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Red Sox go for upside, draft high school pitcher in first round

MINNEAPOLIS -- Every year, regardless of their first-round draft position, the Boston Red Sox claim to hold tight to a strategy of taking the best available athlete rather than selecting a player based on needs at the big league level.

On Thursday, as much as ever, they stuck to that philosophy.

With the 12th overall pick in the annual amateur draft, the Red Sox grabbed left-handed pitcher Jason Groome, a 17-year-old from Barnegat High School in New Jersey who most analysts believed was a top-five talent. ESPN's Keith Law had Groome ranked as the No. 2 player on his board.

"We weren't surprised [that Groome was available]," said Red Sox amateur scouting director Mike Rickard, citing the unusual variability at the top of a draft that lacked even a consensus No. 1 overall pick. "We made sure throughout the course of the week and throughout the spring that we put ourselves in a position to consider and select every player that we had on the board."

Groome is 6-foot-6 and, according to scouts, features an advanced curveball. Rickard said the Red Sox project Groome as a starting pitcher because of his breaking pitch, a good fastball and an emerging changeup.

But given his age and lack of experience, Groome also won't help the Red Sox any time soon. By contrast, the Chicago White Sox used the 26th overall pick to select hard-throwing Louisville right-hander Zack Burdi, who lacks Groome's upside but is far closer to being ready for the big leagues.

"Obviously [Groome] has a development path that he's going to have to go through, but we saw the upside of a guy who can pitch in this rotation someday," Red Sox general manager Mike Hazen said. "We had him rated very high on our board. The amount of looks we had on him, the stuff that we saw going back to the summer, the history we were able to build with him, we were able to do that quite extensively."

If anything caused Groome to slip out of the top 10, it might have been questions about his signability. Groome withdrew his commitment to Vanderbilt in favor of a junior college program in Florida, a move that might increase his leverage to sign for above the MLB-recommended slot value considering he's now eligible to re-enter the draft next year.

According to various reports, there also may have been concerns about maturity issues. And the Red Sox recently have had problems with another touted high school draftee. Right-hander Michael Kopech, a first-round pick in 2014 who received a $1.67 million signing bonus, was suspended for 50 games last year after testing positive for a banned stimulant, then broke his hand in an altercation with a teammate in spring training.

"With any player we're considering at the top of the draft, we do extensive work on makeup and character, background, all of those things," Rickard said. "We did put a lot of work in on that end of it. We’re very comfortable that we know who Jason Groome is."

For what it's worth, Groome on Thursday night held a conference call with New Jersey reporters in which he sounded eager to sign with the Red Sox, his favorite team growing up.

"Money doesn’t really matter to me," Groome said. "I'm just happy to start the next chapter of my life, and that’s playing professional baseball. I couldn’t really ask for anything more than that. It's a crazy feeling, just hearing my name get called, especially by the Red Sox. It was the best experience of my life. Me and my family had no idea, and when they called my name, we went crazy. It was a dream come true."

Groome said his family is filled with Yankees fans, so he rooted for the Red Sox just to be different.

"I've just taken them as my best team," Groome said. "Dustin Pedroia is my favorite player just because of his work ethic, and David Price, who I like to model myself after as well. It's just awesome ending up with Boston. I couldn't ask for a better team to go to. I'm so comfortable because they're my favorite team."

With the 51st overall pick, the Red Sox selected shortstop C.J. Chatham from Florida Atlantic University.