Dustin Pedroia’s Rookie of the Year award was, as we all know, the first since 1997 for a member of the Red Sox. The formerly great Nomar Garciaparra, the 1997 winner, had been the only Boston Rookie of the Year since Fred Lynn in 1975.
The failure of Red Sox rookies to win the ultimate rookie award was for a long time one symptom of a larger disease — the Sox’ inability to develop their own players. Although a Roger Clemens or Mo Vaughn would emerge from time to time, the Red Sox until recently would string together simply miserable drafts.
Thanks in large part to the June draft’s anonymity, this aspect of baseball was largely hidden from the public. But the Internet has long since lifted the secrecy from what is arguably the intrinsic way good teams stay good. Baseball-Reference.com’s draft page is as comprehensive as they get, and with its help, we can see that — along with a shallow pitching staff — the Red Sox were always just not quite good enough because they had no continual infusion of talent to keep the team young and financially flexible.
It’s important to remember that in the mid 1990s, Red Sox President John Harrington, citing the limited resources of the Jean Yawkey trust, billed the Sox a "small-market team" and allotted its payroll accordingly. Only when the need to sell the team became acute did Harrington abandon that meme in an effort to give the Yawkeys — and no doubt himself — a championship to their name before their not-altogether-positive affiliation with the Red Sox ended once and for all (Pedro Martinez’s once-record contract extension through 2004 was a happy result of this desperation).
Being "small market" meant the Red Sox under GM Dan Duquette should have been investing heavily in the one method of player acquisition that leads to the biggest influx of cost-controlled talent — the draft. In 1994, Duquette’s first year as general manager, he drafted Nomar Garciaparra. Although Duquette is often credited with rebuilding the Sox’ farm system and scouting staff, Garciaparra was the only unquestionably successful pick he would ever make. That may not necessarily be his fault, but nonetheless, it’s the truth.
Boston Red Sox top five picks, 1994-2005 (bolded players made it to the majors):
Round 1: Nomar Garciaparra, 12th overall
Round 3: Brian Rose
Round 4: Rob Welch
Round 5: Brian Barkley
Round 6: Joe Mamott
Of note: Carl Pavano (13th round)
Total MLB: 7
The ’94 draft looked teriffic. Garciaparra wound up winning the ROY, set a record for doubles by a shortstop in one season, and was the second-best shortstop in the American League, after Alex Rodriguez, for the better part of a decade. Rose and Pavano were considered can’t-miss prospects, and Pavano was the key prospect in the Pedro Martinez trade. Ultimately, both missed — Pavano sidelined by injuries after one good season in Florida, Rose posting a career ERA near 6.
Round 1: Andy Yount, 15th overall
Round 1: Corey Jenkins, 24th overall
Round 2: Jose Olmeda
Round 3: Jay Yennaco
Round 4: Mike Spinelli
Of note: Pat Burrell (43rd round)
Total MLB: 8
As good as the 1994 draft looked, 1995 looked bad. None of the Sox’ top five picks — including two first-rounders — even made it to the bigs. Burrell was by far the best pick of the draft, and he opted to go to college before being drafted by the Phillies in the first round of the 1998 draft. The only other notable pick? Paxton Crawford, who is remembered for his admission to ESPN Magazine that he used steroids during his 15 games with the Sox in 2000-01.
Round 1: Josh Garrett, 26th overall
Round 1: Chris Reitsma, 34th overall
Round 2: Gary LoCurto
Round 2: Jason Sekany
Round 3: Dernell Stenson
Of note: Shea Hillenbrand (10th round), Aaron Harang (22nd round)
Total MLB: 9
Sekany was the only college player of the Sox’ first five picks drafted. Garrett and Reitsma were both high school pitchers, but Garrett never made it, and Reitsma was the prospect the Cincinnati Reds wanted in return for Dante Bichette in 2000. He had about four years as a serviceable reliever in the National League. Stenson, for a time the Sox’ No. 1 offensive prospect, couldn’t adapt to AAA and was waived. After 81 at-bats with the Reds in 2003, Stenson was murdered while in Arizona for the fall league. Instead, it was two lower picks who have made splashes — though Hillenbrand never quite fulfilled his potential and is known more for his poor sportsmanship than his good play. Harang, now pitching well for Cincinnati, was drafted out of high school, went to college instead and was drafted instead by the Rangers in 1999.
