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05/30/06 4:56 PM ET

Red Sox are top-heavy for draft

With seven picks in top 103, scouting staff excited

As the preparation intensifies for the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, these are exciting days for the player development staff of the Boston Red Sox. Jonathan Papelbon (class of 2003) is an elite closer for the Red Sox. Fellow young guns Craig Hansen and Jon Lester are just a phone call away at Triple-A Pawtucket. Dustin Pedroia is one of the best middle infield prospects in the game.

That type of recent success makes Boston's amateur scouts work even harder entering the draft, as recent fruits of their labor have only increased the thirst for more.

"For the player development people, for the scouts that get to see the Manny Delcarmens and the Papelbons, they see these guys on the cusp, or already being there," said Jason McLeod, director of amateur scouting for the Red Sox. "And now we're seeing the Pedroias and Lesters matriculate up at the Triple-A level. I think it fires everybody up.

"Especially for some of our scouts who have signed these kids, I think it makes them all work even harder and harder. We had our pre-draft meetings last week and I know these guys are really fired up about what's going on in the organization."

And as tough as it was to watch players like Johnny Damon and Bill Mueller depart for free agency last winter, payback comes in the draft, as compensatory picks for those losses contribute to Boston's solid draft position: Four picks in the first 44, and seven of the first 103.

In a situation similar to last year, the Sox hold the 27th and 28th picks in the first round.

"Obviously it's always nice to go into the draft having extra picks and this year is no different," McLeod said. "I know, if you read publications, it says that this year's draft is down. I don't think that's necessarily true. Maybe there aren't the superstars at the top of the draft, but we feel real good about the picks we have at 27, 28, 40 and 44.

While McLeod acknowledges there is a lack of big-name prospects in this year's draft, he sees it as a challenge that can bring out the best in his staff.

"I'm excited about this year's draft," McLeod said. "I think you're really going to get a better feel for your scouting staff and seeing how good you are and how good your scouts are because in years like this when there isn't the top guys -- those guys are easy to scout -- we'll find out a lot about ourselves this year.

Though the Red Sox have been known during general manager Theo Epstein's regime to favor college players, McLeod likes what he sees at the high school level this year.

"Again, unfortunately, coming off a year like last year when you had the Justin Uptons, and Alex Gordons and Ryan Zimmermans and Mike Pelfreys and those guys, you just don't have those players this year, McLeod said. "I think that's why it's easy to look at the draft and say it's a weak year. I'm excited about the depth of the high school talent that's out there. I think you're going to see a lot of these kids that are in the high school ranks become very good Major League players in five, six years, they're just not high-profile guys now. So I think the high school class, especially with the position players, will probably surprise some people.

There are a couple of areas the Red Sox will look to strengthen as a whole. But they'll be careful not to let that strategy get the best of them.

"I know it's an easy answer to just take the best player on the board and most of the time, that's what we're going to do," McLeod said. "It is no secret that we definitely would like to get some catching into the system. We'd like to get power bats into the system, we'll spend probably a little more time looking for that kind of guy to see if he's out there."

Before this year's draft gets underway, here is a look at how Boston's top selections of the last three years are faring.

Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, 2005, pick No. 23: The speedy outfielder out of Oregon State has been exactly what the Red Sox had hoped thus far. Ellsbury is a sparkplug at the plate and strong center fielder. In his first 94 at-bats for Class A Wilmington, Ellsbury hit .330 with three homers and 16 RBIs. He stole 12 bases and registered a .411 on-base percentage.

Craig Hansen, RHP, 2005, pick No. 26: A dominant closer during his years at St. John's, Hansen spent the last two weeks of the 2005 season with the Red Sox. He started this year at Double-A Portland and was quickly promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket. The Red Sox have recently been using Hansen as a starter, but that is mainly for developmental reasons. They are open about what role he'll serve in the future. In his first 29 2/3 innings of the season, Hansen didn't allow a homer.

Dustin Pedroia, 2B-SS, 2004, pick No. 65: The middle infielder strained his left shoulder in Spring Training, depriving him of an opportunity to play games in Major League camp. Perhaps the injury contributed to Pedroia's slow start at the plate for Triple-A Pawtucket, as he was hitting just .250 with a homer and 10 RBIs in his first 136 at-bats. The Red Sox think that Pedroia will be a fixture on their Major League team soon, perhaps as early as next season.

David Murphy, OF, 2003, pick No. 17: The left-handed-hitting outfielder is still trying to make the adjustments that will allow him to be a more consistent hitter. Murphy, who has mainly been known for his defense in the Minors, was recently promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he hit .267 with a homer and four RBIs in his first 15 at-bats.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.