Epstein, Sawdaye discuss next week's draft

BOSTON -- Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein and director of amateur scouting Amiel Sawdaye held court for half an hour Wednesday afternoon at Fenway Park to discuss next week’s MLB Entry Draft.

Boston finds itself in an enviable situation entering the draft, which begins Monday night with the first round televised at MLB Network studios in Secaucus, N.J. The Red Sox hold four of the first 40 overall picks.

In his latest mock draft, ESPN’s Keith Law projects the Sox taking Kentucky’s Alex Meyer and Dallas Jesuit Prep’s Josh Bell with the 19th and 26th picks, respectively. Locally, regional scouts for the Sox have been seen at every one of the starts by Lawrence Academy right-hander Tyler Beede, a projected late-first-rounder who is listed as high as 24th on some scouting services’ big boards.

Obviously, neither party was about to tip their hand. But they spoke thoughtfully and thoroughly about the scouting procedure, the landscape and what kind of intangibles they look for in a player -- both on and off the field.

Epstein noted that back in 1998, his first year with the Padres, he was surprised at how much a conversation with a prospect focused on the player's background -- “what his parents did for a living, whether they were still together, what his guidance counselor thought, whether he’s good off the field, was at least 50 percent of the conversation,” he said.

The way he sees it, you’re looking at long-term investments. So your homework had better be done.

“You’re projecting a 17-year-old kid from a small town, you don’t know how he’s gonna be 10 years later, when he’s 27 and pitching in a pennant race at Fenway Park in front of 40,000 people,” he said. “So you really have to figure out what makes the kid tick. ... There’s no mention of tools or abilities.”

Does Boston's enviable position give them more of an inclination to take bigger chances on players?

“It can,” Epstein said. “I mean, you want to get good players ... but when you don’t have extra picks, it’s sometimes harder to take that extra risk, diversify your portfolio a little bit, than if you had more picks.”

As for Sawdaye, who took over for Jason McLeod in January 2010 after serving as his assistant for the previous six years, the second time through the draft has been a little less nerve-wracking.

“I think any time you walk into a new role, there’s going to be that stress of the first, just making that first pick,” Sawdaye said. “As many of you guys know, we picked Kolbrin Vitek, and it was a nail-biter to the end. We didn’t know whether we were going to get the player we really liked, [but] we did. He was the guy we coveted.

“And I think that helps calm the nerves a little bit, this year knowing that, OK, all these scenarios you run through your head and you still end up getting the guy you really wanted. Experience in anything is always going to make you feel a little more comfortable.”

Asked about the speculation that the next collective-bargaining agreement could take away compensation picks and institute harder rookie salary slots, and its impact on this year’s draft, Epstein said it was minimal.

“We can only operate in the system that exists now,” Epstein said. “So we try to make the most of the current system. That’s always been a factor in some of our free-agent decisions, trying to accumulate picks, and one of the best ways to create an advantage is with sandwich picks.

“We recognize that’s the system that exists now, so we’ll take advantage of it while we can, and we’re in a ‘wait and see’ approach. Who knows what the next collective-bargaining agreement might look like, and because of the uncertainty I think it places an emphasis on the moment now.”