First-rounder Ball signs, takes in Fenway experience
Lanky high school lefty was among best two-way players in this year's Draft
BOSTON -- About three hours before first pitch Wednesday, Clay Buchholz stood deep in the right-field corner at Fenway Park playing catch with a fresh-faced and lanky left-hander.
The southpaw was decked out in a full Red Sox uniform, with his pants rolled just below the knees and the jersey hanging loosely off his tall but skinny frame.
His name is Trey Ball and just 13 days ago, the Red Sox tabbed him as an integral part of the future of the franchise when they selected him seventh overall in the First-Year Player Draft. On Wednesday, the Red Sox made it official and signed him to his first professional contract worth $2.75 million.
In total, the Red Sox signed 11 Draft picks Wednesday, but as the first-round pick, Ball was the prize.
"When we sort of go through the checklist of things we need to see in a high school pitcher to invest a first-round pick in, he just checks all the boxes," Boston general manager Ben Cherington said. "He's big, he's athletic. We've gotten to know him very well. This is a good kid, great work ethic, highly competitive."
Cherington acknowledges that as someone who has just graduated high school, Ball -- who looks every bit as youthful as his age suggests -- probably won't be pitching competitively at Fenway in the near future. He heads to Gulf Coast League in Fort Meyers, Fla., on Thursday, and with the seasoning that comes from everyday instruction at the professional level, Cherington and the rest of the Red Sox organization believe Ball has what it takes to be a dominant starter.
On Wednesday, Ball got a preview of what it was like to be on a big league club. After tossing shortly, Buchholz, the staff's ace, came over and maneuvered his understudy's fingers over the seams of a baseball.
"He was showing me how he throws his curveball, you know, because I've only thrown it for two seasons, so that's the pitch I'll need to work on," Ball said. "He was giving me all kinds of pointers on that."
Many of Boston's pitchers came over, introduced themselves and occasionally offered some advice.
Ball also got a look at Boston's clubhouse, where the players -- and especially Dustin Pedroia -- weren't shy about giving him a hard time.
"Yeah, he got a taste of some of our guys in our clubhouse, too," manager John Farrell said. "And to his credit, he handled it great. You've got an 18-year-old that walks in a jacket and tie who obviously comes from a good family. You could see that. And he did his family proud, given what he heard."
"Oh yeah, they were like, 'Hurry up and get up here,'" Ball said. "Dustin Pedroia was like, 'Hurry up and retire,' and all that. He was just giving me a hard time. It was a good time."
At 6-foot-6 and 175 pounds, Ball certainly has room to fill out. Part of the intrigue with him is not what he brings to the table now, but what he can develop with the tools he already has. His fastball sits between 90-94 mph and he also has a changeup and a curveball. Scouts think that as Ball puts on muscle, the velocity on his fastball will only increase. His curveball still has some room to improve, too. His dad -- in an effort to save his arm -- didn't let him throw the pitch until two years ago. For an out pitch, Ball instead relied on a knuckleball.
"I threw it quite a bit," Ball said. "Before I threw my curveball, that was kind of my out pitch when I was ahead of the count. It worked for me."
But don't expect a Tim Wakefield impersonation anytime soon.
"From what I hear, scratch that," he said.
At New Castle High School in Indiana, Ball went 6-0 with a 0.76 ERA during his senior year with 93 strikeouts and 13 walks over 46 innings. He also was a force as a position player -- something he said will be tough to give up. He batted .320 with nine homers, 28 RBIs and 40 runs and was named the Gatorade Indiana Baseball Player of the Year.
Ball hasn't been throwing regularly since his season ended. As a result, the Red Sox will take their time getting the youngster into a routine. Cherington said he'll adjust to a strength routine, a five-day throwing cycle and ideally, will hit the ground running next year. He'll start in the Gulf Coast League and probably won't make his first pitching appearance until July.
"You know, we'll probably keep an eye on how he works this year, with a goal towards just getting on a routine and getting him ready for his first full pro season, which will be next year," Cherington said.
Ball's trip to Fenway and Boston was certainly one he'll remember. He and his family took a Duck Tour around town to check out the city and after seeing Boston for the first time, he hopes to be back.
"It's been a great, great experience. I love this city, love all the people," he said.
"Growing up, that's all I wanted to be was a baseball player. Being able to potentially fulfill that is a great honor."
Michael Periatt is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @Michael Periatt. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.