On the second day of the major league draft Tuesday, the Red Sox selected three pitchers, two outfielders, a catcher, a first baseman, and a third baseman.
The Sox selected three straight pitchers in Rounds 6 through 8. They picked up Ohio State’s Travis Lakins in the sixth round, South Alabama’s Ben Taylor in the seventh, and IMG Academy’s Logan Allen in the eighth. They spent their ninth-round pick on first baseman Tucker Tubbs, out of Memphis, and their 10th-round pick on third baseman Mitchell Gunsolus, out of Gonzaga.
The Sox started the day by taking catcher Austin Rei, out of the University of Washington, with their third-round pick before adding center fielder Tate Matheny, from Missouri State, in the fourth round.
They selected high school senior Jagger Rusconi, a USC commit out of West Ranch (Calif.) High School, in the fifth round.
Here’s a look at the Day 2 picks:
Austin Rei, C, University of Washington
Height: 6 feet
Weight: 183 pounds
2015 stats: 25 games, .330 AVG, .445 OBP, .681 SLG, 7 HR, 17 XBH, 12 BB, 28 K
Briefly: Though Rei missed much of the season with a left thumb injury, he performed well in his return, leading all Washington regulars in the three slash categories and showed the ability to turn on high-velocity fastballs when back on the field.
Baseball America described him as a strong catch-and-throw defender with above-average home-to-second pop times of 1.8-1.9 seconds; in limited time behind the plate, he threw out half of the 12 runners who attempted to steal against him this year. Many projected Rei to be a second-rounder on the basis of his strong finish to the season. Rei is the highest selection of a college catcher by the Red Sox since they took Kelly Shoppach in the second round in 2001.
Red Sox amateur scouting director Mike Rikard noted that, given the difficulty of developing catchers, it’s unusual to find players with Austin’s advanced skill set and college profile in the third round, someone who projects as a potential everyday catcher with the ability to run a staff.
“Missing some time with an injury may have contributed a little bit to him getting down into that area,” said Rikard. “We were really comfortable with where we got him.
“He’s pretty athletic. The one thing we like, probably the most about him, is he’s very well-rounded, but he has very good leadership skills, intangibles, and character traits. We do like his glove and we think he has a chance to hit some, too. So we’re pretty excited about him. Our scout did a pretty wonderful job – Chris Pritchett is the scout in his area, and he believes in him with a lot of conviction as a player. We’re pretty excited.”
The Sox did indeed see Austin with home-to-second times of 1.8-1.9 seconds.
“He has a pretty quick transfer. I can certainly see him throwing plus.”
With the benefit of three years of experience in a top conference, Rei has cultivated not just his baseball skills but also the art of his bat-flip.
Tate Matheny, OF, Missouri State
Height: 6 feet
Weight: 185 pounds
2015 stats: 61 Gs, .291 AVG, .417 OBP, .449 SLG, 5 HR, 25 XBH, 37 BB, 37 K, 12 SB (2 CS)
Briefly: Matheny, the son of Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, saw his numbers slip a bit from a strong sophomore season (.330/.421/.528, 10 HR). Still, after a lifetime around the game, the 21-year-old has shown solid baseball instincts that play above his raw tools, and he helped Missouri State enjoy considerable success. (The program just saw its hopes of a College World Series berth ended by the Sox’ first-round pick Andrew Benintendi and Arkansas in the Super Regional over the weekend.)
Rikard spoke highly of Matheny’s makeup, and noted that while he showed a diverse game as a junior, he has the solid to plus across-the-board tools to jump back onto the even more promising projection curve he displayed as a sophomore.
“He’s physically mature, so I think the athleticism is a little bit sneaky,” said Rikard. “He’s a solid-plus runner and he’s very instinctive in centerfield. We believe he has a strong chance to stay in centerfield. Offensively, it’s more of a well-rounded skill set. He controls the strike zone really well, hits using the whole field. He drives the gaps. He can hit some mistakes a long way. He does have power. He hit 10 home runs as a sophomore. His power numbers are down a little bit this year, but we do believe he has some power.”
While some have suggested that Mike Matheny asked the Cardinals not to draft his son, in recent days, the St. Louis skipper made clear that he wouldn’t tie the organization’s hands, and that his son was comfortable with the prospect of developing in the Cardinals system. Now, of course, the matter is elementary.
