Although the focus around these parts is undoubtedly the regular season, the MLB draft is just around the corner. The first round is only two weeks away, with things getting started on June 4. As we talked about earlier this past weekend, this is a big draft for Dave Dombrowski and the front office as they look to reset a farm system that was not super impressive heading into the year and has only gotten worse in terms of perception since that time. We’ll have plenty of looks at some specific targets and reports of who they have been connected to, but first let’s take this week to figure out how we got here. Over the next five days we’ll take a look at the five most recent drafts, not only looking for trends in the organization but also how well (or not well) they’ve done at this event. Today, we take a look at the 2017 class.
The Red Sox seemed to have a clear eye on adding to their pitching depth in the system with this draft, and they went with one of the more electric college arms with their first pick. Selecting in the 24th slot in the first round, Boston took University of Missouri righty Tanner Houck. The stuff was clearly there for Houck at the time of this pick with a big fastball and impressive breaking ball, but a lack of a third pitch combined with a funky delivery led many to believe he’d ultimately land in a late-inning relief role. That’s not the worst outcome for a first round pick, but the Red Sox see him as a starter and they’ve overhauled his delivery to help him achieve that. The early returns in his first full professional season haven’t been great, but when you consider that he’s working with a new delivery some early hiccups are to be expected. We’d like to see some good results at some point this summer, of course, but whatever happens it’s too early to judge this pick.
While pitching was seemingly the theme of this draft — and the 2016 draft, really — the Red Sox did go with a bat here, taking high school outfielder Cole Brannen. Any high school player is going to be something of a mystery, but with this pick the Red Sox got some sort of floor with Brannen’s athleticism, which can at least allow him to provide value in the field and on the bases at minimum. There was plenty to like about the bat as well, though it was more of a contact-oriented swing than one that would produce a lot of power. As a professional, the speed and defense has been fine but the bat has not gotten there yet. He got off to a horrendous start in Greenville this year, which caused the team to send Brannen back down to Fort Myers for extended spring training, and he’ll get back into game action in Lowell when the New York Penn League starts up in mid-June. Brannen has a lot of development time left and some time away from the spotlight should help him, but he has some work to do to get where he needs to be.
The Red Sox went with another bat with their third selection, this time picking from the college ranks. They took Brett Netzer out of UNC-Charlotte, a second baseman who wasn’t a huge name and ended up signing for a below-slot deal. There really wasn’t any single part of Netzer’s game that stood out, and he was coming off a junior year that was worse than his first two in college, but he has a solid with okay defense, though the glove needed some work. As a pro, we’ve seen the bat-to-ball skills from Netzer as he’s hitting .307 in Salem, though the power hasn’t been there at all. Part of that is his park sapping power potential, but it’s also not a huge part of his game. The ceiling isn’t huge, but if he can stick at second base there’s a major leaguer here, though it may not be a regular.
Here, Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox went with another college righty who many saw as being destined for the bullpen. Their fourth selection was Oregon State’s Jake Thompson, a guy who has always had intriguing stuff but had played through an inconsistent college career. Like Houck, the consistency in command had some questioning whether or not he could stick as a starter, but Boston is unsurprisingly keeping him in the rotation for now. Boston gave him an aggressive placement in Salem to start this season, and he’s struggled a bit. The strikeout stuff hasn’t been electric, his walk rate has been average and he’s giving up a ton of hard contact. It’s too early to talk about a conversion to relief, but that may be where this ultimately ends up.
Boston took their first high school pitcher of this draft in the fifth round, taking right hander Alex Scherff from Texas. He was an interesting high school prospect largely because of his age, as he turned 19 in the February before the draft and entered his first full season having already passed his 20th birthday. Still, there was plenty of intrigue and it allowed him to sign for well above slot. Scherff has a big fastball that touches the upper-90s and a sick changeup to go with it, though he’ll need to develop a breaking ball to maximize his potential. The Red Sox started the righty in Greenville this year, and he’s struggled to get things going. His ERA is just below 7.00 through his first six starts of the season and he’s not missing bats (5.9 K/9) while allowing too many free passes (4.9 BB/9). The road was never going to be completely smooth, but I’ll admit to being a little shook by this start.
- The Red Sox took a straight-up reliever with their sixth pick in Zach Schellenger out of Seton Hall. Reliever selections are never sexy, but the righty has closer stuff. Unfortunately, he has yet to pitch this season.
- The eighth round pick for Boston was high school outfielder Tyler Esplin, who is kind of the opposite of Brannen. He’s not super athletic (though he can move better than you’d think by looking at him) but he’s a big dude with a good swing who should grow into some power.
- Boston’s 14th round selection was high school righty Aaron Perry, who was picked late enough that many thought he’d forgo signing and head to college. He did agree to a deal, however, and should head up Lowell’s rotation to start his first season as a professional.
- In the 17th round, Dombrowski took the man, the myth, the legend Kutter Crawford. The righty is not the sexiest profile of all time and was not notable at draft time. However, he’s dominated Low-A to start this season and should move on to High-A if this keeps up for a few more weeks.
It’s obviously too early to make any real judgements about this class, but it’s interesting that the team went pitching-heavy for a couple years in a row. The bad news is that the pitchers in this class (other than Crawford) are off to tough starts in their pro career. Being only a couple months into their first full seasons, I’d hold off on panicking though.