BOSTON -- Sometimes, a top prospect is worth waiting for. The Red Sox took that approach Tuesday in the 2019 MLB Draft, when they snagged Naval Academy righty Noah Song with the final pick of the fourth round.
If it was clearly a matter of talent, the 22-year-old Song might well have gone a round or two earlier.
But all 30 MLB teams know that Song has a commitment to the Navy that could prevent him from playing baseball full time for a couple of years.
The Red Sox are excited enough about Song’s mid-90s fastball and solid offering of secondary pitches to wait for his arrival.
“I hate to speculate on what people are thinking because that’s their job and they know what they’re doing,” said Navy coach Paul Kostacopoulos. “But I do think there was some consideration that had to have been taken, considering that he does have a service commitment.
“His stuff is really good. It certainly ranks up there with other people in that high echelon, if you will, of the Draft. I do think you have to take into consideration they’re not going to be able to access him right away for all intents and purposes.”
Song is MLB Pipeline’s 68th overall Draft prospect. He stands 6-foot-4 and consistently tops out around 96 mph with his fastball. The military’s current policy is to not let potential athletes forego their service commitment.
Song reports to Pensacola, Fla., on Nov. 1 to begin his training as a Naval flight officer, and won’t be able to petition to serve the rest of his five-year commitment as a reservist -- which would thereby allow him to pursue his baseball career -- until two years from now. FanGraphs has also reported that Song will likely not be able to commit to baseball on a full-time basis until the fall of 2021.
Whenever Song does report to the Red Sox on a full-time basis, he is likely to put on a show with his impressive arsenal. He projects as a pitcher who will remain a starter.
“He’s built like a starter. He has starter stuff because he does have three pitches,” said Kostacopoulos. “We get caught up in velocity all the time now because that’s what we do. But his slider is really good. He’s got a pretty good changeup and he’s actually got a curveball that he doesn’t throw much because he doesn’t really have to. He’s a guy that potentially has four pitches.
“He’s not the guy that’s going to throw 99 out of the bullpen in the seventh inning and throw a cutter. He’s got four pitches, and that just projects along with his physical size as a starter.”
Song is the highest-drafted senior from the Navy. The Academy’s previous highest-drafted graduates, center fielder Alex Azor (2012) and pitcher Stephen Moore (’15), weren’t picked until the 10th round. Only two Naval graduates have played in the big leagues: Cardinals pitcher Mitch Harris (2015) and Washington Senators pitcher Nemo Gaines (1921). St. Louis drafted Harris in the 13th round of the 2008 MLB Draft, but he was unable to play in the Cardinals’ organization until 2013 because of his Naval commitment. Rays reliever Oliver Drake withdrew from the Navy after two seasons once he signed a $100,000 bonus with the Orioles in 2008.
When Song went undrafted after his junior year, it was probably due in part to concerns about his signability. He likely has a higher ceiling than Harris or Drake. Song is also a better pitcher than he was when he went undrafted last year.
“The thing about Noah that’s so exciting is that he continues to get better,” said Kostacopoulos. “He’s gotten a level better each year.
"That’s really the exciting thing that I always kind of look at when you’re talking about players. It’s not where they are, it’s what they can be. He really has a high ceiling and he keeps getting better. I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Noah Song.”
Song went 11-1 with a 1.44 ERA and a 161-31 strikeout-to-walk ratio across 94 innings as a senior in 2019, and last week, he was named one of the four finalists for the Golden Spikes Award -- given to the nation’s top amateur player -- alongside first-round selections Adley Rutschman, Andrew Vaughn and JJ Bleday.
High-profile athletes have gone on to star in professional sports after finishing their military commitments in the past, including Navy graduate Roger Staubach in the NFL and Naval alum David Robinson in the NBA.
Song earned an invitation to the Cape Cod League, a premier summer showcase for collegiate baseball players, after his sophomore season.
At that point, he asked scouts to instruct their teams not to draft him unless they were willing to pay him a $1 million signing bonus to cover what he would have owed the U.S. government for his Naval tuition.
“In my mind, this had to be an absurd amount of money, something that’s almost unfathomable in order for me to leave,” Song said at the time.
As for his future with the Navy, Song recently told The New York Times that while he had developed an affinity for aviation, he was dropped from the Navy’s pilot program last month because, at 6-foot-4, he's too tall to be a pilot. Song would have needed to commit for eight years if he had remained in the pilot program, so Boston might have caught a small break in that regard.