Baseball America’s report on Matheny: “Tate Matheny doesn’t really have a plus tool, but he has average tools across the board and has demonstrated time and time again that he will get the most out of them. It’s unlikely that he can be an everyday big league center fielder for most teams, but he gets good jumps and takes good routes, allowing his average speed to play up. At the plate, he has below-average power, but he has the bat speed, barrel control and knowledge of the strike zone to be at least an average hitter. Matheny has the tools to attempt a move to second base as a pro which would give him a better chance to profile as a regular, or he could end up as a very useful fourth outfielder who can play all three outfield spots in a pinch.”
Jagger Rusconi, OF, West Ranch (Calif.) High School
Hometown: Santa Clarita, Calif.
College commitment: USC
2015 stats (via MaxPreps): 25 games, .416 AVG, .526 OBP, .727 SLG, 16 BB, 11 K, 4 HR
Briefly: Rusconi, a shortstop in high school, showed the ability to clear the fences from both sides of the plate, but his high school coach suggests that it’s his top-of-the-order speed and athleticism that stand out, and that had many teams viewing him as an outfielder.
Rusconi, a natural lefthanded hitter who switch-hits, represents the sort of toolsy projection lottery ticket that suggests considerable upside if his game comes together against minor league pitching. The Sox plan to have him work at both second base and centerfield (considered his most likely positional destination) while trying to make a determination about his long-term position, but there’s no question that he has middle-of-the-field athleticism.
“He’s an electric player. He can really run,” said Rikard. “He’s just a really athletic kid who can really run. He does have some raw power. He’s got surprising pop, but he’s more of a gap-to-gap guy. He can drive the ball.”
“He runs like the wind,” said West Ranch coach Casey Burrill. “He would be that classic runner who would play center field and be a switch-hitting leadoff hitter. I think he fits that bill better than everyone out there. It’s the speed and athleticism that sets him apart from other people.
“He is a tremendous athlete. He’s got as good a first step as anyone I’ve ever seen. Moving forward, I think he’s a middle-of-the-field defender. He’s great at it. He’s a guy who will be asked to steal a lot of bases. And, like a major league player, not only can he hit for average, but there’s some pop in that bat from both sides.”
Though he’s been a shortstop throughout his career, the Sox announced Rusconi as an outfielder. He’s been on the scouting radar for years; he committed to play at USC after his freshman year of high school.
Baseball America described him as an above-average runner with average arm strength. The combination of raw power and speed is endlessly appealing for scouts looking for lottery tickets on a raw player with a chance for considerable payoff. Despite the longtime college commitment, his coach expects Rusconi to sign.
“Anything can happen,” said Burrill, a USC grad. “I think he’s learning towards signing. I believe he’ll be playing minor league baseball this summer. We would sure love him to go to USC, but I think Jagger really wants to be a Boston Red Sox player.”
Rusconi has worked with Michael Garciaparra, the head of the Garciaparra Baseball Group in Southern California and brother of former Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra.
Rusconi is the Sox’ first high school selection in this year’s draft. The last time the Sox didn’t pick a high schooler until the fifth round was 2004, when they stayed with college players until the 12th round.
Travis Lakins, RHP, Ohio State
Weight: 175 pounds
2015 stats: 15 starts, 4-4, 3.75 ERA, 7.9 K/9, 3.0 BB/9
Briefly: Lakins, after a move from the bullpen as a freshman to the rotation as a sophomore, had a less impressive 2015 season than 2014 season (2.45 ERA, 9.0 K/9).
Even as a starter, the Sox saw Lakins sitting at 92 mph and getting up to 94, and despite the innings increase, they saw him throw well through the end of the season. While he has a three-pitch mix, Lakins pitches primarily off his fastball, with a quick arm and strike-throwing ability that permits him to be a projectable pitcher with upside.
“We try to consider the whole body of work and the whole portfolio. We feel the arrow was pointing up,” said Rikard. “Some of that is based on the athleticism. He’s very athletic and the stuff is good. He’s been up to 94 and has good secondary pitches, throws strikes. He’s a pretty exciting guy.”
The profile of a cold-weather pitcher whose stuff was less impressive in the regular season than the summer is one that has appealed to the Sox in the past. Typically, power comes later in the season for pitchers in the Midwest, Northeast, and other cold-weather areas, and so the fact that Lakins has shown more arm strength in the past than he did in his sophomore season may have suggested an opportunity for the Sox to get a player capable of more than his college performance showed this year.
Lakins is the first pitcher selected by the Red Sox after they took three outfielders and a catcher with their four picks through the first five rounds. This marks the first time since 1992 that the Sox waited until the fifth round or later (or until their fifth pick or later) before selecting a pitcher.
