We are only a couple weeks away from the MLB Draft, which has sort of snuck up on me this year. The reasons for Red Sox fans not quite caring as much about the draft this year are pretty obvious. For one thing, they are firmly in the middle of their contention window and the concern with this organization is heavily tilted towards the present day than the future. More importantly, after exceeding the luxury tax threshold by more than $40 million last season, their first selection has been moved back ten spots. So, instead of selecting with the 33rd pick their first pick is not until number 43.
Despite the lack of excitement right now, we know the draft can be important even without a high pick. This is not the NBA draft where the best players are generally at the top. Baseball’s draft is so long and the development process takes so much time that there are always diamonds hidden in the rough. Just look at Mookie Betts, one of the two or three best players in the world, who wasn’t picked until the fifth round.
In preparation for this year’s draft, I’m going to change it up a little bit. Over the last couple of years I’ve looked back at the previous five drafts to set up the state of the farm system. We all know the state of the farm, though. It’s getting better, but it’s still decidedly not good. I thought this year it would be more useful to look back at the last three years of drafts, or the three years of drafts since Dave Dombrowski has led the front office. Granted, the scouting department runs draft rooms much more than the President of Baseball Operations, but Dombrowski obviously has some influence. So, over the next four days we’ll look at each of the four classes of players — high school bats, college bats, high school arms and college arms — from the three Dombrowski draft classes. Today we’ll look at the college bats taken in the first ten rounds.
C.J. Chatham, SS, 2nd round
Bobby Dalbec, 3B, 4th round
This has turned into a nice little class of college bats for Dombrowski and company, with each of these guys turning into top ten prospects in the organization’s farm system. Obviously, being top ten in this system isn’t the same as being that in others, but these are good, solid players. Chatham was the team’s second selection after taking Jay Groome in the first, and this was somewhat designed to save money. Chatham didn’t sign for way under slot, but he did get a little extra cash for the organization. He was still a top 100 draft prospect, with the big question being how his size would affect his future at shortstop. Now a few years removed from this draft, he sure looks like he should stick at the position in the long term. He’s been affected by injuries at different points of his career, but he’s come on strong the last two years. This is looking like a good pick three years later.
Dalbec, meanwhile, appears to be the best player in this entire draft class. Coming out of Arizona, there was some question heading into the draft about whether he’d pitch or hit. Right now, it seems the Red Sox have made the right decision by putting the bat in his hand. Dalbec is an all-or-nothing player with huge power and huge strikeout rates. He also plays underrated defense at third base. He actually signed for a bit over slot, but that is looking like a signing they will be happy with for a long time, whether it be because of what he provides to the organization or what he brings back in a trade. Overall, it’s just two college bats in this class. They both play the infield, but that’s about all they have in commin with their profiles.
Brett Netzer, 2B, 3rd Round
Tanner Nishioka, 2B, 9th Round
Jordan Wren, OF, 10th Round
We won’t spend a ton of time on this one, because it’s not a very exciting class of college bats. The 2017 draft was mostly about college arms. Netzer was by far the most notable college hitter selected, and he was somewhere in the top 250 draft prospects. That’s...not terrible but not all that exciting. He was ultimately an underslot signee that helped them save money for guys like Cole Brannen, Alex Scherff, Tyler Esplin and Tyler Dearden. The infielder is up in Portland right now so he’s moved along the system, but he hasn’t really produced much. The defense has never really been too special and he doesn’t hit for much power, so Netzer was going to need a big hit tool to make it far in this league. It’s turned out to be fine, but it doesn’t project him to be more than a bench piece.
Nishioka and Wren, meanwhile, were both senior signs who were mostly selected to save a bunch of money to sign the aforementioned high school players. That’s not to say they didn’t like things about their profiles, but the money was the primary factor here. Nishioka actually ended up having a big year for Greenville last year while Wren is getting hot for Salem this season, but ultimately these are bench players at best. Overall, this was a class of college bats designed to save money.
Kole Cottam, C, 4th Round
Devlin Granberg, OF, 6th Round
Jarren Duran, 2B/OF, 7th Round
Elih Marrero, C, 8th Round
Grant Williams, SS, 10th Round
Last year was the biggest class of college bats selected early by Dave Dombrowski and company, which isn’t too surprising considering how heavy they went in on high school bats in the first two rounds. They needed to save money on the second day, and they did that here. Of these five college bats, three of them signed under slot with Duran and Marrero signing right at their slot values.
In terms of pre-draft rankings, Duran was the most highly thought of player among the ones listed above, though he was still ranked just 170 by Baseball America and 317 Perfect Game. He’s certainly outperforming that ranking now as he looks like the potential steal not just of the Red Sox 2018 draft class but the entire 2018 draft class. In a draft that was defined by corner high school bats with big power and questionable hit tools, Duran was a speedy, up-the-middle player whose hit tool is carrying him to tremendous heights as a pro.
Marrero was the other slot-value sign, but he hasn’t really gotten started. He did play 30 games in short season ball last year and was solid, though he hasn’t played in any games so far in 2019. Cottam had some excitement in the fourth round as a catcher who could potentially hit, but he’s yet to make much of a mark in his young career. Granberg hasn’t played much outfield since being drafted, spending more time as a first baseman and DH, but he’s been a surprisingly good hitter as he’s moved up the ladder. Williams was a cheap senior sign who hasn’t done much since being drafted. There’s not a lot of volume of excitement here, but Duran alone could make this the strongest college bat class of Dombrowski’s Red Sox tenure.
For the most part, the Dombrowski-led Red Sox have used college hitters to save some money for other selections in their draft, though they have found some good players here. Duran is the most exciting right now, but Chatham and Dalbec are the ones most likely to make a major-league impact early. They’ve also gotten a well-rounded group of players here, with two infielder and an outfielder with some contact and some power.