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Red Sox select Ball State infielder Vitek with 20th pick

Ball State infielder may figure at third

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / June 8, 2010

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CLEVELAND — The Red Sox invited Kolbrin Vitek to Fenway Park over the weekend, hoping the Ball State infielder would be available when Boston picked 20th in the amateur draft.

The Padres had shown a similar level of interest, bringing him to Petco Park for a workout.

Once the Padres passed on him at No. 9 last night, the Sox got their man and swiftly agreed to terms of a contract.

“I’m excited to get started,’’ said Vitek, who is likely to begin his career with Single A Lowell.

The Red Sox stayed with college players for their next two selections, taking Middle Tennessee outfielder Bryce Brentz with the 36th overall pick and Louisiana State righthander Anthony Ranaudo at No. 39.

Brentz also agreed to terms and like Vitek is close to signing.

“That was as excited as we’ve been in the draft room since I got here,’’ general manager Theo Epstein said. “We felt the draft broke our way. Hopefully in five years we can look back and still feel as good about this draft.’’

That the Padres and Red Sox were interested in Vitek is not surprising given their shared scouting philosophy. New Padres GM Jed Hoyer was Epstein’s assistant for eight seasons. Hoyer also hired Red Sox scouting director Jason McLeod as his top assistant.

New Red Sox scouting director Amiel Sawdaye was McLeod’s assistant for five years.

“I was definitely thinking the Red Sox were the next in line,’’ Vitek said. “It was a great experience when I visited. I met just about everybody in their [baseball] operations department, the GM, the scouts. I had a great time out there. Once Boston picked me, I was very excited about it.’’

Vitek said during batting practice he was “playing pepper’’ off the wall in left field.

“I enjoyed hitting there,’’ he said.

A 6-foot-3-inch, 195-pound second baseman in college, Vitek could wind up at third base in pro ball. The Bryan, Ohio, native was the Mid-American Conference player of the year and a first-team All-American.

Vitek, who turned 21 in April, was considered one of the better college hitters in the draft. He hit .361 for the Cardinals with a .445 on-base percentage and a .691 slugging percentage. Over 58 games, he had 17 homers and drove in 68 runs. He also stole 16 bases in 20 attempts.

Vitek also pitched for Ball State, going 3-4 with a 3.28 ERA over 79 2/3 innings.

He worked out at shortstop and third for the Red Sox over the weekend, and said he feels like third will be a good fit, although some projections have him in center field.

“I played third base my entire sophomore year. It was a comfortable position for me to play,’’ he said.

The Red Sox took Ball State infielder Jeremy Hazelbaker in the fourth round last season. He is hitting .240 for Single A Salem.

Brentz, 21, hit .348 with 15 homers and 49 RBIs in 46 games for Middle Tennessee. He had a monstrous sophomore season, getting named All-America and making Team USA. The 6-foot, 185-pound Knoxville native was not as dominant as a junior as he recovered from a high ankle sprain. But he came into the draft rated as one of the best pure hitters in the college ranks.

“Light-tower power,’’ said Sawdaye, who described Brentz as “wearing out Lansdowne Street’’ during a workout at Fenway.

The Sox plan to use Brentz in right field.

Ranaudo could be a steal at No. 39. The 20-year-old came into the season ranked as one of the best pitchers in the draft. A stress reaction in his elbow changed that as Ranaudo missed three weeks then struggled upon returning.

The 6-7, 227-pound New Jersey native was 5-3 with a 7.32 ERA for the Tigers in 15 appearances but showed his potential at the end of the season, getting his fastball back in the mid-90s. He also throws a curveball and changeup.

Epstein saw him pitch in the Southeastern Conference tournament.

Ranaudo is advised by Scott Boras, which likely means he will not sign until close to the August deadline. But with Vitek and Brentz agreeing to terms, the Red Sox had the opportunity to gamble and took it.

Ranaudo may try to increase his value by pitching this summer, perhaps in the Cape Cod League. That could be part of a ploy by Boras to sign him to a deal befitting a player selected in the first 10 picks.

“Good ones are sometimes worth waiting for,’’ Epstein said.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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