The last 6th-round pick: Lessons learned from a Red Sox prospect

Rob Bradford
June 02, 2020 - 11:29 pm
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This is the story of something that, for the time being, no longer exists: A sixth-round pick in the Major League Baseball June Amateur Draft …

As fourth round turned into fifth Chris Murphy started to get nervous.

The University of San Diego pitcher was expecting to have his name called by this point in the 2019 MLB Draft, but … nothing. So, he started taking matters into his own hands.

“It was kind of deer in the headlights,” Murphy explained by phone Tuesday. “I had no idea what to expect. I woke up on Day 2 saying I might be the Mets' fourth-round pick and then they took a high school kid and only seniors after that. I didn't hear anything from scouts so I took my own liberty.

“I started texting every single scout I had met with, about 28 teams, and I said, 'I'm ready to go.' I was getting worried. Get me off the board, I'm ready to play professional baseball.”

Murphy thought he knew what was what when it came to the Draft. He had performed admirably for San Diego the previous three years and was ready to start life as a professional baseball player. As the lefty hurler noted, “I was 20 years old and there are guys in the major leagues who are 20 years old already.”

Twenty-eight teams got texts. The Red Sox weren’t one of them ... until Murphy truly got desperate.

As the sixth-round started to unfold he began scrolling through his phone, looking for the number of Red Sox scout J.J. Altobelli when his phone rang. It was Boston, a team his advisor had certainly suggested weren’t going to be in the mix. The Sox were drafting him. Now came the hard part, telling his father.

“My Dad,” Murphy explained, “was a big Red Sox hater.”

Mike Murphy was originally from Long Island, living and breathing all things Yankees despite having moved out to the Los Angeles area. The fandom had trickled down to his son, who wore No. 7 out of reverence for Mickey Mantle for most of his youth baseball days. The term “Dirty Red Sox” could be heard in the Murphy household, with clean-cut Mike holding a powerful disdain for the beards and long hair being flaunted by the players from Boston. (Ironically, once a fresh-faced Johnny Damon donned pinstriped at least some of the tone changed.)

When Chris’ sister Jessica was passing away from cancer there was a reason his promise was to leave her tickets at one venue: Yankee Stadium. The team from the Bronx clearly meant everything to the Murphys.

Sure, Chris had been drafted, and the fact he was securing a $200,000 signing bonus was life-changing. But the Red Sox?

“I made the deal when I was sitting outside. I walked inside the house to my parents watching the Draft,” he remembered. “It was the beginning of the sixth round and I told them I was getting drafted in the sixth round but I didn't say it was to who just to build up the suspense. ... My dad, nosy as always, grabs his phone and starts looking at the draft order and starts naming teams. I said, 'I'm not telling you.' Then he gets to the last pick of the sixth round and he goes, 'No way!' I'm like, 'Yup.' He lost it for a second just laughing.

“Wearing a Red Sox hat was not something he thought would happen. I think the best part of last summer playing in Lowell was when my whole family came out to watch us play the Staten Island Yankees and my family was wearing Yankees hats and they turned them backward to take a picture after the game. They root for me once every five days.”

Nice story, right?

But Murphy represents much more than just one player who has mixed up his parents’ loyalties. He offers a clue to what waits around the corner in this year’s Draft, which should be welcome because baseball is about to venture into uncharted territory.

Chris Murphy
Courtesy photo

 

NOW … NO CHOICE

“This was all I had so I took it. I took it and ran,” Murphy said.

He was the 197th overall pick, the last selection in the sixth round. It is a place that will not exist this time around.

This year MLB has shortened the Draft to just five rounds. And on top of that, every draft-eligible player not selected can only make a maximum signing bonus of $20,000, although they do get a chance to pick their preferred organization.

“It's crazy to look at that and think if I was one year younger I wouldn't be getting drafted,” Murphy said with a chuckle.

He also undoubtedly wouldn’t be playing in the Red Sox’ organization right now, either.

The layers of uncertainty when it comes to this new dynamic has led to all kinds of hypothesis regarding players’ ultimate destinations. There is a lot of thought that a player like Murphy — with such strong rooting interest in one team — will be drawn to their childhood favorite with money no longer being a difference-maker. But the pitcher says not so fast.

“There were teams that were more progressive in terms of pitching, teams that I would have liked to go to in terms of opportunity,” Murphy explained. “The Yankees weren't really at the top of the list. I want to have a good, long career where I have a chance to make it to the major leagues.”

As it turns out, maybe these choices will be more about research and analytics than whose Starter jacket their dad wears to work.

“I would always ask about their throwing programs, what they look for stuff like that,” Murphy said regarding his conversations with scouts leading up to the Draft. “I went through the whole scouting process in high school, but in college they will give you the real answers. In high school your parents are with you for these meetings but in college you're sitting in a Starbucks talking with a scout. They know you're an adult and they will give you the real answers.

“There were some teams that gave some yellow flags - not red flags - and others where I would love to be in their organization. The Red Sox, the second they called I didn't think about what their throwing program was like. I wasn't thinking about that for one second, which is crazy because I had researched it for months but then I didn't think about it. They weren't at the top of the list. They were kind of middle of the road. But when I got there they gave me full range of everything of things I knew I needed to do, things that would help me get better.”

Murphy had put the Indians at the top of his wish-list, with the Mets a close second. The Red Sox? They were somewhere middle of the pack, but certainly not the organization the southpaw would be prioritizing if given his druthers.

What might have been …

Fortunately for Murphy and the Red Sox, it all seems to have worked out with the starter leaving a positive first impression. In his only pro season to date, he allowed just four earned runs in 33 1/3 innings (1.08 ERA) for Single-A Lowell, striking out 34 and walking just seven.

“The Red Sox I didn't know what to expect and I got there and the pitching coach told me to do what I need to,” he said.

“In the Instructional League, I had a couple of the pitching coordinators ask me about my routine, filming my routine and asking me questions about it. They were learning from the players, which is amazing. Some teams live 10 years in the past even with the game evolving every single year. … If you prove your self that's what you get to do. I did my part in proving myself. It's a constant learning experience which I love. Its interaction between coaches and players as colleagues.”

It has panned out for Murphy. And he understands exactly how fortunate the timing has been.

The pitcher still keeps in touch with former teammates from San Diego — such as draft-eligible prospects Shane McGuire and Adam Kerner — who figure to be right on the edge of finding their way into one of the five rounds of this year’s Draft. The good news is that the NCAA has added another year of eligibility for those missing out on 2020. The bad? Having to change what seemed like pretty cemented plans.

“I can only imagine the stress they are going through,” Murphy said. “I was stressing and it was only the fifth round. For them that is the last round of the Draft. I can only imagine what they're going through it being their career path. They went to college knowing after their junior year they were going to be drafted. I immediately texted them and asked them where their heads are at. … I know they are really looking forward to playing professional baseball.”

Different times. Different stories. Same goals.

Chris Murphy
Courtesy photo