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Sox Like Murphy's Long Track Record

June 3, 2003
By John Tomase

BOSTON--Perhaps it's fitting that Theo Epstein, the youngest general manager in baseball history, would spend his first draft pick on a player initially scouted at age 9.

David Murphy turned heads that day a dozen years ago as a young left-hander throwing a tennis ball against a wall, and he continued turning them yesterday, when the Red Sox made the Baylor junior outfielder the 17th overall pick.

"To be the first pick of the Red Sox and the first pick by new management is incredible," Murphy said. "But I'm not going to change my game. I'll go out there and play baseball like I always have."

Murphy's selection marks a significant philosophical shift in the Red Sox draft room. Last year Boston selected high schoolers with seven of its first nine picks. This year it used eight of its first nine on college players. Of the team's first 22 picks, 16 were college players, three junior college players and three high schoolers.

"I believe we made an impact," Epstein said. "This is a big piece of turning around the farm system. The great thing about the draft is everyone feels this way today. We'll find out for sure in five years."

A 6-foot-3, 195-pound outfielder and lefthanded hitter, Murphy earned first-team all-conference honors in the Big 12 this year, leading the league in batting (.420) and total bases (176). He has driven in 64 runs in 65 games, with 11 home runs, a .492 on base percentage and .626 slugging percentage. The Red Sox compared him to former Yankees outfielder Paul O'Neil.

Murphy was named Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Regional in Hattiesburg, Miss., helping Baylor reach a super-regional for the second time in school history. It begins a three-game series with Louisiana State on Friday.

His on-base percentage appealed to the Red Sox, who have made patience an organizational priority.

"I've worked hard on my plate discipline," Murphy said. "My freshman year I was decent, but I still swung at a lot of pitches out of the zone. I've worked hard to recognize curveballs, changeups and work the strike zone as much as I can. It has worked wonders."

Murphy's familiar with Boston. He was named Baseball America's No. 22 prospect in the Cape Cod League last season after hitting .304 and earning all-star honors for league champion Wareham.

"When I made the Cape League all-star team, we got to go on the field at Fenway before a game," Murphy said. "What was interesting to me was, even though there was a rain delay, the park was full. I knew right off the bat that Fenway fans, Boston fans, are diehards. That's why I know it will be a great city to play in."

Red Sox scout Jim Robinson recommended Murphy, who first got noticed at a high school game in his native Spring, Texas in 1991.

A fleet of scouts descended on Klein High School to watch Klein Oak rival Justin Thompson, who would become a first-round pick of the Tigers. Murphy attended with his friends, who began tossing a tennis ball near the field.

"This guy came up to me and I thought I was in trouble," Murphy said. "He said, 'Let me see you throw that ball again.' I threw it a couple of more times and it just so happened he got a couple of his buddies, scouts from other teams, to take a look, too."

Pretty soon Murphy had attracted a small crowd. A representative from the Major League Scouting Bureau videotaped his motion and recorded his name for future reference.

"We went home with a bunch of business cards," Murphy said with a chuckle. "I was a little lefthander with a good arm. They were looking at me more as a pitcher."

The smooth-swinging lefty blossomed offensively in high school. Baylor coach Steve Smith labeled him the best hitter in the state as a senior, and Murphy became the only true freshman to start at Baylor in 2001.

He missed the first 15 games of his sophomore year after breaking his hand in the preseason. He ended up hitting .318 with six home runs.

"His swing is the same pure swing as when he got here," Smith said. "To me he's going to continue to get bigger and stronger. A lot of 21-year-old guys, what you see is what you get. With David, there's still some projection physically."

Murphy becomes the second Baylor player the Red Sox took with their first pick in the last three years. Catcher Kelly Shoppach went 48th overall to Boston in 2001. He authored a 28-game hitting streak at Baylor in 2001, with Murphy's 21-gamer this year the longest since.

The two played together for one season and don't know each other that well. "I haven't spoken to him since I was drafted," Murphy said. "I remember he was a great leader."

Boston also selected Murphy's current Baylor teammate, center fielder Chris Durbin, in the 10th round. Though the Red Sox announced Murphy as a center fielder, Durbin has played center for the Bears with Murphy in right.

With their sandwich pick in the first round (compensation for departed free agent Cliff Floyd), the Red Sox selected Georgia Tech junior outfielder Matt Murton. A teammate of Murphy's in the Cape League, Murton was named Cape MVP in 2001 after hitting .324 and going 19-for-19 in stolen bases. In two Cape summers, he's a career .345 hitter in 200 at-bats and won the home run derby at the league's all-star game in 2002.

The 6-foot-1, 224-pounder hit .301-13-56 for the Yellow Jackets this year. He slugged .524 with a .403 on base percentage.

"I'm honored to be a part of the Georgia Tech-Boston connection," said Murton, referring to Nomar Garciaparra and Jason Varitek. "To come up through college after those guys and now have an opportunity to come through the same system is an honor."

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