I think most people believe that in a general sense the Sox have succeeded on that goal. Sure people will always want and expect more, but the Sox are very clearly at worst on the cusp of being that PD machine.
Iíd like to look at the Sox success a little closer and try to put it into context a bit. Because Iím a draft guy I thought it would be interesting to look at the Sox performance in Epsteinís first three drafts, 2003-2005. It is, of course, still very early to judge these drafts. A good subjective analysis requires at least 5 years and a good quantitative analysis requires ten or eleven years. Much less time has passed so weíll be much less rigorous.
My experience with the draft is that a reasonable, but challenging goal is to try to get one good player from each and every draft. If an organization can do that it will be in great shape. Obviously, the better those players are and the more of them there are, the better. Ideally, in a three year span one of those good players will actually be a great player. So the challenge goal from these three drafts is three good players and the stretch goal is three good players including one great one. I donít think Iím giving anything away to state up front that the Sox did pretty well to date.
To date the 2003 draft has produced four major league players: Jonathan Papelbon, Matt Murton, David Murphy and Abe Alvarez. Papelbon has been an excellent closer for two years (minus one month of DL time). Murton and Murphy were both secondary chips in mid-season trades and at this point project as 4th outfielders. A lot of people think Murton can be more than that if given more of an opportunity in Chicago, but for now he is what he is. Papelbon is undeniably a good player and has performed great in a limited role. How one feels about Papelbon is largely determined by how much importance one places in the closer role. Is Papelbon someone who only pitches ~60 IP per year or is he someone who is brilliant in a highly leveraged role that makes a tremendous impact on winning games? How one answers that question doesnít have a whole lot to do with Papelbon himself. I will, however, note that at his current pace of ~60 IP/yr he will hit free agency with ~400 IP and 1600 batters faced. As a comparison, I hope Buchholz is still a year away from arbitration when he hits 400 IP/1600 BFP.
To date the 2004 draft has produced two major leaguers: Dustin Pedroia and Cla Meredith. Itís unlikely that anybody else will make much of an impact in the majors. Pedroia, of course, just won the Rookie of the Year award. You canít expect much more than that. Meredith was also involved in an in-season trade. He was flukishly brilliant in his first year in San Diego and just solid in his second year. There is some value in developing solid middle relievers, but they arenít going to appreciably change how a draft is perceived. This is the Pedroia draft and so far it looks like a good one.
To date the 2005 draft has produced three major leaguers: Craig Hansen, Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury. Hansen has been a pretty big disappointment and only got a call up because of his contract status. Buchholz blossomed into one of the premier pitching prospects in baseball and tossed a no-hitter to boot. Ellsbury earned the starting CF job and has a very good chance to be as good and likely better than Pedroia. In addition, Jed Lowrie and Michael Bowden are both good prospects. As has been talked about quite a bit this year, this has a chance to be a great draft.
The quickie summary is that the Sox seem well on their way to getting three good players from these drafts and either Papelbon or Buchholz may be considered great, although Papelbonís role and the ever present threat of injury looms behind both.
I wanted to put the Sox performance, to date, in perspective to the rest of MLB. So I took a quick scan thru these three drafts and noted interesting players. I ended up with 30-35 players from each draft and then did a real quick ranking of the top 15-20. Most drafts produce 15 good players and though itís very early Ė Iím sure some late round sleepers that Iíve missed will eventually become good players Ė these are the player pools that will contain most of those good players.
The exact rankings are not important. Iíd switch them around every time I took a new look. The idea is to place the key Sox players in roughly their places within their draft classes. I tried to balance ceiling and already banked production for players that have already made the majors.
