Boston’s Draft Money Tree

The Boston Red Sox organization is one of the most aggressive teams in the Majors in terms of handing out above-slot deals to draft picks. During the three drafts spanning 2007-09, the club signed a Major League high 16 players to above-slot deals (outside the Top 3 rounds).

As a lover of everything prospects, I applaud this approach and even encourage it for organizations with strong scouting staffs. But how well have the multi-million dollar investments worked out for the Red Sox organization? Let’s have a look.

* For the sake of this article, I am focusing on over-slot deals for $200,000 or more.

2009 Amateur Draft

7th round – Madison Younginer, RHP, S.C. HS ($975,000)
Challenged with an assignment to the New York-Penn League for his first taste of pro ball in 2010, the 19-year-old hurler currently has a 7.60 ERA (4.84 FIP) in 23.2 innings. He’s struggled a bit with his control but he’s shown a nice ground-ball rate at 59%. In the low minors, high ground-ball rates can hurt pitchers with poor defenses behind them (as well as poorly maintained fields).

9th round – Kendal Volz, RHP, Baylor U ($550,000)
At 22, Volz is on the old side for low-A and he’s not exactly dominating the league. The right-hander has a 4.11 ERA (3.74 FIP) in 81.0 innings of work. He’s given up 92 hits and struck out just 62 batters with an average-ish ground-ball rate at 42%. Volz has walked just eight batters, which suggests he has good control but perhaps poor command of his pitches in the strike zone, which has been hurting him against the overly aggressive young hitters in the low minors.

10th round – Brandon Jacobs, OF, Georgia HS ($750,000)
Another teenager assigned to the New York-Penn League, Jacobs is holding his own with a triple-slash line of .276/.333/.402 in 87 at-bats. He has 28 strikeouts in 24 games. The Sox stole him away from Auburn’s football program and the results have been encouraging so far, even if he has yet to truly display his raw power potential.

11th round – Jason Thompson, SS, Tenn HS ($300,000)
Known for having good speed, Thompson has attempted just three steals in 17 GCL games. The switch-hitter is batting .208/.203/.319 in 72 at-bats. For a player that profiles as a No. 1 or 2 hitter, it’s not a good sign to see a goose-egg in the walk column.

26th round – Miles Head, 3B, Georgia HS ($335,000)
Head managed to get 10 games of pro experience in during the ’09 season after signing and he moved up from the GCL to the New York-Penn League for 2010. He’s currently hitting .275/.381/.377 in 69 at-bats. Head is showing a pretty good eye at the plate with 12 walks to 10 strikeouts. Considered a very good amateur hitter, the knock on Head was a bad body and poor defense at the hot corner. The infielder has moved over to first base in ’10 so he’ll need to start showing some more power.

2008 Amateur Draft

4th round – Pete Hissey, OF, Pennsylvania HS ($1 million)
It’s been a step-by-step ascent for Hissey, who has moved up one level each season since signing. The outfielder is not exactly tearing the Carolina League apart by hitting .245/.322/.329 in 319 at-bats. He’s shown limited power throughout his career but 20+ stolen base ability. Hissey needs to get on base a little more consistently.

5th round – Ryan Westmoreland, OF, R.I. HS ($2 million)
We probably all know the story of Westmoreland by now. Recovering from brain surgery, the former top prospect is reportedly hitting off of a tee in the hopes of resuming regular baseball activity in the future.

6th round – Ryan Lavarnway, C, Yale U ($325,000)
The decision to pay Lavarnway is looking pretty smart. The former Yale student is currently hitting .289/.392/.487 in 304 at-bats and showed a pretty good stick in low-A in ’09, as well. After hitting 24 homers last year, Lavarnway is on pace to hit 20+ homers yet again. Behind the dish, he’s thrown out 36% of base runners, but he’s still working on his receiving skills.

13th round – Tyler Wilson, RHP, Georgia HS ($300,000)
Wilson wasn’t on a lot of teams’ radars as a top pick, but the club obviously liked his solid pitcher’s frame, which is currently 6-5, 190 lbs. Wilson is pitching in the New York-Penn League and has a 4.84 ERA (4.38 FIP) with 26 hits allowed in 22.1 innings.

