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Red Sox Amending Bridge Period Via Draft

SECAUCUS, NJ - JUNE 07:  The draft board is seen prior to the start of the MLB First Year Player Draft on June 7, 2010 held in Studio 42 at the MLB Network in Secaucus, New Jersey.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
SECAUCUS, NJ - JUNE 07: The draft board is seen prior to the start of the MLB First Year Player Draft on June 7, 2010 held in Studio 42 at the MLB Network in Secaucus, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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Take the best talent available, with heavy considerations for potential and not so much on organizational needs.

Thanks to the benefits of a deep and fruitful farm system in recent years, the Red Sox have been afforded the luxury of applying relatively simplistic draft strategies such as the one above. The Major League Baseball draft has always been considered a hit-but-more-often-miss fiasco for most teams anyway -- so why complicate things, right?

Suffice to say, like every other MLB organization, Boston is still in the process of perfecting the way they utilize the draft process in replenishing the system -- and in turn, the product featured at Fenway Park. 2010 cites a progressive step towards that ultimate goal of consistently positive draft production.

A large portion of the farm system’s current top prospects are still in a stage that demands further development; there are few true impact players that can potentially offer the type of contributions by way of someone like Jacoby Ellsbury [circa 2007] this year or the next.

So yes, once again, the phrase "bridge period" surfaces in relation to the Red Sox’s approach to the immediate future as the 2010 MLB First-Year Player Draft got underway this past Monday.

With Amiel Sawdaye now taking over at the helm as Director of Amateur Scouting -- replacing Jason McLeod, who last held the position in 2009 -- Boston has incorporated a "big picture" element within a strategy still heavily influenced by the best overall talent available at the time of selection, resulting in a highly-praised initial two days of drafting.

Prior to this year, the last time that the Red Sox drafted a college-level player with their first draft selection was in 2005 when they chose Oregon State outfielder, Jacoby Ellsbury, with the 23rd overall pick (not counting 2007's supplimental first round pick, Nick Hagadone). At the time, Ellsbury was the last in a streak of three successive drafts in which Boston used their first pick on a collegiate player from 2003-2005. Before him, the Red Sox had selected Dustin Pedroia (2004, round 2) and David Murphy (2003, round 1).

After taking Ellsbury in 2005, Boston followed up by selecting three more post-high school prospects -- (26th) Craig Hansen, (42nd) Clay Buchholz, (45th) Jed Lowrie -- before nabbing Michael Bowden out of Waubonsie Valley High School (47th).

That year, recently departed Jason McLeod’s first as Boston’s Director of Amateur Scouting, has been arguably the most productive drafts in team history -- it also marked a turning point in the organization’s reputation as a developmental powerhouse.

The key to a successful draft overall is a team’s ability to properly balance organizational needs with a still-prominent consideration for the number of MLB-ready players currently in the system -- then formulating the relative plan of attack based on that.

You can stay within the confines of the American League East for both a positive and negative example of teams using the above idealology to this point in the 2010 draft.

Similarly to Boston, the Tampa Bay Rays’ draft to this point has been given a proverbial "thumbs up" around the league, despite using their first three picks on high school players. However, unlike the Red Sox -- who are in the midst of the oft-described "bridge period" -- Tampa Bay’s farm system features a larger selection of prospects who are nearing MLB-ready status. The result is a less-glaring need for "safe" selections, which allows the team to focus on high-ceiling high school players as the organizational depth affords them more time to refine the talent.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the New York Yankees. Despite the current roster sporting an average age of 30.4 (5th oldest in MLB) -- and after having just recently shipped away a couple major league-ready talents this off-season -- New York decided to use their first two selections on high school players and have since been chastised almost league-wide for it. While a good deal of the eyebrow-raising is in regards the particular high school players chosen as opposed to their relative ages (taking outfielder and projected 3rd rounder, Cito Culver, with their first pick), one look at some of the highly-developed collegiate talent still available at the times of the respective picks is what conjures the resulting poor draft grades.

With so many of the Red Sox’s top impact-projected prospects still likely more than a couple seasons away from regular contributions, the club rightfully decided to focus their first four picks (just as they did in 2005) on college level players, before turning to four consecutive prep-level picks. Also similar to 2005, Boston’s first two days of selections have been met with nothing but positive feedback.

With their first pick in the 2010 draft (20th overall), Boston opted to take Ball State junior, Kolbrin Vitek. It’s been said that Kolbrin has managed to hit everywhere he’s gone, and his ability to play multiple positions may also represent a potential trend in early round Red Sox selections; last year Boston used their first pick on infielder/pitcher, Casey Kelly. Vitek played second base his junior season, but his size led Boston to list him as a third baseman on draft day (Vitek played third base his sophomore season). A fundamentally advanced hitter, it’s Vitek’s versatility that likely attracted Boston, as it affords them a little wiggle-room in terms of addressing organizational needs down the road.

