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SoxProspects News

August 25, 2011 at 9:30 AM

Q&A with Amiel Sawdaye

In his second season behind the reins of the club’s efforts in the amateur draft, Red Sox Director of Amateur Scouting Amiel Sawdaye and the Boston front office handed out a new team-record in total bonus money. The $10,978,700 the Red Sox spent this year was up from the previous team-record of $10.66 million set last year, and landed them at tenth in total draft bonus expenditures in Major League Baseball. With a new Collective Bargaining Agreement on the horizon this off-season, many analysts saw this draft as a last chance for teams to take advantage of the present draft system by spending big on over-slot bonuses. The Red Sox may have taken this into consideration, as they spent a million dollars or more on four players for the first time ever and reportedly offered such a bonus to a fifth who did not sign, eighth-round pick Senquez Golson.

One thing that stands out about the team’s draft class is the balance between high school and college players signed, with the team especially going after high school pitchers in earlier rounds than in past years. Draft experts have generally graded Boston’s draft haul well this year, including Jim Callis of Baseball America, who rated it third overall in the Majors while pointing out that Boston signed six players on BA’s Top 100 Draft Prospects list.

Following the signing deadline, Sawdaye was kind enough to answer my questions via email about some of the newly signed Red Sox prospects, some who slipped through their hands, and his view on the current signing system.

Matt Huegel: It’s well-known that Matt Barnes’ fastball can hit the mid-to-upper 90s, but what did you see in terms of his secondary pitches that will enable him to be a starter in the long-run?
Amiel Sawdaye: Matt threw four pitches (fastball, curveball, slider, changeup) and really started to develop his secondary stuff as the year progressed. The curveball and slider did not have a ton of separation to distinguish one from the other, but he did have the ability to utilize either of them at any time in the count and land them for strikes. The changeup had improved by the end of the year and he seemed to implement it a lot more in his game plan. With a wide array of pitches, including his athleticism, command, and ability to maintain his velocity, we feel that he should be able to start for a very long time.

MH: Do you project that Blake Swihart can stick at the catcher position long-term? Can you also talk about his potential on the offensive side of the ball?
AS: We feel Blake is a long-term catcher who shows athleticism, aptitude, and leadership on the diamond. We are committed to continue his development at that position and have not even thought about moving him off the position. He is very advanced for a player who has only been catching for a few years. Offensively, Blake has a line drive swing with an uncanny ability to manipulate the barrel of the bat from both sides of the plate coupled with an excellent feel for the strike zone. Being a switch hitter will help his learning curve at the lower levels of pro ball. After spending a lot of time as one of the top high school hitters last summer, he has proven that he can compete at the highest level versus the top competition.

MH: What about Henry Owens made you comfortable giving him the second-highest bonus among this year’s draftees? How do you compare him to the other high-ceiling lefty the Red Sox signed in Cody Kukuk?
AS: Henry and Cody are both big and projectable left-handed pitchers. Henry shows an advanced feel for pitching, showing the ability to change speeds on his fastballs and curveballs, mix in a changeup to both right-handed and left-handed hitters, and throw consistent strikes to both sides of the plate. Cody has shown a little more consistent power to his fastball and also has a projectable three-pitch mix. Both pitchers are very good athletes who compete very well on the mound and are going to be very exciting to watch as they develop in our system.

MH: Regarding Jackie Bradley, Jr., did you view his underwhelming junior season, along with his related injuries, as a chance to buy low on him, almost in the vein of Anthony Ranaudo last year? Do you see him as someone who could move through the system quickly?
AS: We never try and move somebody too quickly through our system. Jackie is somebody we have targeted for quite some time, as we have been able to watch him develop at South Carolina and play summer ball (Team USA and Cape Cod Baseball League) in the last few years. Even throughout his injury plagued season, the one constant was his work ethic and defense. He strives for perfection and success and that is very evident with his success at the collegiate level. We were very fortunate to be able to select Jackie in the compensation round and hope that he progresses the way we believe he will.

