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 high school arms the Red Sox have taken in recent years.
Jay Groome, LHP, 1st Round
This is going to become a theme, as you’ll see, but there was only one high school pitcher selected by the Red Sox in the 2016 draft. He was, of course, the focal point of their draft, though, and not a player they really even expected to get. There was a point as late as a couple months before the draft got underway that Groome was seen as a potential, or even likely, number one overall pick. He had the stuff and the repertoire and the build, plus he was a lefty on top of that. However, some makeup questions started to linger as the draft season got closer and there were definite questions about his signability on top of that. All of this made him going at the very top of the draft extremely unlikely, but most assumed he was still a top ten pick. However, he just kept falling and he fell right into the Red Sox lap at pick number 12. Although they had picked in the top ten in two of the previous three years, it was still pretty rare for them to have a chance at this kind of talent. They jumped all over it, eventually signing Groome to a $3.65 million deal that was overslot but not by as much as many were expecting.
Obviously, things haven’t really gone according to plan since this selection. The lefty has shown some flashes of the potential that made him so intriguing, but he’s hardly had a chance to pitch. He made just two starts after being drafted in 2016, which was understandable. Then, in 2017, he was pulled from his first start of the year with an intercostal strain that cost him a couple months. He then returned for a few starts before going back down, this time with a forearm injury. Eventually, he came back for 2018 but never got to pitch and eventually underwent Tommy John surgery from which he is still working his way back. The hope is that he’ll be back at some point late this year. If you’re looking for a silver lining here, Groome is still only 20 and 2020 will only be his age-21 season, so he’s far from over the hill.
Alex Scherff, RHP, 5th Round
Aaron Perry, RHP, 14th Round
After starting their draft with a college pitcher in 2017, the Red Sox had some more wiggle room for high school players later in the draft and they grabbed a couple of pitchers with that. The first was Scherff, who was ranked much more highly than the spot he was selected and signed for a deal more than double the slot value to turn down his commitment to Texas A&M. Scherff was your prototypical Texas righty, meaning he was a big dude who pumped a high velocity. There was some concern about his ability to develop secondaries as well as his delivery, leading some to believe he’d end up in the bullpen. He’s also much older than your typical high schooler as he turned 19 four months before being drafted. Scherff battled injury in his first full professional season and was largely ineffective when he did pitch, but came into camp this year impressing scouts with a new cutter. He’s shown big flashes this year as he’s back in Greenville, but there’s been plenty of inconsistency, too.
Perry wasnt as highly rated as Scherff, but the Red Sox were still able to sign him away from Kentucky with an over-slot bonus. There was some question about whether he’d sign since he was coming off a fracture in his elbow at the end of his high school career, but he did end up in the organization. Unfortunately, he has yet to pitch as he underwent Tommy John surgery before short-season ball got underway last season.
Mason Ronan, LHP, 29th Round
Art Joven, LHP, 38th Round
Do those names sound familiar? I’m going to guess they don’t because they were late-round signees who did not sign with the organization. The Red Sox went heavy on high school players in last summer’s draft, but they were almost exclusively on the position player side. I mentioned these two because a blank space here would have made me anxious, but I really don’t have much to say about them other than the fact that Ronan is playing college ball for Pittsburgh while Joven is at Missouri.
The overall takeaway here is that the Red Sox have not taken many high school pitchers since Dave Dombrowski has come aboard. It’s only a three-year sample, of course, and one of the years saw them take a prep arm with their first round pick. It’s entirely possible, perhaps even likely, that this has much more to do with how the draft has fallen to them than any organizational philosophy. It’s worth watching out for this year, however, particularly after all of the high school pitchers they have drafted and signed have had some sort of injury issues hold them back.