27th round – Hunter Cervenka, LHP, Texas HS ($350,000)
Cervenka has joined Wilson in the Spinners rotation. The lefty showed some command issues in 11 ’09 appearances by walking 26 batters in 22.1 innings. He’s made adjustments in ’10 with just 11 walks in 21.0 innings. Cervenka currently has a 4.29 ERA (4.38 FIP).

35th round – Carson Blair, SS, Texas HS ($200,000)
Since signing, Blair has moved from shortstop to catcher. After posting a .608 OPS in the Gulf Coast League in ’09, he was moved up to the New York-Penn League but he appeared in just one game before hitting the disabled list. The thumb injury required surgery, according to SoxProspects.com.

2007 Amateur Draft

5th round – Will Middlebrooks, 3B, Texas HS ($925,000)
Slow and easy. Middlebrooks hasn’t exactly set the world on fire, but he’s shown improvements in each and every pro season. The third baseman is currently hitting .293/.353/.455 in 297 at-bats. He’s showing better power in ’10 (.162 ISO) but he’s still striking out a lot (26% K rate). Defensively, Middlebrooks is showing better range this season but he’s made his fair share of errors.

6th round – Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Florida HS ($325,000)
Like Westmoreland, Rizzo has faced some serious health issues since turning pro. His cancer is in remission, though, and the first baseman had a breakout year in ’09. Unfortunately, despite playing at two levels in ’10, he’s hitting just .246/.310/.447 combined between high-A and double-A. His OBP has slipped to just .297 in double-A, thanks in part to 17 walks in 225 at-bats.

7th round – David Mailman, 1B, N.C. HS ($550,000)
Mailman received more cash from the Sox to walk away from a college commitment than Rizzo did, but the former has yet to have the same success in pro ball. Mailman has basically hit the wall in high-A. In 199 at-bats in ’09, he hit just .186/.261/.221. In ’10, he was hitting just .130/.264/.273 in 77 at-bats before being sidelined by a broken wrist.

16th round – Austin Bailey, RHP, Alabama HS ($285,000)
A disappointing story, Bailey injured his shoulder in his first pro start in 2008 and hasn’t pitched since. He was then suspended in ’09 and released earlier this year.

23rd round – Drake Britton, LHP, Texas HS ($700,000)
On to happier news. Britton has been a real find for the organization. After spending parts of two seasons in short-season ball thanks to Tommy John surgery, the lefty moved up to low-A in ’10 and has posted a 3.15 ERA (3.26 FIP) in 34.1 innings and 12 starts. His innings are being closely monitored as he rebounds from the injury but he’s flashed good fastball velocity in his return.




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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.


26 Responses to “Boston’s Draft Money Tree”

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  1. Steve says:

    it’s too bad a guy named David Mailman never made it. so many great possibilities for bad puns.

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  2. Chris says:

    The important thing to remember is, much like with the international market, if just a couple of these picks hit, it was worth the investment made in all of them.

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  3. BJsWorld says:

    Surprised at how poorly these have turned out so far. Sure, if 1 or 2 of these guys turn out to be superstars it will be worth it (total outlay is close to $10m for all of them). Right now though I don’t know that any one of them project to be just crazy good. Westmoreland was that guy but his injuries …

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    • Jonathan says:

      Look at the rounds, though. In the late rounds, you gamble and all it takes is one of those guys to work out to make it worthwhile.

      The Sox know they’ll never compete with the Yankees in free agency, it’s just impossible. They can, however, use overslot bonuses to outdraft them and build a team of All Stars through their farm, something they’ve exhibited an outstanding ability to do.

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    • Rich says:

      A 2 WAR guy at 5 years of club control has more surplus value than the entire investment here. Its hard to “lose money” paying draft picks.

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  4. snapper says:

    Lot’s of hemming and hawing, but most of these guys are lousy so far.

    It’s been a real bad year in general for Boston’s minor leaguers. Looking at there top 10, as profiled here:

    http://www.baseballthinkfactory.org/files/sox_therapy/discussion/minor_league_thread_other_things_that_are_also_bad/

    Westmoreland and Tazawa due and down due to serious health issues, and Kelly, Reddick, Anderson, Fuentes, Rizzo, Iglesias and Gibson have all sucked hard.

