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June 2, 2010 at 6:00 AM

Red Sox Draft Preview: Draft Strategy & Recent History

In researching for this installment, the plan was to dig through piles of data in the hopes of discovering some sort of master strategy or profound pattern in Boston’s recent draft history. But alas, there is no real pattern in the Sox' strategy other than to draft the best available player on the board, while taking signability somewhat into consideration. I picked through five years of Red Sox draft history from 2005-2009 – correlating to the time in which Jason McLeod was the director of amateur scouting and Amiel Sawdaye was the assistant director – and all I found were a few interesting trends and data points. On top of that, we can’t be sure that Sawdaye, now the director of amateur scouting himself, will follow his former boss’ modus operandi, but we can probably glean something from those patterns seeing that the scouting department remains largely the same and that Theo Epstein still has the final say on who the Sox will draft.

Overall Draft Patterns

In the McLeod Era, the Red Sox made 256 draft picks: 110 college players, 30 junior college players, and 116 high school players. During that time, the team had 35 picks in the first five rounds, picking 17 college players, 1 junior college player, and 17 high school players. Boston had six first-round picks in that period, selecting 3 college players, 1 junior college player, and 2 high school players, and 8 supplemental round picks, drafting 4 college players, 1 junior college player, and 3 high school players. So it's fair to say that the picks have been diversified in terms of level throughout that period.

Absent finding much there, I tried to dig up the rounds in which Boston’s over-slot signings were selected. From 2005-2009, Boston signed 20 over-slot draftees - and there are indeed a few patterns in this area. It's noteworthy that the Sox tend to go over-slot in the third- through seventh-round area, and it is also worth mentioning that 16 of the 20 over-slot draftees were high schoolers. One final item worth noting is that the Sox have typically made a big splash in the last round of the first day, selecting over-slot players like David Renfroe in 2009, Ryan Westmoreland in 2008, Will Middlebrooks in 2007, and Lars Anderson in 2006. As the first day ends with the supplemntal round this year, the Sox would look to go over-slot at #39 if the pattern holds true. Here's a list of the 20 over-slot draftees from 2005-2009 (the Sox did not go over-slot in 2005):

Similarly, I'd like to highlight 15 draftees that the Sox made a push to sign but were unable to seal the deal on, all of whom were high schoolers, with one exception (LaPorta). These “reach” picks are generally players who the Sox gamble on by attempting to convince them to go pro despite strong commitments to college. With a few exceptions, these reach picks usually don’t come into play until the teens or twenties:

Other Trends
The primary trend in McLeod’s most recent drafts was his diversification of players selected early. McLeod took a high school player and a college pitcher with the team’s first two picks in each of the last four drafts: Reymond Fuentes and Alex Wilson (2009), Casey Kelly and Bryan Price (2008), Nick Hagadone and Ryan Dent (2007), and Jason Place and Daniel Bard (2006). Going with that pattern, I surely wouldn’t be surprised to see the Sox take a high school projection pick at #20 and a college arm at #36.

A second trend is that McLeod liked to draft players with helium – players that were not highly regarded during the entire season but who made strong late impressions, placing an emphasis on recent performance and workouts over extended success. Players like Fuentes, Wilson, Derrik Gibson, Hagadone, Bryce Cox, and Place all made late pushes up the pre-draft rankings in their respective draft years. We will highlight a few such players from this year’s draft crop in upcoming installments, but for a quick taste today, two players making late pushes are right-handers Stetson Allie of Edward High School in Lakewood, Ohio and Matt Harvey of the University of North Carolina, formerly of Fitch High School in Groton, Conn.

Another obvious trend is Boston’s adoration for low-mileage college arms in the supplemental through fifth rounds – or potential starters that may have been used in bullpen roles in college. Wilson, Price, Stephen Fife, Kyle Weiland, Hagadone, Chris Province, and Dustin Richardson all fall into this category. Three of the many pitchers in that mold in this draft are right-handers Addison Reed of San Diego State, Chad Bettis of Texas Tech, and Barrett Loux of Texas A&M. Again, we will highlight some of these pitchers in later installments.

One final trend is Boston’s penchant for well-rounded athletes, especially two-way players and two-sport prep players. Each of Renfroe, Kelly, Westmoreland, Middlebrooks, and Kalish were scouted for two sports heading into college, and each was considered to have major league potential on the mound and at the plate. In fact, the Sox were permitted to defer the bonuses of Renfroe, Kelly, and Westmoreland in order to sign them away from scholarships in other sports. Similarly, last summer the Sox signed outfielder Brandon Jacobs away from a scholarship to play running back at Auburn. The most prominent player in the two-way category in the 2010 draft is Kaleb Cowart, a shortstop/right-hander out of Cook County High School in Georgia who is committed to Florida State. Coincidentally, Cowart projects to be drafted in the 15-25 range. In regards to two-sport athletes, the best in this draft class is Zach Lee out of McKinney, Texas. A right-handed pitcher with tons of projection committed to LSU, Lee also has a scholarship to play quarterback for the Tigers. He is slated as a potential late first round or supplemental round pick. One other two-sport athlete worth mentioning is Kyle Parker, a power-hitting right fielder that also starts at quarterback for Clemson. A creative team that drafts Parker could structure a deal around allowing him to return to Clemson to play football in the fall for his final season.

Ultimately, there is no telling which of these players the Sox will consider early on – all we can guess is who might be high on their draft board. But in terms of a generalized strategy in the first two rounds, I expect Sawdaye to select a mix of players similar to the draftees picked by McLeod in 2005, the last time Boston has several high picks – a couple "safe" bets and a couple high-ceiling players that are a bit of a risk. With the 20th pick, Sawdaye should be able to draft someone with both a high floor and a high ceiling – a player who is close to a sure-bet major leaguer but also a potential All-Star. In the last 20 years, the 20th pick has netted the likes of Mike Mussina, Torii Hunter, Eric Milton, Adam Kennedy, CC Sabathia, Denard Span, and Chad Cordero. Teams have not had as much luck with the 36th and 39th picks, where the highlights are Jarod Saltalamacchia and Mark Teahen, respectively. In the end, the Sox will undoubtedly go after the best player available, but I’m guessing Sawdaye might be a little happier if the best player available happened to be an ace-potential starter or a power-hitting outfielder.

Ian Theodoridis and Chris Hatfield of SoxProspects.com contributed to this report.