The 2014 MLB Draft begins in just over a week, making this the perfect time to review the last few Red Sox drafts to see how things have gone for them of late. While the 2010 draft was full of unfulfilled promise in the first round and still to-be-seen potential afterward, the 2011 iteration was flat-out loaded, and could comprise much of the core the Red Sox will lean on for the rest of this decade.
This was the final draft under the previous collective bargaining agreement, where the loss of a Type-A free agent resulted in a pair of compensation picks. The Red Sox made it count, collecting four (four!) compensatory first-round selections even with the signing of Carl Crawford that cost them their original first rounder.
1. Matt Barnes, 19th overall
Barnes was selected with the first-round pick the Sox got from the Tigers for letting Victor Martinez walk. He won't be an ace, and probably won't even be a number two, but Barnes should have a career as an above-average mid-rotation arm. He's been mostly healthy during his three seasons in the minors, with the most significant problem so far a precautionary delay to the start of his 2014 thanks to shoulder soreness. He's not without his problems in Triple-A at the moment, as he's not missing bats with the kind of consistency he needs to be in line for a big-league rotation job in 2015, but he also has 36 frames at the level. He's also not first on the depth chart to jump to the bigs, so while he's already 24, he has time to figure things out.
1. Blake Swihart, 26th overall
He's a dual-threat catcher who has grown to become basically everything that was hoped for when he was selected three summers ago, and that includes his staying behind the plate instead of moving to third base. Swihart is currently batting .291/.327/.473 in his first taste of Double-A ball, and is throwing out 48 percent of baserunners. His defensive work behind the plate continues to improve, and he's finally started to show some of the power that could eventually make him a threat for 12-15 switch-hit homers in addition to his contact skills and glove work. Like with Barnes, he's not quite ready, but you can see a clear path opening up for him in the majors, one he'll be well-suited to.
1A. Henry Owens, 36th overall
Owens is arguably Boston's top pitching prospect, as his ceiling does mark him as better than a mid-rotation arm. There are serious questions as to his ability to reach said ceiling, given the inconsistencies in his command, but still, he's all of 21 and has started to adjust back to all those Double-A batters who adjusted to him in the first place. A likely scenario is that Owens is a mid-rotation lefty who is generally a well above-average starter, but has enough rough moments from his command to drag him down below that level. There's still time to figure out how to replicate his command so his fastball is always where it needs to be, but even if he "just" becomes a mid-rotation arm, that's pretty excellent from the 36th overall pick.
1A. Jackie Bradley Jr., 40th overall
Bradley slipped in the draft thanks to injuries and a so-so junior year. The Red Sox made him the fourth of their four first-round picks, as they were in a position to take the risk that he never recovered offensively. Bradley is in the majors -- he's the only member of the 2011 draft class to make it there to this point -- and has struggled at the plate. Given his track record as a solid hitter in the minors, though, that's likely a temporary state. Plus, he's continually shown with his glove that he's worth the lineup space while he figures things out. Bradley should be a major piece of the Red Sox outfield for the rest of the decade. When things even out offensively, he should be something like a .275/.345/.400 hitter, but when combined with his absurd defense in center, that's a well above-average player. One the Sox grabbed 40th overall.
4. Noe Ramirez, 142nd overall
Ramirez is a big-league reliever if he makes the Show at all. His command has been a problem at times during his minor-league career, but he's recovered from the problems each time to limit the opposition to ground balls with plenty of strikeouts and control mixed in. The concern is that he has to be perfect with his fastball, as it doesn't have the velocity to overpower the opposition even in short bursts, but he's done a fine job of that in Double-A to this point. It was hoped he would stick as a starter, but a potentially usable relief piece from no. 142 in the draft is solid.
5. Mookie Betts, 172nd overall
Betts tied the consecutive games on-base record with 71 straight, and didn't just skate by, either, as he averaged more than two times on base per game during the streak while batting over .400. Even the Red Sox were taken aback by how good Betts has become since he was drafted, as the 21-year-old is now batting .363/.451/.568 in Double-A as a 21-year-old. He has more doubles than strikeouts, twice as many walks as strikeouts, is 22 for 25 on steals, and seems to have the tools to make him a productive defensive outfielder. While he's a plus defender at second, the Sox don't need someone else at the keystone, but do need an outfielder. There's a chance Betts ends up being the most valuable of all of the players Boston selected in 2011, which could very well be saying something given some of the names we've already gone over.
7. Cody Kukuk, 232nd overall
Kukuk is 21 and in High-A Salem, in no small part thanks to a DUI (which he was later cleared of) keeping him off the mound in 2012. Walks were a problem for him in his first full season in as a professional with Low-A Greenville, but he seemed to put them aside while continuing to miss a ton of bats to begin this season before his promotion to Salem. The walks have returned and his whiffs have dipped since, but it's also only been 22 innings over five starts: he's got the rest of the year to work out the kinks.
He's another arm who has a potential mid-rotation future, but he'll obviously have to cut out the control problems and become a more efficient lefty for that to happen. He's certainly young enough for that to happen, and even if he only ends up being a back-end arm or a swing-and-miss reliever, the $800,000 signing bonus wasn't a major investment, and neither was picking Kukuk with pick no. 232.
9. Travis Shaw, 292nd overall
There are still a whole lot of questions in Shaw's future, as he only recently ditched the passive approach that caused him to strike out too often against Double-A pitching, and his bat speed has not been challenged by the kinds of pitchers he'll need to face all the time in the majors if he gets there. With that being said, he's still a first baseman who just hit .305/.406/.548 with 20 extra-base hits in 47 Double-A games to start the season, and was not only a ninth-round pick, but Boston's 12th of the draft. If he turns into anything useful, then this was a huge win for the Sox. The chance still exists for him to be something, but it's up to that bat speed now.
Barnes, Swihart, Owens, Bradley, and Betts are not guaranteed to be successes in the majors, but they are a collection of talent who should, Bradley being the exception, converge on the majors at the same time. The possibility that a significant chunk of the Red Sox' core for the second half of this decade all came from this one draft exists, and that's before you get into whether or not Noe Ramirez, Travis Shaw, or Cody Kukuk work out as prospects. It's almost impossible to have this kind of run now, given the introduction of both the draft budget and the neutering of the compensation pick market, but the Sox seem to have done as well as anyone could have with their last shot manipulating a broken system. The payoff hasn't happened yet, but it's coming.