The Boston Red Sox were definitely in a happy place during the 2006 June draft, with five picks in the top 100 (Nos. 27, 28, 40, 44 and 71). Even better news for Red Sox fans, they signed all five players and all are currently in Fort Myers at their instructional league camp.
But that early-round success wasn't even the biggest news when it came to Boston's '06 draft. The Sox took a few late-round gambles on some high-upside players with big signability questions and had the kind of success that Vegas veterans only dream of.
The results have three of those players currently participating in instructional league action: Outfielder Ryan Kalish (ninth), catcher Tyler Weeden (16th) and first baseman Lars Anderson (18th).
Though the last of that trio to be selected, Anderson could be the steal of the draft.
A two-sport star at Jesuit High School in northern California, he was ranked among the top available first basemen in terms of sheer talent and upside. But his commitment to California to play football scared off a lot of clubs.
The Sox called his name in the 18th round and then initiated their game plan.
"Our scout Blair Henry did a really good job with Lars, following him closely all spring," said Ben Cherington, the Red Sox's vice president of player personnel. The Sox knew there had been questions about his signability, based largely on his desire to play college ball close to home. "Our scout stayed on him and we felt based on what we were learning that we could take him in a later round, follow him over the summer and then sort out whether he wanted to sign or not."
By mid-August, after keeping close tabs on Anderson through his travel teams and local tournaments, the club was able to sign Anderson and they've been very happy with his early showings at instructs.
"He's a big athletic guy with raw power," Cherington said. "He has a good approach at the plate and uses the whole field."
The 6-foot-4 215-pound left-handed batter had impressed scouts with just about every aspect of his game, on and off the field, hitting .451 with 14 homers and 42 RBIs in just 71 at-bats as a senior while showing great leadership. His power is his best tool, but he also ranked highly with his arm strength and defense as well as his makeup.
Weeden, like Anderson, was signed to a 2007 contract in August. The younger brother of Kansas City Royals pitching prospect Brandon Weeden, he was drafted out of high school in Oklahoma with a commitment to Arkansas. Weeden played several positions for Edmond Santa Fe High School and could eventually move to an infield slot, but for now he is staying behind the plate where his athletic build, raw power and strong arm have been lauded.
Kalish, an outfielder from New Jersey with a two-sport commitment to Virginia, saw his senior season numbers suffer due to an arm injury and dropped to the ninth round as a result.
He signed with the Sox in August and did make his pro debut, hitting .300 in six games in the Gulf Coast League and .200 in 11 more games with the Lowell Spinners of the New York-Penn League.
One other gamble came up snake eyes, as slugging first baseman Matt LaPorta, a 14th-round pick out of Florida, did not sign. The Scott Boras client had a disappointing junior season after being considered a potential first-rounder.
Cherington and scouting director Jason McLeod were given some latitude by an ownership group that puts a lot of trust in its Minor League front office.
"They allowed us to get aggressive later in the draft and take a chance on some guys with higher ceilings, getting to know them in the summer and be comfortable investing in them" Cherington said. "We were pleased but only time will tell. We'll know if it was a good draft five years from now."
The Sox's two first-round picks were also in instructs, highlighted by North Carolina right-hander Daniel Bard, who signed too late to make his pro debut.
Bard, the 28th pick overall, signed at the last minute before returning for his senior year. He finished his junior year the No. 2 man in the rotation behind ace southpaw Andrew Miller (taken with the sixth overall pick by Detroit), going 8-3 with a 3.47 ERA and helping the Tar Heels to the College World Series Finals.
"He's looked really good here," said Cherington about the club's first glimpse of Bard in a Red Sox uniform, explaining that they were just working on getting Bard reacclimated to the mound and tweaking some minor delivery issues. "His velocity is excellent.
"We're focusing on his change-up, which he didn't use a lot in college but we feel it's important for his success at the pro level," Cherington added. "He's been throwing it a lot on the side and in games and has already demonstrated a pretty good feel for it."
