Upswings and Down Drafts

In 2000, the Baltimore Orioles picked Beau Hale 14th overall, one pick ahead of Chase Utley. You don’t have to go far to find folly when investigating the Baltimore Orioles draft history. Take 2009, when they took Matt Hobgood fifth overall with Mike Trout still available. That’s some hobbad drafting. (ed. note: siiiiiigh.) You might assume the Red Sox would be the same. After all, the draft is, much like life, an exercise in futility wrapped up in hope and promise. The bizarre thing is Boston isn’t the same. While the Orioles took Billy Rowell ninth overall immediately before Tim Lincecum and Max Scherzer were chosen in 2006, and Adam Loewen fifth overall ahead of Zach Greinke, Scott Kazmir, Matt Cain, and Prince Fielder in 2002, the Red Sox…well, they just can’t compete with the badness of picks like that. They’re simply outclassed. Or classed. Whatever. The Orioles biggest draft misses are going to beat the Red Sox biggest, certainly in the last three decades.

Boston’s pick in the fifth round of the 2011 draft has, by Baseball Reference WAR, out-produced every player taken in the first round of that same draft. That would be Mookie Betts.

Partly that’s a function of the fact the Red Sox have been a better team than the Orioles over that time. Thus when Baltimore has picked it has more often been at the top of the draft where more is expected to come of the selection, whereas the Red Sox have often picked later where star power is much harder to come by.

But even then, the Red Sox have still done better than Baltimore. There are probably other teams that have done better than the Red Sox over the past three decades (going much deeper into draft history is pointless as the draft has changed so much since) but though they exist they likely aren’t many. Take for example, Boston’s pick in the fifth round of the 2011 draft has, by Baseball Reference WAR, out-produced every player taken in the first round of that same draft. That would be Mookie Betts, and that would be amazing.

Of course, that’s not the only time the Red Sox have had a non-first round pick and (to date) got more production out of it than any of the first rounders used that in that same draft. They did it in 2004 when they used the 65th overall pick to take Dustin Pedroia. If you want to hold this exercise to just the first round though, well, even then the Red Sox have done well. The following draft, 2005, the Red Sox had the 23rd pick as compensation for Orlando Cabrera signing with the Angels. They used it on outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, the sixth most valuable player (B-R WAR) taken in that draft.

So the Red Sox have scored when they should’ve scored and scored when they probably shouldn’t have scored. But they haven’t always nailed it. In 2010, they used the 20th overall pick on Kolbrin Vitek with Christian Yelich taken three picks later. Vitek never made it above Double-A, retiring four years after being picked. Even so though, the 20th pick isn’t a surefire star waiting to happen. That’s more like a guy you’d hope could turn into a solid contributor. Vitek never was that (why he’s mentioned in this paragraph!) but missing out on the 20th overall pick isn’t something to quit over. Oddly enough, current Red Sox star pitcher Chris Sale was selected seven picks earlier, but I digress.

The real problem, as the Orioles can attest to, is getting a top-ten pick and blowing it on nothing. The Red Sox haven’t officially done that yet, but it’s pretty close. Trey Ball has a 5.53 ERA in Double-A and is looking less like a future rotation cornerstone and more like a guy who gets dropped in the end of an insubstantial trade, or even converted to the outfield because why not? Worse, Boston took Ball with a bunch of still promising guys available (Austin Meadows, JP Crawford, Hunter Dozier, Christian Arroyo, Aaron Judge), though that’s how every draft is. There’s always someone promising available. The trick is knowing who it is.

You have to go pretty far back to find so high a pick go so badly for the Red Sox. In 1995 the Red Sox took pitcher Andy Yount two picks before Roy Halladay went to the Blue Jays, but that was with the 15th overall pick, not the seventh. In 1994 Boston took Nomar Garciaparra with the 12th pick, and in ’93 they took Trot Nixon with the seventh pick. Hard to complain about either, even if Nixon didn’t ever quite live up to the star power that was projected upon him.

Since Theo Epstein took over the GM’s seat in early 2003 the Red Sox have been incredibly good at getting value out of the draft. It’s hard to win three World Series in fifteen years without getting something substantial from the draft. The Red Sox built the foundation of their first World Series winning team through trades and free agency, but their second, the 2007 team came far more from the draft. While there were ’04 crossovers in Jason Varitek and David Ortiz, and free agents like J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo, the ’07 team was also Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, and Jonathan Papelbon. The 2013 team was similar in its composition. Lots of free agents and players acquired in trades, but with a solid core of home grown players like Lester, Pedroia, Felix Doubront, Clay Buchholz, Will Middlebrooks, and Ellsbury, with assists from Xander Bogaerts and even Jackie Bradley.

Looking at that 2013 squad, you can still see the roots stretching back to Theo Epstein and Boston’s first world championship in almost a century, but so can you see the future, or as we here in 2017 say, the present. The Red Sox don’t owe it all to the draft. They’re not the Rays or the Astros, but the draft has provided the Red Sox with a lot of value and a sizable amount of star power over the past few decades. So when going to look for Boston’s biggest draft busts or some such thing, you’ll have to be searching for a long time. Or, put more succinctly, the Red Sox aren’t the Orioles. Because when it comes to the draft, the Red Sox are hobgood at it.

Photo by Eric Hartline – USA TODAY Sports

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