Carolina on Red Sox's mind in Round 1
Boston goes with high school outfielder, college pitcher
NEW YORK -- For the first time in Theo Epstein's four seasons as general manager, the Red Sox nabbed a high school player with their first pick in Tuesday's First-Year Player Draft. With pick No. 27 overall, the Sox grabbed outfielder Jason Place out of Wren High School in Piedmont, S.C.
Place, 18, is the first high school player the Sox have taken with their first pick since Jon Lester -- currently the organization's most prized starting pitching prospect -- in 2002.
"It's the greatest day of my life, up to this point," said an ecstatic Place from Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he is participating in a high school All-American game.
Allow Place to tell the story of how he found out he was drafted by one of the most historic franchises in baseball.
"I got a phone call when about the 25th pick was flashing across and it was Jason McLeod, the scouting director [from the Red Sox], and he told me then, 'Congratulations, Jason, we got you. You're going to be 27 for us,'" said Place. "The East and West teams were all in there with all their parents and stuff, they had it on the big screen TV, we were watching the draft with an Internet connection and we had a projector, just waiting to see what went down.
"Then, all of a sudden, my name flashed up on the screen and they called out Jason Place and the whole place went wild. It was exciting. Being down here in Albuquerque with some of the best baseball players in the nation, it couldn't have happened in a better place."
The Red Sox went into this draft looking for power bats to bolster their system, which was a big reason why they led off with Place.
"We were trying to get players who could make the most impact," said McLeod. "Jason is a kid who is tremendously talented, athletic, strong, with good bat speed, raw power, he can run and throw."
Just 72 hours removed from smoking a batting practice homer over the Green Monster in a pre-draft workout, Place can now have dreams of doing it for real.
"I got to take some hacks there, it was pretty awesome," Place said. "I put one out of the stadium, over the Monster. It was pretty awesome. I just turned around and smiled, and all the scouts were looking at me. That was pretty cool."
A right-handed hitter and thrower, Place was a hitting machine in high school, batting .478 over his career. Place finished with a stellar senior season, hitting .544 with four homers, six doubles, 31 walks, 21 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. A center fielder in high school, Place might project better as a corner outfielder.
"I think he's going to be successful either way," said Randy Thompson, Place's high school coach. "I know Jason likes to play center field. I could see Jason projecting as a power-hitting right fielder because he runs well. He's got a plus arm. He gets such a good break on the ball. Whatever position he's at, they're going to have a quality outfielder there."
Place has a commitment to the University of South Carolina, but the fact the Red Sox drafted him with their most premium spot indicates the organization's confidence in signing him to a deal. It is Place's goal to go pro right away.
"Of course, definitely," said Place. "We loved South Carolina, but ... we made it clear in the beginning that wasn't the primary goal. To start my professional career, it couldn't have happened with a better organization. The situation with their A-ball team being in Greenville, South Carolina, it couldn't be better."
Place was asked what kind of player Red Sox fans will see.
"They're gonna see a guy with an outstanding work ethic and I'm never going to stop. I'm relentless," said Place. "I'm going to try to bust into the Majors and try to help them win another World Series as soon as possible."
Though there are many steps along the way before that can happen, Thompson for one doesn't question Place's ambitions.
"This kid works so hard and had a dream of one day being a first-round draft pick, and it's just a steppingstone for him for him to reach his lifelong goal of being in the Major Leagues," Thompson said. "He'll reach it. He's the type of kid that, don't tell him he can't do something because he's going to prove you wrong. It's exciting to have that organization be the Red Sox, because it's such an outstanding organization."
The Red Sox didn't have to wait long for their next selection, taking right-handed pitcher Daniel Bard at No. 28. A standout at the University of North Carolina, Bard was projected as a top 10 pick in some circles.
"Overall, I'm pretty excited about it," said Bard. "I was a little disappointed to see slide from where the projections had me going. I've been a Red Sox fan almost my whole life, I have family all around the Boston area, I think it's a good going to be a good fit."
At 6-4 and 200 pounds, Bard has a fastball that touches as high as 97 mph. He is still trying to refine the command of his secondary pitches, including a breaking ball.
A native of Charlotte, Bard was named ACC Pitcher of the Week twice in 2006, his junior season. He finished '06 pitching his best baseball of the season, going 5-1 with a 1.56 ERA in his last seven appearances, six of which were starts.
The Red Sox took Bard as one of their compensation picks for the free agent departure of All-Star center fielder Johnny Damon.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.