Round 1: John Curtice, 17th overall
Round 1: Mark Fischer, 35th overall
Round 2: Aaron Capista
Round 2: Eric Glaser
Round 3: Travis Harper
Of note: David Eckstein (19th round)
Total MLB: 8
In the three years since drafting Nomar Garciaparra, who was in the midst of his amazing rookie season when this draft took place, the Red Sox had six first-round picks. Just one would ever make the major leagues. None would distinguish himself. Meanwhile, Roy Halladay, Michael Barrett, Carlos Beltran, Sean Casey, Jimmy Rollins, Scott Linebrink and Chase Utley were all taken behind the Sox’ picks in either the first or second round.
Round 1: Adam Everett, 12th overall
Round 3: Mike Maroth
Round 4: Jerome Gamble
Round 5: Josh Hancock
Round 6: Richard Riccobono
Of note: Mark Teixeira (9th round)
Total MLB: 9
Everett joined Hilderbran and Eckstein to make a formidable infied in AA Trenton — but would you want any of them on your MLB team? Maroth never fulfilled his promise despite being given plenty of chances by the pitching-starved Tigers (who traded Bryce Florie for him) for the past six years. The Cards traded for him in June and likely regretted it (0-5, 10.66). Hancock has put up decent numbers as an NL reliever, but injuries keep nagging him. The big name is Teixeira’s. Like Harang and Burrell before him, he chose to go to college and reap the rewards with a first-round pick in 2001.
Round 1: Rick Asadoorian, 17th overall
Round 1: Brad Baker, 40th overall
Round 1: Casey Fossum, 48th overall
Round 2: Mat Thompson
Round 3: Rich Rundles
Of note: None
Total MLB: 5
Fossum and 2004 ROY candidate Lew Ford are the only players from this draft to even think about doing anything. Fossum’s claim to fame is being part of the Curt Schilling trade in 2003. He finished last season in Tampa with an ERA near 8. Ford, after a good inaugural, hasn’t hit .235, had an OBP of .320 or slugged .370 in two years.
Round 1: Phil Dumatrait, 22nd overall
Round 2: Manny Delcarmen
Round 3: Matt Cooper
Round 4: Charles Mims
Round 5: Brian Esposito
Of note: Freddy Sanchez (11th round), Kason Gabbard (29th round)
Total MLB: 6
At last, two players who received World Series shares this year. Delcarmen is potentially the Sox’ setup man of the future, seemingly finding his way this year and having a great season. Gabbard did well enough to be traded for Eric Gagne in July before struggling in Texas. Sanchez had a great 2006, winning the NL batting title, but fell back to league average this year. Dumatrait finished his career with a 2.83 … WHIP. Esposito made his major league debut in June as a defensive replacement for Cardinal catcher Gary Bennett, but was on deck when the game ended.
Round 2: Kelly Shoppach
Round 2: Matt Chico
Round 3: Jonathan Devries
Round 4: Stefan Bailie
Round 5: Eric West
Of note: Kevin Youkilis (8th round)
Total MLB: 3
The jury is still out on the drafts from 2001 and on. Shoppach, after years as the Sox’ top (read: only) catching prospect, saw his light wane and was deemed expendable as he went to Cleveland for Josh Bard and Coco Crisp. Shoppach now is showing his promise again. Youkilis doesn’t really need an explanation; he was the unknown gem of the Sox’ draft, Duquette’s last.
