As I’m sure pretty much everyone has heard by now, MLB has decided to cut their draft down to five rounds this year in what is ostensibly a financially-driven decision but also one that likely points to future cuts to the minor leagues as an ultimate end game. I discussed that here, and we don’t need to go more into that topic. Instead, I want to focus on what could have been, or not been, based on this decision. As part of an agreement that the players and league made back in late March, MLB had the authority to go with this five round draft or make it as long as ten rounds. They opted for the shorter end of that stick.
Today, I want to focus on what could be missing from those five rounds the league cut out of this year’s draft by looking at some of the most impactful players the Red Sox have taken in rounds six through ten in past drafts. Now, it should be mentioned that the draft has changed over the years and round doesn’t always equal talent level — very good and highly-regarded players get taken later all the time — but it is a nice baseline reminder of what just how unclear this draft can be and how there is talent scattered all throughout.
Cecil Cooper, Anthony Rizzo, Chris Murphy
The Red Sox drafted a couple of players in this sixth round who turned out to be outstanding major-league players, albeit for other teams. That said, Boston still benefited thanks to trades. Boston took Cooper in the sixth round back in 1968, and the outfielder came up in the early ‘70s, taking an almost-every day role with the team for a few years before being traded to the Brewers. With Milwaukee, he became one of the league’s best and received MVP votes in five straight seasons. Still, the Red Sox had him for that magical 1975 season, and in return from their trade with the Brewers they got back a couple of former studs in Bernie Carbo and George Scott.
Rizzo, of course, is still in the league and still finds himself in the conversation among the best first basemen in all of baseball. After being taken in the sixth round back in 2007, he would never get a chance to play in Boston at the highest level. Instead, he was part of the blockbuster before the 2011 season that sent him, along with Casey Kelly and Raymond Fuentes, to San Diego for Adrian González. He’d obviously end up being sent to the Cubs and becoming a major cornerstone in their franchise and helping lead them to the 2016 World Series title. While the trade from Boston’s perspective didn’t quite work out, the fact that they could do it at all was a testament to Rizzo’s value.
Then, there’s Murphy, whose name surely can’t be mentioned among the other two right now but is quietly one of the more intriguing prospects in the system. If there was minor-league baseball in 2020 — there’s been no official announcement of its cancellation, but the assumption is that it’s a matter of when that comes, not if — he would have been one of the potential breakouts to watch. He was number 20 on our community list in the organization.
Wade Boggs, Jarren Duran
Easily the best player on this list was taken in the seventh round, and Boggs was one of the best players in Red Sox history as well as just straight-up one of the best hitters in the history of the game. There’s really not all that much we need to say about him, because everyone knows Wade Boggs. He led the league in hitting five times in a six-year stretch, finished his career hitting .328/.415/.443 with 3010 hits and is an inner-circle Hall of Famer. And he wouldn’t have been selected in a five-round draft.
Duran is the next Wade Boggs. Next slide please. Okay, maybe not, but Duran is a top ten prospect in the Red Sox system and a personal favorite of mine, as well as the exact kind of player most affected by this kind of cut to the draft. Duran was a solid college player, but the Red Sox saw a potential tweak with him that unlocked another level of production and has put him on a fast track that, before the pandemic, had him with an outside shot at making a 2020 debut with a 2021 debut all but a sure thing.
Kevin Youkilis, Jody Reed, Logan Allen
Youkilis became semi-famous thanks to Moneyball and the Greek God of Walks moniker, but he wasn’t just a sabermetric darling. The former eighth round pick was a two-time champion who also became one of the best hitters in baseball for a three-year stretch. He finished in the top ten in MVP voting twice in that stretch and from 2008-2010 he hit .308/.404/.560 for a 148 OPS+, tying him with Joe Mauer and putting him right behind Miguel Cabrera as the sixth best hitter in that stretch. He wasn’t Boggs, but he was damn good and a later round pick.
Reed and Allen aren’t quite as accomplished — the latter is still a young player — but they had impacts in their own right. Reed was a key every day player for the Red Sox in the late 80s and early 90s, and also ended up playing an even bigger role for the team when he was with the Dodgers. His decision to not sign a multi-year deal with L.A. led them to trade Pedro Martínez to Montreal, which obviously ended up with Pedro coming to Boston. For that alone, Reed’s presence in the major leagues was massively important for the franchise. Allen, meanwhile, is still a prospect and of course a key part of the deal that brought Craig Kimbrel to Boston.
Christian Vázquez, Travis Shaw
There’s not all-time talent here, but this round still resulted in two very good current major leaguers. Vázquez broke out last year and while his career to date doesn’t look back, if 2019 ends up being a real launching point for the catcher we will look back at this ninth round selection as an absolute steal that brought stability behind the plate for a long time. Shaw, meanwhile, didn’t net the Red Sox much in a trade thanks to Tyler Thornburg imploding immediately upon arrival, but he’s a fan favorite who has carved out a solid career.
Brady Anderson, Shea Hillenbrand, Lou Merloni, Santiago Espinal
This is the worst among these rounds, which is not surprising because the tenth (and ninth) round is generally reserved for college seniors who will sign way below slot value in order to free up money elsewhere. Still, the Red Sox got Anderson, who is best remembered for his 1996 season that is one of the most memorable of the steroid era, Hillenbrand, who was once half of weirdly heated debates abou him versus Alfonso Soriano, Merloni, who was a fan favorite and is now a staple on local radio, and Espinal, who got the Red Sox a World Series MVP. Funnily enough, Boston also drafted Steve Pearce in this round, though he didn’t sign that year.