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Undrafted free agents to watch: Hitters

The signing spree can start Sunday

Alex Cora Departure Press Conference Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

The draft this year was, frankly, a joke. Typically a three-day, 40-round affair, things were cut down to just two days and five rounds this year, leaving a whole lot of players who would normally not only be drafted but also sign hanging in the wind. Starting Sunday at 9:00 AM, these players can be signed as undrafted free agents. It still remains to be seen just how many players will actually end up signing, but my instinct is that it won’t be a whole hell of a lot. Consider that the maximum signing bonus any player here can get is only $20,000 and that any player, even seniors, are welcome back for another year of eligibility with the NCAA next year.

Now, there are some compelling reasons to go pro of course. The biggest is simply to get your career going earlier. The earlier you can start working with professional coaches would presumably be the better. There’s also the fact that the college ranks are going to be more crowded this year than normal, so playing time might not be there back at school in the way you’d like. I think age will end up being the biggest factor here. This is a big factor for teams when drafting, so if a player is already 22 they may decide they’re better off taking advantage of an opportunity to pick their organization rather than taking their chances as a 23-year-old draftee next year when they’d likely be looking at a small college senior signing bonus anyway.

This was my methodology below for the most part. I’m going to look at a handful of hitters who could be intriguing and at least somewhat realistic as potential undrafted signs starting tomorrow. For the most part, I looked at age, and also considered things like playing time at their school. There are also a few players who have been drafted by the Red Sox before, which may not mean a ton but could point to some sort of relationship between the two sides already. There are no high school players on this list. Later today I’ll look at the class of pitchers as well. Shoutout to Baseball America, whose list of best players who went undrafted was a huge help for this.

Casey Optiz, C, University of Arkansas

Baseball America Class Rank: 100

This is probably a bit of a reach and he’s more likely to go back to school, but let’s be honest this whole situation is unprecedented. Next season will be his age-22 season, and like I said teams get more and more hesitant on players the older they get. Opitz is a phenomenal defensive catcher whose bat started to show some signs of life this spring before the season was canceled. My guess is he goes back to school, but a good organization may be able to entice him.

Luke Waddell, SS, Georgia Tech

BA Rank: 116

Again, the ranking here would indicate he’s better off going back to school, but there are a few considerations. For one, he’s just about 22 already, so he’ll be just about 23 when he’s drafted if he goes back to school and 24 for his first full professional season. He’s also not a toolsy guy and there’s not a ton of projection left, but rather a good, hard-working infielder who can play all over the place. Those are the types of players the Red Sox have thrived with, and they may be able to convince him that joining their organization is best for his career.

Kale Emshoff, C, University of Arkansas-Little Rock

BA Rank: 174

Take a guess at the age here. You got it! Emshoff has already turned 22. As far as the profile, his most attractive tool is his power at the plate which should translate to professional ball as well. Defensively, he’s a solid receiver and he had a good arm, though it’s still working its way back to where it was before he got Tommy John Surgery in 2019.

Elijah Dunham, OF, University of Indiana

BA Rank: 186

Dunham is another 22 year old, though he might have a little more incentive to go back to school. He is the type of player who was really screwed over by both this short draft and the shortened season, as he was off to a scorching start this season but scouts simply didn’t get enough of a sample to totally buy in. The reasons for coming out would be that he basically is what he is at this point physically, but I think if I were him I’d go back and prove that what I showed this spring was for real.

Tanner Allen, 1B/OF, Mississippi State University

BA Rank: 245

Allen is a 22-year-old as well, and like Dunham I think he has some incentive to stay in school. Defensively, there’s really not much of a profile here at all. He’s played basically all four corner positions but will probably settle in as an average-at-best corner outfielder. The bat is the selling point, and his sweet swing from the left side is enticing. Age wouldn’t be as much of a factor for someone like Allen, though, who has the swing and approach to move quickly whenever he’s drafted.

Adam Kerner, C, University of San Diego

BA Rank: 288

The case for Kerner signing now rather than going back to school is simply that there’s really not much else for him to prove to improve his stock. Of course, he’ll believe there’s more in the bat, but scouts agree he’s a defensive-minded catcher, and there’s an argument to get into a system now to start working with professional coaches to really hone that skill and get the bat up to par for a backup. This is the type of player teams will be lining up for in this kind of atmosphere, because even if he doesn’t make the majors there’s plenty of value in having a strong defensive catcher behind the plate for your pitching prospects in the minors.

Cam Shepherd, SS, University of Georgia

BA Rank: 298

Shepherd was the top undrafted senior according to Baseball America and is already almost 23. Going back to school would mean his first full professional season wouldn’t be until his age-25 year. To make matters better for the Red Sox, the shortstop was drafted by them out of high school. He’s a good defensive shortstop with a solid hit tool but not much power.

Drew Smith, 2B, Grand Canyon University

BA Rank: 308

Smith really made a name for himself ahead of the 2020 season in junior college where he was one of the best players at that level in the nation, winning the D-II JUCO player of the year award in 2019. He also had a big opening weekend this year before the season got shut down. Smith is another one of those not-so-toolsy but high makeup, contact-oriented middle infielders that the Red Sox love.