Round 2: Jon Lester
Round 3: Scott White
Round 4: Chris Smith
Round 5: Chad Spann
Round 6: Gary Browning
Of note: Brian Bannister (45th round)
Total MLB: 3
Mike Port’s one and only draft as Sox interim GM gave the Sox one of their most recent "can’t-miss" pitching prospects, Lester. As he’s battled cancer, others have taken his place. Still, he’s had success at the Major League level none of the other Sox pitching prospects over the previous 10 drafts even came close to. Lester still seems to be putting it together. So does Bannister, who finished third in the AL ROY voting this year. Bannister and the Sox couldn’t reach terms, so he went back to college, and the Mets drafted him 2003.
Round 1: David Murphy, 17th overall
Round 1: Matt Murton, 32nd overall
Round 2: Abe Alvarez
Round 2: Michael Hall
Round 3: William Vaughn
Of note: Jonathan Papelbon (4th round)
Total MLB: 4
Perhaps it’s merely a coincidence, but Duquette and Port in nine drafts never managed what Theo Epstein did in his first — see his top three picks graduate to the Majors (and four of his first six). Of course, Alvarez is likely never getting back there, and the other two have been traded away. Murton went with Nomar to the Cubs in 2004, and has been a solid outfielder in Chicago. Likewise, Murphy went to Texas in the Gagne trade and did well there. The big fish here was the Sox’ sixth pick in the draft. No player since Nomar has had such an immediate impact on the Red Sox as Jonathan Papelbon has in the three seasons he’s pitched in Boston. And by doing it in the important closer’s role, Papelbon may have proven himself to be the Sox’ best draft pick since drafting a University of Texas flamethrower with their first-round pick in 1983. Time will tell, of course.
Round 2: Dustin Pedroia, 24th overall
Round 3: Andrew Dobies
Round 4: Thomas Hottovy
Round 5: Ryan Schroyer
Round 6: Cla Meredith
One month before trading the iconic Garciaparra, the Sox drafted his successor as Rookie of the Year. There’s plenty of time for Pedroia to show whether he can sustain the historic success he had at second base in 2007, but it’s worth noting that the Sox’ drafts took a noticeable upswing, starting in 2000 — Delcarmen, Youkilis, Lester, Papelbon and Pedroia in successive years.
Round 1: Jacoby Ellsbury, 23rd overall
Round 1: Craig Hansen, 26th overall
Round 1: Clay Buchholz, 42nd overall
Round 1: Jed Lowrie, 45th overall
Round 1: Michael Bowden, 47th overall
Only two full seasons have elapsed between this draft and now, yet the top three picks have all seen time in the Majors. Two of them have done so in stunning fashion — Ellsbury by batting .350, smacking two doubles in the same inning of a World Series game and likely pushing Coco Crisp out of Boston, and Buchholz by throwing a no-hitter in just his second MLB start. Talk about taking advantage of a good situation. Five first-round/supplemental picks, and only Hansen has seen his stock fall since. Lowrie and Bowden are both likely to make their debuts in 2008, marking the first time since 1989 that the first five Sox picks in a draft will have made the majors (Greg Blosser/Mo Vaughn/Kevin Morton/Jeff McNeely/Eric Wedge/Jeff Bagwell).
The history of the draft is filled with blunders. Players with great talent taken high in the first round fizzle inexplicably, or get injured. Seemingly mediocre players taken low in the draft learn a new pitch or adjust their stance and become Hall of Famers. No one can expect every first-round pick to star in, or even make, the majors. So it’s hard to criticize Duquette too much, considering one of his draft picks was Nomar Garciaparra, another turned into Pedro Martinez, and a third turned into Curt Schilling. Could the Red Sox have made those moves with the farm system as it was under Lou Gorman? I honestly couldn’t say, but it’s certainly to Duquette’s credit that there is not anything approaching a Bagwell-for-Andersen blunder on his record.
Perhaps it simply took the five years between 1994 and 2000 for Duquette’s revamped scouting system to finally begin working properly. I’d be curious if those with better memories than I remember with any specificity what was being said about Duquette and his drafts during this time. The dead period in Duquette drafts from 1995-99 seems to be directly reflected in the almost-not-quite finishes of the Red Sox from 2000-03. Likewise, the influx of impact players from the 2000-05 drafts seems reflected in the Sox’ success of 2004-07, and hopefully beyond.