if not the hardest thing - that we do as scouts. As much as it hurts to miss on a player's on-field ability, it hurts even more when you whiff on the makeup. We place a huge amount of responsibility on our area scouts to tell us who the “person” is that we are potentially drafting and whether his makeup will help or hinder him in his development. However, the logistics of the amateur scouting season make it tough to get the necessary time spent with an individual player to feel you have his makeup 100% locked down. Baseball is the only sport that holds its draft during the season. The majority of high-profile players are trying to compete in their seasons and do class work, all while thirty scouts are calling them weekly. I could see where a player would be less than fully forthright with information, just because it is a lot for them to deal with and can be a strain on their time. Saying that, it is still our responsibility to make sure we gather as much information as possible about all potential draftees.

MA: Two years ago, we asked you about whether funds that were reportedly “earmarked” for Roger Clemens might be used to sign some additional draftees, and your answer seemingly rejected that proposition outright. In a similar vein, how does Boston’s spending in the international free agent market affect the team's decisions in signing draftees (if at all), particularly in a year like this when a good deal of money was spent on international signees like Jose Iglesias and Jose Vinicio?
JM: Our ownership gives us tremendous support to sign the best players possible through all departments in the organization. I can tell you that you won’t find Craig Shipley and I fighting over who we can or can’t sign.

MA: We've heard a lot of suggestions on revamping the baseball draft from the likes of Baseball America and ESPN, who have suggested ideas such as implementing a mandatory slotting system, moving the signing deadline to July, allowing teams to maintain drafted high school players' rights through the early years of college, eliminating compensation picks, allowing draft picks to be traded, and instituting a worldwide draft. There's apparently an exploratory committee overseeing these issues, and some of these ideas may or may not make it to the bargaining table when CBA negotiations get underway in the fall of 2011. Are there any ideas that you feel strongly about? If it were up to you, any ideas on how you'd like to fix the draft?
JM: Many people have argued that the Draft is not working as intended, and this is going to be a hot button topic when the next CBA comes up after the 2011 season. I’m sure a lot of us involved in the game, particularly with the Amateur Draft, have thoughts and ideas, and I look forward to having those discussions at the appropriate time.