The Red Sox held their annual Rookie Program this past Monday. The event has garnered increased exposure and attention the last few seasons in light of recent developmental successes.
Boston's front office has always had a decisive approach in the way that they manage the still-developing talent via their minor league affiliates. However, it is only recently that this approach has been altered -- albeit dramatically. There once was a time when you'd be hard-pressed to find a key contributor on the roster who was developed internally; something that likely had a direct influence on Boston's long-suffered title drought prior to 2004.
However, Boston's developmental approach and major league-level success have simultaneously improved during the "Theo Epstein Era;" a less than coincidental occurrence. With more emphasis being placed on the stockpiling of young talent for future use rather than trade-bait, the Red Sox have built one of the most impressive and impactful core of prospects in Major League Baseball. The current roster offers an accurate reflection of that, as well as a little insight into the future.
The Red Sox's organization had drafted its share of gems prior to Theo Epstein's arrival, only with less frequency. However, it was a common occurrence to see those high-ceiling prospects traded for an already established player in an attempt to upgrade the major league team, even at the expense of depleting the system. While some instances stemmed positive results, there are a number of current MLB-notables that were once property of the Red Sox; their current success being absorbed retrospectively with a certain level of repressed animosity by the Fenway-faithful.
Nowadays, home-grown talent at Fenway Park is a refreshing normalcy relative to other big-market teams. Though Red Sox fans are not far removed from the days when trade rumors would spark speculation as to what big-name acquisition their club could potentially land, with little to no consideration for the price.
However, today is a different story.
Now, every prospect involved in trade discussions is subsequently involved in discussions amongst fans regarding everything from their current market value to their projected ceiling. A fact that is not lost on the instigator of this so-called 'youth movement,' Theo Epstein:
"Five or six years ago, the fan on the street wanted to go tell you what superstar you should go trade for using all your prospects," Epstein said. "Then a couple years ago, they started telling you what superstars you should promote from Double A to Triple A to the big leagues. Now they want to tell you who to draft."
Epstein has only himself to blame, or thank for that matter, regarding fans' evolved expectations.
While this more economically-friendly angle began in direct correspondence with Epstein's inception as the general manager of the Boston Red Sox in 2002, the culmination of his efforts are best represented by the resulting success of the 2005 draft -- namely those players selected in the first round. All five of Boston's first round choices have already contributed on the major league level; those picks include Jacoby Ellsbury (23rd), Craig Hansen (26th), Clay Buchholz (42nd), Jed Lowrie (45th) and Michael Bowden (47th). Each of the aforementioned individuals have encountered different successes in the years since, perhaps making this draft class one of Epstein's most prideful accomplishments during his tenure as GM.
As the 2005 draft offers a specific citation of success in relation to management's overall theme-change pertaining to internal development, the same can be said for the current youth-laden roster -- though, in a more generalized sense.
Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, Jed Lowrie, Jon Lester, Manny Delcarmen, Jonathan Papelbon
The players that form the above list have accrued an impressive list of accolades during their short-lived careers. Not surprisingly, given the context of this article, that same list is comprised solely of players developed internally within the Red Sox organization (on the current active roster).
Such success stories have aided in the promotion of an 'eye on the future' mentality among the Red Sox fan base. That farsighted approach towards the construction of the organization has been the cause of much deliberation this off season.
While most fans awaited Theo Epstein's first big acquisition this off season in response to the rival Yankees' World Series Championship, the calm and collected general manager instead offered intentions of retooling amidst a self-proclaimed 'bridge period;' a period primarily focused on the potential of the farm system. Epstein spent ample time gauging the cost that accompanied trading for players such as Roy Halladay and Adrian Gonzalez at the onset of the Winter Meetings -- ultimately scoffing at the idea of packaging multiple promising prospects.
His reluctancy is not only a sign of the times, it's a warranted unwillingness upon reviewing the future prospects that currently inhabit the farm system.
Players such as Casey Kelly, Ryan Westmoreland, Josh Reddick, Ryan Kalish, Reymond Fuentes and Jose Iglesias are just a small sampling of prospects currently offering a glimpse into the future of the Red Sox from within the system -- a glimpse that is still a few years from fruition, hence the term 'bridge period.'
This oft-described 'bridge period' is conceptualized on Epstein's philosophy that the free agent market should only be used as a resource when building around a primarily cost-efficient core of internally developed players, and not vice-versa. With so much promising young talent with E.T.A.'s ranging from 2-4 years, Boston's hesitancy is seemingly justifiable.
No less than a decade ago, under similar cirumstances, the Red Sox would likely have pulled the trigger on a deal involving Clay Buchholz, Casey Kelly or Ryan Westmoreland for a quick fix. Around the same time the Red Sox were still searching for their first title in 80+ years. Again, the correlation between the two is palpable, to say the least.
Named Minor League News' Farm System of the Year in 2005, the Red Sox's scouting and development departments have undergone vast improvements under the guidance of Epstein and company. Coupled with a supremely-talented international scouting department, the newly-emphasized importance on draft preparation and execution conjures up little validity to the potential that this progressive trend suddenly cease to continue -- something that incites more enthusiasm nowadays within 'Red Sox Nation' than it would have pre-Epstein, and with good reason.