2003 Draft Class
|1||1||1||Delmon Young||RF||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Adolfo Camarillo HS (CA)|
|2||6||181||Matthew Kemp||RF||Los Angeles Dodgers||Midwest City HS (OK)|
|3||1||24||Chad Billingsley||RHP||Los Angeles Dodgers||Defiance Sr HS (OH)|
|4||1||7||Nicholas Markakis||OF||Baltimore Orioles||Young Harris Col (GA)|
|5||4||114||Jonathan Papelbon||RHP||Boston Red Sox||Mississippi St U (MS)|
|6||1||12||Lastings Milledge||CF||New York Mets||Lakewood Ranch HS (FL)|
|7||1 Comp.||37||Adam Jones||SS||Seattle Mariners||Samuel Morse HS (CA)|
|8||1||2||Rickie Weeks||2B||Milwaukee Brewers||Southern U A&M (LA)|
|9||1 Comp.||36||Jarrod Saltalamacchia||C||Atlanta Braves||Royal Palm Beach HS (FL)|
|10||2||45||Thomas Gorzelanny||LHP||Pittsburgh Pirates||Triton Col (IL)|
|11||1||23||Richard Wood||SS||Anaheim Angels||Horizon HS (AZ)|
|12||1||20||Chad Cordero||RHP||Montreal Expos||California St U (CA)|
|13||1||19||Conor Jackson||3B||Arizona Diamondbacks||U California (CA)|
|14||1 Comp.||31||Adam Miller||RHP||Cleveland Indians||Mckinney HS (TX)|
|15||3||78||Ryan Garko||C||Cleveland Indians||Stanford U (CA)|
|16||1||8||Paul Maholm||LHP||Pittsburgh Pirates||Mississippi St U (MS)|
|17||17||496||Ian Kinsler||SS-2B||Texas Rangers||U Missouri (MO)|
|18||1||28||Daric Barton||C||St. Louis Cardinals||Marina HS (CA)|
|19||1||9||John Danks||LHP||Texas Rangers||Round Rock HS (TX)|
|7||210||Reggie Willits||CF||Anaheim Angels||U Oklahoma (OK)|
|1||29||Carlos Quentin||OF||Arizona Diamondbacks||Stanford U (CA)|
|2||43||Joseph Reyes||LHP||Atlanta Braves||Riverside Poly HS (CA)|
|3||97||Matthew Harrison||LHP||Atlanta Braves||South Granville HS (NC)|
|3||74||Christopher Ray||RHP||Baltimore Orioles||Col William & Mary (VA)|
|1 Comp.||32||Matthew Murton||CF||Boston Red Sox||Georgia Tech (GA)|
|6||163||Sean Marshall||LHP||Chicago Cubs||Virginia Commonwealth U (VA)|
|6||168||Kevin Kouzmanoff||3B||Cleveland Indians||U Nevada (NV)|
|1||10||Ian Stewart||3B||Colorado Rockies||La Quinta HS (CA)|
|7||199||Brian Bannister||RHP||New York Mets||U Southern California (CA)|
|2||62||Andre Ethier||CF||Oakland Athletics||Arizona St U (AZ)|
|4||115||Michael Bourn||CF-SS||Philadelphia Phillies||U Houston (TX)|
|7||205||Kyle Kendrick||RHP||Philadelphia Phillies||Mount Vernon HS (WA)|
|1||13||Aaron Hill||SS||Toronto Blue Jays||Louisiana St U (LA)|
|3||80||Shaun Marcum||RHP||Toronto Blue Jays||Southwest Missouri St U (MO)|
Delmon Young just used up one of his six pre-FA years with a very pedestrian season which will reduce his pre-FA value quite a bit, but I left him as the top player from this draft class. The next two Dodgers are pretty obvious choices combining strong banked performances and high ceilings. Markakis and Papelbon are an interesting pair because Papelbon has certainly been much better in his role, but Iíd give the advantage to the very good everyday player there.
I think for now, and noting that Iím giving extra credit for realized production, that Papelbon slides in pretty well as the 5th best player in his draft class. However, there are some very high ceiling players like Milledge and Jones just behind him that will pass him if they even come close to hitting their ceilings. It seems likely that over time Papelbonís within draft ranking will drift down towards the bottom of the top 10 even if he stays healthy. Thatís still very good, of course.
Trying to guess which teams will have the best draft is complete speculation though obviously the Dodgers are the very clear favorites as thatís the only team with two very highly ranked players. Whichever teams have the high ceiling talents that actually become pre-FA stars will be the real winners from this draft. Papelbon should be enough to keep the Sox ranked as a well above average team.
One of the things that I always check about individual draft classes is the extent to which the good players are clustered at the top. My impression of recent drafts is that top talent has become increasingly concentrated in the first few rounds. This is all anecdotal, but if true it has some interesting implications. These three drafts, at least to date, due appear to be heavily clustered.
Amongst the 19 players that I ranked only four were drafted past the first 50 slots. The four are: Ryan Garko at #78, Jonathan Papelbon at #114, Matt Kemp at #181 and Ian Kinsler at #496. In the past Iíve found that there usually is a breakpoint between the relatively fertile ďhigh roundsĒ and the very hit or miss ďmiddle roundsĒ in the slot 100-125 range so really only Kemp and Kinsler are much outside of the consensus top 100 prospects. And they make a nice matched pair for the old HS vs C debate as Kemp is a prototypical tools goof who can really play ball and Kinsler is very much a stereotypical late round college infielder success.
