SoxProspects.com: Red Sox draft preview

It’s that time of year again for prospect-followers, as the baseball’s first-year player draft is set to get underway Monday night at 7 p.m. ET. The draft will take place over the course of three days this year, with Monday night’s phase covering the first round and the supplemental compensation round. Day 2 will start at noon Tuesday, covering rounds 2 through 30, and Day 3 will kick off at noon on Wednesday, covering rounds 31 through 50.

This year’s draft will be notable for the Red Sox for two reasons. Primarily, it will be the first draft captained by Amiel Sawdaye, Boston’s new director of amateur scouting. Sawdaye took the helm of the scouting department in January after spending five years as assistant director to Jason McLeod, who departed to become San Diego’s assistant general manager in December. Additionally, this draft bodes large for Boston because the Sox will have four selections in the first 57 picks, starting with number 20, Boston’s highest pick since 2003. Here is a summary of Boston’s selections in this week’s draft:

Day 1

No. 20 overall: First-round compensation pick for Billy Wagner, from Atlanta

No. 36 overall: Supplemental-round compensation pick for Jason Bay

No. 39 overall: Supplemental-round compensation pick for Billy Wagner

Day 2

No. 57 overall: Second-round compensation pick for Jason Bay, from New York (NL)

No. 110 overall: Third-round pick

No. 143 overall: Fourth-round pick

No. 175 overall: Fifth-round pick

28th selection in rounds 6-30

Day 3

28th selection in rounds 31-50

Lost picks

No. 29 overall: Compensation sent to Los Angeles (AL) for signing John Lackey

No. 80 overall: Compensation sent to Toronto for signing Marco Scutaro

Recent draft history

Over the past five years -- the time in which McLeod was the director of amateur scouting and Sawdaye was the assistant director -- the primary “pattern" in Boston’s drafting has been that the team will take the best player on the board giving some consideration to a player’s “signability”, meaning whether the player is willing to accept Major League Baseball’s recommended “slot” bonus for the given round and pick number where the player was drafted. The team has kept its draft picks quite diversified in terms of level: in the McLeod era, the Red Sox made 256 draft picks, including 110 college players, 30 junior college players and 116 high school players.

Boston had six first-round picks in that period, selecting three college players, one junior college player and two high school players, and eight supplemental-round picks, drafting four college players, one junior college player, and three high school players. Indeed, McLeod took a high school player and a college pitcher with the team’s first two picks in each of the last four drafts: OF Reymond Fuentes and RHP Alex Wilson (2009), RHP/SS Casey Kelly and RHP Bryan Price (2008), LHP Nick Hagadone and SS Ryan Dent (2007), and OF Jason Place and RHP Daniel Bard (2006). Going with that pattern, it surely wouldn’t be surprising to see the Sox take a high school projection pick at No. 20 and a college arm at No. 36 or No. 39 this year.

Some other noteworthy trends:

1. Drafting over-slot players in rounds 3-10: Boston has not shied away from breaking the commissioner’s recommended slot in these early rounds by taking high school players with strong college commitments. Many of these players will not officially sign until the draft signing deadline in August. Recent examples include 3B David Renfroe (3rd round, 2009), RHP Madison Younginer (7th round, 2009), OF Brandon Jacobs (10th round, 2009), OF Pete Hissey (4th round, 2008), OF Ryan Westmoreland (5th round, 2008), 3B Will Middlebrooks (5th round, 2007), 1B Anthony Rizzo (6th round, 2007), and OF Ryan Kalish (9th round, 2006).

2. Selecting players with “helium”: Boston likes to select players that were not highly regarded during the entire season but made strong late impressions, placing an emphasis on recent performance and workouts over extended success. Players like Fuentes, Wilson, SS Derrik Gibson (2nd round, 2007), Hagadone, RHP Bryce Cox (3rd round, 2006), and Place all made late pushes up the pre-draft rankings in their respective draft years.

3. Low-mileage college arms: The Red Sox front office also has a notable adoration for college pitchers who have relatively low career innings-pitched totals, often selecting at least one in early rounds. Wilson, Price, RHP Stephen Fife (3rd round, 2008), RHP Kyle Weiland (3rd round, 2008), Hagadone, RHP Chris Province (4th round, 2007), LHP Dustin Richardson (5th round, 2006), and RHP Craig Hansen (1st round, 2005) all fall into this category.

4. Well-rounded athletes: One final trend is Boston’s penchant for selecting players with strong all-around athleticism, especially two-way players and two-sport prep stars. Each of Renfroe, Kelly, Westmoreland, Middlebrooks, and Kalish were scouted for two sports heading into college, and each was considered to have potential on the mound and at the plate. Similarly, last summer the Sox signed Jacobs away from a scholarship to play running back at Auburn.

Taking these patterns into consideration, here are some players that the Sox could target this year:

Anthony Ranaudo, RHP, LSU: A year ago at this time, Ranaudo projected as a lock to be a top-five pick this year. However, the righthander has seen his stock slide after an injury-plagued season in which he failed to live up to his previous projections. While he has occasionally shown the plus stuff that made him a top prospect last year, he hasn’t delivered with the consistency needed from a top-five pick, and there also have been concerns about his mechanics and his health. That being said, he is rumored to still be looking for a bonus in excess of $2 million, and with Scott Boras as his agent, it would not be surprising to see him stick to his demands, especially considering that he has the option to return to LSU and re-enter the 2011 draft. It’s worth noting that Theo Epstein was spotted at the SEC Tournament last week to witness one of Ranaudo’s starts.

