Drafting higher in the first round than they have in two decades, the Red Sox Thursday night selected Trey Ball, a left-handed pitcher and outfielder from New Castle, Ind., with the seventh pick overall in baseball's first-year draft.
Though Ball is a two-way player -- not unlike Casey Kelly, whom the Red Sox selected with their first round pick in 2008 -- indications are that the Sox view him as a pitcher.
"Growing up,'' said Ball in a conference call with reporters, "I was always did two-way, so I was open-minded to anything. But I think this spring, my pitching came out strongest this year and that's what took
off this year for me.''
Ball has a scholarship offer from the University of Texas. The deadline for signing players is July 15.
"It's still open,'' said Ball. "We haven't shut the door on anything, but if it's the best fit for me and my family, anything can happen. But I feel that Boston is right for me.''
Ball said he had "a lot of contact with'' the Red Sox in the spring and knew of their interest.
In his senior year for New Castle High School, Ball was 6-0 with 93 strikeouts in 46 innings.
"I heard [I was going to go] mostly between No. 8 and No. 14,'' he said. "Being picked seventh by Boston, it was great. I'm speechless. It was kind of surprising. I had no idea where it was coming from. I guess it was a last-minute decision. I'm very excited and very happy.''
Ball's fastball, which he throws from 91-94 mph, is his "go-to pitch,'' and he said he needed additional development with his curveball and changeup.
"I've only been throwing a curveball for about a year and a half,'' he said. "I see myself working on the curveball a lot, improving that.''
Ball said he admires Philadelphia Phillies lefty Cliff Lee and "the way he's constantly in the zone with all of his pitches and that's what I try to strive for.''
When Georgia high school outfielder Austin Meadows fell through the first six picks, it was thought that the Sox would select him.
Instead, they chose Ball, who was ranked as the top lefty pitcher in the entire draft.
“We viewed Trey as one of the most complete players available in this year’s draft,” said Red Sox director of amateur scouting Amiel Sawdaye. “His size, athleticism, competitiveness, and makeup made him attractive to the Red Sox as we watched his outstanding performance as both a pitcher and an outfielder. We were thrilled that such a talented player was available to us, and believe that Trey will excel professionally as a left-handed pitcher."
At 6-foot-6, 180 pounds, Ball has a frame similar to current Red Sox lefty Andrew Miller, who stands at 6-foot-7.
Similarly, lefty Henry Owens, now pitching at High A Salem, is considered the top lefty starter in the system, and like Ball, is a tall, lanky pitcher at 6-foot-7.
Owens was a supplemental round pick by the Red Sox in 2011 out of Huntington Beach, Calif.
"My body hasn't fully grown into what it can (be),'' Ball said. "I should be able to add a lot more [bulk] than I have right now.''
As for his two-way ability, the Sox faced this sort of dilemma with Kelly five years ago, allowing him to split one minor league season between short and the mound. Eventually, the Sox and Kelly chose the mound. He was later included in the deal that landed the Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez from the San Diego Padres.
There's little indication this time, however, that the Sox are split on his future. When his selection was announced by commissioner Bud Selig on the MLB Network, he was introduced as a pitcher.
"Before the season,'' said Ball, "[more teams] were open to [considering him as an outfielder]. But as the season progressed, I think more teams leaned toward pitching.''