Bradford: How Alex Bregman almost became a Red Sox

Rob Bradford
October 11, 2018 - 7:38 pm

USA Today Sports

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Driving into the New Mexico countryside in April is just part of the deal, particularly for guys like Amiel Sawdaye and Matt Mahoney. They are the guys whose job it is to find baseball talent, which is why the duo found themselves driving 45 minutes outside Albuquerque on a spring day in 2011. 

The obvious end-game for Sawdaye, who was serving as the Red Sox' director of amateur scouting at the time, was getting a look at the player the Red Sox would ultimately make their first-round pick that season, Blake Swihart. The catcher/infielder was playing a doubleheader at Heritage High, with the understanding that he could take a few extra swings for Sawdaye and the Sox' area scout, Mahoney.

They certainly weren't subjecting themselves to those mid-journey cold pork sandwiches on the side of the highway for anyone other than Swihart. Or at least that was what they thought.

It just so happened that Swihart had a buddy working out with him that day. A smallish high school junior named Alex Bregman.

"We were working out Swihart and I told Ami, 'Hey, you have to see this junior named Bregman who plays at (Albuquerque) Academy.' I asked Alex if he wanted to take some swings and he was more than up to it," said Mahoney, who had known Bregman since umpiring the youngster's Little League games. "So it was just Swihart and Bregman at this workout and Bregman put on a show."

"(Mahoney) said, ‘You have to see this kid. He’s a junior and he’s going to best player in the state next year,’" remembered Sawdaye. "Bregman put on a show. It was just ridiculous power. He was probably 5-foot-9 and maybe 150, 155. He was a junior in high school who had never been on a strength program. And he was launching balls. Give credit to Mahoney because he said, ‘This kid is going to hit bombs.’"

By one estimation, 25 of the pitches thrown by Mahoney's former teammate at the University of New Mexico Anthony Lovato cleared the fence at the then-two-year-old baseball field.

"That kid just does things that make your jaw drop every single day," Lovato said. "I had been throwing batting practice since I was 10, but with a cross-checker there it's a little intimidating. But he made me look good instead of me looking him look good. I just remember the sound coming off the bat. It was ridiculous."

Bregman wasn't a secret, but this workout heightened the Red Sox interest.

Mahoney certainly didn't have to be sold, having not only befriended the family thanks in part to Sam Bregman having brought his son around the Lobos' baseball team during the Sox' scout's playing days but also due to the fact Bregman's high school coach Josh Ayala had played with Mahoney at New Mexico. But it was Sawdaye who drove back to the city that day with a better sense of the player and his family (Bregman's parents had spent time in Bethesda, Maryland where Sawdaye grew up), keeping the workout in the back of his mind heading into the 2012 June Amateur Draft.

"Truthfully, he was probably the best player on the field as a ninth-grader," Mahoney remembered. "He was about 5-foot-3, 120 pounds so you didn’t know how big he was going to be. The guy you see 10 years later is the guy you saw as a freshman in high school, all over the place, making plays, hitting the ball hard, doing all the little things."

It seemed like everything was lining up for the Red Sox' to go back-to-back years in picking New Mexico natives in the first round. That was until Bregman shattered the second knuckle on his right throwing hand in just the fifth game of his senior season. The dream of going in the first round was over.

But that didn't mean the Red Sox were going to stop their pursuit of Bregman.

It was the first draft in which teams couldn't simply throw around money at all level of draft picks, with the rich usually getting richer. Now clubs were allocated an amount of money to lock up their draft picks, a number they had to smartly distribute throughout their selections.

While it was understood that Bregman was almost certainly headed to LSU if he wasn't taken in the first two rounds -- which wasn't going to happen due to the lost senior season -- the Red Sox thought they might find a way to take a run at the infielder. After targeting college players Deven Marrero, Brian Johnson and Pat Light with their first three picks, the Sox decided to mix in a few high-end high school players, knowing that they would likely be able to ink just one.

The strategy of grabbing a good amount of college seniors who couldn't demand much money had left them with one chance to make a run at keeping one of these signability guys away from college.

The candidates were a high school pitcher out of North Carolina named Ty Buttrey, another hurler Carlson Fulmer, who hailed from Winter Haven, Fla., and Bregman. (They were also considering drafting current Dodgers starter Walker Buehler, who was a Lexington, Kentucky high school kid the Pirates ultimately took in the 14th round before he bolted for Vanderbilt. Sawdaye was somewhat deterred from putting the pitcher in the mix after going to dinner with him and his family and witnessing what was a seemingly frail frame in person.)

Buttrey would get first crack at the extra money since he went in the fourth round, 25 round in front of where the Red Sox would ultimately take Bregman. He took it. The undersized infielder from New Mexico was headed to LSU.

"We were able to see him after the draft just to make sure he was healthy," said Sawdaye, now an assistant general manager for the Arizona Diamondbacks. "I remember (scout) Jim Robinson calling and saying, ‘Hey, do we have any money left.’ It was the first year of the new rules so nobody understood what you could or couldn’t do. I was like, ‘We can’t.’ I think we had like $250,000 or $300,000 or something. He was like, ‘He’s worth every penny. We have to sign him.’ And I was like, ‘We can’t.’ He was like ‘Well I would give him a million dollars right now. This kid is the best player on the field.’ ... I have no idea what would have happened. We obviously messed up by not signing him."

"I think he would have gone in the first round to sign, personally, just knowing him," Mahoney said. "I talked to him after we drafted him. We tried to maybe persuade him on the idea of starting his progressional career earlier and getting to the major leagues earlier as a way to minimize a lesser signing bonus. But he viewed himself as one of the best, if not the best in the country. The fact that he wasn’t taken in the first round probably outweighed what you could give him financially. Once he fell out of that first round I think he was going to be a hard guy to sign."

Three years later Bregman became the second overall pick in the draft. Six years later he is taking on the team that originally drafted him in the American League Championship Series, living life as one of the best players in Major League Baseball.

It turns out that April day back in 2011 was no fluke.

"I was umping his Little League games as a 9-year-old so there was a lot of history with the player and the person. We knew all about him," Mahoney said. "As for history with the player, we probably had more than any other organization hand’s down. Yeah, there are times I watch him now and think what might have been. Now we have to beat him."

 

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