Latest Baseball America mock draft has Red Sox selecting University of Florida ace Hunter Barco with top pick

In the first installment of their 2022 MLB Staff Draft, Baseball America has the Red Sox selecting University of Florida ace left-hander Hunter Barco with its first-round pick at No. 24 overall.

Baseball America writer Tom Lipari was the one who made the selection, and he noted that Barco is a “solid, pitchability lefty with a history of success in the SEC” who would be a “safe pick and quick mover through any system.”

Barco, 21, was originally selected by the Mets in the 24th round of the 2019 amateur draft out of The Bolles School — the same high school New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones attended.

The Jacksonville native did not sign with New York, however, and instead opted to honor his commitment to Florida. After his freshman season was cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Barco earned All-SEC Newcomer honors in 2021.

Through nine starts with the Gators this season, Barco has posted a 2.50 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, and .187 batting average against to go along with 69 strikeouts to 11 walks over 50 1/3 innings of work. He was forced to leave his last outing against Vanderbilt on April 15 after just two innings due to illness and is now questionable for his next start against Tennessee on Friday.

Barco, who does not turn 22 until December, is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 23 draft-eligible prospect in this year’s class, ranking 14th among collegiate players and seventh among pitchers. MLB Pipeline, meanwhile, has Barco coming in at No. 53, which ranks 20th among hurlers who could be drafted in July.

Listed at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Barco operates with a three-pitch mix that consists of a low-90s fastball that tops out at 95 mph, a sweeping slider in the low-80s that can give off the appearance of a curveball, and a changeup that typically clocks in at the low-80s.

Per his Baseball America scouting report, “Barco throws from a low slot that adds deception and helps his stuff play up.” MLB Pipeline, on the other hand, notes that Barco “has done an excellent job of consistently finding the strike zone in college, though there’s improvement that can be made in terms of command within the zone with that funky delivery tough to repeat at times.”

While you have to go back to 2017 to find the last time the Red Sox used a first-round pick on a pitcher (Tanner Houck), the club certainly has not shied away from taking players out of Gainesville in recent years. Jud Fabian (who did not sign), Nathan Hickey, and Wil Dalton stick out there.

Barco could become the latest former Gator to join Boston’s organizational ranks, though plenty could — and likely will — change between now and Day 1 of the 2022 draft in Los Angeles on July 17.

(Picture of Hunter Barco: AP Photo/Gary McCullough)

Red Sox sign fifth-round pick Nathan Hickey for $1 million, per report

The Red Sox have signed fifth-round draft pick Nathan Hickey, according to MLB.com’s Jim Callis.

Per Callis, Hickey — a catcher — has signed with the Sox for $1 million, which is well above the recommended slot value of $410,100 for the 136th overall selection in this year’s draft and is tied for the highest bonus total given to any prospect taken in rounds 4-10.

Hickey, 21, was the first and only catcher taken by Boston in the 2021 amateur draft and was regarded by Baseball America as the No. 131 prospect in this year’s class, ranking 10th among eligible backstops.

A sophomore out of the University of Florida, Hickey — a native of Jacksonville, Fla. — posted an impressive .317/.435/.522 slash line to go along with 15 doubles, three triples, nine home runs, 50 RBI, 40 runs scored, one stolen base, 42 walks, and 40 strikeouts over 60 games (278 plate appearances) with the Gators this spring.

While he is listed as a catcher, the 6-foot, 210-pound left-handed hitter also played four games at first base and five games at third base this season, leading to him drawing comparisons to newly-acquired Red Sox outfielder Kyle Schwarber.

According to his pre-draft scouting report from MLB Pipeline, “Hickey has raised his offensive profile to the point where he’s now being considered to be one of the best bats in Florida. He has a solid approach at the plate, drawing a ton of walks. He’s been tapping into his power and while some scouts see a bit of a max effort swing, he’s cut his strikeout rate down considerably this year. Hickey lost 20-25 pounds when he first got to Florida and has kept the weight off, making him more athletic in the box.