Next, with the 36th pick overall, Boston chose Middle Tennessee State junior outfielder, Bryce Brentz. It’s safe to assume that this selection was more a result of luck rather than an attempt at filling an organizational hole. Brentz was considered one of the top college hitters available in the draft and was thought to be a sure-fire first-rounder. Instead, Bryce fell to the Red Sox due to some questions regarding a team’s ability to sign him -- something that has never been a problem for Boston in the past. Brentz’s strong arm and plate-production should allow the Red Sox to try him at either corner outfield positions -- marking another versatile early-rounder taken by Boston.

It’s no secret that the Red Sox lack a surplus of MLB-ready pitching prospects. Aside from Felix Doubront (23 years-old), Junichi Tazawa (24 years-old) and to a lesser-extent, Michael Bowden (23 year-old), the club doesn’t feature a pitcher above the age of twenty in its top fifteen prospects [according to SoxProspects].

With that in mind, Boston used its subsequent two selections on college pitchers. Both initially considered potential first-rounders, the Red Sox grabbed Anthony Ranaudo (RHP, LSU) and Brandon Workman (RHP, UT) with the 39th and 57th picks, respectively.

Ranaudo was a name linked to the Red Sox in mock drafts from day one, only in most instances regarding the team’s first-round intentions. After entering the college season as one of the most highly-touted pitchers in the country, Ranaudo missed substantial time as a result of an elbow injury before returning to action later in the year, without the same success. His recent problems finding the strike zone -- combined with all that accompanies the name of his agent, Scott Boras -- is likely the reasoning behind his descent out of the first round. However, the Red Sox, who have always been very explorative regarding past injuries of prospective acquisitions, must have seen something comforting in the pitcher’s reports that led them to take the large-in-stature right-hander. Ranaudo is widely considered one of the most refined arms available during the draft -- some even predicting that he be taken off the board in the first ten picks -- and if he returns to form, could be at Fenway sooner rather than later.

Originally drafted by the Phillies in 2007, Boston’s 57th pick, Brandon Workman, was also considered one of the most developed arms going into the draft. Like Ranaudo before him, the big right-hander is a mechanically-sound and repertoire-refined college pitcher from a top-tier program. While his ceiling, and Ranaudo’s for that matter, may not be as high as some of the more raw high school pitchers available, it’s certainly much closer within their reaches.

While there’s no arguing that Boston’s ability to sign draft picks commanding large sums of immediate monetary compensation upon signing is one reason behind its draft successes in recent years -- particularly with Brentz and Ranaudo in relation to this year -- one can’t ignore some recent mid to late round selections that are already paying dividends for the Red Sox. For instance, in 2006 the Red Sox drafted current top-rated prospects Josh Reddick and Lars Anderson in the 17th and 18th rounds, respectively.

Successfully selecting high school players over college ones in the opening rounds of the draft isn’t a completely foreign concept. Take 2002, when Boston passed on college stars and future MLB notables like Curtis Granderson, Fred Lewis and Lance Cormier (to name a few) and took high school hurler, Jon Lester, in just the second round.

However, one of the least-refined aspects of amateur scouting remains the recognition, evaluation and discovery of prep-level talent.

That being the case, and with so few impact players available via NCAA in this year’s class, Boston’s procurement of that relatively rare collegiate-level talent in the early rounds seems to have been driven by circumstance -- again, with considerations for the age and position allotment of current in-house prospects.

Why elect to secure a raw high school player in the first few rounds when most project him to go much later, especially when there are likely still some viable, more developed, college prospects remaining at the same position? Not only do almost guarantee overpaying that particular draftee -- as most signing bonuses are loosely influenced on where that player was selected -- the likelihood that you do so for a player that will ultimately fail to realize their full potential is immensely increased.

This is the reason that so many teams nowadays opt to take more developed (or "safe") picks in the early goings; if you’re going to allocate a lot of finances on an early-rounder, you may as well do it with a player who you feel is the closest to producing a return on that investment -- with the obvious exception being someone like Manny Machado, a high school shortstop and the third player chosen in this year’s draft by the Baltimore Orioles. After all, if there is such thing as a can’t miss prospect, it likely isn’t age-restricted.

Besides, in most cases those raw players that a team covets entering draft day will likely be there in the later rounds -- commanding substantially less money and representing a decrease in risk -- after the rest of the teams sift through the college ranks early on.

That is, unless you were a club interested in Cito Culver as a potential second-day draft selection here in 2010; in that case, the Yankees definitely beat you to that finish line.