SEATTLE — Top college catchers with strong offensive and defensive profiles represent a scarce commodity, often resulting in their selection at or near the top of the MLB Draft. And so, as the 2023 scouting season unfolded, University of Virginia catcher Kyle Teel seemed like a potentially unattainable dream selection for the Red Sox, who owned pick No. 14.
“Honestly, I kind of just gave congratulations to him that he’d be a top-10 pick somewhere. I didn’t think he’d be there for us at 14 because he’s a college catcher who put up excellent numbers. Usually those guys fly off the board,” said Red Sox mid-Atlantic area scout Wallace Rios. “But as the draft unfolded, there’s always surprises.”
On Sunday night, Teel — viewed as a likely top-10 pick — was one of those surprises.
“I think we expected him to go higher, but the draft is the draft,” said Red Sox director of amateur scouting Devin Pearson. “For us, it was kind of a no-brainer.”
Teel combines excellent natural athleticism and tremendous arm strength behind the plate with the ability as a lefthanded hitter to drive the ball to all fields, the sort of profile that represents a hand-in-glove fit for Fenway Park.
Teel said he entered the draft thinking he could go anywhere between the fifth and 20th spots. After being taken by the Sox, he was elated.
“I couldn’t be happier that I’m going to Boston,” said Teel. “It’s a dream come true.”
Per MLB sources, Teel has a below-slot agreement with the Red Sox (the slot agreement is pegged at $4.66 million). His bonus is expected to be slightly below slot, but in excess of $4 million.
Teel had a monster season as a junior at UVA, hitting .407/.475/.655 with 13 homers and 38 extra-base hits in 65 games. While he’d always shown the makings of a good hitter who could use the entire field, he made some adjustments to add more looseness to his swing that allowed his considerable raw power to start showing, with his home run total more than doubling from the six he’d hit in 2022.
“He was a complete hitter, but he added power to his game this year,” said UVA coach Brian O’Connor, who described Teel as one of the best competitors he’s had in more than two decades at the program.
“This year, you could just see it all click — the power, the contact, the all-fields usage. He’s got the numbers to back it up. He was tapping into his raw power to all fields,” said Rios. “All the loose tools he had, he put them all together.”
Yet while the 2023 season was certainly Teel’s best, he had a long history with the Red Sox that dated to his high school career in Mahwah, N.J. At multiple prospect showcases in the summer of 2019, he played for a Red Sox scouting team that was overseen by Ray Fagnant, the Sox’ Northeast Regional scout.
Fagnant recalled Teel running in from catching an inning, grabbing a bat, and blasting a ball to the warning track in right field at Fenway Park, just in front of the bullpen.
“He almost hit one out for us already,” said Fagnant. “We have great history with him.”
Fagnant recalled another showcase event at the East Coast Pro Showcase later that summer where he wanted to give Teel a game off behind the plate. And so, he had Teel play elsewhere — spending one inning each at every position except pitcher and catcher.
The idea of a catcher who has the athletic attributes to move all over the field (Teel played right field and catcher as a freshman in college, before catching every game for UVA in both 2022 and 2023) as a lineup force is rare.
“He had one of the best, most consistent offensive years that we’ve ever had. I don’t think this guy’s average ever fell below .400,” said O’Connor. “And I think he’s an elite defender. He’s incredibly athletic. He reminds me a little bit of Buster Posey.”
Teel will have a chance to join an organization that was transformed by another catcher who was drafted at No. 14 overall in Jason Varitek, who was selected at that spot by the Mariners in 1994. Teel, whose father Garett spent five seasons as a catcher in the Dodgers’ minor league system, expressed excitement for the chance to work with Varitek, currently the Red Sox’ game planning coordinator and catching coach.
“I’ve always looked up to him,” said Teel. “It’s really cool that I’m going to be able to play with him now.”
Like Varitek, Teel’s advisor is Scott Boras. Teel suggested he looks forward to starting his professional career quickly.
“I can say this: I’m ready to get to work and I’m ready to get to playing,” he said.
In making Teel their highest drafted catcher since 1984, when the team took John Marzano at No. 14, the Sox could daydream Sunday night that they found a franchise anchor moving forward, someone who will make a habit of driving balls off Fenway’s fabled left-field wall when he’s not guiding his pitching staff.
“He’s going to bang up that Green Monster we have over there, for sure. He’s going to demolish the gaps,” said Rios. “He’s just a fun guy with a lot of potential. That type of kid can change an organization.”
With their second-round pick (No. 50 overall), the Sox selected from a familiar target demographic, nabbing shortstop Nazzan Zanetello, who hit .413/.537/.809 with five homers in 22 games as a senior for Christian Brothers College High School in Missouri.
“He’s one of the best athletes in the draft, in my opinion,” said Pearson. “He’s explosive. He’s got speed. He’s got the ability to play a really good shortstop, athletic enough to play a really good centerfield.”
Zanetello, who attended the draft in Seattle with his family, said the Sox had scouted him heavily all season. He expressed elation at his selection.
“I feel like I’m walking on air right now,” Zanatello said. “[Red Sox fans] can expect to see me in Boston pretty soon. They’re going to get the hardest worker in the draft and a lot of upside from me. I was talking almost every day with [the Red Sox]. . . . The Red Sox are getting a five-tool player and a five-tool person.”
Zanetello said he has an above-slot agreement with the Sox (the slot is worth $1.698 million).
Pearson described the first night of the draft as a “wild ride” for the Sox, with considerable excitement about the two players the team added. Monday’s Day 2 will span Rounds 3-10, with Tuesday the final day for Rounds 11-20.