Dante Ricciardi had scouted future big leaguers before. He was 9 years old.
"My brother (Mariano) and I were with my dad. We naturally aren’t watching, playing in the bullpen during a Legion game," Ricciardi remembered. "All of a sudden this little kid comes out and he’s throwing bullets. Me and my brother turn around and we’re like, ‘Who the hell is that? Something is going on because he is making the glove pop.’ So my dad turns around and sees this kid has a good fastball. Low and behold the kid goes into the game, hey liked him, they worked him out and they eventually signed him. I don’t know if this is true or not but my dad said Mariano and my name were on the signing sheet as associate scouts that helped signed the player."
The dad was then-Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi, and the player was a 5-foot-7 pitcher named Tim Collins, who is going on his seventh season in the big leagues.
"That brought me to the beauty of scouting," the 23-year-old said.
It is that piece of the profession -- the unexpected enlightenment -- that is why Ricciardi will never forget his phone call last Thursday with Shane Drohan.
Drohan will forever be something special for the scout from West Boylston. While technically Collins will always be Ricciardi's first find, it is the lefty out of Florida State who truly represents the evaluator's introduction into officially finding professional baseball players. Drohan -- a pitcher Ricciardi had been following since being hired by the Red Sox last fall -- was picked by Boston in the fifth-round of last week's MLB Draft.
Pick No. 148. Twelve spots from probably seeing his dreams of starting his professional baseball career delayed another full year.
"I can’t lie and say that I wasn’t stressed out," Drohan said from his South Florida home.
For scout and player, once the decision was made to make the pitcher the Red Sox' fourth and final selection the time and place didn't really matter. Adrenaline had replaced anxiety, which led to words Ricciardi will store away for some time.
"A little bit after it all happened he gave me a call and I told him, ‘I’m going to be your best pick.’ Chip on my shoulder," Drohan revealed.
In the days leading up to the Draft, Ricciardi wasn't alone in his admiration for Drohan.
Before being promoted, scout Stephen Hargett was covering the North Florida territory Ricciardi had assumed and was also keen on the former high school quarterback. (Hargett and crosschecker Tom Kotchman had made it a point to take Ricciardi under their wings. "Those guys spent months just making sure I was doing everything the right way and to be honest with you they didn’t have to do that. They are guys with resumes that are a lot better than a lot of people and they just took the time to do that. It was awesome and I appreciate it," he said.)
So when the scouts got into a room in Fort Myers to sift through some names with Amateur Scouting Director Paul Toboni there wasn't a whole lot of room for interpretation.
"The conversation was Hargo and myself were just talking to Paul and saying, ‘Paul, I have been around the big league game and the minor league game for a very long time just from an outsiders point of view and I can tell you this, there aren’t too many of these kids walking about minor league organizations.’ It’s athleticism. It’s stuff. It’s projectable. A great guy," Ricciardi said. "I don’t want to compare the kid to (Jacob) deGrom because one is right-handed, one is left-handed but pure athleticism, you got to watch deGrom at a young age blossom, get confidence and success and let his athleticism take off, I see a lot of stuff with Shane. Same athlete. Same stuff. Once he has a little bit of success this kid is going to fly."
The deGrom comparison was no coincidence.
The Mets' ace was kicking off his professional career just as the Ricciardi family was being integrated into the New York organization as a special assistant to then-general manager Sandy Alderson. In a way, Dante and deGrom grew up in baseball through similar surroundings.
"Being in high school, that’s when I remember being the sponge," he said of hanging around his father. "I was just listening to the phone calls with the scouting directors and the GMs was when I took a real interest."
After a collegiate baseball career at Georgetown and Bryant, it had led Ricciardi to the Red Sox. And subsequently, that twist of fate would help pave the path for Drohan.
"I knew they really liked me," the pitcher said. "I could just tell by the way they were contacting me. The Zoom call I had with them they had a lot of high-up guys in it. So I knew they were one of the top teams interested in me."
The Florida State hurler had started to make more of an impression by the time Ricciardi came on the scene. Enough that the Red Sox put Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom, pitching coach Dave Bush and assistant general manager/head of analytics Zack Scott on the pre-Draft call.
Drohan was always intriguing to big-league baseball scouts, hence the Phillies using a 23rd-round pick on the Cardinal Newman (FL) High product. He was unique. A pitcher who could actually run a 40-yard dash in 4.59 seconds.
"He showed his highlight film in football and I was like, ‘Holy crap, this is really athletic.’ We saw him on Day 1 and he was running sprints in the outfield and we’re thinking this kid could be a wide receiver on the football team let alone a pitcher," Ricciardi said. "He totally broke the mold of a non-athletic pitcher. Complete opposite."
"I was always on our coaches at Florida State," Drohan noted. "I said, ‘Let me pinch-run now and then. Let me swipe some bags.’ They would never let me do it. Even the position players were like, ‘Dro is fast as hell!’ One day the position players were doing 60s and I wanted to run but they wouldn’t let me do it."
"Right when I saw him," Ricciardi said, "I was like, ‘Who the hell is this?’"
This was a kid who appeared in six games (all in relief) as a freshman, striking out one batter while walking 10. The next season, however, he slowly started opening some eyes with 71 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings, earning him an invitation to play for Falmouth of the Cape Cod League. Then came 2020 when the lefty started all four weekends for the Seminoles, fanning 27 in 17 2/3 innings.
Drohan had found something, and so had the Red Sox.
"The athleticism. Obviously the stuff is the stuff. What’s not to like about the stuff? But just the pure athleticism," the Sox scout said. "You look at the body and it’s projectable, it’s wiry, it’s loose. This kid, it wouldn’t surprise me if he put on 20 pounds and he was 95-96 (mph). Mainly the athleticism was just jumping off the charts.
"He was awesome. We had a physical test for him to do and he jumped right out of his seat to do. Super competitor. Very personable. Just held himself in a manner that was nice. He was respectful. He was engaged. He had all the things you were looking for. You’re like, ‘OK, this kid is a little different.’"
But then came the Draft and uncertainty took root in the Drohan house.
"I could see the situation where it would be a little bit later than I wanted so it wasn’t anything where I was really, really surprised I fell that far," the pitcher said. "I could see that because I didn’t throw that much in college. I didn’t have that great of a track record. I started picking up some steam in the fall of this year and starting this spring season I was throwing really well. I felt like I was starting to really blow up this year and it got cut short.
"Fifth-round, I was like, ‘Man, I don’t think this is going to work out.’ I had accepted I was going to go back to school. But then it happened really quickly. Two picks before my agent called and said, ‘They got your money do you want to go?’ I said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’"
And there it was.
The right guys at the right time.
"Winning isn’t a goal in Boston, it’s expected. That’s what I like," Drohan said. "Freshman year we played Boston College at Fenway. We stayed in the middle of the city and I fell in love with the city that year. The past two years people were asking me if I was going to be drafted and go right to the big leagues which team I would want and I would always say Boston. It’s crazy how that worked out."
"The (Red Sox Draft) class as a whole was solid and then to put the cherry on the top with Drohan," Ricciardi said. "Five years from now we could have one of the best Draft classes for 2020 and we only picked four times. That’s pretty good."