For the first time since 2004, the Red Sox will have to wait until the second round to make their first pick of the three-day Major League Baseball draft that starts Monday night. Because they blew past all three tiers of the luxury-tax threshold in 2018, their top pick (which would have been the 33rd overall, last of the first round) got bumped 10 spots to No. 43.
Of course, the last time the Red Sox didn’t have a single pick in the first or supplementary first round, things worked out pretty well.
“Twenty-nine other teams messed up, you know? That’s what I was thinking,” reflected Dustin Pedroia, taken in the second round by the Red Sox with their top pick (No. 65 overall) of the 2004 draft.
“The crazy thing about the baseball draft is you don’t know. What round did Mookie [Betts] go in? Fifth? You don’t know. You can find the best player in the draft in the fifth round.”
The Red Sox will hope for a repeat of that, or the other instance under the current ownership group when their first pick came in the second round. That would be 2002, when Jon Lester remained on the board in the second round with the No. 57 overall selection.
In only one other instance since then has the Red Sox’ first pick come as late as this year’s, that coming in 2007 when they had a supplemental first-round pick at No. 55. They took Nick Hagadone, who later became a key part of a trade for catcher Victor Martinez; later in that draft, they took Anthony Rizzo (sixth round) and Ryan Pressly (11th round).
That said, different rules prevailed then. The introduction of draft bonus pools (with penalties for exceeding them) in 2012 means that fewer signable players slide in the draft to the points where Rizzo and Betts ended up in 2007 and 2011.
Moreover, the increased volume of information about draftees thanks to summer showcase circuits and TrackMan data has resulted in increasing convergence of evaluations; there are fewer inefficiencies to allow players such as Pedroia, Rizzo, and Betts to slip.
“It’s much different,” said Red Sox vice president of amateur scouting Mike Rikard. “You try to keep in mind, like always, the good lessons learned, but as far as the predictability of the draft, it changes so much year to year, and we’re operating with a completely different system. There’s no relevance of looking back.”
Even so, every draft features talent around the 40th pick — and later. Jackie Bradley Jr. went at No. 40 in 2011; Jed Lowrie was the 45th pick in 2005. Both have been All-Stars.
Just last year, the Red Sox took Jarren Duran out of Long Beach State in the seventh round. Forty-six games into the season for High A Salem, he had a .400 average, .464 OBP, and .551 slugging mark along with 18 steals and 19 extra-base hits. Bobby Dalbec, another of the top position players in the Red Sox system, was a fourth-round pick in 2016.
So, there’s talent — but there’s also considerable difficulty in properly scouting it. The earlier a team picks, the more precisely it can predict who might be available. But at No. 43, there is far more uncertainty.
The members of the Red Sox scouting department with regional and national responsibilities — starting with Rikard and including several cross-checkers as well as special assignment scouts — have to remain nimble in order to anticipate both the players whose stocks will rise in the spring (usually college players) and those who will slide (typically high schoolers).
For that single pick, a far larger pool has to be evaluated, with the risk that some of the players will perform their way out of any real possibility of being on the board at No. 43.
“You don’t want to travel around the country and waste days on players that you have no chance of getting to your pick,” said Rikard, “but we also don’t want to get caught with our pants down if a certain player hits a slide and makes it down to 43.
“Typically in most drafts, the college players rise and the high schoolers are the ones that have a better chance to slide. That’s the challenge as we try to navigate our national cross-checking staff around the country.”
The Red Sox under Rikard have remained open-minded to different draft demographics. In his first four drafts, their first picks have been a college outfielder (Andrew Benintendi), a high school lefty (Jay Groome), a college righty (Tanner Houck), and a high school corner infielder (Triston Casas).
The Red Sox don’t believe in drafting for need or targeting either a high school or college pool. They’ll make their decision based on the setup of their draft board, and hope that at the No. 43 pick – and in subsequent rounds – their scouting process will direct them to players who, like Pedroia, can make 29 other teams wonder why they left them on the board.
“I’m very confident we’ll find some impactful players,” said Rikard. “I think in general the draft does appear to have some depth. I wouldn’t categorize it as kind of abnormal depth, but I think that . . . we’ve done a good job of uncovering some more interesting players a little bit deeper down the line, maybe.
“We’re excited. We’re in a good position to get in there Monday and have some success.”