Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Red Sox still negotiating with draft picks

BOURNE, Mass. -- Kendal Volz wasn't exactly disappointed with his four-inning effort for the Brewster Whitecaps on Monday. He wasn't thrilled, either.

He allowed six hits and one earned run in four innings, striking out two and walking one. He allowed a run on a broken-bat single in the first inning but did a nice job digging himself out of a quick 3-0 count with a runner on second against the league's best power hitter in the third inning, throwing a tough slider on a 3-1 count and inducing a routine fly ball on 3-2.

"I came back with the fastball, and then, 3-1, I'm sure he was sitting fastball again, and I threw him the slider," Volz said. "That's pretty big with no outs. He's a good hitter."

But the box score isn't what Volz is all that worried about. It's also not what Red Sox assistant general manager Jed Hoyer was there to see.

The Red Sox drafted Volz in the ninth round of June's draft, his summer as the closer for Team USA a big part of what caught the team's attention. (Baseball America named Volz the third-best prospect on the team -- ahead of first-round picks Kyle Gibson and Mike Leake. He then went back to Baylor and had an up-and-down season, a 4.50 ERA and a diminished strikeout-to-walk ratio hurting his stock a little bit.

Hoyer wasn't there to evaluate him as a pitcher -- and while he had a radar gun in his hand, he wasn't really there to gauge the speed of his fastball, either. For Volz, all summer long, it's been all about mechanics.

The 6-foot-4 righty shut down his throwing when the season ended, giving his arm a break and giving himself a chance to focus on the summer classes he was taking at Baylor. The only pitching work he did was a series of drills designed to improve the mechanics of his motion, something that might have cost him a chance to go in the top three rounds of the draft.

"They'd watched me every game, every time I pitched," Volz said. "Coming up here, they weren't going to see anything different the first month (of the Cape League season), and they knew I'd thrown a lot during the (college) season and prior to the season. It was big for me to take a little break and rest my arm a little bit just so I didn't get even more worn down coming right up here."

Volz is one of five players the Red Sox drafted in the top 10 rounds but have not yet signed. All four of the others are high school players -- including third-round pick David Renfroe, a shortstop out of South Panola (Miss.) High School. The other three college players the Red Sox have drafted, including second-round pick Alex Wilson, have signed and already are working their way up the minor-league ladder.

High school players often take longer to sign simply because they have more leverage --Renfroe, for example, has a scholarship offer in hand to play football at Ole Miss.

Volz is in something of a unique situation with the way he shut things down at the end of the season. He's only spent two weeks on Cape Cod, ramping things up again at the request of the Red Sox so they could see him throw a few more times. (He made four appearances out of the bullpen before making his first -- and possibly only -- start of the summer on Monday.)

Negotiations will begin in earnest once he returns home to Texas.

"They understood and we understood that there wouldn't be any negotiating going on until after the (Cape League) season got done -- and probably even a little bit after that," he said. "They might come down and watch me when I get back home. They might offer something first and then come watch me. But we knew they'd want to come see me at least four or five times, ... and nothing would be done until they saw me then."

The leverage for a college player drops substantially after his junior year -- he can go back to school for his senior year, but unless he's drafted in the first couple of rounds, he usually gets a take-it-or-leave-it offer at that point. It doesn't necessarily benefit Volz or the Red Sox for him to go back to Baylor next season.

"Obviously, you want to sign," Volz said. "My dream was always signing after junior year. But it's not a bad second choice to go back to school. I'm really kind of indifferent. If it works out, that's great. The Red Sox are a great organization, great people all up there. But going back to school won't be bad, either. ...

"During the draft, most of it is signability and what you would sign for, signing bonus-wise. That's kind of stayed the same, so, at the end of the day, it's if they meet that or if they don't. If they do, great. If they don't, I'll go through it again next year."

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