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Red Sox Draft Report

By Ian Gordon
June 5, 2002

After acquiring free agent center fielder Johnny Damon in the offseason, the Red Sox were left without a pick in the first round of Tuesday's draft.

In the end, the team ended up with two first-round talents anyway.

Boston selected Bellermine (Wash.) Prep lefthander Jon Lester with its first pick, which was the 57th overall. Potentially more importantly, the Red Sox picked highly-regarded righty Jason Neighborgall (out of Riverside High in Durham, N.C.) in the seventh round, thus stopping the prep star's slide that took him out of the first round.

Lester, a 6-foot-4, 200-pounder from Puyallup, Wash., is a lanky hurler who reminds some of former big leaguer Mark Langston. In his senior year at Bellarmine, Lester went 4-2, 1.50 in 42 innings. He struck out 86 and walked 12.

He has a plus fastball with good movement that reaches 92 mph and was Baseball America's 32nd-ranked prospect entering the draft.

""I'll be honest, we didn't expect it," said David Chadd, Boston's first-year scouting director. "We spent 10 days lining that board up, and when you pick at 57, you just don't know what is going to happen."

No one knew what would happen with Neighborgall on draft day either. The 6-foot-5, 190-pounder, whose fastball sits at 92-96 mph and tops out at 98, was a premium talent, but faced questions about his signability and health. Represented by Scott Boras, Neighborgall reportedly was asking for a contract in the $4-$5 million range, and many teams balked at the sticker price. Neighborgall didn't pitch in 2001 because of muscle problems in his back, and also struggled with his command as a senior.

''We thought it was an excellent draft for us given where we drafted. Josh Beckett was a tough sign; so too will be Jason Neighborgall," new Red Sox owner John Henry told the Boston Globe. Henry approved the $7 million major league contract for Beckett in 1999 as the Marlins owner.

''We know there is a high likelihood that he will go on to college, but we risked a seventh-round spot in order to try to have a chance to convince him that becoming a member of the Boston Red Sox family would be a wonderful, rewarding, and unforgettable experience over the long term," Henry said.

If the Red Sox can get Neighborgall, who has a Georgia Tech commitment, to sign, they will have reversed their past failures to sign their draftees.

In 1998, team management failed to come to terms with high schooler Mark Teixeira, who went on to star at Georgia Tech and was drafted fifth overall last year by the Rangers.

Last season, Boston couldn't work out deals with southpaw Matt Chico, its second-round selection, or righthander Ben Crockett, the team's 10th-round pick. Chico attended Southern California, while Crockett returned for his senior season at Harvard and was selected 81st overall Tuesday by the Rockies.

For his part, Lester gave little indication that he expected drawn-out negotiations for his contract.

"I hope I can sign early and start my career and get down there," said Lester, who has committed to Arizona State. "I'd rather sign than attend school. I would much rather get my career going as early as possible and get going in the system."

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