By definition, Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said, the decision to take lefty high school pitcher Trey Ball with the team's highest pick in 20 years was last-minute. Six players were already off the board. The Sox presumably had eyes for some of them, including outfielder Clint Frazier and third baseman Colin Moran. But once they were on the clock, they went with the best player available.
"I know that's something we say all the time, but this works out," director of amateur scouting Amiel Sawdaye said. "The way the board shakes out, Trey Ball's the best player available and that's who we take. We don't target a certain area. When you start to do that you probably become a little reckless and give up a few names that might not be the best player. So I think you have to take the best player on the board."
Ball was one of a handful of players the Sox targeted last summer and followed through the spring. At 6-feet-6, Ball had the size and athleticism they liked in pitchers. He was a two-way player. When they went out to Indiana to watch him pitch, usually in harsh weather conditions, he would typically play doubleheaders on Saturdays, playing center field in the first game and pitching the second.
He had upside both as a pitcher and a position player, but with three pitches (a 94 mile-per-hour fastball, a curveball that was able to spin despite only having thrown it for nine months, and a changeup that he an advanced feel for) there were strong signs of how much potential he had on the mound.
"Coming into the year, we like him equally as a pitcher and a hitter," Sawdaye said. "He's a really good hitter, so he's a guy that as we spent more time with him in the spring, we realized that as a pitcher he was probably more advanced and somebody we thought really had a lot of upside. Granted, he has upside on both sides of the ball but really when he's on the mound, we saw the upside as a starting pitcher – left-handed, size obviously and the athleticism.
"Then when you looked at the overall arsenal, this guy's fastball was up to 94, sitting mostly 90-94 in his games pitching. Typically when we would see him it was a Saturday. He was pitching on Saturday, second game of a doubleheader, which is a little unique when you think about it. He would play center field the first game and then pitch the second game. Typically, in most cases, the prospect would end up pitching the first game. When you look at the weather in the midwest area, the fact that he's playing a position before he's pitching, there probably is some untapped potential there."
In choosing Ball, they added to the collection of strong arms already developing in their farm system. They did the same in the second round when they took Teddy Stankiewicz, a right-handed power pitcher in the second. They had history with him going back to last year's Team USA tryouts and kept an eye on him after he decided not to sign with the Mets after being taken in the second round a year ago and instead chose to go to junior college at Seminole State in Oklahoma.
"We've had a lot of interest in him and watching him progress," Sawdaye said, "He's a big physical pitcher. He's got probably for me one of the best deliveries in the draft. His arm works really well. He throws three pitches and can really command his fastball. I think one of the interesting things about Teddy is he's 19 years old and he's a junior college pitcher, but you can kind of consider him pitching like a college junior.
"We felt like if this kid were at an SEC school like Arkansas, where he was slated to go last year, there's a chance this kid would be pitching like a college junior. He attacks the strike zone. His changeup has really improved from last year to this year. His breaking ball has gotten better. So we've kind of seen a little bit of the improvements from year to year. And his fastball's up to 96 this year. Really consistent, he's hitting in the low 90s. So I think he's a guy that we really felt comfortable with and we trusted. He had really good mound demeanor and he's a guy that's going to go out, throw a lot of strikes and can compete at the lower levels right away."
After taking the pitching duo on Day 1 of the draft, the Sox took their first position player in the third round, grabbing 18-year-old catcher Jon Denney out of Yukon High School in Oklahoma, one of the top hitting prospects in the draft.