The Red Sox rolled the dice with their first-round pick Thursday night, selecting high school lefty Jason Groome from Barnegat, N.J., a highly-regarded pitcher with exceptional stuff but surrounded by some questions over his makeup.
As recently as two months ago, Groome was thought to be a candidate to be chosen first overall, thanks to a fastball that's been clocked at 94-96 mph, with a curveball that is considered plus-plus.
But concerns over some eligibility, makeup and a poor finish to his senior year combined to drop his stock.
"With any player we're considering,'' explained scouting director Mike Rikard, "we do extensive work on makeup, character, background. . . all those things. We did put a lot of work in on that end. We have a scout (Ray Fagnant) in there that we're very, very comfortable with. Every kid you consider is going to have a different story and background and we're very comfortable that we know who Jason Groome is.''
Rickard said that Fagnant got to know Groome well and attended at least half of his starts this season. The Sox, he added, had one scout or another at every one of his starts this season.
MLB.com had rated him as the No. 1 talent in the draft and a few executives have labeled him as the best high school pitching prospect since Clayton Kershaw.
"He's got really good stuff,'' said Rickard. "He's got a big fastball, a good curveball and can throw his changeup for strikes as well. He's a big, durable guy. He's got a nice delivery. He throws the ball easy. He's very advanced, very talented kid.''
"We're very excited,'' said general manager Mike Hazen. "Our guys did such good work. We had him rated very high. The amount of looks, the stuff that we saw (was very impressive). We know what it takes to compete in the A.L. East and we feel we saw the upside here of a guy who could pitch in this rotation (in the future).''
Though he grew up in New Jersey, Groome is a Red Sox fan and had expressed a desire to be chosen by the Sox.
He weathered a controversy-filled senior year after being ruled ineligible following a decision to transfer from New Jersey to IMG Academy in Florida and back to Barnegat again.
Adding further controversy to the pick, Groome's agents are reportedly looking for the kind of signing bonus often associated with the first few picks in the draft. The 12th overall pick has a value of approximately $3.2 million.
Groome also raised some eyebrows lately with his decision to de-commit to Vanderbilt and instead committing to Chipola College in Florida, known as a junior college power.
Such a move will enable Groome to enter negotiations with more leverage, since he could conceivably attend Chipola and re-enter the draft next June if he doesn't get the kind of signing bonus he's seeking.
"I don't think (changing college commitments) was troubling,'' said Rikard. "It is something we're aware of. I don't know that we've got that confirmed. But that's the information that we currently have at this point.''
Rickard added that the Sox are "hopeful'' of getting Groome signed. "We haven't gotten into a whole lot of that,'' he acknowledged. "We're certainly hopeful and encouraged.''
With their second pick of the night, at No. 51, the Sox chose shortstop C.J. Chatham from Florida Atlantic. Chatham is 6-4, leading some to question whether he can remain at short. But Rickard believes he's athletic enough to remain at the position.
"He's a very good college player,'' Rickard said. "We believe he will stay at shortstop. He's a good hitter. He's got a pretty nice proven track record with the bat. We think he's more than a contact-oriented hitter. There could be some power there. We like his instincts and we think he can stay at short and be very good defensively.''