MH: Do you think Noe Ramirez has the best shot to begin the 2012 season with Salem of the draftees the team signed this year?
AS: I don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves. We have not seen Noe throw a baseball since the end of May and likely won’t until Instructional League. There are a lot of factors that can contribute to the placement of a player at the conclusion of Spring Training. Our Player Development staff will get a chance to spend some time with Noe and assess what the best development path would be in order to maximize his potential.

MH: There seemed to be some last-minute drama in regards to whether the high-upside outfielder Senquez Golson would sign or keep his commitment to Ole Miss. Would you categorize his decision not to accept your final offer, which was rumored to be in the seven figures, as a case of his heart not being in professional baseball at this time?
AS: No, I believe Senquez wants to play professional baseball and strives to be a major league player. He had two unbelievable options – 1) Stay at Ole Miss, play baseball/football for an exceptional group of coaches, and get a college education or 2) Play pro baseball for the Boston Red Sox and forego his college baseball (and potentially football) playing career. Obviously, he chose to stay at Ole Miss and I have the utmost respect for Senquez and his decision to pass up baseball and bonus money. Hopefully Senquez will be drafted in the future and will have another tough decision to make.

MH: It was reported elsewhere that the decision to up your offer to Mookie Betts happened at the last minute after Golson turned the team down. Can you shed any light on that? And what did you see out of Betts that made him worth the fairly sizable bonus?
AS: Mookie was a player that we spent a considerable amount of time scouting this spring and summer. His bonus and Golson’s offer were independent of each other. We really liked Mookie and were hoping that he wanted to play pro baseball. He is a very athletic shortstop with the ability to become a plus defender. By showcasing his advanced approach, spray hitter, and plus speed, it’s easy to see why many scouts considered him a top of the order hitter. Mookie was recruited for baseball and basketball, and his true athleticism is very evident on the diamond.

MH: Williams Jerez signed relatively quickly and has gotten some solid playing time in the Gulf Coast League already this season. What have you seen out of him so far and what is he working to improve upon?
AS: Williams has greatly benefited from getting out early and playing in the GCL. Since Williams did not have the same playing opportunity as many of the other kids who were drafted, it really behooves him to be able to face good competition and play every day. He is a very exciting player who flashes five tools but will need to continue to improve on consistency on a daily basis.

MH: As a follow-up, how much of an advantage does Jerez have over someone of similar skill set and age because he signed well-before the deadline and got playing time this season? Would you change the rule in regards to the timing of the signing deadline and/or over-slot bonus announcements if it were up to you? How?
AS: I do believe the first season is the most important one – not only from a physical/mechanical standpoint, but also from a mental/preparation standpoint. Your first summer allows you to learn how to work, how to make adjustments, what to expect, etc. I think there are a lot of people who would love to see the signing deadline pushed up and hopefully that will be one of the items discussed in the new CBA. It benefits all of the players because they will be guaranteed more at-bats or innings pitched, therefore allowing them to spend more time playing for their introductory season.

MH: In regards to the negotiating deadline of August 15, we’ve heard with some of the top draftees, including Ranaudo and Chris Hernandez last year and Swihart this year, that the team actually waits until minutes before the deadline to make an offer. Swihart, for instance, said that he didn’t hear from you until 11:58 PM. How do you manage to get the agreement worked out and to the Commissioner’s Office before midnight in that case?
AS: Believe me, if it were up to the club, we would rather get the player out the day after the draft. Unfortunately, in a world where we are dealing with a handful of different advisors, many of them do not become serious regarding their asking price until we get closer to the deadline. We make many significant and fair offers to the players throughout the summer and try and, in turn, set the expectations so they won’t be surprised when it gets close to the deadline. Many of the advisors do not like to negotiate until they see how the market develops, which, for the past few years, has not been until 11:58 PM.

MH: Lastly, can you name a less-heralded player or two in this draft class that you are excited about getting into the system?
AS: There are so many players that we are excited about in this draft and I don’t want to single out one player. I believe we were able to bring in a strong mix of athleticism, tools, and makeup. Given our strong relationship with Player Development and their success at developing these players, we are very excited for what the future may bring with this class.