Outfielder Jason Place, an outfielder from South Carolina taken one slot ahead of Bard, was also in camp after making a brief pro debut in the Gulf Coast League where he hit .292 with four homers and 21 RBIs.
But Place was hit in the head with a fastball his last week of regular-season play and missed some time as a result with a concussion.
"We're working on his entire game," Cherington said. "He's a talented young kid."
The Sox were also happy with the progress of yet another Carolina product, first baseman Aaron Bates. Their third-round pick out of North Carolina State hit .360 at Lowell and .270 at Class A Greenville, combining for seven homers and 30 RBIs in 70 games.
"He is a really cerebral guy who studies the game and loves to study hitting," Cherington said. "He wants to be a good hitter and his defense has improved as well."
The Atlanta Braves are finally getting their first up-close-and-personal look at 16-year-old first baseman Ryohei Shimabukuro, who signed with the club this summer from Japan.
While most Japanese high school prospects are restricted to signing with clubs in the Japan League, Shimabukuro was able to ink stateside due to a loophole that made him a free agent -- his high school did not have a baseball team.
Known as "Shima," the youngster played this past year in the Australian Summer League and was one of the standout hitters there.
"He's a young, strong first baseman and this is the first time we've laid eyes on him over here, so we just want to see what he's all about," said Chino Cadahia, the Braves' Minor League Field Coordinator. "We really don't know that much about him but so far all indications are good. We're teaching him all out plays defensively and getting him used to American pitching."
There has been talk that Shima could wind up catching, but for now Cadahia says that kind of discussion is premature.
"Right now we don't want to confuse things," he said. "We want to put him where he feels comfortable and that's first base."
When he's not working on his hitting and defense, Shima is taking English classes twice a week. He can already converse, however, with his Latin American teammates, since his mother is from Argentina.
"He's a wonderful kid," Cadahia said. "He works really hard."
When the New York Yankees selected high school shortstop C.J. Henry with their first pick in the 2005 draft, it was speculated that he might be in for a position switch down the line since the Yankees had a pretty decent guy at that spot already in New York.
This past summer, when Henry changed uniforms after being dealt to the Phillies for veteran outfielder Bobby Abreu, he was still at short. But this instructional league season, the Phillies officially shifted him over a spot to third base and have been very happy with the initial returns there.
"He's made big improvement quickly and looks very comfortable over there," said Steve Noworyta, the Phillies' Director of Minor League Operations. "It's been really nice to see him make that adjustment."
Henry, 20, was a two-sport star in high school in Oklahoma, and was considered a gifted but raw baseball talent when the Yankees drafted him. He hit .249 with 17 steals in the Gulf Coast League in his pro debut that summer and batted .232 with 49 RBIs and 15 steals between two South Atlantic League stops this past summer.
The Indians have shut down rehabbing right-hander J.D. Martin in instructs due to a pulled groin and some tenderness in his elbow.
Martin, 23, underwent Tommy John surgery last summer, after posting a 2.38 ERA in 10 starts at Double-A Akron. He began his return this past season, combining for a 2.03 ERA and 40 strikeouts vs. five walks in 44 1/3 innings between short-season Mahoning Valley, Class A Lake County and Class A Advanced Kinston.
Indians farm director John Farrell is not expressing too much concern ... not yet, anyway.
"Given the amount of rehab and throwing he's been doing, it was time to listen to what his body was telling him," Farrell said. "Our goal with him in his first year coming off Tommy John was to get him back taking regular turns, controlling his workload and pitch counts, which we feel like we've done."
At instructs, the plan had been to evaluate his stuff, his arm strength and his command. Farrell said at times it's been similar to what he had pre-surgery, when he was considered one of the premiere pitching prospects in the system. Farrell called his progress "satisfactory."
For now, Martin will remain in Florida working strictly on rehab, but his throwing has been terminated. The Indians will have to decide before Nov. 18 whether or not to put him on their 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.