Before we get started here, it’s important to note that no one should expect Boston Red Sox first-round draft pick Jason Groome to become Clayton Kershaw.
Kershaw arguably is the best pitcher in baseball, and you could argue he’s on the road to becoming one of the best pitchers in baseball history.
Groome, meanwhile, is a 17-year-old who’s yet to throw a professional pitch and hasn’t even signed a contract yet. But there’s reason for optimism for Red Sox fans.
Leading up to the draft, which began Thursday night in New Jersey, a general manager told longtime baseball reporter Jon Heyman that Groome is one of the best pitching prospects in some time.
A GM on jason groome: "might be the best high school pitching prospect since clayton kershaw."
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) March 24, 2016
That’s obviously lofty praise, and again, it’s unrealistic to think Groome becomes Kershaw. It’s unrealistic to think any pitcher in any draft class becomes Kershaw. He’s Clayton freaking Kershaw.
But most respected baseball people don’t just throw around claims like that too often. It falls right in line with other things written about Groome, too. MLB.com had the left-hander from New Jersey ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the entire draft. ESPN.com’s Keith Law, one of the most respected prospect writers in the baseball community, labeled Groome “the most talented player in the draft.”
So, how in the world does a player like that fall all the way to No. 12? For the same sort of reasons any prospect falls: makeup concerns, signability issues and the general uncertainty of drafting a high school pitcher high in the draft.
Do a quick Google search of “Jason Groome makeup,” and you’ll find plenty of stories referring to that and other “off-field issues,” but there aren’t too many details. The Boston Herald noted concern stems from Groome’s supposed reputation as someone who “likes to have fun, perhaps too much fun” away from the field.
As far as signability goes, Groome originally committed to Vanderbilt, a pitching prospect factory. The Herald cited a source saying Vandy actually lost interest in Groome, because of his supposed issues. In some ways, that actually allowed Groome to gain some leverage. Shortly before the draft, he committed to Chipola College, a junior college in Florida.
Committing to Chipola is a valuable insurance policy. There was a chance Groome tumbled even farther to the bottom of the first round, a fall that could have cost him a lot of money. Attending juco is a risk, but had Groome fallen even farther, he could have pitched a year at Chipola to rebuild his stock and re-enter the draft next year.
Being drafted at No. 12 isn’t the worst thing in the world, however, and Groome has made it no secret that the Red Sox were his favorite team growing up, even attending New York Yankees games at Yankee Stadium in his Red Sox gear.
Questions aside, Groome only is 17 years old. You’d be hard-pressed to find many 17-year-olds who are at the peak of their maturity. Now, does it make you a little more uneasy giving millions of dollars to someone with makeup questions? Sure. But there are signs that Groome can handle himself just fine.
The left-hander was shelled in a start last month where he allowed seven runs (four earned) over just 4 2/3 innings. Sometimes, however, you learn just as much about a player when they’re facing adversity.
“What I liked was the way he handled himself when he was getting knocked around,” a New Jersey scout told NJ.com. “Look, even Clayton Kershaw gets hit once in a while. It gave us a little insight to what the kid is about. I listened to his interviews after and he stood there and answered every question. He gave credit to Toms River North and showed some real maturity.”
As good as the scouting reports are, those sorts of reports can be just as important. When you add it all up, it’s clear that Groome’s obvious and sizable upside was enough to live with any and all questions there might be about the pitcher.
Thumbnail photo via YouTube