One theme has stood constant throughout the Red Sox’s most successful drafts: diversity of picks is beautiful. And that theory was in play again on Day One of the 2011 Amateur Draft as the Sox checked off all boxes by selecting a high school pitcher, a high school hitter, a college pitcher, and a college hitter with their first four picks.
The Red Sox spent their first pick, No. 19 overall, on Matt Barnes, a RHP from the University of Connecticut. Barnes has been connected to the Red Sox since Theo Epstein witnessed him throw an 8-inning gem against the University of South Florida on May 7th. The question was never if the Red Sox would tab the Nutmeg State native with their first selection, it was if he would be there for the taking. Barnes offers a rare combination of power, projection, and polish, which means he could push quickly through the system and get better at each level as he does. His fastball touches the high-90’s and sits a few clicks below. He compliments that pitch with a hammer curveball. The self-admitted Yankee-fan will need to shed those pinstripes quickly.
With their second pick, the pendulum swung from a polished college pitcher to an athletic prep catcher. Blake Swihart, a switch-hitting catch from New Mexico was the Sox selection at No. 26 26 overall. While Swihart’s tools aren’t in question, his price tag is. With a strong commitment to the University of Texas looming, Swihart will undoubtedly play the waiting game up until the August signing deadline. On the field, no one is questioning his tools or his athleticism. He projects to stay behind the plate and have at least average hit and power tools. While Swihart answers the bell on the field, only time will tell if he will be doing that in a Red Sox uniform or the burnt orange of Texas.
With their next pick, at No. 36, the Sox gifted Swihart a potential battery-mate in the low minors when they took LHP Henry Owens, a high school pitcher out of California. Owens had big helium early on in the draft process this Spring, something which hurt him in the end as he failed to consistently live up to the expectations he set. Owens is a rarity for Theo Epstein: a prep lefty. This is the first time since 2003, Epstein’s first draft, which he has selected a southpaw from high school in the first ten rounds of the draft. Owens can hump his fastball into the mid-90’s, but sits in the low-90’s. His primary breaking pitch is a big curveball which he took a step forward with this season. The Sox will have to buy Owens out of a Miami commitment to secure his services.
Rounding out the day, the Sox took the plunge on South Carolina star OF Jackie Bradley Jr., who slipped in the draft. A left-handed hitter and the best player on the 2010 College World Series champion Gamecocks, Bradley Jr. is the consensus best defensive outfielder in the draft. He combines a plus arm with plus range in CF -- defensively, his draft status never wavered. In the early fits of the season, Bradley was a possible top 15 pick. But a combination of a deep hitting slump and a season-ending wrist injury had him sliding down draft boards coming into the first day. While his season ended on multiple sour notes, Bradley is as dynamic a player as any outfielder in this draft when firing on all cylinders. The Sox are hoping that he realizes his previous form and becomes the CF of the future.