June 9, 2013

On Baseball: Time will tell if Sox have something on Ball

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The Boston Red Sox said they drafted the best player available when they chose high school left-handed pitcher Trey Ball with the No. 7 pick in the first round Thursday.

You can read between the lines there since it's possible Boston really wanted someone else, like high school right-handed pitcher Kohl Stewart (the Twins' pick at No. 4) or high school outfielder Clint Frazier (the Indians' pick at No. 5).

But who knows? As former Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein likes to say, the draft is an "imperfect search." Ball could be the best of the bunch.

Boston has done well with young left-handers before.

But will Ball show the ability of a Jon Lester, or even the promise of a Drake Britton or Henry Owens? Or is he the next Mike Rozier?

Boston will spend about $3.2 million to find out. That is the bonus money Ball is slotted to receive in signing as the seventh overall pick.

Boston has not spent that much before, but it has written big checks for lefties out of high school.

Lester, a second-round pick in 2002, received a $1 million bonus. He's working out for Boston.

In 2004 the Red Sox drafted Rozier in the 12th round. Rozier also was a quarterback and had a football scholarship to the University of North Carolina. Boston gave him $1.6 million to stick with baseball. But besides one start for the Sea Dogs in 2006, he never got out of Class A ball and was released in 2009.

Britton was drafted in the 23rd round out of a Texas high school in 2007 and signed for $700,000. In his second year on the Red Sox 40-man roster, he is on the cusp of a promotion to Triple-A.

Owens, 20, shows a lot of promise after being drafted in 2011 in the sandwich round (36th overall) out of Edison High School in Huntington Beach, Calif. Owens signed for $1.5 million. In only his second pro season, he is an All-Star at advanced Class A Salem and could be in Portland this summer.

Now along comes Ball, ranked No. 9 on a list of 500 draft prospects by Baseball America. The scouting report: 6-foot-6, 180 pounds, fastball in the 91-94 mph range, very good change-up, above-average curve.

Ball is also a good athlete and was considered by some teams as a better prospect as an outfielder.

Ball pitched for New Castle (Ind.) High school, which is about 20 miles from Pendleton Heights High, where the Sea Dogs' Brock Huntzinger pitched. Huntzinger was a third-round pick in 2007.

DAVID MURPHY was in New England this past week, bringing back memories of Epstein's first draft for Boston 10 years ago. Murphy, an outfielder out of Baylor, was Boston's first pick. He played for Portland in 2005 and 2006, reaching the majors at the end of '06. Murphy was traded to Texas the next year.

Murphy had always platooned with Texas. But with Josh Hamilton leaving for free agency after last season, Murphy began this year as a regular. He slumped badly in April (.176), but hit .286 in May and is on the rise.

"I'm no stranger to starting slow but I had a miserable April," Murphy said. "This year was different because I was playing every day. I wasn't myself. I couldn't find my feel. I feel like I'm in a pretty good place right now."

Murphy, 31, who makes $5.7 million, will be a free agent next year. Murphy and his wife are Texans. They and their three children live in Dallas. It looks like he would re-sign with the Rangers -- maybe.

"Texas will be ideal. It's home," Murphy said. "If the Rangers want me and my best opportunity is to go back there, I would love for that to happen."

ALEX HASSAN would love to be like Murphy, going from the Hadlock outfield to the majors. But Hassan has to get healthy.

Hassan batted .291 for the Sea Dogs in 2011 with a .404 on-base percentage. He struggled with injuries in Pawtucket last year, batting .256 in 94 games.

Still, Boston put Hassan on the 40-man roster and invited him to major league spring training. But before Hassan got there, he suffered a stress fracture in his foot. When he healed, Hassan rushed to get back and suffered a severe right calf strain.

Hassan is finally playing baseball again, assigned to low Class A Greenville last week to get his timing back. He should be in Pawtucket soon.

THE SEA DOGS are back in town Tuesday with a newly scheduled doubleheader. Their last game in Erie was rained out, so Tuesday's date with the SeaWolves is now two seven-inning games starting at 6 p.m.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

kthomas@pressherald.com

Twitter: ClearTheBases

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