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The Red Sox’ ultimate draft recruiting tool

06.26.11 at 11:04 am ET
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For several years, the Red Sox have drafted talented, athletic high school players with potentially significant upside even in the face of what many consider to be strong commitments to fulfill college scholarships. Players who are considered unsignable by some organizations are not viewed in that fashion by the Sox for a couple of reasons.

The first is fairly obvious: Money. The Sox spend aggressively to sign players away from their college scholarship offers (whether in baseball or multiple sports) based on their view of what they can become. There is risk in that proposition (many never pan out), but there can also be a significant payoff when players like Ryan Kalish or Will Middlebrooks or Anthony Rizzo emerge as top prospects.

The second one, however, is a more distinctive sales pitch. The Sox, who often must compete not just with college baseball coaches but also, in the case of two-sport athletes, renowned college football coaches if they are to sell an 18-year-old on turning pro, dig in with their own recruiting pitch.

“We do have an awesome sales pitch, and that’s Fenway Park and the Boston Red Sox. We’re extremely fortunate to be in an organization where there’s a commitment to player development and scouting, but also the end product is the most storied ballpark in all of baseball and probably in all of sports – the Mecca,” Sox amateur scouting director Amiel Sawdaye noted early this year. “You walk into Fenway Park and you envision pitching on the mound or hitting a ball off the Monster, trying to reach the red seat in right field.

“There are a lot of things that, probably as a kid, even if you don’t know baseball growing up, you know Fenway Park. You know Ted Williams. You know a lot of things about the Boston Red Sox. I think that’s our ultimate sales pitch: ‘Hey, come play for the Boston Red Sox, and this tradition, this organization, this franchise.’ That’s our version of a recruiting tool and I think a lot of the time it does sell.”

Towards that end, the Sox were entirely pleased with the turnout they had at the Fenway Classic this year. The annual event for the organization’s draft picks, which gives them the opportunity to compete against one another on the home field of the Red Sox, resulted in a turnout of more than two dozen draftees on Wednesday and Thursday of last week.

The conditions were imperfect. Rain drenched Fenway on Wednesday, resulting in the Sox-Padres game being called after eight innings, and also preventing the field from being usable for the scheduled contest among the draftees that night. However, conditions improved enough by Thursday (thanks in no small part to some tireless work by the Fenway grounds crew) that the team was able to get its draftees on the field, with every pitcher getting at least an inning of work and each batter getting a handful of plate appearances or so.

The purpose of such an event is two-fold: First, it gives the Sox a chance to see how high schoolers with little experience against advanced competition can fare against one another. Hitters who have never seen a 90 mph fastball in their high school districts can be measured against such talent. Secondly, the event permits the Sox front office to be introduced to the players and their families, and to give the players a chance to envision the end-product of what it could mean if they sign up to play with the Sox.

The attendees featured a number of the top prep talents taken by the Sox, including supplemental first-round pick Henry Owens (a left-hander from Southern California with a scholarship offer at Miami), second rounder Williams Jerez (an outfielder from New York City whose backup plan is to play at San Jacinto Junior College in Texas), third rounder Jordan Weems (a catcher from Georgia who has a commitment to Georgia State), fifth rounder Mookie Betts (a shortstop from Tennessee with a commitment to play for the Vols) and seventh rounder Cody Kukuk (a left-hander from Kansas who has a scholarship offer to play for Kansas University), among many others.

Only a handful of invitees did not make the trip to Fenway Park. The most prominent no-shows were first-rounder Blake Swihart (the switch-hitting catcher from New Mexico with a commitment to the University of Texas) and eighth-rounder Senquez Golson (an outfielder with a two-sport commitment to Ole Miss).

Read More: 2011 MLB Draft, blake swihart, cody kukuk, fenway classic
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