Austin Wilson, OF, Harvard-Westlake HS (Calif.); committed to Stanford: Wilson is an athletic, five-tool outfielder who has drawn comparisons to Andre Dawson. Plus-plus power potential. All-around offensive game. Ideal hitter’s frame. Above-average defensive tools. Above-average speed. Outstanding student. Potential franchise player. You don’t hear many bad things said about Wilson, but there are some question marks about how well he will adapt to advanced pitching. He could go as early as No. 10, but he is strongly committed to college and there are rumors that his bonus demands will be exorbitant, making it possible that he slips out of the first round.

Nick Castellanos, 3B, Archbishop McCarthy HS (Fla.); committed to Miami: Castellanos is one of the best hitters in this year’s prep class. Hits to all fields. Projectable power. He will likely take a lot of time to adjust to advanced pitching. Castellanos already has a big body at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, and has shown excellent athleticism for his size. Fluid movements on defense with a major league arm. Due to his commitment to Miami, Castellanos could demand one of the largest bonuses in the class, meaning he could slip past the mid first-round, where he would normally project to go.

Bryce Brentz, OF, Middle Tennessee State: Power-hitting outfielder with above-average all-around tools. Projects well as a major league right fielder. Has drawn comparisons to a righthanded version of Nick Markakis. Red Sox scouts have been spotted at more than a few Middle Tennessee games, presumably to catch Brentz in action. He is likely to sign for slot, so he could go as early as No. 7, but could certainly be available when Boston’s pick rolls around at No. 20. Brentz would be a safe option should the team have other high-risk players in mind for its subsequent picks.

Kolbrin Vitek, 2B/3B, Ball State: Safely projects as an above-average major league bat, while also showing plus potential in the contact department. Average power, above-average speed, and a smart baserunner. Likely will play third base or center field as a professional. In either position, he projects to be an above-average defender with a plus arm. Epstein has personally scouted Vitek, making him another possibility at #20, but there is a strong buzz that McLeod is intent on taking the infielder for San Diego at #9.

Yasmani Grandal, C, Miami: Grandal was previously selected by Boston in the 27th round of the 2007 draft, but the team was unable to sign him away from his commitment to Miami. Excellent defensive catcher dominated the ACC in several offensive categories in 2010. He’s a top-10 player in this year’s class, but where he goes will depend on his bonus demands -- there are late rumors that he will be demanding a $6 million bonus, meaning he could slip all the way to the back end of the first round. On the other hand, there are several recent rumors that he has a pre-draft agreement with Kansas City at No. 4.

Kaleb Cowart, SS/RHP, Cook County HS (Ga.); committed to Florida State: The most prominent player in the two-way category in the 2010 draft, reminds many scouts of Casey Kelly. As a pitcher, Cowart possesses a mid-90s fastball and a slider with plus potential. Projects slightly better as a pitcher, but reports are that he prefers to play every day. As a position player, Cowart is an excellent defensive shortstop with a strong arm, a dependable glove, and impressive agility. He makes excellent contact offensively and has demonstrated power to all fields. With the team’s interest in well-rounded athletes, Boston could be looking at Cowart at No. 20.

Chad Bettis and Barret Loux, RHPs, Texas Tech and Texas A&M: Bettis and Loux are the prototypical low-mileage college arms that Boston likes to target in the supplemental round. Both are projected to be selected in the 30s, meaning either could be an option for Boston at No. 36 and/or No. 39. Bettis gets his fastball up to 98 mph, while Loux mixes a 94-mph fastball with a plus changeup.

Sean Coyle, IF, Germantown HS (Pa.); committed to North Carolina: Diminutive middle-infielder has drawn comparisons to Dustin Pedroia. Attended a workout at Fenway Park earlier this week. If the Sox are willing to match his asking price of over $1 million, he could be a guy that the team plucks in the third-fifth round range similar to Westmoreland and Hissey.

Kevin Ziomek, LHP, Amherst Regional (Mass.); committed to Vanderbilt: Local product recently named Gatorade Massachusetts Player of the Year. Solid pitcher’s build. Fastball hits 93 mph, also mixes in three workable secondary pitches. Comes from a baseball family. Boston has scouted Ziomek on several occasions, and he projects to go in the third-fifth round range.

There is no telling which of these players the Sox will consider early on -- all one can guess is who might be high on the team’s draft board. But in terms of a generalized strategy in the first two rounds, expect Sawdaye to select a mix of players similar to the draftees picked by McLeod in 2005, the last time Boston has several high picks -- a couple safe bets and a couple high-ceiling players that are a bit of a risk. The Sox’s five picks in the first and supplemental rounds that year -- Jacoby Ellsbury (23rd overall), Craig Hansen (26th), Clay Buchholz (42nd), Jed Lowrie (45th), and Michael Bowden (47th) -- have all played in the majors, something that cannot be said for 15 of the 48 players taken in those rounds that year. With the 20th pick, the Sox should be able to draft someone with both a high floor and a high ceiling -- in the last 20 years, the 20th pick has netted the likes of Mike Mussina, Torii Hunter, Eric Milton, Adam Kennedy, CC Sabathia, Denard Span, and Chad Cordero. Ultimately, the Sox will undoubtedly go after the best player available, but I’m guessing Sawdaye and Epstein might be a little happier if the best player available happened to be an ace-potential starter or a power-hitting right-handed outfielder.

Mike Andrews is designer and developer of SoxProspects.com and a special contributor to ESPNBoston.com.