2004 Draft Class
|1||1||2||Justin Verlander||RHP||Detroit Tigers||Old Dominion U (VA)|
|2||2||64||Hunter Pence||LF||Houston Astros||U Texas - Arlington (TX)|
|3||1||23||Philip Hughes||RHP||New York Yankees||Foothill HS (CA)|
|4||2||46||Yovani Gallardo||RHP||Milwaukee Brewers||Trimble Technical HS (TX)|
|5||1||12||Jered Weaver||RHP||Anaheim Angels||Long Beach St. (CA)|
|6||1||7||David Bailey||RHP||Cincinnati Reds||La Grange HS (TX)|
|7||2||65||Dustin Pedroia||SS||Boston Red Sox||Arizona St U (AZ)|
|8||1||14||Billy Butler||3B||Kansas City Royals||Wolfson Senior HS (FL)|
|9||1||15||Stephen Drew||SS||Arizona Diamondbacks||Florida St U (FL)|
|10||2||45||Reid Brignac||SS-CF||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||St Amant HS (LA)|
|11||5||135||Jacob Mcgee||LHP||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Reed HS (NV)|
|12||3||75||Wade Davis||RHP||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Lake Wales HS (FL)|
|13||1||30||Eric Hurley||RHP||Texas Rangers||Wolfson Senior HS (FL)|
|14||1||11||Neil Walker||C||Pittsburgh Pirates||Pine Richland HS (PA)|
|15||1 Comp.||40||Huston Street||RHP||Oakland Athletics||U Texas (TX)|
|1||17||Timothy Elbert||LHP||Los Angeles Dodgers||Seneca HS (MO)|
|16||476||Mark Reynolds||SS||Arizona Diamondbacks||U Virginia (VA)|
|6||185||Olise Meredith||RHP||Boston Red Sox||Virginia Commonwealth U (VA)|
|12||366||Sean Gallagher||RHP||Chicago Cubs||Saint Thomas Aquinas HS (FL)|
|1||18||Joshua Fields||3B||Chicago White Sox||Oklahoma St U (OK)|
|1||6||Jeremy Sowers||LHP||Cleveland Indians||Vanderbilt U (TN)|
|1||9||Christopher Nelson||SS||Colorado Rockies||Redan HS (GA)|
|4||110||Christopher Iannetta||C||Colorado Rockies||U North Carolina (NC)|
|1||22||Glen Perkins||LHP||Minnesota Twins||U Minnesota (MN)|
|1||3||Philip Humber||RHP||New York Mets||Rice U (TX)|
|2||67||Kurt Suzuki||C||Oakland Athletics||California St U (CA)|
|1||4||Jeffrey Niemann||RHP||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Rice U (TX)|
|13||375||Andrew Sonnanstine||RHP||Tampa Bay Devil Rays||Kent St U (OH)|
|1||10||Thomas Diamond||RHP||Texas Rangers||U New Orleans (LA)|
This is the thinnest of the three drafts I looked at by a long shot. I had a hard time coming up with 30 really interesting players and the ranks of the ranked players thins out pretty quickly. Conveniently, this is the only draft that the Sox did not have a ton of extra high round picks. It looks like this was a pretty good year for that to have been the case (and making the Sox doubly lucky the next draft was extremely deep and thatís the one the Sox had their most extra picks).
Verlander is the no doubt player of the draft class right now. Heís a high ceiling prospect who has already banked a couple very good years. As long as he stays healthy heís going to be tough to beat.
Iíd group Weaver and Pence, Hughes and Gallardo together as the next tier. Weaverís been good, but not quite what his college stats might have suggested to some. The other three each made their debuts this past year and showed flashes of brilliance. Each of these players has a legitimate chance to be a highly valuable pre-FA star.
I put Pedroia in the next group with Bailey (high risk, high reward), Butler (big bat, no defensive value) and Drew (star talent with disappointing performance). Bailey and Drew have the best bets to separate themselves from the pack. Pedroia isnít seen as a player with a lot of additional upside so he could conceivably be passed by some lower ranked players who do break out, but heís a very solid candidate for the bottom of the top 10. Thatís not too shabby at all.
In terms of team ranking, the Tigers are obviously the leaders in the clubhouse. A lot of teams have a single good player/prospect so weíll just have to see how those players actually perform. Tampa is the real sleeper organization with a trio if high ceiling minor leaguers with very little high minors experience. If any 2 of them pans out this could be a great draft for them.
Again, the clustering looks good with mostly first and second round picks amongst the ranked players. The only players out of the top 50 selections are Pence (#64), Pedroia (#65), Davis (#75) and McGee (#135). And only McGee is past the top 75 selections.
I probably should have ranked Reynolds at #476. If he maintains his production he will be, like Kinsler from 2003, another stereotypical underrated late round college infielder.
