Bard slips to Sox at No. 28
Boston jumps at opportunity to take lanky right-hander
NEW YORK -- Young power arms are something the Red Sox have in Josh Beckett, Jonathan Papelbon and Craig Hansen. And it is also something they continue to covet, as evidenced by their selections in the first 18 rounds of Tuesday's 2006 First-Year Player Draft.
Though the Sox nabbed high school outfielder Jason Place where their first pick of the day -- No. 27 overall -- they quickly shifted into pitching mode thereafter.
In fact, the Red Sox were still on the clock after taking Place, and grabbed right-hander Daniel Bard, a junior from the University of North Carolina, with pick No. 28. That was Boston's compensation for losing center fielder Johnny Damon to the Yankees via free agency.
Bard was projected by several publications to be a top 10 selection, but instead of fretting about why he slipped, the Red Sox quickly snatched him up.
"Some of it may have had to do with his inconsistent performance, but if you look at the final results of his year, I thought he had a very good year in the ACC," said Red Sox director of amateur scouting Jason McLeod. "Why teams passed on him, I can't speak for them. We were just happy he was there when we selected."
In Bard, the Sox added a 6-foot-4, 200-pound pitcher who touches 97 mph on the gun. Bard knows that the Sox already have a few guys like that. Now he looks forward to trying to join them.
"That's huge," Bard said. "Those names being thrown out there, not that I belong in that class, but just the fact they moved guys like Papelbon and Hansen so quickly, hopefully I can move up at that same rate."
Bard went 8-3 with a 3.47 ERA in 2006. He finished the season in dominant fashion, going 5-1 with a 1.56 ERA over his last seven appearances, six of which were starts. Bard also made a name for himself in the Cape Cod League last summer, going 3-3 with a 1.25 ERA and striking out 82 batters over 65 innings.
Playing for a big-time college program, perhaps Bard gained some invaluable experience for the pressure cooker he may one day pitch in.
"My last two starts, we clinched the ACC and clinched the regional championship," Bard said. "I guess I kind of thrive in that situation. It's added pressure, but it's really just all fun."
Boston's next selection came at No. 40, also as compensation for losing Damon, and they grabbed Wichita State left-hander Kris Johnson, who might have gone higher if not for the fact he had Tommy John elbow surgery in 2005.
"We feel very good about his talent," said McLeod. "If he never got hurt, who's to say if he would have still been there. It's hard to answer that question. He was a freshman All-American. He threw very well at Wichita State. We feel like he's someone who can come into our organization and make an impact."
Four picks later, the Red Sox used their Bill Mueller compensation pick to take right-hander Caleb Clay out of Cullman High School (Ala.). Clay throws in the low 90s.
"He's very athletic, he's got aptitude [and] we like how his arm works," McLeod said.
The Sox kept their power pitching streak alive in the second round by taking San Diego State righty Justin Masterson. Some scouts say he could project well as a reliever, thanks to his sinking fastball and slider.
"If you look at the pitching we took early with the Bards and Clays and Mastersons, these are all kids that we've seen throw 95 mph," said McLeod. "These are all big, strong guys with big arms. Guys that we hope we'll come in and make an impact very quickly with the Red Sox."
The Red Sox also got their share of intriguing bats, including first baseman Aaron Bates, a right-handed hitter who hit .354 with 20 doubles and 54 RBIs in 63 games for North Carolina State.
One of the most noteworthy selections the Sox made on the day came in the 14th round, when they got first baseman Matt LaPorta, a right-handed hitter out of University of Florida player with tremendous power.
In fact, LaPorta, according to McLeod, might have the best raw power in the country. So why was he still there so late? Simply because he is a client of agent Scott Boras, so many teams were wary of not being able to sign LaPorta.
The Red Sox did have success with a Boras client last year when they signed Hansen.
"Obviously, it's no secret who Matt LaPorta's agent is," McLeod said. "He was a kid who didn't have the kind of season that most people expected of him or he expected of himself. We just felt at that point of the draft it was definitely worth taking him. He probably has the most raw power in the country. He's going to play in the Cape Cod league this summer, so we can lean on him a little bit and scout him some more. When we got to that area of the draft, there was too much potential for impact to let him sit there and let another team grab him."
With pick No. 283, the Sox grabbed a high school outfielder in Ryan Kalish, who has a commitment to play quarterback for the University of Virginia. He has been likened by some to current Sox right fielder Trot Nixon, who was also a star quarterback during his high school days.
"We're going to take him with the thought of trying to sign him," said McLeod.
All in all, the Red Sox were pleased with the way the first day of the draft went. They'll try and make more of a dent on Wednesday.
"I think our farm system got a lot stronger today," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.