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Tools to build a fine future

Powerful Place to get to work

ATLANTA -- No official announcement has been made, but the Red Sox have signed their top draft choice, outfielder Jason Place. If he isn't already in Fort Myers, Fla., ready to embark on his professional career in rookie ball, the 18-year-old will be there in a matter of days.

That was the word last night from Sox scout Rob English, who spent last year tracking Place and showed up at Turner Field last night to watch the Sox and Braves play.

``We feel he's going to go out and make Boston proud," English said last night. ``I'll be very surprised if he doesn't."

Place, who was taken 27th overall in the June 6 draft, is a righthanded power hitter out of Wren High School in Piedmont, S.C.; the last time the Sox drafted someone with similar credentials from Place's neck of the woods, it worked out pretty well. Jim Rice was from Anderson, just a 30-mile ride up Interstate 85 from Easley, Place's hometown.

``You just don't see that kind of power from a high school kid," English said of Place. ``Usually, when you draft a young guy, you try to find a hitter and hope the power comes later. Jason already has the power."

English coached high school baseball for 31 years in Georgia before he was hired by legendary Braves scouting director Paul Snyder. The first kid he signed who went to the big leagues? John Rocker, who was a fine reliever before morphing into the Mouth of the South.

Sox scouting director Jason McLeod was present when the Sox worked out Place at the home field of the Greenville Drive, their Single A affiliate, about 20 minutes from where Place lives. The ballpark features a replica of Fenway's Green Monster, only 7 feet shorter.

``He just kept hitting the ball out of the dang park," English said. ``There's a five-story building beyond the left-field fence, and he hit a few balls off that building. That would be like hitting it across the street at Fenway."

Place has played on baseball travel teams since he was a freshman, last summer spending three months playing for an AAU team in Miami. The Sox were not the only team interested in the 6-foot-3-inch, 200-pound Place; there were 30 scouts watching him at a February scrimmage, and like the Sox, both the Cardinals and Orioles brought him to their ballparks for workouts.

``He's built almost like a linebacker-type guy," said English, who scouts Georgia and South Carolina for the Sox. ``He has natural, raw-boned-type strength. No manufactured body."

English said Place reminds him of the Braves' Jeff Francoeur, a Georgia high schooler who was drafted 23d overall by Atlanta in 2002 and was in the big leagues three years later, hitting .300 with 14 home runs in 70 games.

``Jeff is maybe a better athlete," English said, ``but tools-wise, Jason is very similar. How quick does he make it [to the majors]? He's very confident, but he's going to find out it's not as easy as he thinks it is."

Place played center field in high school, but scouts have projected him to be a right fielder because of his strong throwing arm. He showed a 92-mile-per-hour fastball in high school.

``He's probably a corner, if I had to guess," English said. ``But right now, leave him in center field until he plays his way out of it.

``But one of the most impressive things to me is how he plays the game. He runs everything out, plays the game with 100 percent hustle. To me, it's a pleasure to watch a kid play the way the game is supposed to be played."

On the day Place was drafted, it was noted that another great ballplayer hailed from these parts: Shoeless Joe Jackson also was from Pickens County. Unlike the semi-literate Jackson, Place had the option of going to college, signing a letter of intent to the University of South Carolina. But he left little doubt about his intentions.

``I want to get my career started," he said.

And so he will. Any day now, Fort Myers will be Jason's Place. Can Boston be far behind?

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