The Red Sox will draft seventh overall in the 2015 MLB draft this June 8. That sounds exciting, especially when you have 2015's quality big-league roster to look forward to and can forget about the team that earned them this early pick, but there are some problems. This is one of the weaker draft classes in recent memory, and that was true before two potential number one overall selections were taken down by elbow injuries requiring Tommy John surgery.
That shouldn't stop the Red Sox, though: in fact, it should give them a target. The chances of the Red Sox having the number one overall pick in the draft anytime soon is slim given their extensive resources, strong farm system, and talented major-league roster, but they could draft a number one talent at number seven if they go for one of the injured arms available: Michael Matuella, or last summer's unsigned top pick, Brady Aiken.
Now, normally, drafting an injured player isn't necessarily a plus. It's entirely possible that neither of Aiken or Matuella ever stays healthy, and the Sox would have wasted their selection. This early in the draft, though, especially once you get past the first few picks who are more sure things than most, everything is a major risk. You're drafting an unproven, undeveloped high school arm or bat, a polished college player with a low ceiling but high floor: you're usually not picking someone you can write in to a roster with pen for three or four years from now. The Red Sox won't get anyone with the talent of Aiken or Matuella at seventh overall unless they select one of those players themselves, and that's why they should stand out.
We've mentioned that this draft class is weaker than your typical one, but the reasons to roll the dice on a surgically repaired elbow go beyond that. Boston's farm system is legit right now: it was rated around the fifth in baseball by multiple publications before they even introduced Yoan Moncada into the mix, and after signing Moncada, Baseball America ranked the Red Sox system second in the game. They are loaded with young prospects in the lower levels thanks to 2014's draft, which featured a pair of first-round picks in Michael Chavis and Michael Kopech, a second-round pick, Sam Travis, who could very well be in Double-A before 2015 is out, and an 11th-round pick in Karsten Whitson, who went ninth overall in 2010 but declined to sign before going down with an injury in college that tanked his draft stock, but maybe not his potential.
Their international spending has also helped matters, with Rafael Devers just now 18 years old but likely starting at Low-A, two of the top arms from the current signing period in Christopher Acosta and Anderson Espinoza, and, of course, 19-year-old Yoan Moncada, considered to be one of the 10-15 best prospects in the game by many.
This, combined with young arms like Trey Ball (selected the last time the Sox picked seventh in 2013) and Teddy Stankiewicz (a 2013 second rounder) means the Sox have a slew of talented youth already in the system, putting them in position to take a chance on the health of Aiken or Matuella. If whomever they choose busts or is never healthy, it's a shame, but the Sox can weather that storm. If they turn out to be healthy going forward, and are exactly who they were envisioned as, then the Sox could have themselves a top of the rotation arm that they normally cannot get their hands on without buckets of money or an expensive trade. The upside is obvious, and trumps the downside with ease.
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If Aiken or Matuella chooses to bet on themselves and future health rather than on the bonus the Red Sox can offer -- the number seven slot value in 2014 was just $3.3 million, and Aiken turned down $5 million from the Astros at 1:1 -- then the Sox will get nothing from their selection on the player side. (The Sox do have a first 10 rounds budget of over $6.8 million if they go over by five percent, so they have some wiggle room.) They will, however, receive a compensation first-round pick in the top-10 in 2016, which could be a stronger draft class if for no other reason than it'll be difficult for it to be weaker. That would give the Red Sox two first-round picks to play with, helping to make up for what will be a somewhat quiet 2015 draft either way thanks to the Sox spending their first couple of unprotected picks on free agents Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez.
It should be noted that the health risks for both Aiken and Matuella extend beyond their Tommy Johns. Matuella has a back condition that has some scouts wary of him, and Aiken's bonus offer from the Astros was reduced last summer in part because his UCL was smaller than it should have been. Baseball America's Jim Callis says not every team is concerned about that UCL issue, but we have no way of knowing if we can count the Sox among them. We're not doctors here, but Aiken's situation seems preferred, as backs are no joke.
Even with those issues, it's not as if Aiken or Matuella are the only risks in the draft, and the Sox are in a position to try to make something of what will otherwise be a quiet draft for them -- they pick seventh, and then not again until 81st overall in the third round. It's not every summer the Red Sox are able to draft a potential top of the rotation arm, and if we've learned anything from Jon Lester and the rest of this winter's free agent class, the Sox like to make their larger investments on the hitting side. That attitude just might make this much smaller risk worth it to Boston this June.