There’s really no way to sugarcoat it: The Red Sox farm system is bad right now, plain and simple. I’m not sure they are the worst farm system in baseball — they may be, but I don’t follow the minor leagues as a whole enough to say for sure and there are some other bad systems out there — but that’s really besides the point. They are certainly in the lower echelon. I was actually relatively high on this group of minor leaguers heading into the year, and while there is definitely still time for things to turn around as the season goes on it seems very unlikely that the organization will take the jump forward I was hoping for. Anyway, none of this is really breaking news, nor is it really a criticism of the front office. It is simply a statement of fact for better or for worse.
How’s this for an obvious statement? Teams want to have a good farm system all the time and keep a never-ending flow of young talent coming up through the organization. That’s ideal! Of course, it’s also much easier said than done and if it’s your expectation you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Some teams have made it work for stretches, but eventually the tap shuts off. It’s always an ebb and a flow as teams go through different contention cycles at the highest level. Right now, the Red Sox are in the midst of a downward trend. Between promotions of top prospects, trades to improve the major-league roster (which have largely worked out, for what it’s worth) and penalties on the international amateur market, the Red Sox cleaned out the farm. It’s been worth it given the major-league roster and it’s understandable from the front office’s perspective, but now is the time to start moving back in the other direction.
Granted, Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox are obviously not going to turn their attention away from the majors to focus on building the farm. That would be dumb. They are still going to make trades to improve their major-league roster, as a World Series is a possibility and when that’s the case you do whatever it takes to win a trophy. That is the goal, after all. That being said, the roster should be good enough that they don’t need more star-level talent but rather complimentary pieces who shouldn’t cost as much in a trade. In other words, if they find some impact talent in their farm system, they can hold on for now. They are also now able to make international signings every year, which will help considerably. The draft is going to be the real difference, however, and this particularly draft class feels important as the Red Sox have reached a low point with their farm system. This is the easiest way to jumpstart the organization, and Dombrowski is going to feel some pressure to do just that starting Monday night.
Now, obviously he’s not going to get fired based on this draft class. It’s an important three days for the franchise, but it’s not that vital. That being said, the impact of the draft has never been so noticeable. The general baseball fan is more aware of minor-league talent level than ever before, and front office executives will always feel more pressure if the fan base is noticing their shortcomings. If the Red Sox can’t turn around the farm system, fans will start to notice, and when fans start to notice then owners start to notice. That’s without even mentioning the actual baseball benefits of having a strong farm system, such as having trade chips and cheap talent reaching the major-league roster. As I’ve mentioned, there are other ways to build up the farm, but for a team like the Red Sox who clearly won’t be selling off pieces in exchange for minor-league talent later in the summer in an era with a hard cap on the international market, the draft is the holy grail of farm-building opportunities.
As far as strategy goes, the Red Sox have even more incentive than your average team to just take the best talent available to them at every pick. They don’t have to worry about any positional needs, nor do they have to worry about development time. They can just find the player they like the most and take advantage from there. The one debate is whether or not Dombrowski should worry about saving his draft budget for the entire class or taking an over-slot player with his first pick and worrying about the rest later. There are valid arguments on both sides of this, but generally I feel that if a team feels strongly enough about a player then they should take him as long as it doesn’t totally blow up their budget. The first round is always going to be the best chance at impact talent, and you need to trust your instincts with this kind of thing. This year, the example would be high school shortstop Brice Turang, who will certainly be an over-slot player if he makes it to the 26th pick.
At the end of the day, the focus is going to be on the major-league roster for this organization for at least the next few years. As long as the World Series is a realistic goal, that’s where the focus is and should be. That being said, the organization is also in position to turn their farm system around and build it back up in the right direction. It’s easier said than done while the major-league team is contending right now, but with a good draft class they can do just that. They’ll have a chance to start that quest Monday night at 7:00 PM ET.
The most important thing is to not draft Luke Heimlich, though.