The 2016 MLB draft begins on June 9, so it's about time we start looking at the last few Red Sox drafts to see how those went for them. As usual, we'll start five years back, so the first one up this time is 2011. You know a whole lot about 2011's draft class even if you don't know that you know. That's because it, more than any other one in recent memory, is powering the 2016 Red Sox.
Seven of the players the Red Sox drafted in 2011 have already made it to the majors. An eighth is on the 40-man roster, and very well might make it to the bigs by next year. All of that alone would be impressive, but the quality of the players who have made it brings this draft class to a whole new level. This was Theo Epstein's parting gift to Boston -- the good parting gift, anyway, the apology for bailing to head to the Cubs after signing Carl Crawford and overstuffing the payroll, which were the not-so-great parting gifts of Theo.
1. Matt Barnes, 19th overall (via Tigers)
Barnes, who was selected with the compensation pick for the loss of free agent Victor Martinez, should have been a starting pitcher, but he never quite developed the change-up he needed in order to do so. The fastball is there, the curve is there, but the change-up isn't reliable enough to be the third pitch necessary to start in the bigs, especially not with Barnes inconsistent command. He's been doing well enough in a relief role for Boston in 2016, though, now that it's his official role and starting is no longer a potential future of his. It's not the result you want out of your first pick in a draft, but the Sox more than make up for this later on.
1. Blake Swihart, 26th overall (via Rangers)
Swihart was Boston's second first-round selection, courtesy of Adrian Beltre's pact with the Rangers. It's unclear at this point if he's going to catch, play outfield, or be traded somewhere else to do one of those things, but it's hard not to call his selection a success regardless. He was called up before he was ready in 2015, then hit like someone who belonged in the majors after returning from the disabled list. The 2016 season has started out a bit slow, but he has a chance to be an important piece in a Red Sox lineup currently overflowing with them. He's also still just 24 years old, and can be valuable even if he's not behind the plate given his potential offense.
1. Henry Owens, 36th overall
Owens was the second pick the Red Sox received for the loss of Martinez -- remember when draft compensation used to work like that? He's already made it to the majors and thrown 75 innings there, and the "already" comes from Owens being 18 when he was drafted out of high school. He's now 23, or at least will be in late-July, and while there are some obvious problems to sort through -- his control is a mess and while he shows potential, he's not quite a sure thing as a big-league starter -- there's still plenty of promise and hope here.
1. Jackie Bradley Jr., 40th overall
Bradley was the last of the compensation picks, as he was the second given to Boston for losing Beltre to Texas. He's also a significant part of the reason why it's quite alright that Barnes didn't develop into an effective mid-rotation arm. Bradley is one of the top defenders in center, if not the top defender in center, and his bat has come around more than anyone expected it to even back when he was a prospect tearing up the minors.
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Bradley has hit .289/.367/.549 with a 142 OPS+ since the start of the 2015 season, a stretch covering 118 games and 431 plate appearances. He's still going to have moments where he suddenly looks like he's never held a bat in his hands before, but so long as he's got that defense and the stretches where he looks like the literal best player in the game, he can probably be forgiven for his lapses. He also might not even be the best player the Red Sox drafted in 2011, but we'll get to that.
2. Williams Jerez, 81st overall
Jerez was Boston's second-round pick but fifth overall selection thanks to all those compensation picks. He also was an outfielder when he was drafted, but that didn't take, so now he's a reliever at Double-A. He's still working out how to use his secondaries and how to pitch with more than just a high-heat fastball, but the Red Sox thought enough of him to protect the southpaw from the Rule 5 draft with a 40-man roster spot, so there's potential for yet another big leaguer from this draft class.
4. Noe Ramirez, 142nd overall
Ramirez hasn't been much help in the 2016 bullpen other than being a guy the Sox can throw innings on when it's necessary. There is value in that kind of pitcher, though, especially when starters weren't pitching deep into games to begin the year and Carson Smith's status was still sort of up in the air. Ramirez might be a decent enough middle reliever someday, but for now, he's going to be an up-and-down guy while he has options, one who hopefully figures things out by the time he's out of them.
5. Mookie Betts, 172nd overall
Betts is, of course, the player who will challenge Bradley as being the best of this class. Bradley has had the much better last year-plus thanks to his absurd start to 2016, but Betts has already been doing this for nearly 1,100 plate appearances, and even with a slow start to 2016 he's hitting .279/.321/.498 on the season for an OPS+ of 115. He's also still only 23 years old -- Betts has already shown some progress since his debut in 2014, and now he just needs to lose the slow starts to the season so his end-of-season line reflects how good he can be.
Maybe Bradley ends up the better player in the end, but it's going to take more than 431 plate appearances for us to say that's the case. Betts has youth and experience on his side in this discussion, but it also barely matters who is better to Boston: they have both of them, side-by-side in the outfield for years to come if things continue as they have been going.
9. Travis Shaw, 292nd overall
Shaw is a player who has overcome basically every potential obstacle in his path on the way to the majors. He hit well in the low minors -- very, very well at High-A Salem, where he batted .305/.411/.545 after spending 2011 in college and short-season ball -- but then the realities of climbing the ladder set in. Shaw's bat was a bit slow to the ball and he focused far too much on walks and homers. The homers still came even at his lowest points in Double-A, but the strikeouts looking seemed like an inevitability, and when he did decide to swing, it was often out of desperation, which rarely results in contact to be proud of.
He became a tad more aggressive, though, wresting control of his plate appearances from his opponents and back into his hands -- the result was the destruction of the Eastern League that was long overdue, and a promotion to Triple-A. Shaw might have over-corrected at that level, though, as pitchers now ate him up for being too aggressive. He made it to the majors in a time of need due to injury, hit the ground running, and when he was finally slowed down, used big-league coaching and video that just isn't available to minor-league hitters to diagnose what ailed him and then prescribe himself the cure.
He's now 110 games into his major-league career, and has hit .283/.345/.503. The question used to be about whether he was going to make it in the majors, but he's answered that one. Now the thing to wonder is if he's truly this good -- a bat capable of above-average production at first base if necessary -- or if his offense is better-suited to third, where he currently resides. Not bad for a ninth-round pick with clear approach issues, but as Bradley already reminded us, adjustments are everything in baseball.