BOSTON -- Looking to continue their recent momentum in the First-Year Player Draft, the Red Sox nabbed a most intriguing athlete in pitcher-shortstop Casey Kelly with the 30th overall pick on Thursday to close out the first round.
Kelly, an 18-year-old senior out of Sarasota (Fla.) High School, is a two-sport star who was recruited to play quarterback for the University of Tennessee. However, the Red Sox are obviously confident Kelly will choose playing professional baseball instead of following in the footsteps of National Football League superstar Peyton Manning.
"We spent some time talking to the kid," said general manager Theo Epstein. "First of all, he's a great kid, from a great baseball family. You could hear the passion in his voice when he talks about baseball, and we wouldn't have taken him if we didn't feel in our hearts that he wanted to go out and play professional ball."
There is still a contract to be worked out. But all things being equal, Kelly sounded like a man who was ready to start a baseball career.
"It's definitely a tough decision," said Kelly. "I haven't talked to anybody at Tennessee yet. Out of respect to them, we'll just have to see how the summer goes and see how everything plays out with this."
Kelly was then asked if he saw his future in professional baseball or pro football.
"Right now, I'd have to say baseball," he said. "It's kind of up for grabs. I don't really know the answer to that yet. We'll see how the summer plays out."
Kelly's father, Pat, played in three Major League games for the Blue Jays in 1980 and is a veteran coach in professional baseball. He currently works in the Reds organization.
Making the pick even more interesting is that the Red Sox have the flexibility of using Kelly as a pitcher instead of a shortstop, the position at which he was officially drafted. Kelly starred in both positions in high school and is said to have a nice three-pitch mix.
"I have a two-seam fastball that moves a lot and sinks, and a curveball that's pretty good, and a changeup. I have three pitches," he said.
Jason McLeod, Boston's amateur scouting director, and Epstein both feel that the most likely projection for Kelly is as a pitcher.
"I think we've liked him a lot as a pitcher," McLeod said. "I think eventually that will be where he ends up, that would be my guess. But if we can get something done and get him out playing this summer, he certainly would have the opportunity to go out as a shortstop."
Though Kelly's commitment to Tennessee certainly added an element of risk to the pick, the Red Sox thought it was far outweighed by the possible reward.
"A lot of teams liked him as a shortstop, and there were rumors of teams that would pick him as a shortstop in the first round, and there were a handful of teams that liked him as a pitcher," Epstein said. "He's a unique animal. We have someone who's a potential first-round talent as a position player and as a pitcher and can go to Tennessee and play quarterback."
Red Sox's top five selections
|30.||SS||Casey Kelly||Sarasota HS|
|45.||RHP||Bryan Price||Rice U|
|77.||SS||Derrik Gibson||Seaford HS (Del.)|
|85.||RHP||Stephen Fife||U of Utah|
|108.||RHP||Kyle Weiland||U of Notre Dame|
|Complete Red Sox Draft results >|
Because of his passion for playing shortstop and quarterback, Kelly didn't start pitching until his latter years of high school. But McLeod, who scouted him first-hand, saw plenty to like.
"Right now, he's exceptionally advanced for a high school kid," said McLeod. "It comes pretty easily to him. He's very natural on the mound. He has command of a low-90s fastball with movement. Very good breaking ball, hard curveball that he throws, and the changeup as well. He's a kid, obviously, with his football talent as well as his talent in the infield, doesn't spend a lot of time on the mound. But with the time he has spent [pitching], he's pretty advanced.
"He did what you'd want to see out of a high school pitcher -- size, arm action, delivery, worked on both sides of the plate. [He] could throw fastballs away that ran back over the corner, which you don't see a lot out of a high school kid. Hard breaking ball. It was a very good look."
As a position player, Kelly hit .473 in his senior year at Sarasota, adding in 14 doubles, one triple, five homers, 31 RBIs and 11 stolen bases. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, he went 8-1 with a 1.16 ERA and two saves in 12 appearances. In 66 innings, he walked 12 and struck out 66.
The Sox didn't have to wait long before making their next selection. Thanks to losing Eric Gagne as a free agent to the Milwaukee Brewers, they were able to pick right-hander Bryan Price out of Rice University in the supplemental round (45th overall).
Price had an impressive junior year, going 3-4 with a 3.65 ERA in 27 appearances, which included one start.
The Red Sox see a lot of untapped talent in Price.
"Again, [he's] another kid who has the physical attributes we look for, with size and delivery and arm action," McLeod said. "As you do your research on him, you'll see he didn't have a lot of innings his first couple of years at Rice due to ineffectiveness when he did pitch. He only threw 17 innings his freshman and sophomore years. You can look at it two ways. For us, we kind of see that as meaning he wasn't abused, he has a fresh arm.
"Big arm, fastball up to 95 [mph], with good life down in the zone," continued McLeod. "Hard slider, and he's someone that's a little untapped for a college right-handed pitcher, which excites us. We think there's more upside left to him. And having the physical attributes that he does have, we're just really happy to get him into our player-development system and let our guys get their hands on him."
The Red Sox project Price as a starter.
