After the remarkable showings in the 2011 (Barnes, Bradley, Swihart) and 2010 (Brentz, Ranaudo, Cecchini) drafts, perhaps we Sox fans were spoiled. In each of the last two years, the Sox have spent big, and given us the gift of impact talent--the likes that make their way instantly onto top prospect charts.
With 2012 widely considered to be a thin draft class, then, it's not surprise that the results don't look as pretty. Toss in the new CBA rules which still needed to be play-tested just for front offices to figure out the impact they would have and you've got a recipe for, if not a disaster, than at least something of a mess. The teams that are ultimately judged to have come out on top will likely have done so as much through luck as any great ability to predict the behaviors of teams in such a different environment.
Still, looking at the Red Sox' draft, none of those mitigating factors really changes the fact that this doesn't seem like a draft day that's going to have an impact on the farm system or the team.
Looking at the talent acquired by the team this year, it's hard not to draw unfavorable comparisons to players already in the system. "A plus defensive shortstop who's a question mark with the bat," "a college closer with a good fastball, one breaking ball, and nothing else", "a low-cieling, high-floor southpaw."
For Deven Marrero, the Iglesias counterpart, the question is whether he'll ever be worth anything to the Sox if he doesn't get his bat up to the levels where they can actually start him. As much as it's not fair to the abilities of the player, defense just isn't worth that much to major league teams at the moment. A plus offensive shortstop with a question mark of a glove gets the world (Hanley Ramirez). A plus defensive shortstop with a question mark for a bat...well, what exactly do we think we can get for Jose Iglesias at the moment?
Looking at Boston's draft class (or the part of it that's currently in--the part where the quality lies), the players who have any real chance to actually turn out to be stars seem few and far between, and really that's the sort of player the Red Sox need. As a big-market team, filling out the ranks with low-cieling players is only difficult when you're dropping 60% of your budget on the disabled list. As much as that may currently be the reality, it's not the sort of scenario the team should be planning for.
The difficulty these days lies in acquiring the real stars. Teams are more and more likely to wrap up any really promising player with long-term contracts very early in their careers, leaving them to reach free agency at the age where any contract will have to include plenty of overpaid years in with the good ones. In my opinion, then, the real aim of a farm system on a team like Boston has to be to acquire those players early in their career, be it through growing them from the ground up, or producing the blue chip prospects necessary to acquire them via trades.
Add to that the fact that the Sox have a farm system overflowing with mid-level talent, and adding the likes of Pat Light and Brian Johnson seems almost redundant.
It's not that the Sox didn't pick up any talent. Jamie Callahan and Ty Buttrey are both intriguing talents. But none of them really carry the same sort of weight as any of the top players the Sox picked up in '10 and '11--at least not right off the bat. Maybe they pan out, maybe they don't--right now, Anthony Ranaudo isn't exactly looking like a bullseye--but even just comparing the day after feeling from 2011 with the day after feeling from this year, there's no comparison, and it's not simply a matter of a new CBA or a down year in the draft. Both factors certainly contributed, but on some level it feels like the Sox chose to spread themselves too thin, or to spend their money too late, picking up a good number of decent picks throughout the first few rounds, but exchanging a chance at one or two really great players to do so.
Perhaps it will turn out for the better in the long term, but right now this seems like a year to forget.