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Red Sox scouting director reflects on Cole-turned-diamond

10.30.08 at 5:42 am ET



The information that Red Sox scouting director Jason McLeod can provide about Cole Hamels flows freely.

‘€œI can tell you everything,’€ McLeod said of the pitcher who claimed the NLCS and World Series MVP awards after going 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts.

McLeod was a Padres area scout in Southern California in 2002’€”a year that featured an exceptional crop of left-handed pitchers. Hamels, Jon Lester and Scott Kazmir were all taken out of high school that year. (Lester was the 57th overall pick, and the first overall for the Sox, who lacked a first-round choice that year.) Three additional college southpaws’€”Royce Ring, Jeff Francis and Jeff Saunders’€”were first-round picks out of college.

‘€œIt was just a talent laden year,’€ said McLeod, ‘€œand Cole was by far the cream of the crop.’€

McLeod recalled seeing the pitcher make seven starts as a senior. Hamels had missed his junior season while recovering from a broken left arm he suffered in a street football game.

The Padres team doctor, Dr. Jan Fronek, performed the surgery to repair the prized arm, and Hamels recovered to produce a spectacular year as a senior at the baseball factory of Rancho Bernardo High School, going 10-0 with a 0.39 ERA. McLeod recalls that time fondly.

‘€œAs far as ability, to this day, he’€™s the best left-handed amateur pitcher I’€™ve ever seen’€”especially coming out of the high school ranks,’€ said McLeod. ‘€œHe had everything’€”size, athleticism, competitiveness, stuff, came from a great family, really good home environment’€”he had everything you wanted to see.

‘€œHe always had that plus changeup. In high school it was a devastating pitch. He had a very good breaking ball in high school. (He was) just exceptionally polished. At that time, he had one of the best pickoff moves I’€™d ever seen. A kid would get on first and he’€™d pick him off.’€

The talent was obvious. A game against Torrey Pines High School, the foremost rival of Rancho Bernardo, proved to McLeod that the pitcher had the makeup to excel at the major-league environment.

‘€œHe was pitching comfortably at 90-92,’€ recalled McLeod. ‘€œHe was just mowing through the team. A kid tried stepping out of the box on him to break up his momentum. Cole threw the next pitch behind him. Then the next three pitches he went 94, 95, 96 and sat him down.

‘€œOnce he punches him out, he was like, ‘€˜Alright’€”now I’€™m going back to 90-92, plus-change, curveball, bang.’€™’€

The incident offered evidence to McLeod that Hamels possessed a remarkable ability to control his emotions on the mound. He could use adrenaline to his advantage without allowing the game to get away from him.

Needless to say, McLeod turned in a positive report on the pitcher. (Though it is unlikely that he included such relevant information, found here, as, “When Cole Hamels snaps his fingers, The Fonz comes running.”) As the 2002 draft arrived, many’€”including Hamels’€”expected that the Padres would select the local star (Rancho Bernardo was roughly 20 miles from the Padres’€™ ballpark) with the 13th pick in the draft.

But it was not to be. Perhaps the Padres’€”like many other teams’€”were skittish about Hamels’€™ medical reports. Or perhaps the opportunity to draft shortstop Khalil Greene, who was named the Collegiate Player of the Year and the Golden Spikes Award winner as a senior at Clemson, seemed too good to pass up.

‘€œIn the end, I can’€™t say that (the Padres) decided that the medical was too great of a risk. They took a player that ended up being pretty good in Khalil Greene,’€ said McLeod. ‘€œBut certainly it’€™s a little bittersweet (to watch Hamels now) for a lot of us who were area scouts that year and got to see how good he was in person.’€

The reluctance of other teams to draft a pitcher with an unusual medical history created an opportunity for the Phillies, who plucked Hamels with the 17th pick of the 2002 draft. It seems safe to assume that today, with a World Series trophy in hand, Philadelphia has few regrets about that choice.

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