Red Sox top draft pick Nick Yorke batted .505 as a junior at Archbishop Mitty High in San Jose and .533 this year before the season was called because of the coronavirus pandemic. Photo courtesy of AMHS Athletics

Optimism always follows the Major League Baseball draft. Teams are happy with the players they got (would they ever say otherwise?).

The Red Sox appear pleased. Then again, in terms of expectations, the bar was low, with only four picks in five rounds, and just one pick among the first 88 selections.

When CBSSports.com graded the draft, the Red Sox received a C (only the Rangers were lower), but with this caveat: “The Red Sox were always going to be behind the 8-ball because they were missing a pick. All things considered, they did fine.”

Feels like the Red Sox just got a patronizing pat on the head, instead of a vigorous fist pump.

Can Red Sox fans get excited about these four picks? Take a look:

FIRST-ROUND pick Nick Yorke (17th overall) was the stunner of the draft because he was ranked 139th among MLB.com’s top 200 draft prospects. But the Red Sox believe he would have moved up the rankings if more scouts saw him play in San Jose during his senior high school season – which was canceled, like all seasons, because of the coronavirus. Boston thinks it has found a gritty, Dustin Pedroia-like leader at second base, with special batting skills.

Others were also high on Yorke. On MLB’s draft show, esteemed Vanderbilt Coach Tim Corbin said, “We really recruited that kid (Yorke). I thought he was the best hitter in high school baseball.”

Speculation: Yorke may have been the top position player on the Red Sox board, but was he their first choice? Boston’s organization is thin in starting pitching, and most of the predraft talk centered on Boston wanting high school pitcher Mick Abel of Oregon. But the Phillies grabbed him two picks earlier, at No. 15.

By drafting Yorke, and presumably signing him for well-under the $3.6-million slot value for the 17th pick, Boston would have more money for their third-round pick, which had a slot value of $668,000.

Scout note: Red Sox scout Josh Labandeira, whose territory includes San Jose, played baseball for Fresno State and knew Yorke’s mom, Robyn, who was an All-American softball player for the Bulldogs.

“She’s been my personal hitting coach for 17 years,” Nick said.

THIRD-ROUND pick Blaze Jordan (89th overall) was a more conventional pick (ranked 42nd by MLB.com). Jordan, a corner infielder, appeared to be available because of questions about how large a signing bonus it would take to sway him from his Mississippi State scholarship.

“We had a select group of players – because what we thought they were going to be asking in terms of a signing bonus – they might slip down the draft a little bit,” Red Sox amateur scouting director Paul Toboni added. “We were really, really excited to have the opportunity to select (Jordan).

“He’s a unique talent. A ton of power upside, good feel to hit, really recognizes pitches early … Getting that kind of upside at Pick 89, it’s not normal.”

Jordan, only 17, not only has a marketable first name – picture the “Blaze of glory” headlines – but he may have been the best known high school player in the draft because of his YouTube-worthy power displays, including during the High School Home Run Derby at the 2019 MLB All-Star Game. He’s recorded home runs over 500 feet, and exit velocities over 100 mph (with a wooden bat).

In high school, Jordan hit 10 home runs his junior year, in 116 at-bats, but none in his abbreviated senior season (45 at-bats).

Speculation: Hitting tape-measure home runs off batting-practice pitches is not the same as producing in a game. In a shortened MLB draft, other teams did not want to commit a pick – and a big signing bonus – for Jordan’s raw power.

Scout note: Danny Watkins covers certain southeastern states for the Red Sox, including Mississippi, where he filed reports on Jordan. Watkins also scouts Tennessee and alerted the Red Sox to an interesting high school player that Boston drafted in 2011 – Mookie Betts.

FOURTH-ROUND pick Jeremy Wu-Yelland (118th overall) was, like Yorke, seemingly a stretch. He was not in MLB.com’s top 200 prospects. From the University of Hawaii, Wu-Yelland was the first of two college left-handers picked by Boston. His sophomore numbers were shaky, but he pitched well in the Cape Cod League and began his junior season this year with a 0.69 ERA, (16 strikeouts, five walks), including four scoreless innings against Vanderbilt (six strikeouts, no walks).

Although Wu-Yelland was a reliever, “I wouldn’t rule out starting,” Toboni said. “But I think we can always fall back on the plan of being up to 97 (mph fastball) from the left side of the pen.”

Speculation: There is a question of Wu-Yelland’s command, but he seems to have improved (albeit in a small sample size). His potential was worth a fourth-round pick. Boston has found quality college pitchers after the third round, including fourth-rounder Jonathan Papelbon.

Scout note: J.J. Altobelli covers southern California and Hawaii for the Red Sox. Altobelli’s father, John, stepmother Keri and 14-year-old sister Alyssa were among the nine people killed in the January helicopter crash that also took the life of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna. Alyssa and Gianna were teammates on a basketball team coached by Bryant.

“J.J.’s had such a tough year and he’s showed me just how strong somebody can be,” Toboni said. “He just quietly went about his job and dominated, and that’s kind of the way he walks through life, and I admire it really on a daily basis. I love him.”

FIFTH-ROUND pick Shane Drohan (148th overall) was not expected to be around in the fifth round, according to Toboni, although MLB.com ranked him 147th. He was a high school quarterback in Florida, but also found time to strike out 78 batters in 40 innings his senior season, which convince the Phillies to draft him in the 23rd round. Drohan opted to pitch for Florida State. In his last full season, as a sophomore, he struck out 71 in 512/3 innings with a nice pitch mix, including a low-to-mid 90s fastball.

“When we took Wu-Yellen (in the fourth round), we were like, there’s no way (Drohan’s) going to be there in the fifth,” Toboni said. “Another unique talent. When you watch him throw, it looks like it’s not taking much effort, and then you check the radar gun and it’s 94, 95 (mph).”

Speculation: The skill set is there, as is the competitiveness. Now it’s a matter of seeing how much Drohan develops.

Scout note: Dante Ricciardi is in his first year covering north Florida for the Red Sox. He is the son of former Blue Jays general manager (and current Giants special advisor) J.P. Ricciardi.

“I say it’s his first year (as a Red Sox scout), but he’s probably been scouting since he was 2,” Toboni said.

THE FREE AGENT period following the draft begins Sunday morning. With the draft shortened from 40 to five rounds, there are plenty of undrafted free agents available. However, MLB has set a cap on signing bonuses at $20,000, meaning any top prospect is likely to return to school, or go to college in the case of high school seniors.

IN PREVIOUS YEARS, Boston’s signed draft picks would head to one of two short-season minor league teams – either in the Gulf Coast League for younger players, or to the Lowell Spinners for older players. But there is no minor league season right now. If baseball resumes this year, those draft picks will likely take part in some sort of instructional league in Florida.

There is also uncertainty for next year, with MLB wanting to cut out most short-season leagues – meaning the end of Lowell being in the Red Sox organization. Younger players will likely stay in Florida (extended spring training and then the Gulf Coast League) or be sent to low-Class A Greenville.

Kevin Thomas — 791-6411

[email protected]

Twitter: @KevinThomasPPH


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