Baseball America’s report on Lakins: “He had an extremely impressive freshman year and showed premium stuff in a summer stint in the Prospect League last summer. But as a sophomore, Lakins’s stuff took a slight step back. He’s touched 94-96 m.p.h. at his best but he was generally 88-93 m.p.h. this spring, although he started showing improved velocity again late in the season. His slider has backed up, but he’s started throwing his 12-to-6 curveball more. Both flash the potential to be an average pitch, but he may need to shelve one at least temporarily to improve the other.”
Ben Taylor, RHP, University of South Alabama
Weight: 225 pounds
2015 stats: 25 games, 6-3, 1.48 ERA, 14.3 K/9, 2.7 BB/9
Briefly: Taylor is the Sox’ first senior draftee of this season, meaning he has little leverage in negotiations and stands a good chance of signing for below the slot-allocated amount — which, in turn, would open the door to the Sox committing some of that money elsewhere.
Rikard said that Taylor was seen at up to 93 mph and gets swings and misses with his fastball, even when he’s sitting at 91-92. His strike-throwing offers an argument in favor of letting him develop as a starter, but he could advance relatively quickly out of the bullpen because of that same trait.
“He’s got some good deception and gets swings and misses with his fastball. Obviously he’s racking up a lot of strikeouts,” said Rikard.
After struggling as a junior in his first year as a transfer from Chattahoochee (Ala.) Junior College, Taylor dominated out of the bullpen for South Alabama in 2015. According to Jim Callis of MLB.com, he touched 95 m.p.h. with a fringy slider, and — as is clear from his strikeout rate — he throws strikes and appears to elicit both swings and misses and ground balls.
Logan Allen, LHP, IMG Academy
Hometown: Fletcher, N.C.
Weight: 200 pounds
2015 stats: 8 starts, 8-0, 0.93 ERA, 12.8 K/9, 2.2 BB/9
Briefly: The Red Sox’ run on pitchers continued, with Allen representing the team’s first prep arm in the draft.
Allen may pitch comfortably at 88-92 mph with a repeatable delivery with the ability to bump up his velocity to 94 mph. His four-pitch mix (fastball, slider, curve, changeup) is largely solid, but the combination of the fastball and delivery have the Sox excited about what kind of pitcher he can be.
Rikard described Allen as “a really polished high school lefty, a really advanced delivery and strike-thrower who’s been up to 94 with good secondary pitches. … His now-stuff is really good. We’re really excited about him.”
The North Carolina native saw his velocity tick up as a senior, going from the mid 80s to the 90s as part of a four-pitch arsenal.
The increased arm strength is likely a product of a concerted effort to get in better shape prior to his senior year. Opponents hit a paltry .104 against him. Allen has a college commitment to South Carolina, though he seemed to be viewing pro ball as a likely path, given this tweet:
Tucker Tubbs, 1B, Memphis
2015 stats: 58 games, .305 AVG, .393 OBP, .601 SLG, 17 HR, 32 XBH, 26 BB, 27 K
Briefly: Tubbs, another college senior who figures to represent an under-slot signee, enjoyed a considerable step forward as a senior after hitting .244 with three homers as a junior. He ranked among NCAA Division 1 leaders in homers as a senior, and was named a Third-Team All-American.
“He has power and doesn’t strike out much,” said Rikard. “That’s a pretty good formula for some level of success.”
Mitchell Gunsolus, 3B, Gonzaga
2015 stats: 51 games, .353 AVG, .449 OBP, .556 SLG, 7 HR, 10 XBH, 33 BB, 32 K
Briefly: The Sox rounded out their top 10 rounds — the ones for which there’s a specific slot recommendation for each pick — with their third college senior in four picks, thus creating a likelihood they’ll be able to sign a few players for a total of a few hundred thousand dollars less than the recommended slot bonuses for their spots. That money, in turn, can be used to sign other players with larger leverage (such as a high schooler with a college commitment, like Rusconi or Allen) to bonuses that exceed their slot recommended figures. While college seniors are most frequently organizational filler, the Sox did see traits they liked in each of the seniors they took, and that gives them a chance to advance.
Gunsolus not only displayed a measure of power but also showed the ability to control at-bats with his plate discipline. And there’s precedent for a Gonzaga player drafted as a senior becoming a very good player, as Jason Bay went from obscurity and a $1,000 bonus to an All-Star prime. Beyond that, Gunsolus’s twitter handle is @Grandpa_Mitch. So he has that going for him. Which is nice.
The Sox liked Gunsolus’ ability to control the strike zone as a lefthanded bat and his approach to the game.
“He’s a gritty, tough player,” said Rikard.