The Red Sox only had one pick through the first 75 selections in the 2015 MLB Draft, but on Tuesday, they'll pick sixth overall and participate in every round from here on out. It's unclear just who the Sox will want to draft with any of those picks, but there is one name that sticks out after making it through the first few rounds, and that's Duke ace Michael Matuella. The right-hander was in serious consideration for the first-overall spot in this year's draft, at least until Tommy John surgery ended his season at Duke and dropped him down draft boards across the league.
From the start, there is obvious risk here with Matuella. The assumption is that Tommy John surgery will work for him and he'll be back to downing hitters left and right once he's recovered, but that doesn't always happen. Place that risk on top of your standard draft pick risk, and throw in a (manageable) back injury, and it's easy to see why Matuella has fallen at least to 76 after consideration for the top spot. Now that he's around for the third-round, though, and the Sox have already used their first pick on college outfielder Andrew Benintendi, they are in a position to maybe make something with Matuella work.
Since the whole Tommy John thing is a red flag for many, let's figure out who Matuella could be if he's healthy. He has four pitches, including a mid-90s fastball. Baseball America said that, when healthy, he had "arguably the best stuff (and control) of any college pitcher in this draft class." They ranked him 23rd on their draft board, even with the Tommy John surgery, and MLB.com didn't push him much further back, placing him 28th on theirs.
There are concerns about his durability, since these injuries have kept him from pitching in the Cape Code League or for Team USA to help rack up innings. The stuff is there, though, and is undeniable: the question is whether or not he'll be on the mound to show it off. Is he a top-of-the-rotation arm who just had a rough patch of health, or are these all warning signs that he'll be a perennial disappointment, unable to contribute because he's always on the mend?
No one knows the answer to that question, but teams were spooked enough to keep letting him fall. Now that draft slot bonuses have dropped considerably, however -- the slot value of Boston's first pick was nearly $3.6 million, while the 81st pick comes valued at $742,000 -- teams might be more willing to take the risk on Matuella.
He would still need to be willing to sign, though: as Matuella is a junior, he's still got time to rehabilitate his image and shoot for a loftier selection after his senior year. Given the recovery time for TJ recipients, though, he won't actually pitch that season, so it would rely exclusively on how he looked working back from injury. If the Sox failed to sign Matuella because he wanted to bet on a larger bonus in a year, it would cost them $742,400 of their draft budget, which is no small thing since they already possessed the ninth-smallest budget in the league thanks to the lack of any compensation picks and a second-round selection. It would also put even more distance between their first pick and their second one, which is a smaller concern, but still worth mentioning.
The Sox could probably convince Matuella to leave Duke and join the pros if they offer him a deal that's way over slot, since his leverage is relatively low given the timing of his surgery, but in order to have the available draft budget to do so, they would need to be sure to select a number of inexpensive college seniors during rounds four through 10, as they did in 2012 in order to afford fourth-rounder Ty Buttrey's $1.3 million signing bonus. They have an extra $179,520 to work with from the start, as teams can spend up to five percent above their allotted pool without having to sacrifice a future draft pick. So, if the Sox want to automatically assign that to Matuella, that would put him at a bonus of $921,920. That won't be enough, but it's a start.
After that, it's a matter of finding those seniors who will sign for $100,000 or $10,000 or $1,000 instead of at their slot values, but the problem there is that the ceilings of those players might not be that high. In 2012, Boston drafted pitchers like Mike Augliera and Kyle Martin, and while they came at a discount and were also sort-of prospects, they were some of the better names they went under slot with: many of the others were players who were never going to make it out of the low minors, and if they did, it was going to be as an organizational type who stuck on the farm for six years and then went to free agency.
If the Sox want to go that route again to make sure they can pay Matuella, whose upside is greater than that of anyone else available who is still willing to sign a pro deal, then that's a valid strategy. Not putting all their proverbial eggs in the Matuella-shaped basket is another, though, especially given the concerns about his health.
There is no real wrong answer to the question of whether the Sox should pick Matuella with their third-round selection. The reasons to do so are obvious, but so are the reasons not to. Maybe the answer is somewhere in between, where the Sox keep Matuella on their radar, but wait him out a little longer. Just because he's still ranked highly doesn't mean he's going to fly off the board while he's hurt: he might not last until round 37 like former ninth-overall pick Karsten Whitson did in 2013 before the Nationals drafted him with a shoulder injury, but maybe Matuella will last long enough that the budget hit from failing to sign him won't be so harsh.
All of this assumes that the Red Sox liked what they saw in Matuella's medical reports enough to take this risk on him, of course. If the meds look like a problem, well, there is no question that the Sox shouldn't bother spending a pick and the associated bonus on the right-hander, regardless of his ceiling. If he's not looking worse than other pitchers who have undergone Tommy John, though, and the Sox want to get the kind of high-upside arm they normally cannot in the draft, then we just might see them go this route on Tuesday.