"As far as starting and relieving, I prefer to start," said Price. "I feel like I can get into more of a rhythm when starting. I feel like I'm much more polished due to the fact that I'm not throwing day after day. I've got some days off where I can work on stuff in the bullpen and in between. I think I'm sharper as a starter."
As part of an MLB initiative, each of the 30 teams held a special Draft of surviving Negro League players, who represent every player who did not have an opportunity to play in the Major Leagues.
Boston's selection was pitcher Jim Colzie, who played for the Indianapolis Clowns and Atlanta Black Crackers for seven years and is best remembered for beating future Hall of Famer Satchel Paige in 1947.
Here is a look at Boston's Day 1 selections in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft:
Supplemental round (No. 45): RHP Bryan Price, Rice University
Price, 21, went 3-4 with two saves and a 3.65 ERA in 27 games (one start) as a junior at Rice University this season. He fanned 50 and walked 24 in 44 1/3 innings, an average of 10.2 K's per nine innings pitched. In 2007, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound right-hander went 0-0 with a save and a 7.84 ERA in eight games (one start). He fanned 12 and walked seven in 10 1/3 innings pitched, an average of 10.5 K's per nine innings. He was ranked the No. 47 overall prospect and the No. 25 pitcher in this year's Draft by Baseball America.
Round 2 (No. 77): SS Derrik Gibson, Seaford (Del.) High School
Gibson, 18, was ranked the No. 199 overall prospect and the No. 92 position player in this year's Draft by Baseball America. He hit .633 with five doubles, five triples, five homers, 29 RBIs, 34 runs scored and 13 steals as a senior. The 6-foot-1, 170-pound right-handed hitter was named the 2008 Delaware High School Player of the Year as well as earning First-Team All-State honors at shortstop in his sophomore, junior and senior seasons. He was named the 2006-2007 Delaware Baseball Player of the Year after batting .491 with a home run, 19 RBIs and 15 steals while going 7-1 with a 1.38 ERA and 108 strikeouts in 56 innings on the mound. He was recommended by Red Sox scout Chris Calciano.
Round 3 (No. 85): RHP Stephen Fife, University of Utah
Fife, 21, was ranked the No. 57 overall prospect and the No. 33 pitcher in this year's Draft by Baseball America. The 6-foot-3, 215 pound right-hander was 7-5 with a 3.72 ERA in 15 starts as a junior for the University of Utah in 2008. He struck out 78 and walked 29 over 92 innings. He threw two complete games, including one shutout. The Boise, Idaho, native led the Utes in wins (seven), starts (14), innings (92), strikeouts (78) and opponents' batting average against (.252). He went 6-2 with a 4.43 ERA in 17 games (six starts) as a sophomore in 2007. He posted a team-low .298 batting average against the finished second on the club with 53 Ks.
Round 3 (No. 108): RHP Kyle Weiland, University of Notre Dame
Weiland, 21, is the University of Notre Dame's all-time leader with 25 career saves. The Albuquerque, N.M., native posted a 2-2 record with seven saves and 5.04 ERA over a team-high 26 appearances as a junior for the Fighting Irish in 2008. He struck out 31 and walked 10 in 30 1/3 frames, an average of 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. The 6-foot-3, 180-pound right-hander went 1-2 with a save and a 2.38 ERA for the Falmouth Commodores of the Cape Cod Baseball League in 2007 and ranked third nationally with 16 saves as a freshman in 2006. He was recommended by Red Sox scout Chris Mears.
Round 4 (No. 142): OF Peter Hissey, Unionville (Pa.) High School
Hissey, 18, hit .509 with 26 steals and a .672 on-base percentage as a senior for Unionville (Pa.) High School this year. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound left-handed-hitting outfielder was ranked the No. 136 overall prospect and the No. 66 position player in this year's Draft by Baseball America.
Round 5 (No. 172): OF Ryan Westmoreland, Portsmouth (R.I.) High School
Westmoreland, 18, was ranked the No. 113 overall prospect and the No. 53 pitcher in this year's Draft by Baseball America. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound outfielder hit .486 with four homers, 31 RBIs, 37 runs scored and 17 steals for Portsmouth (R.I.) High School this season. He went 7-0 with a 0.45 ERA in seven games (six starts) and tossed a perfect game on April 30, fanning 19 of 21 batters faced. He also pitched a complete-game one-hit shutout and fanned 20 on April 3. In 2007, he was named the Rhode Island High School Baseball Player of the Year as well as the state's Schoolboy Athlete of the Year.
Round 6 (No. 202): C Ryan Lavarnway, Yale University
Lavarnway, 20, led the Ivy League with 13 homers, 42 RBIs, 29 walks, a .824 slugging percentage and a .541 on-base percentage as a junior for Yale University. He led the Bulldogs with a .398 batting average. The Woodland Hills, Calif., native is Yale's all-time leader with 33 career home runs. He was a semifinalist for the Johnny Bench Award and the Golden Spikes Award, as well as a candidate for the Brooks Wallace National Player of the Year Award. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound right-handed-hitting catcher was named Second Team All-Ivy and First-Team All-New England. As a sophomore in 2007, he led the NCAA with a .467 batting average and a .873 slugging percentage, both school records. He also set single-season Yale marks in homers (14), hits (70), doubles (17), RBIs (55) and total bases (131).
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.