Red Sox first-day draft wrap: GM Theo Epstein and Scouting director Amiel Sawdaye weigh in
|06.07.11 at 12:44 am ET|
Red Sox GM Theo Epstein and amateur scouting director Amiel Sawdaye just took part in a conference call to discuss the first day of the Major League draft. The Sox selected a diverse group of players:
–A college right-handed pitcher in Matt Barnes of the University of Connecticut (1st round, No. 19)
–A high school left-hander in Henry Owens (sandwich round, No. 36)
–A high school catcher in Blake Swihart (1st round, No. 26)
–A college center fielder in Jackie Bradley of the University of South Carolina
Certainly, the Sox were pleased to emerge with four players whom they think can have a strong impact on their organization. They view both Barnes and Owens as future big league starters, and Swihart and Bradley as potential middle-of-the-field lineup members. That said, the team tempered its enthusiasm with the notion that it will require many years before the impact of the draft will be known.
“We’re real happy with how today went. I think 30 clubs feel that way coming out of the draft room,” said Epstein. “There’s a little bit of anxiety to see if the guys you like are going to be there. More often than not, you end up getting the guys you like because the reality is that all 30 clubs have these guys evaluated differently. We do our high fiving and feeling good coming out of the room, but I feel like 29 other clubs were doing it the exact same way. Then you circle back in five or 10 years and see how you did. Certainly we felt like some things broke our way and we were able to get four players we feel really good about.”
–Barnes had been scouted extensively by the Sox not just at the University of Connecticut, but also while pitching in the Cape League and for Team USA last summer. This draft season, he had been projected as high as a top five pick before slipping a bit among a strong class of college pitchers. Still, the Sox were elated that he remained on the board when they were picking.
Sawdaye said that the Sox view him as a “middle of the rotation guy” with “three plus pitches” (a fastball, curve and change).
“We were excited to get him,” said Sawdaye. “Given the fact that he was at 19, we got really excited. I’ll leave it at that.”
–Swihart represents the sort of player whom the Sox have rarely had the opportunity to draft, a powerful, athletic catcher who has a proven ability to perform against advanced competition as a young amateur. Swihart was a force for Team USA in 2010, hitting .448 with a .492 OBP and .845 slugging mark.
Swihart played many doubleheaders as a senior in New Mexico, catching for one game and playing in the field for the next. That schedule permitted the Sox to conclude that he has the attributes needed to remain at catcher.
“We got a really good chance to see him behind the plate but also to see his athleticism in the field, so a guy that we were really excited to get because the tool set and athleticism really fit behind the plate,” said Sawdaye.
Epstein, meanwhile, suggested that Swihart’s bat would have drawn the Sox to him regardless of his position. The fact that he does play a premium position made him even more appealing.
“Yes, he’s a catcher, but he’s also a very legitimate bat, a switch-hitting bat at that, and an excellent athlete with great baseball instincts as well. It was the whole package. It wasn’t so much what position he played. We certainly never draft for need,” said Epstein. “But he stood out for his bat, for his athleticism and the fact that he projects to be able to stay behind the plate and be a solid receiver back there, thrower back there only added to the attraction.”
–Owens is a high school lefty who competed against advanced competition in Southern California, for Team USA’s 18-and-under group and on the showcase circuit. The Sox, said Epstein, saw him throw up to 94 with good feel for three pitches (fastball, curve, change). Couple that with his 6-foot-6 frame, and the Sox saw a package that they didn’t want to overlook.
“He throws three pitches for strikes,” said Sawdaye. “For a high-school kid, that’s unique and certainly something that we covet.”
The Sox have drafted few high school lefties under Epstein, and none as high as Owens. But the team hasn’t simply dismissed a class of players — after all, without an openness to selecting high school lefties, the team wouldn’t have taken Jon Lester with a second-round pick in 2002, when Epstein was part of the draft room as Assistant GM. The right lefty simply hadn’t been available.
“We always take the best player available on the board,” said Epstein. “He’s always performed well against the best competition. Lefthanded or righthanded, he stood out as somebody we liked, and the fact that he’s lefthanded was an added bonus.”
–Finally, Bradley represents a player whom the Sox got with their fourth pick of the day in no small part because — after standout performances as a freshman and sophomore — he struggled this year as a junior, and then had to undergo surgery to repair an injured left wrist. When healthy, Bradley was a dynamic player for South Carolina, capable of impacting a game offensively and defensively. The Sox are confident that his long-term health is not an issue.
“He had the wrist injury. Jackie’s not officially part of the organization yet, so it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment in detail. But obviously we reviewed the medical file,” said Epstein. “It’s something our medical staff was really comfortable with, that he’ll be able to come back at 100 percent.”
–Epstein declined to address the question of signability. Swihart is viewed as someone who may seek a significant signing bonus in order to pass on a scholarship at Texas. He would be draft-eligible at the end of his sophomore year, thus meaning that he has greater leverage than some high school players in that he can return to the draft two, three and four years from now, with more leverage than most college players possess.
“We hope to sign all these guys and obviously every player has options,” said Epstein. “We always feel like the more we get to know the player, the more we get to present what the Boston Red Sox are all about, and the better chance we have of signing these guys. that’s the whole point.”
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