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Red Sox minor league notebook: How FaceTime helped organization with MLB draft

Ryan Hannable
June 29, 2017 - 9:46 am

1. FaceTime seems like something reserved for helping family and friends connect face-to-face even though they are far away from each other. For the Red Sox, they used it in preparation for the MLB draft earlier this month. 

Like all teams, the Red Sox like to get to know as many prospects as they can on a personal level, and a way they do that is having face-to-face meetings with them and their families. As the draft drew closer this year, they realized they couldn’t make all these meetings happen based on scheduling, so they improvised and actually FaceTime'd with a few prospects.

“Quite honestly, I’ve never really heard of anyone else doing it,” director of amateur scouting Mike Rikard said. “A lot of times we try and meet with kids face-to-face. Honestly, in this case we were trying to meet with [Cole Brannen] and it just didn’t work out. We said, well we can’t meet with him in person, so why not try and do a FaceTime? That was a neat idea that we came up with at the end and it was beneficial. Yeah, you’re not with them, but you get to see them and have a conversation with them. We thought it was helpful for us to get to know those kids.”

One of those players was second-round pick Cole Brannen, as the Red Sox FaceTime’d with him in the days leading up to the draft. This helped the organization select him in the second round at pick No. 63 overall.

Brannen, a high school outfielder out of Georgia, signed for $1.3 million and is expected to get into GCL games by the end of the week. The Red Sox would like him to play as much as he can, so he can get acclimated to what it’s like facing professional pitching. 

2. One of the most intriguing picks in the draft for the Red Sox was in the fifth round when they selected high school pitcher Alex Scherff out of Colleyville Heritage High School in Texas. He was committed to Texas A&M, but the Red Sox signed him to a $700,000 bonus, almost $500,000 over slot. 

There were rumors the Red Sox would have selected him in the first round, but he wasn’t quite that high.

“No,” Rikard said. “He was definitely in our upper tier so to speak, but he wasn’t necessarily was a guy we were looking to take at No. 24. He was in our upper echelon with how we lined up our board.”

The Red Sox had Scherff on their radar until they ultimately took him in the fifth round. Rikard noted it was tricky trying to project when the best time was to select him. The organization got to know him very well, as they visited with him in Dallas and had him to Fenway Park to throw a bullpen session. They had a good idea they could sign him, which benefited them when it came to picking him when they did.

“It gets tricky because you’re also trying to factor in signability and whoever is in on a certain player,” Rikard said. “You have to be very strategic while the clock is ticking. So much of the credit goes to our scouts because they do a great job developing relationships with players and families. So many times that can be just so important when making a split-second decision on a player and you know you have the comfort that the scout knows the player and what his intentions are.”

3. First-round pick Tanner Houck, a right-hander out of the University of Missouri, has already reported to short-season, Single-A Lowell, but don’t expect to see a lot of him on the mound this summer.

“He’s going to be a real slow progression, just to get him on a throwing program,” Rikard said. “We’re working with him real slowly. As far as when he will throw, we haven’t discussed that yet. I do know it will be sometime soon. He threw a lot this spring so we just want to get him acclimated, get him on a good program and see where that takes us, and at a slow pace.”

Houck logged over 100 innings this spring.

4. Speaking of the draft, it’s important to remember not to make snap judgments on prospects, especially high school picks. Michael Chavis, currently with Double-A Portland, is a prime example. He struggled in his first two full professional seasons, partly due to injuries, but has broken out this season with 20 homers in 65 games.

“We’re all guilty of making snap judgments on these guys within a year or two,” Rikard said. “Some guys take off right away, but as we’ve seen and learned through the years some guys just take awhile for it to click, especially with the high school kids. It can take several years for them to find their niche and take off. Patience is very important.”

5. Since being called up to Double-A Portland, Chavis has three home runs in six games. He and Rafael Devers have been sharing time at third base with the other DH’ing. Devers is heating up as well, as he hit two homers Wednesday night and has four in his last 10 games. Devers appears ready to be promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket, but the only issue with that is who the team has in Pawtucket at third base. Both Pablo Sandoval (inner ear infection) and Jhonny Peralta (minor league contract) are there, meaning there simply is no room for him. It appears like Devers will stay in Portland until around the Triple-A All-Star break and then likely Sandoval will no longer be there, possibly even Peralta as well.

6. As the trade deadline approaches, the Red Sox seem like they want to make an addition or two. The only issue is they don’t have many prospects they can really part ways with. A name to keep an eye on is outfielder Bryce Brentz. He’s developed a toe tap at the plate and now has 10 home runs in the month of June, and is batting .319 this month. Overall this year, he’s hitting .259 with 17 homers. There isn’t really a fit for him in Boston with the young outfielders, but he could be valuable to another team looking for some power. Also, a change of scenery might be a good thing for the 28-year-old.

7. Greenville left fielder Tyler Hill is a perfect example of how hard work in the offseason can pay off. Naturally a fast runner, he only stole 11 bases in 22 attempts last season. After focusing on his base running in the offseason, he’s now stolen 22 bases in 27 attempts this year.

“Last year I was trying to do too much on the base paths,” he said. “I think I got canned like 50 percent of the time. I worked on it a ton in the offseason getting better at jumps. At spring training, talking to base running coordinator Billy McMillon, and he has helped me a ton with that. Just getting on the same page with getting good jumps, going on the right pitches, things along those lines. He’s helped me a lot with that.”

8. Jay Groome, the Red Sox’ No. 12 overall pick in last year’s draft, is scheduled to make his third rehab start with Lowell Friday night. 

Working his way back from a lat injury suffered in his first start of the year with Greenville, the first two outings have gone OK. The left-hander went 2 1/3 innings in his first outing, which was cut short by rain, but then went 3 2/3 innings his next time out, allowing one run on four hits while walking two and striking out five. Reports were his pitches weren’t as sharp as the organization wanted them to be and thus the need for at least one more start before heading back to Greenville.

9. 2016 draft pick Nick Lovullo, the son of former Red Sox bench coach and current Diamondbacks manager Torrey Lovullo, is currently with High-A Salem and on a tear of late, batting over .400 in his last 10 games.

He still talks to his dad as much as he can, but noted it is tough with the three-hour time difference. It’s been an adjustment from last season when he was 30 minutes up the road in Lowell for some of the summer.

“It was a little bittersweet,” Lovullo said of the offseason when his dad took the job with Arizona. “His goal for as long as I can remember was to manage in the major leagues and to see him achieve that goal, I couldn’t have been happier for him. The sadder part was he was leaving the organization. We weren’t going to be able to live together and be together during spring training, but that was just a small part of it.”

10. Earlier this week, left-hander Henry Owens was demoted to Double-A Portland. One of the biggest reasons for this is the Red Sox are changing his arm slot, with the hope of getting his control back. 

Owens has walked 60 batters in 69 innings this season. 

“As he goes back to Portland, there’s going to be an adjustment with his arm slot to get it further away from his head, maybe more of a true three-quarters arm slot versus over the top with the hope and the intent that the command of the baseball would certainly improve,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said.