Theo Epstein, Red Sox Feeling Similar Confidence to Successful 2005 Draft

Theo Epstein, Red Sox Feeling Similar Confidence to Successful 2005 Draft When Theo Epstein and the rest of the Red Sox brass left the war room after the first day of the 2005 MLB draft, they felt they had done something special.

With Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie and Michael Bowden in the fold, as well as eventual trade chip Craig Hansen, it was a solid haul, and they knew it. The same emotions are in play after the club's first three picks in this year's draft: infielder Kolbrin Vitek (Ball State), outfielder Bryce Brentz (Middle Tennessee State) and right-hander Anthony Ranaudo (Louisiana State).

Of course, the Sox may need another five years to make any definitive statements.

"Time will always tell in the draft, but we're as happy leaving the draft room as any year that I've been here," said Epstein, who is spearheading the draft alongside first-year director of amateur scouting Amiel Sawdaye.

Both Epstein and Sawdaye insisted prior to the draft that they loved the positioning of their first three picks at Nos. 20, 36 and 39. After the first few selections, they said, the talent pool was rather level through the first round and into the sandwich round, where Brentz and Ranaudo were waiting to be plucked.

Vitek, an All-American at Ball State, will be moved to third base after playing second and pitching for the Cardinals of the Mid-American Conference. Epstein said the 6-foot-3, 195-pounder has the athleticism to also play center field and a bat that may eventually provide plenty of power at Fenway Park.

"Very loose swing, above-average bat speed, a guy we project to have plus power," Epstein said of Vitek, who was rated by Baseball America as the top second baseman in the draft and the third-best pure hitter. "He's a guy who can drive both gaps consistently."

Vitek, the MAC Player of the Year, said in a brief phone interview that he can see himself "peppering" balls off the Green Monster and also using the expansive right field to his advantage by taking the ball the other way and legging out extra-base hits.

Brentz, who has gained notoriety as one of the better offensive players at the college level, packs what Sawdaye called "light tower power" into a 6-foot, 200-pound frame. With seasoning and growth, the 21-year-old — who was named Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year in 2009 when he led the NCAAs in hitting (.465), home runs (28), slugging percentage (.930) and total bases (214) — may also have an assault on the cozy confines.

"We brought him in to Fenway before and he was just wearing out Lansdowne Street, so we're really excited about him," said Sawdaye.

Brentz suffered a high ankle sprain that led to a slow start in 2010, potentially causing him to fall to the 36th pick. Sawdaye said it was just a matter of Brentz, who was drafted out of high school by Cleveland in 2007 but did not sign, rediscovering his timing and the club saw enough of him later on to determine that he had.

"We buy into his right-handed power," Epstein said.

In drafting three college players with athleticism, the Sox gave themselves more certainty than they would with the high school pool. Epstein said that discussions with signing Vitek and Brentz are well under way and announcements could come within days, setting those two on a course for summer league ball.

Ranaudo is another story. He is a Scott Boras client, pairing the Louisiana State righty with the game's most powerful agent, who is never shy about asking for every penny.

The 20-year-old Ranaudo entered the year considered by some to be the top college pitcher available, but arm troubles and the Boras presence may have scared some clubs off, allowing Ranaudo to slip a bit. But Sawdaye and Epstein said they saw plenty of Ranaudo to believe that the injury is not a concern, and the club has worked well with Boras in the past.

Ranaudo won the clinching game in the 2009 College World Series before going 5-2 with a 7.49 ERA with the Tigers this year.

There is no definitive word on if or when Ranaudo will sign and where his destination will be within the organization. Club officials will continue to monitor him through the summer and remain confident that a prize prospect has dropped into their laps.

"Without a downturn in performance [in 2010] he probably wasn't available to us," Epstein said. "We believe he will bounce back."

If he does, and if Vitek and Brentz pan out the way the club hopes they will, Monday may become a historic day for the organization. 

"It really couldn't have worked out any better as far as we're concerned," Epstein said.

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