Ten years ago, the Red Sox grabbed a well-known Southeastern Conference center fielder who’d entered the year as a possible top-10 selection, but whose struggles as a junior led him to slide to pick No. 40. The Sox looked past the struggles and took Jackie Bradley Jr. based on the certainty of his excellent defense and the promise of his track record.
On Monday, the Red Sox opened day two of the MLB draft with the hope of repeating that history through Florida outfielder Jud Fabian. Fabian’s top prospect status reflected huge tools — excellent power and center-field defense, along with major league average or better speed and throwing arm — and the promise of his early college career, when he was the youngest player on the field.
Fabian graduated from high school at age 17, yet still held his own as a freshman before a strong Cape League season (.290/.350/500 with six homers) against older competition.
“He still showed the most tools out of everybody he was playing with on his Bourne team,” said Red Sox area scout Dante Ricciardi. “That’s pretty impressive.”
Fabian built on that summer in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign (.294/.407/.603 with five homers in 17 games), cementing his standing as a top prospect. But Fabian, always vulnerable to strikeouts, saw his whiff rate spike early in 2021 to just over 37 percent in his first 26 games. That led to a precipitous drop on draft boards.
Still, there was context to consider. At 20 years old, he was younger than draft-eligible peers. His relative baseball inexperience was further magnified by the pandemic-shortened sophomore year.
Moreover, Fabian settled during Florida’s season, controlling the effort level of his swing and improving his pitch selection and strike zone management. That helped set in motion a 23-game on-base streak from April to mid-May. His final 33 games, he cut his strikeout rate to a tolerable 23 percent. And he showed huge power even against standout competition, including a two-homer game against Vanderbilt righty and No. 2 overall pick Jack Leiter.
Jud Fabian. Florida OF. Projected 1st/2nd round pick.— hashim (@___hash___) May 2, 2021
Homered twice today off of the potential #1 overall pick Jack Leiter.
Strong and balanced swing, sinks his hips, and keeps his weight back to drive the ball. Great fastball hitter with power to all fields. pic.twitter.com/s1k9Q4bHeq
Fabian ended up hitting .249/.364/.560 with 20 homers (second in the SEC), a lot of walks, and a 29 percent strikeout rate. His mid-year adjustments amidst the pressure of his draft year impressed the Sox, and convinced them of his big-league potential.
“He’s got power. He can play elite center field. He’s just a guy that can affect your team on multiple levels. That stood out to us,” said Ricciardi. “He did have his struggles, but I think he tamed them. That’s really impressive and tells you a lot about Jud.”
And so, the Sox felt they couldn’t pass on Fabian when he remained on the board in the second round. His upside was too great to ignore.
“You can poke holes, but at the end of the day, he’s an impactful athlete, an impactful centerfielder with impactful power and impactful on-base ability,” said Red Sox amateur scouting director Paul Toboni. “We’re really excited.”
With its other picks on Monday:
⋅ The Red Sox selected 22-year-old North Carolina State infielder/outfielder Tyler McDonough in the third round. A 5-foot-10 switch-hitter with defensive versatility and a strong feel for the game, he hit .339/.423/.631 with 15 homers and 37 extra-base hits in 55 games this year.
“He just has a really well-rounded tool set,” said Toboni.
⋅ Elmer Rodriguez (fourth round) is a 17-year-old from Puerto Rico who sparks the scouting imagination. The reed-like righthander — “probably 6-foot-5, 160 pounds soaking wet,” said Toboni — worked at 91-93 mph in high school while topping out at 94. He shows feel for a slider and changeup, and also throws a curveball, showing mound intelligence and the potential for strength and power gains.
“You want to check the boxes of great athlete, great strikes, great body control, great velocity projection,” said Toboni. “It makes for a really enticing long-term outlook.”
⋅ The Red Sox turned back to Florida, selecting catcher Nathan Hickey in the fifth round. The lefthanded hitter posted a .317/.435/.522 line with nine homers and more walks (42) than strikeouts (40) this season.
“He’s a pure hitter,” said Ricciardi. “He flat-out rakes.”
In addition to catching, Ricciardi believes Hickey can play first, second, or third.
⋅ Daniel McElveny (sixth round) played at Bonita High School, down the road from where first-rounder Marcelo Mayer played for Eastlake High. As a senior, McElveny hit .435/.580/.764 with five homers in 29 games. His only offer to play in college was as a walk-on at San Diego State, but the Sox saw a player who could catch and play both infield and outfield, with a feel to hit.
⋅ The Sox took righthander Wyatt Olds (seventh round) from Oklahoma, a pitcher who moved from the Sooners rotation into their bullpen. Olds has power stuff — a fastball that reaches the mid-90s and a slider in the mid-80s — that generated a ton of swings and misses in college, though he was hit hard at times. He went 4-6 with a 5.23 ERA while striking out 101 batters (12.0 per nine innings) and walking 37 (4.4 per nine) in 75⅔ innings in 2021.
⋅ With their eighth-round pick, the Red Sox selected righthander Hunter Dobbins from Texas Tech. Dobbins, who struck out 25 and walked five in 20 innings in the brief 2020 season, showed a significant velocity bump this spring. He reached 97 mph with a lot of movement, and showed a starter’s strike-throwing ability. But he blew out his elbow shortly before the season and required season-ending Tommy John surgery.
⋅ The Red Sox grabbed Auburn first baseman Tyler Miller in the ninth round, adding to their day-two haul of SEC position players. In 2021, he hit .313/.354/.601 with 16 homers. His low walk rate suggests questions about his approach, but there’s real power in his lefthanded swing.
⋅ Righthander Matt Litwicki (10th round) has spent four years at Indiana, but has barely pitched due to a succession of injuries (including season-ending Tommy John surgery in 2018) and the pandemic. The reliever showed high-90s velocity in 12 innings out of the bullpen this year.