“The bat is going to have to play because few scouts believe he’ll be able to catch long-term. He has more than enough arm for the position, but lacks the agility or the hands to deal with high-octane pitching. The best possible defensive outcome might be for him to move to left field and let the bat carry him to the big leagues in a Kyle Schwarber type of trajectory.”

In signing Hickey to an over-slot deal, the Red Sox have now locked up 14 of their 20 draft picks that were made earlier this month. They have also signed Clemson University outfielder Kier Meredith and Western Oklahoma State College right-hander Jhonny Felix as undrafted free agents.

With less than 48 hours to go until the draft signing deadline (5 p.m. eastern time on Sunday), the most prevalent Boston draft pick who remains unsigned is Hickey’s college teammate in Florida outfielder Jud Fabian, whom the club took in the second round at No. 40 overall.

As noted by SoxProspects.com’s director of scouting Ian Cundall, “the maximum the Red Sox could offer Jud Fabian without exceeding the bonus pool by more than 5% is [approximately] $2.1 million,” though that number would decrease if “if they sign any of their remaining draftees for over $125,000.”

Earlier this week, The Athletic’s Peter Gammons tweeted that Fabian would not be signing with Boston since the Sox were not willing to offer the 20-year-old sophomore a signing bonus of $3 million.

Of course, that could just be a negotiation tactic on the part of Fabian’s camp, and the Red Sox could counter by daring Fabian to turn down what is essentially late first-round money and return to school for his junior season.

If Fabian, who turns 21 in September, were to not sign by Sunday’s deadline, the Sox would be compensated by receiving the 41st overall pick in next year’s draft in addition to their own second-round selection.

That being said (and as was discussed on the most recent episode of Podding the Red Sox: A BloggingtheRedSox.com Podcast), it would be a rough look for Chaim Bloom, Paul Toboni, and Co. if the Sox were unable to sign Fabian after making him their first pick of Day 2 of this year’s draft.

(Picture of Nathan Hickey: Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Feleipe Franks, technically a Red Sox prospect, signs with Atlanta Falcons

After not being selected in this past week’s NFL Draft, former University of Arkansas quarterback Feleipe Franks signed with the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday, according to his agents at Overtime Sports Management Group.

Franks, 23, originally began his collegiate career at the University of Florida after signing with the Gators out of high school in 2015.

While attending Wakulla High School in Crawfordville, Fla., Franks was a two-sport athlete, as he played baseball in addition to football.

On the baseball side of things, Franks was fairly effective as a pitcher, reaching 88 mph with his fastball. And while he did not get drafted by a major-league club out of high school on account of not playing his senior year, the interest in baseball still remained.

During his time at Florida, Franks appeared in a total of 28 games over three seasons and enjoyed a great deal of success as a sophomore in 2018, throwing 24 touchdown passes and just six interceptions while accounting for more than 2,800 yards of total offense.

In the months leading up to the 2019 football season, Franks received word that the Boston Red Sox were interested in selecting him in the upcoming MLB first-year player draft.

Despite having not thrown a baseball since his junior year of high school, Franks took the Red Sox up on their interest and threw a bullpen session, one in which he reached 94 mph on the radar gun.

Shortly thereafter, the Sox selected Franks in the 31st round of the June draft and signed him for $40,000 the following month, though he ultimately opted to continue his college football career.

Back in March, Franks told The Boston Globe’s Nicole Yang that being drafted by the Red Sox came as a shock.

“It definitely was surprising for me,” he said. “But it was a great experience. Still is.”

The Florida native came into his junior season with high expectations, but suffered a season-ending ankle injury in September that would cost him the rest of the year.

Later transferring to Arkansas for his redshirt senior season, Franks led the Razorbacks to a 3-6 record in the nine games he played in 2020, but he did so while completing more than 68% of his passes in addition to accounting for 17 touchdowns and just four turnovers.

On an individual level, the 6-foot-7, 234 pound passer wrapped up his college career on a solid note and was even one of six quarterbacks to participate in this year’s Senior Bowl, yet no NFL team thought he was worthy of spending a draft pick on.

