Hunter Renfroe vividly remembers his conversation with Red Sox area scout Danny Watkins. during the 2010 Major League Baseball draft. Renfroe’s phone rang and on the other end was Watkins, who had just one question.
“Give me a number,” Renfroe recalled Watkins asking.
Watkins followed Renfroe that year in high school and was intrigued by the then-catcher’s strong physique, raw power, and arm. Truthfully, Watkins believed Renfroe could be a good big league catcher. But a strong commitment to Mississippi State put what the Red Sox and Watkins saw in Renfroe’s future potentially on hold.
Unless, of course, Sox agreed to Renfroe’s desired signing bonus.
The number was somewhere in the $500,000 range, Watkins recalled. The Sox did not meet that number but still drafted Renfroe in the 31st round. As a result, Renfroe chose to go to college, something he saw as a priority.
“I wanted to go to college,” Renfroe said by phone recently. “I wanted to get the experience of going to college and growing up.”
But that didn’t stop Renfroe from reaping some of the benefits of being drafted. That summer, Renfroe and his father, Todd, made the trip from a Georgia tournament to a post-draft workout at Fenway. Despite Renfroe being almost certain that he would attend college, he wanted to get the experience of playing at one of the sport’s greatest ballparks.
“We were able to go up there [to Boston] and play and walk around and kind of experience the city a little bit,” Renfroe said.
Watkins wasn’t at the workout, but other Sox evaluators were and saw the potential the Watkins saw.
“I think most people kind of agreed with me that this was a very interesting prospect who definitely had the tools that I identified,” Watkins said.
More than 10 years have passed since the Red Sox and Renfroe crossed paths. Renfroe developed into a first-round pick by the San Diego Padres in 2013. After stints with the Padres and the Tampa Bay Rays, Renfroe and the Sox will reunite after the sides agreed to a one-year deal worth $3.1 million.
“We know the culture of Boston and how great the fanbase is and how great the people are. And how in love New England is with their sports,” said Renfroe, who will turn 29 on Thursday. “That was a huge thing for me as far as wanting to be there.”
He’s no longer a catcher, but an outfielder who could patrol left or right at Fenway. The strong physique and raw power is still there. In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Renfroe had eight homers in 42 games. But from 2017-19, Renfroe had at least 26 homers each season, including 33 in 2019.
The Red Sox are in the midst of what’s seemingly a rebuild. Renfroe, who is coming off a World Series appearance with the Rays, however, feels differently about his new ball club. Even in the Sox’ down 2020 season where they finished at the bottom of the American League East, Renfroe saw something from the opposing side.
“Almost every team that came into play Boston, or Boston came to play them, they saw the potential, they saw the athletes,” Renfroe said. “And you’re like, ‘These guys are really good.’
“Every team has their ups and downs in a season. I think at the end of the year they started kind of clicking and getting better and better, but obviously it was a short season. We all knew that it was only a matter of time before they figured it out again and we didn’t want them to figure it out.”
Before signing with the Sox, Renfroe talked with some other players who played in the organization, including former Sox leader and first baseman Mitch Moreland.
Renfroe still has yet to connect with Watkins and is hoping to do so at spring training, if COVID-19 protocols allow him to. The two will have a lot of catching up to do. Watkins said the two spent a lot of time around each other during Renfroe’s high school days.
“He’s a very genuine young man,” Watkins said.
When it comes to the estimated $500,000 number that it would have taken to sign Renfroe out of high school, Watkins can’t help but think about the steal that would have been for the Sox.
“They probably would have been a bargain at that point, right?” Watkins said.
Julian McWilliams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @byJulianMack.