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Alex Speier

Success of Red Sox 2011 draft class far from common

From left, Travis Shaw, Mookie Betts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. were all part of the Red Sox 2011 draft class.AP

CLEVELAND – The Red Sox believed in 2011 that they had a potentially franchise-altering draft class. Still, it would have seemed far-fetched to have imagined that five years later, nearly a quarter of the team’s Opening Day roster – first-rounders Matt Barnes and Blake Swihart, supplemental first-rounder Jackie Bradley Jr., fourth-rounder Noe Ramirez, fifth-rounder Mookie Betts, and ninth-rounder Travis Shaw – would be composed of the players signed that draft season.

After all, the draft isn’t supposed to yield six big leaguers (seven, if counting supplemental first-rounder Henry Owens, who opens 2016 back in Pawtucket after finishing 2015 in the big leagues) at a time. Averages and successes usually occur in more modest numbers.


Paul DePodesta, at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference last month, recalled a break-room conversation he had with GM Billy Beane during the buildup to the “Moneyball” draft of 2002, when DePodesta was the assistant GM of the Oakland A’s.

“The average draft would produce one everyday major league player, and maybe three, four, or five other guys who appeared in the major leagues,” DePodesta said. “Billy said, ‘Can you imagine what would happen if we just got two, and we did it two or three or four years in a row? It would fundamentally change our franchise.”

Of course, for all of the amazing detail provided about the A’s 2002 draft class, in retrospect, it’s striking to see that the group selected by Oakland that year offered little more than an average yield, in a year where the A’s had seven first round or supplemental first-round selections. Nick Swisher ended up being the headliner of the group, making one All-Star team. Joe Blanton enjoyed about five years as a roughly league-average starter.

The other five first-rounders, however, produced little impact, with two (Mark Teahen and Jeremy Brown) reaching the majors, and three never graduating from the minors. In part, that yield may have reflected some of the financial constraints faced by the A’s, who needed to sign players for below-slot bonuses.


Still, the instances where teams had a plethora of top picks – as was the case for Beane and DePodesta’s 2002 A’s and the Red Sox in 2011, in the first draft under amateur scouting director Amiel Sawdaye and the last under former GM Theo Epstein – often have resulted in modest impact.

For instance, the 2011 Rays had a record 11 first- and supplemental first-round picks. To date, while that group includes a pair of highly regarded prospects in pitchers Blake Snell and Taylor Guerrieri, the Rays have released more players from that group (3) than they’ve had big leaguers (1, Mikie Mahtook).

All of that raises the question in light of the early success of the 2011 Red Sox draft class: What sort of returns are typical in drafts where teams feature four or more first-rounders? Does the 2011 Sox group represent a normal or unusual yield?

In the 10-year span from 2002 (the year of the A’s Moneyball draft) to 2011 (the Sox’ draft class), there were 21 instances of teams that had four or more picks in the first and/or supplemental first round. Of the 107 total players drafted in those 21 instances, 59 (55 percent) have reached the big leagues to date.

Hitting the draft jackpot
A look at the draft results for teams with four or more first-round picks, 2002-11
Year Team GM Scouting Director 1st rd picks Big leaguers Total WAR All-Star seasons
2002 Athletics Billy Beane Eric Kubota 7 4 41.2 1 (Swisher)
2002 Cubs Jim Hendry John Stockstill 4 0 0 0
2004 Athletics Billy Beane Eric Kubota 4 3 14.9 2 (Street)
2004 Twins Terry Ryan Mike Radcliff 5 4 17.1 3 (Perkins)
2005 Cardinals Walt Jocketty Jeff Luhnow 4 2 15.5 0
2005 Marlins Larry Beinfest Stan Meek 5 4 0.9 0
2005 Red Sox Theo Epstein Jason McLeod 5 5 50.1 3 (Buchholz, Ellsbury)
2006 Red Sox Theo Epstein Jason McLeod 4 2 4.3 0
2007 Blue Jays J.P. Ricciardi Jon Lalonde 5 3 9.1 1 (Cecil)
2007 Giants Brian Sabean Matt Nerland 6 4 21.1 3 (Bumgarner)
2007 Padres Kevin Towers Bill Gayton 6 1 2.4 0
2007 Rangers Jon Daniels Ron Hopkins 5 4 11.8 0
2009 Angels Tony Reagins Eddie Bane 5 4 46.5 4 (Trout)
2009 Diamondbacks Josh Byrnes Tom Allison 5 4 16.3 1 (Pollock)
2010 Angels Tony Reagins Eddie Bane 5 2 -1.2 0
2010 Blue Jays Alex Anthopoulos Andrew Tinnish 4 3 5.3 0
2010 Rangers Jon Daniels Kip Fagg 4 2 -1.5 0
2011 Blue Jays Alex Anthopoulos Andrew Tinnish 5 0 0 0
2011 Padres Jed Hoyer Jaron Madison 5 3 3.6 0
2011 Rays Andrew Friedman R.J. Harrison 10 1 1.2 0
2011 Red Sox Theo Epstein Amiel Sawdaye 4 4 3.3 0

Only twice in those 10 years did teams get big leaguers out of every first-round selection they made with their wealth of picks: The 2011 Red Sox (Barnes, Swihart, Owens, Bradley) and the 2005 Red Sox (Jacoby Ellsbury, Craig Hansen, Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie, Michael Bowden). For now – until a 2009 Angels group led by Mike Trout surpasses it – that 2005 Red Sox draft class is the standard-setter in terms of production from a glut of first-rounders, having yielded two All-Stars (Ellsbury and Buchholz) and the highest combined WAR to date (50.1) of any of those drafts.


Not every draft has gone that well for the Sox. In the 2006 draft, for instance, the Sox’ four first-rounders yielded Daniel Bard, Kris Johnson (who has made seven big league appearances), a high school pitcher who has yet to reach the big leagues (Caleb Clay), and a player who is now out of the game (Jason Place).

Still, that group’s struggles only further reinforce the idea that, five years after the fact, the 2011 Red Sox draft class represents a crop that is far from common.

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Related: 2016 Globe Baseball Preview Section

Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.