    Only Kalish has improved his stock.

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    • nmh says:

      I feel like this is nitpicking in a way. Anderson and Rizzo both received promotions and are both 2 of the youngest players in their respected leagues. Meanwhile, I would argue that Iglesias has done nothing but boost his stock, perhaps more so than even Kalish.

      Coming out of Cuba as a 19 y/o, his first professional experience was the AFL (which was a pretty difficult assignment) and since then he’s done nothing but get rave reviews. I think a .306/.340/.408 line from a 20 y/o in AA is pretty good, even before you consider his defense is so highly regarded.

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    • Jake R says:

      Just looking at a preseason top 10 ignores some of the most positive stories in the Red Sox farm system. I’m not going to repeat the points Mike makes but will stick to some of the less discussed players in the system.

      Middlebrooks is finally putting together a strong season from start to finish. He still has the ups and downs one would expect from a high upside player that has yet to put the whole package together, but the up periods are starting to become more frequent.

      Bowden has recovered some of the prospect status he lost after struggling last season, having his throwing mechanics altered, and struggling to adjust to the new mechanics. He has been very good lately in AAA and could still make an impact down the stretch as a reliever for Boston.

      Feliz Doubront has really broken out this year across 3 levels, including holding his own so far as a 22 year old starting in the AL East.

      Tejeda is in the midst of a breakout season and is starting to turn his tools into performance and his raw power into real power. He still has a lot to work on. But, he has shown steady improvement over the season in his K/BB rates and has turned his career around from a bust to someone who still might bust but is consistently showing the tools and athleticism that give him as high a ceiling as anyone in the system.

      Lastly, Lavarnway is having a very good season. He continues to hit very successfully, but has also improved his stock as a catcher to the point where he now looks like he has a chance to stick. If he can continue to make improvements behind the plate, his prospect status should continue to rise as his bat will definitely play in the majors if he can stick at catcher.

      I’m not saying that it has been a great year. But I think a lot of people are overreacting to the struggles induced by an aggressive promotion strategy for top prospects within the system and choosing to ignore the success stories that do exist in declaring this year a terrible year for the Boston farm system. The aggressive promotion strategy is very important to consider. Most of the guys who are struggling are playing years ahead of a standard age-advancement scale and should be expected to have struggles related to being challenged and having to make adjustments. Players like Anderson, Rizzo, and Kelly need to be given time to make adjustments before we declare them busts based on small sample sizes of struggling that the organization seems to actively seek to create. (I forget who it was, but someone from the front office commented after Buchholz hit his rough patch in the majors and seemed to lose confidence and be unable to adjust without a demotion to AAA that the fact that he had never struggled prior to reaching the majors hurt him in his ability to make adjustments once there. I think they are determined to avoid this by pushing players in the minors so that they have to learn to overcome adversity prior to reaching Fenway.)

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    • Brimag says:

      Rizzo sucking hard? A 20 year old with 14hrs and 28 2bs between A+ and AA, along with solid defense is sucking? Certainly there’s room for improvement with his plate discipline, but there is a prospect here.

      Iglesias has been well above expectations offensively.

      Lars has been up and down, but is still a legit prospect.

      Kelly’s struggles have been well documented, but you could argue that the increased velocity is just as positive as the high ERA is negative.

      Fuentes has performed up to expectations.

      Reddick, well, you got that one right.

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  5. Mike says:

    Snapper, I don’t think Kelly’s stock has really been hurt. He’s the second youngest pitcher in all of AA and still getting plenty of K’s. He’s still probably a top 30 prospect.

    Iglesias was actually doing very well before he got hurt, he was a regular on the BP hot sheet. He’ll never hit for power but he was showing solid contact skills.

    Anderson’s tore AA apart and has struggled in AAA. Scouts still like his swing but he’s got to start producing at the upper levels if he’s going to maintain his top 100 status.

    Reddick does indead suck.

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  6. Mike says:

    indeed suck

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  7. But how well have the multi-million dollar investments worked out for the Red Sox organization?

