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June 1, 2011 at 6:00 AM

Red Sox Draft Preview, Part 2 of 7: Recent history & strategy

Amiel Sawdaye’s first as director of amateur scouting after taking over for Jason McLeod, who served in that capacity for the 2005-2009 drafts. Last year, Mike Andrews extensively researched the McLeod-era as a part of the draft preview, and for the most part, Sawdaye stayed true to the draft ideology of his former boss.

No set-in-stone strategy that indicates exactly who the team will select emerges when looking at the last six years of drafts. Instead of drafting based on need, the team has a history of selecting the best player available, and has shown a willingness to use its considerable financial resources to draft and sign players who slip because of signability concerns.

Overall Draft Patterns

Last year’s draft continued a trend of the team going for a high-ceiling pick with signability concerns with their last pick of the first day. The break between the first and second day allows teams to speak with such players and negotiate a price, taking them off the board before Boston gets another shot. Because of this, the Red Sox tend to select them before anyone else has the chance to agree on a signing bonus. Last year, that final first-day pick was LSU pitcher Anthony Ranaudo, a consensus top-five pick entering the season who fell to pick number 39 due to health concerns and bonus demands. Ranaudo ultimately signed for $2.55 million following a stellar stint in the Cape Cod League that reestablished his status as a potential top prospect. Previous picks in this vein include Mississippi high school infielder David Renfroe (3rd round, 2009), Rhode Island high school outfielder Ryan Westmoreland (5th round, 2008), Texas high school infielder Will Middlebrooks (5th round, 2007) and California high school first baseman Lars Anderson (18th round, 2006).

Ranaudo was not the only player the team went over slot for, as Boston continued to show a willingness to pay for talent. High School infielders Sean Coyle (3rd round) and Garin Cecchini (4th round) both signed for over $1 million, and the team went slightly over slot for Texas high school outfielder Kendrick Perkins (6th round), University of Miami left-hander Chris Hernandez (7th round), Virginia Tech right-hander Mathew Price (8th round), and Louisiana JuCo outfielder Lucas Leblanc (11th round). Below is a list of players from the last six years who signed for above slot (Boston did not go above slot in 2005).

As shown above, the team has taken plenty of risks in the teens and early twenties, most notably on Anderson and Texas high school left-handed pitcher Drake Britton (23rd round, 2007). But there are also similar players selected in these positions who chose not to sign. The same was true in 2010. Three notable players who passed on professional ball were high-school pitchers Tyler Barnette (9th round), Adam Duke (16th round), and Eric Jaffe (19th round). Boston reportedly pushed hard to sign all three, but all had strong commitments to go to college.

Potential Strategy Shifts

Sawdaye also bucked a few trends from the McLeod era in his first draft at the helm. In years past, the team has picked a high school and a college player with its first two picks. Last year, the team’s top four picks, Ball State infielder Kolbrin Vitek (no. 20 overall), Middle Tennessee State outfielder Bryce Brentz (No. 36 overall), Ranaudo, and Texas right-hander Brandon Workman (2nd round), were all college players. The team didn’t select a high school player until the third round, its fifth overall selection. Last year’s draft was the first since 2005, when Jacoby Ellsbury and Craig Hansen were the top two selections, that Boston opened the draft with even two college players, and first since 2004, when the club picked 10 college players in rounds 2 through 11, when they went deeper than that.

The high school players did not come as early in 2010, but they came far more often than in previous years. Under McLeod, 116 of Boston’s 256 picks (45.3%) were high school players. 110 were college players (43.0%) and 30 were junior-college products (11.7%); nearly an even split. In 2010, the team selected 33 high school players (66%), 16 college players (32%), and three junior college players (6%), a major departure from past years. However, just nine of those 33 high school players signed, the same number of high school signees as 2009.

Last year’s draft brings the six-year total to 149 high school players (48.4%), 126 college players (40.9%), and 33 from junior colleges (10.7%). The cumulative totals were relatively even entering last year because of college-heavy drafts used to stock the system early in the McLeod era, but recently, the team has drafted many more high school players, and on the whole, signed fewer players from each draft. 21 players went unsigned in 2006, a number that swelled to 29 in 2010.

Prototypes Targeted

On top of players with high bonus demands, Boston has other favorite player types to target in the draft. The team has notably drafted several well-rounded athletes, be they two-way baseball players or two-sport prep athletes. 2008 first-round pick Casey Kelly, Renfroe, Middlebrooks, Kalish, and Jacobs all either definitely would have or could have played college football in addition to or instead of baseball, and Westmoreland was all-state in soccer and basketball. Among last year’s picks, fifth-round selection Henry Ramos was a highly-regarded soccer player in Puerto Rico, and 6-foot-2, 225 pound outfielder Kendrick Perkins was selected in the sixth round and signed away from Texas A&M, where he planned to play both football and baseball. In the cases of at least Renfroe, Kelly, Westmoreland, and Perkins, Boston was permitted to spread the player’s signing bonus over several years to sign them away from scholarships in other sports.

Boston also tends to target college pitchers the club considers “low-mileage” arms in the supplemental through fifth rounds. This includes pitchers who they view as starters that were used in bullpen roles in college. Alex Wilson (2nd round, 2009, Texas A&M), Bryan Price (Supp. 1st round, no. 45 overall, 2008, Rice), Stephen Fife (3rd round, 2008, Utah), Kyle Weiland (4th round, 2008, Notre Dame), Nick Hagadone (Supp. 1st round, no. 55 overall, 2007, Washington), Chris Province (4th round, 2007, Southeast Louisiana), and Dustin Richardson (5th round, 2006, Texas Tech) are among the pitchers that qualify. The college pitchers taken early in last year’s draft, Ranaudo, Workman, Hernandez, and Price, do not fit this billing, but given the success that Boston has had with this line of thinking, it’s not inconceivable that the club could return to that vein in 2011.

While anyone in baseball will tell you the draft is far from a science, Boston’s recent history, as well as Sawdaye’s first draft, indicate that the team is in a good place with four of the first 40 picks in next week’s draft. Sawdaye was able to get high-ceiling high school talent in Coyle and Cecchini, and took advantage of the college talent on the board early. The depth of this year’s draft class will leave Sawdaye and the Red Sox with plenty of options at 19, 26, 36, and 40.