2005 Draft Class
As I mentioned this looks like a fantastic draft class and itís very hard to rank players because almost all have very, very little major league experience. Itís also tough to rank Buchholz within the class because heís arguably the only elite pitcher. Iím probably selling Matt Garza a little short there, but I have Buchholz as the only pitcher in the top 12. The risk profiles of pitching prospects and hitting prospects are so different that itís tough to really place Buchholz with any confidence within this sea of elite hitting talent.
|1||1 †||1||Justin Upton||SS||Arizona Diamondbacks||Great Bridge HS, VA|
|2||1 †||7||Troy Tulowitzki||SS||Colorado Rockies||Long Beach St, CA|
|3||1 †||5||Ryan Braun||3B||Milwaukee Brewers||U Miami, FL|
|4||1 †||12||Jay Bruce||CF||Cincinnati Reds||Westbrook HS, TX|
|5||1 †||4||Ryan Zimmerman||3B||Mont/Washington Nationals||U Virginia, VA|
|6||1 †||2||Alex Gordon[td=*]3B [/td][td=*]Kansas City Royals [/td][td=*]U Nebraska Lincoln, NE [/td]|
I gave Upton the top spot on the basis of his Griffey and ARod upside, but at least in terms of his pre-FA production there is a risk that he could end up heading down the Delmon Young path eating up service time before he really becomes a strong performer.
The next group of hitters is pretty obvious. I stuck Bruce, the only pure prospect, ahead of Gordon, who struggled last year. The other three have all already had a lot of success.
I stuck Buchholz ahead of three terrific high upside HS hitters, but I can see the argument to put him lower, no-hitter be damned, just because of the risk profile. He should rank about here, but there are just so many potential elite talents here that it doesnít matter where they rank today. Some of these guys will be pre-FA stars and hugely valuable. Many of them will be disappointments of varying degrees. Unfortunately, nobody knows which ones are which.
I put Ellsbury below all of the unproven HS CF, but above Schafer. I think Schafer is a better minor league prospect, but I donít think itís homerism in this case to give Ellsburyís demonstrated ability at higher levels an advantage. Yeah, I think I do have Garza too low, but whatever.
In terms of which teams will rank the highest it just depends on which high ceiling prospects hit. A lot of teams have good reasons to think they will have one of the best 3-5 players from this impressive draft class. The Sox, Cardinals, Atlanta, Twins and DBacks are all in excellent shape with a couple ranked prospects. The Sox have an additional advantage with a couple other good prospects in the unranked group.
Finally, lets put all three drafts together and look at the combined group of notable draft products for each team. I split the 30 organizations into three groups. Imo, there is a pretty clear Top 12 organizations who have two or more very good players/prospects. Any of these organizations can make claim to be amongst the very best handful of teams in this period if their prospects hit their ceilings.
I thought there was a second tier of ten teams with at least one very good player/prospect and then another eight teams that are, at least so far, really bringing up the rear. All of these rankings are very much subjective to change over time and I certainly donít think these rankings right now are set in concrete or anything. Just a quickie subjective moment in time ranking.
I like the Brewers in the top spot because I still believe in Weeks upside and I like the variety of their top players Ė a middle of the order slugger, a high upside middle of the diamond player and a front of the rotation (if not quite ace) pitcher.
I put the Sox second partly because theyíve already banked three good seasons and have very good depth. If the Sox drop off from this lofty ranking it will be because their elite talent doesnít quite match some other teams. Papelbon is great in his role, but itís not unreasonable to question whether a 60 IP/year pitcher can be a ďrealĒ star. Buchholz has the requisite talent to be a star, but banking on 1200 IP over the next six years is a risky proposition. Where the Sox excel is in the depth of prospects brought into the system over these three years. There are a lot of organizations that struggle to come up with three good prospects and the Sox have a couple potential Top 100 types stacked up in the 5th and 6th spots.
The Sox have had an advantage in terms of the number of extra picks theyíve had over the years, but thatís offset by the fact that all of their picks have been in the bottom half of the first round and lower. Almost half of the bolded players from the other Top 12 teams never made it past the slot #15. The Sox are amongst the best organizations in baseball in producing talent despite never having had the opportunity to select 40-50% of the best players from these drafts. Thatís pretty impressive and imo easily makes up for the fact that they have extra picks in the 30s and 40s.
One of the things that I thought was interesting about this exercise is how many teams fail to even reach the three good prospects from three draft threshold, never mind actually getting three good MLB players.
Each of the 30 organizations had at least one good prospect/player although that was partly my choice. I had to go back to find Volstad for Florida and Sanchez for SF for example. Five organizations didnít have a second good prospect/player including the Astros who drafted a very good one in Hunter Pence. When a single player can make a draft, any team can have a good draft. Only 18 teams have three good players. Thirteen teams have four with the Sox (Ellsbury), Rays (Davis) and DBacks (Owings) by far the strongest. Only seven organizations had at least five good prospects/players with those same three the standouts at that level too. Come to think of it, to have the Rays and DBacks as your two closest peers when it comes to draft success is pretty much all you need to know about the Sox success and the Sox have done it without any Top 5 picks.