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Lately, Red Sox’ first-round picks good, but not great

Jacoby Ellsbury was drafted by the Red Sox with the 23rd pick of the 2005 draft.AP

In many respects, the baseball draft has been an area of steady strength for the Red Sox under the current ownership group, which includes Globe owner John Henry. Certainly, members of the baseball operations department have long seen it that way.

"I think one of the things we've done well is the draft. That goes back a long way," said GM Ben Cherington. "If you look at the history of the draft for the Red Sox over a period of several years, I think this is an area we've been strong in and I expect it to continue that way."

Certainly, the last two Red Sox championships were shaped in no small part by the team's draft efforts. Homegrown players like Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jon Lester – along with other contributors such as Brandon Workman – proved critical to the titles in 2007 and 2013.


Yet that doesn't mean that the Sox have nailed all of their picks. Indeed, the Sox' track record points to the inherent uncertainty involved in predicting what amateurs might do once they enter pro ball.

Since 2003, the Red Sox have had 29 first-round and supplemental first-round picks. Of those, to date, 18 have reached the big leagues.

Two – 2006 first-rounder Jason Place and 2010 first-rounder Kolbrin Vitek – never advanced beyond Double A before walking away from the game.

A number of those players – nine, to be exact – are still in the minors and have yet to play in the big leagues. That group includes a number of the team's best prospects – players such as Henry Owens, Brian Johnson, Michael Kopech, Trey Ball, and Deven Marrero. What they do in the big leagues remains to be seen.

Yet of the 18 Red Sox first-rounders who have reached the big leagues, the impact seems, in some respects, surprisingly modest thus far. Since 2003, two of the 29 first-rounders drafted by the Sox have gone on to become All-Stars: Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz. One other player, 2003 first-rounder David Murphy, has enjoyed a long career as a solid big leaguer.


Ellsbury, Buchholz, and Murphy are the only three Sox first-rounders taken in the last dozen years to achieve a career Wins Above Replacement as measured by of 10 wins or better. Beyond that trio, Jed Lowrie (8.9 WAR) has enjoyed off-and-on big league success, Daniel Bard had a run as an elite setup man (worth 4.3 career WAR) before health and control woes derailed him, and Matt Murton had a decent few seasons with the Cubs but ultimately found a measure of fame in Japan.

Interestingly, just one of the 11 players taken out of high school by the Sox at the top of their drafts – Michael Bowden, with a 0.8 WAR – has a positive WAR at this point.

Red Sox first-round draft picks, 2003-2014
Year Pick Name Pos Highest level WAR Type
2014 26 Michael Chavis SS A HS
2014 33 Michael Kopech RHP A HS
2013 7 Trey Ball LHP Hi-A HS
2012 24 Deven Marrero SS AAA College
2012 31 Brian Johnson LHP AAA College
2012 37 Pat Light RHP AAA College
2011 19 Matt Barnes RHP ML 0.3 College
2011 26 Blake Swihart C ML HS
2011 36 Henry Owens LHP AAA HS
2011 40 Jackie Bradley OF ML 0 College
2010 20 Kolbrin Vitek 2B AA College
2010 36 Bryce Brentz LF ML 0.1 College
2010 39 Anthony Ranaudo RHP ML -0.5 College
2009 28 Reymond Fuentes CF ML -0.2 HS
2008 30 Casey Kelly SS ML -0.6 HS
2008 45 Bryan Price RHP ML -0.2 College
2007 55 Nick Hagadone LHP ML -0.3 College
2007 62 Ryan Dent SS AAA HS
2006 27 Jason Place OF AA HS
2006 28 Daniel Bard RHP ML 4.3 College
2006 40 Kris Johnson LHP ML 0 College
2006 44 Caleb Clay RHP AAA HS
2005 23 Jacoby Ellsbury OF ML 25.9 College
2005 26 Craig Hansen RHP ML -1.9 College
2005 42 Clay Buchholz RHP ML 13.8 Juco
2005 45 Jed Lowrie 2B ML 8.9 College
2005 47 Michael Bowden RHP ML 0.8 HS
2003 17 David Murphy OF ML 10.7 College
2003 32 Matt Murton OF ML 3.3 College

While players like Matt Barnes and Blake Swihart and Jackie Bradley Jr., along with minor leaguers from Johnson to Kopech, have a chance to elevate the overall impact made by Sox draftees, the high percentage of players in this group to net modest returns comes with another significant message. In 2002, the Sox took Jon Lester in the second round. In 2003, the Sox drafted future All-Star Jonathan Papelbon in the fourth round. In 2004, Dustin Pedroia came off the board in the second round. Josh Reddick went in the 17th round of the 2006 draft. Cubs star first baseman Anthony Rizzo went in the sixth round in 2007. Christian Vazquez went in the ninth round in 2008.


Teams can whiff on their first picks and still have good drafts if they find value beyond the first round. The Sox have indeed enjoyed relatively steady success with their selections, but more often than not, the real impact of a June draft has come after the spotlight of the first round has dimmed. As excited as the Sox are for the No. 7 overall pick on Monday night, they recognize that it may not be their most important pick this year.

"This is one selection. Yes, we want to take advantage of it, but we have to keep in mind it is one selection, it is one decision, amongst a lot of decisions on players that happen," said Cherington. "We don't need to put more weight on it than we need to. I'm confident that [first-year Red Sox amateur scouting director Mike Rikard] and his staff will make the right choice on Monday night. It will just be one choice. And then we'll have an opportunity to get a lot more players over the next couple of days."

And somewhere, the Red Sox hope, there will be a player who brings considerable impact to the Red Sox – regardless of the day of the selection.

Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.