    I enjoyed the article a lot, but I think it would’ve been improved had you actually answered the above question specifically at the end.

    It seems to me that, so far at least, if the Sox could do it all over again they wouldn’t. Of course, its too early to write most of these guys off, but there isn’t more than two guys at most of the sixteen listed who seem like they could make an impact at the big league level.

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    • Rich says:

      “but there isn’t more than two guys at most of the sixteen listed who seem like they ould make an impact at the big league level.”

      Right, but is that really bad? What is the normal amount of late round picks from recent years that look like they’ll make an impact at this point? Not very high I’d guess.

      I’m not even going to touch the 2009 class (its a waste of time), but of the earlier classes, Westmoreland (assuming he comes off the brain surgery without any permanent issues) looks like a stud in the making, and Rizzo and Lavarnway look like solid pros.

      Some of the rest look like flops, and some of the rest are just too young.

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    • Jake R says:

      We are looking at the previous 3 years of drafting. Of course a lot of these guys don’t look like impact MLB players yet. The more interesting and informative question is how many of these players really deserve to be categorized as busts. I will create a quick list in three tiers, legitimate prospects (guys who have reasonably chances of being average or better MLB players. Borderline prospects (guys who still have a chance to make it, but are more likely than not to miss). And, true busts. I am only going to use the players listed in the article.

      Legitimate Prospects:
      Ryan Westmoreland
      Anthony Rizzo
      Will Middlebrooks
      Ryan Lavarnway
      Brandon Jacobs
      Madison Younginer
      Drake Britton

      Borderline Prospects:
      Kendall Volz
      Pete Hissey
      Tyler Wilson
      Hunter Cervenka
      Carson Blair
      Miles Head
      Jason Thompson

      Busts:
      Austin Bailey
      David Mailman

      Now, it’s very early in the careers of most of these guys so there is room to move. But, for 1-3 years out, this isn’t a terrible return on investment. Obviously, $10 million dollars on later round signability picks isn’t going to have the same ROI as the same spent on 1st round picks. But, it doesn’t need to. It just has to have a better return than money spent on free agents, and if even one of these players become an average starter, it does that and then some. I still consider that very likely.

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  8. Chris says:

    “Kelly, Reddick, Anderson, Fuentes, Rizzo, Iglesias and Gibson have all sucked hard.”

    None of those players have sucked hard except for Reddick. You have to consider that all them are playing well above their head in terms of age advancement. None of them have been stellar, true, but just looking at the pre-season Top 10 is very misleading. There are many prospects in their system having good years (Tejeda, Mbrooks, Lavarnaway just to name a few).

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  9. Dale Westmoreland says:

    Marc, you missed David Renfroe, who received the highest signing bonus in the ’09 draft for the Sox ($1.4 million in the 3rd round, which is well over slot).

    He has been awful so far in short-season A ball.

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  10. Mat Gonzales says:

    Dale Westmoreland,

    77 career PAs is definitely a big enough sample size to weigh in on a prospect. Good call. They should probably cut him loose at this point. If he’s not getting it done at 20 years of age then how will he ever get it done?

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    • Dale Westmoreland says:

      Mat, they weighed in on other guys from last year’s draft with the same exact sample size.

      readcompfail ftl

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      • Steve says:

        Hey Dale, speaking of reading comprehension failure Marc also said he was concentrating on players signed outside of the first 3 rounds.

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  11. AndrewYF says:

    So, all these ‘amazing’ and hyped up Boston draft classes haven’t actually been all that amazing, huh?

    Something to remember when all the pundits rank drafts. They don’t really know who’s going to pan out. Not even the teams do.

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    • James says:

      Yeah you got to look at the other busts that have made up Red Sox drafts like Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, and Kevin Youkilis. And don’t forget the guys they drafted but didn’t sign like Matt Laporta, Yasmani Grandal, and Pedro Alverez. But I can’t see why people would think they draft well and are able to find good MLB talent.

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  12. Brimag says:

    Go back to 2006 and you find overslot guys like Reddick, Lars, and Kalish. Also, they were early round picks, but Casey Kelly and Fife were signed considerably above slot.

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  13. Utifortiect says:

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