With Atlanta, Franks will join a quarterback room that includes the likes of Boston College alumni Matt Ryan and veteran backup A.J. McCarron.

As he explained to Yang, he is hopeful that his experience on the diamond can help him further develop on the gridiron.

“I think you can just see it with different guys — Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes,” said Franks. “It helps with arm angles. There’s so many different arm angles you throw in football, especially as a quarterback. It’s rare that you’ll just sit there and throw a perfect ball.”

By drafting and signing Franks in 2019, the Red Sox — as noted by SoxProspects.com — “reserve his baseball rights in the event he moves on from football down the line.”

According to Yang, the Sox will retain Franks’ rights through the 2024 season, so the door will remain open for him to pursue a career in baseball if the whole NFL thing does not work out.

Franks is not the only former Florida quarterback the Red Sox have drafted in recent years. Boston also took Jeff Driskel, now of the Denver Broncos, in the 29th round of the 2013 amateur draft.

(Picture of Feleipe Franks: Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Latest 2021 mock draft has Red Sox taking University of Florida outfielder Jud Fabian with top pick

The 2021 Major League Baseball first-year player draft may still be seven months away, but the Red Sox already know they will be picking fourth in said draft thanks to finishing the 2020 season with the fourth-worst record in baseball (24-36).

Since the inception of the amateur draft in 1965, Boston has made its first selection within the top four on just two occasions in 1966 and 1967, so it goes without saying the upcoming draft will serve as an important hallmark for the franchise.

Though the 2021 high school and college baseball seasons are still a ways away from starting, next year’s potential draft class is already starting to take shape, even with possible COVID-19-related obstacles on the horizon.

That being said, MLB.com’s Jim Callis recently released his first round of predictions for which amateur prospects will be taken within the top-10 picks of July’s draft, and he has the Red Sox selecting University of Florida outfielder Jud Fabian at No. 4.

“Fabian might be the most polarizing prospect among the eight players who seem to have separated themselves from the rest of the Draft class at this point,” Callis wrote. “He could have the most usable power in the Draft and may stay in center field, but he also has hit just .250 with a 22-percent strikeout rate in two seasons at Florida.”

Fabian, who turned 20 in September, is about to embark on his junior season for the Gators this coming spring.

The right-handed hitting, left-handed throwing center fielder out of Ocala, Fla. came into 2020 as a preseason All-Southeastern Conference second teamer. He posted an impressive .294/.407/.603 slash line to go along with five home runs and 13 RBI over 17 games played before the ongoing coronavirus pandemic forced the SEC to suspend its baseball season in mid-March.

Still, Fabian managed to salvage the year by taking part in the Florida Collegiate Summer League, where he went 14-for-46 (.304) at the plate with a pair of homers and 11 runs driven in across 19 games for the Orlando Scorpions.

He also spent the summer of 2019 on the Cape with the Bourne Braves.

Listed at 6-foot-2 and 190 lbs., Fabian very well could have been drafted out of Trinity Catholic High School in 2019 had he not skipped his senior season in order to enroll early at Florida. He has the advantage over other college prospects on account of the fact that he will be younger than the average junior.

Per his FanGraphs scouting report, Fabian “has a rare, unfavorable ‘backwards’ profile — he hits right and throws left, limiting him to 1B/OF — but looks like he’ll hit enough for that not to matter. While his lower half has gotten a little heavier and softer since high school, Fabian still has a fairly athletic swing, and his hitting hands work in an explosive loop that give him low-ball power. His hands load deep and high, and Fabian’s bat path doesn’t always look like it’s going to work, but he still covers the zone from (nearly) top to bottom and can pull his hands in to get the barrel on inside pitches.”

In recent years, the Red Sox have leaned more towards taking high school talent — Nick Yorke, Triston Casas, Jay Groome, Michael Chavis, Michael Kopech — with their first-round selection.

As it turns out though, the last two college prospects Boston has taken in the first round have both come out of the SEC, as right-hander Tanner Houck was drafted out of Missouri with the 24th overall pick in 2017 and outfielder Andrew Benintendi was drafted out of Arkansas with the seventh overall pick in 2015.