06/04/2002 2:44 pm ET
Lester selected by Boston
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
Red Sox round-by-round picks
BOSTON -- It takes a special kind of left-handed pitcher to have success at Fenway Park, where the intimidating Green Monster is hovering just 310 feet from
In fact, the Red Sox haven't had a prominent southpaw starter since Frank Viola, and he threw his last pitch for them in 1994.
On Tuesday, the Red Sox might have planted the first seed toward bringing a big-time lefty to Boston. With the 57th overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft, the Red Sox took left-handed pitcher Jonathan Lester, a talented
18-year-old out of Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, Wash.
The Red Sox have one year to sign Lester, and they would also lose his rights if he opts to go to college.
Tall frame with long, loose arms. Reminds of former big league pitcher Mark Langston. Smooth, three-quarter delivery with high kick and easy, fluid arm action. Plus fastball with life reaches 92 mph with natural run and sink. Slow curve has good rotation. Deceptive arm speed on straight change that fades. Poise and presence.
Lester has a scholarship to Arizona State, but he sounded like a man intent on starting the professional process.
"Hopefully I can sign early, start my career, be (with the) Red Sox soon," Lester said. "I'd rather sign than attend school, but if it comes down to it, I'll go to Arizona State. But I'd much rather get my career going as early as
possible and get in the system."
As for Fenway, the ancient ballyard in Boston just happens to be the sight Lester attended his first Major League game.
"It was Alex Rodriguez's Major League debut," said Lester. "It was great."
That was July 8, 1994. He got a good glimpse of the fabled 37-foot Green Monster during his visit as a fan, and the thought of pitching with it at his back excites him.
"Just to play in Fenway would definitely be an honor," Lester said. "Just to play in the same place a lot of the all-timers did, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, would be neat and fun. I don't think the green wall would be intimidating. It would be fun and I'd enjoy it."
David Chadd, Boston's director of amateur scouting, was ecstatic to see Lester's name still on the board.
"I'll be honest, we didn't expect it," Chadd said. "We spent 10 days lining that board up, and when you pick at 57, you just don't know what is going to happen."
In his senior year at Bellarmine, Lester was 4-2 with a 1.50 ERA. In 42 innings, he struck out 86, while walking just 12.
One person who has seen the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Lester pitch more than most thinks the Red Sox drafted a prize, even though they didn't have the benefit of
a first-round pick.
"He was so mature early on, he was the MVP as a freshman in our league. He was MVP three out of his four years," said Rick Barnhart, the baseball coach at Bellarmine the last 18 years. "You see kids with good arms who throw hard, but
he had control and composure too."
"As he got stronger, he was throwing 90-plus and with control, that's pretty special. He's a hard working, good humble kid, and a coach's dream. Just fun to watch."
It isn't as if it is impossible for a left-hander to be effective at Fenway. Though there haven't been any in recent years, some of Boston's best pitchers in
their history have been lefties, from Babe Ruth to Lefty Grove to Mel Parnell to Spaceman Bill Lee to Bruce Hurst.
What you need to tame the Green Monster's impact is a strong mentality. There have been early indications that Lester is tough-minded.
"What impressed me most was his confidence, not getting rattled or letting things bother him," said Barnhart. "He really matured in how he helped other kids. To have the kind of attention, he just never have the attitude you'd
expect a high school kid to have. How tough is it not to gloat. Human nature would make you want to gloat, but he didn't. He's just self-disciplined, that's the key to his success. He earned this."
Though Lester will certainly have plenty of developing to do before he earns a ticket to Fenway, he already has a solid foundation.
"He has a fastball and a curve that has gotten pretty good, and he throws a changeup -- a circle change," said Barnhart. "He used to throw a forkball, but he
doesn't anymore. When he was younger, he thought he had to have a million different pitches. But he learned that the best pitch is old number one still."
And now Chadd hopes that without a number one, that will be essentially be what Lester winds up.
"We're ecstatic, we're happy, we didn't think Jonathan would get to us," said Chadd. "But the tough part is to get (the picks) signed and get them in a Red Sox uniform."
Ian Browne, who covers the Red Sox for MLB.com, can be reached at Ian.Browne@mlb.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or any of its clubs.