Red Sox sign top draft pick Place

Red Sox ink top draft pick Place to contract

BOSTON -- While the big-league club was off, the Red Sox were still busy Thursday taking a major step toward restocking their highly regarded farm system with fresh talent.

Jason McLeod, the team's director of amateur scouting, announced the signings of the club's picks in the first, second and fourth rounds of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. The club also signed its sandwich selection between the first and second rounds.

Highlighting a busy day of activity was the announcement that first rounder Jason Place, one of the highest rated high school outfield prospects in the United States, had signed on the dotted line.

The Red Sox also inked left-handed pitcher Kris Johnson of Wichita State University, the 40th overall selection as a sandwich pick between the first and second round, the second-round pick, right-handed pitcher Justin Masterson of San Diego State University, and the fourth-round selection, catcher Jon Still of North Carolina State University.

Place, a power-hitting outfielder from Wren High School in Piedmont, S.C., was the 27th overall pick and has reported to the rookie Gulf Coast League Red Sox in Fort Myers, Fla.

"Jason Place is an athletic, power-hitting outfielder," McLeod said. "We're really excited to bring his type of potential impact into the organization."

Place became the first player in the four years of Theo Epstein's tenure as general manager that the club selected a high school player with its first pick. And McLeod had no reservations with the strategy.

"This year," McLeod explained, "looking at the draft, Theo said, 'Hey, Jason. I think we have our Minor League system in a good spot right now. So let's really shoot for getting impact-type players this year. We're in a good spot in the Minor Leagues right now. Let's look for guys who can really come in and have the raw ability to become better than your average Major League player.'"

And in Place, McLeod believes the Red Sox have found just that.

"Jason, with just the raw ability he brings to the table, you just don't find that many players like that out in the draft," McLeod said. "When we went around the country this year, he definitely was one of those few players who if you put the tools on the table, he has all five of them.

"With the size that he's got and everything he can physically do, we just felt, with the extra picks we had too, that this is a kid we need to earmark to get."

Only 18, Place is already drawing comparisons in the organization to Atlanta's Jeff Francoeur and former Mets and Padres slugger Kevin McReynolds. But Place has his own role models offensively and defensively.

"Offensively, I try to model myself after Albert Pujols," he explained. "He's a guy with no weaknesses. He can hit to all fields. He hits for average.

"Defensively, it would probably be Andruw Jones or Jim Edmonds. The way they play the outfield, they never make a false step, and that's why they're two of the greatest center fielders and outfielders to play of all time -- and I try to model the defensive part of my game after them."

The promising slugger has a commanding presence at the plate, standing 6-foot-3 and weighing 200 pounds. Place, who was recommended by Red Sox scout Rob English, hit .463 with 36 home runs, 124 RBIs, 174 runs scored and 90 stolen bases in 136 career games over five seasons for Wren High School, spending the majority of his time as a center fielder.

Prior to the draft, the Easley, S.C., native signed a letter of intent to attend the University of South Carolina. The Red Sox then changed those plans when they drafted and signed him. Now Place is trying for a fast track to Fenway Park, a place he's been to before as a fan with his family.

"I've always set my goals high. I'm shooting for two [or] three years," Place said of his hopeful timeline to the Majors.

But Place received some words of advice and a reality check from another former Red Sox star outfielder who knows something about making it to the big leagues at young age.

"Jim Rice talked to me, and he told me pretty much to shut up and listen and told me I'm going to learn a lot about myself as a baseball player that I didn't know in the next couple of years and to just take that all in and understand that it might take time," Place said.

Place was honored as the 2006 Gatorade High School Player of the Year and South Carolina Region 1-4A Player of the Year after batting .544 with six doubles, four home runs, 20 RBIs and 32 runs scored. The right-handed batter posted a .895 slugging percentage and .711 on-base percentage, while stealing 10 bases for the Golden Hurricanes.

Place also earned Region 1-4A Player of the Year and South Carolina All-State honors in 2005 after batting .541 with 14 homers, 25 RBIs, 50 runs and 22 steals in 28 games.

Scout Ernie Jacobs recommended Johnson, who went 16-2 with a 2.94 ERA in 32 career games (all but two as a starter) over two-plus seasons for Wichita State. The 6-foot-3, 185-pounder made a career-high 15 starts for the Shockers in 2006, going 6-2 with a 4.86 ERA.

Masterson was 6-7 with a 4.81 ERA in 17 games (all but one as a starter) as a junior in 2006 for San Diego State. He recorded 108 strikeouts in 116 innings pitched, an average of 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings. Red Sox scout Dan Madsen recommended Masterson.

In his first season with North Carolina State in 2006 after transferring from Stetson University, Still batted .350 with 15 doubles, eight home runs, 58 RBIs and 58 runs in 61 games. He was recommended by Red Sox scout Jeff Zona.

Johnson, Masterson and Still have all been assigned to Class A Lowell of the New York-Penn League. The Red Sox have 17 draft selections from the 2006 First-Year Player Draft under contract.

Boston also announced the signings of a pair of undrafted free agents, left-hander Jeff Farrell of Southern Connecticut State University and right-hander Will Mann of Florida Atlantic University. Farrell was assigned to Lowell with Mann going to the Gulf Coast Red Sox.

Mike Petraglia is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.