We are now inside a week until the MLB Draft, and the Red Sox projections have been somewhat all over the place at number 17. Sometimes it can be helpful to look back at previous drafts to get an idea of what could happen in the future, but that isn’t really the case this year for a couple of reasons. One, the front office has changed a bit. A lot of the key people are still involved and Chaim Bloom alone won’t change too too much in the draft process, but there is a difference in leadership. More importantly, this simply isn’t a normal draft year. That being said, it’s still always fun to me to look back at recent drafts and see how things look with a bit of hindsight. So, over the next five days we’ll be looking at the five most recent drafts, with 2017 at the center today. We’ll look at picks from the first five rounds, plus the best hitters and pitchers from beyond those rounds.
Tanner Houck, University of Missouri
This was Dave Dombrowski’s second draft with the Red Sox, but in the previous year he had a top talent fall to him at 12 that he almost had to take. This next year in 2017, we got a classic Dombrowski pick. The former Tigers and Marlins GM had always had a thing for big, hard-throwing righties, and that’s exactly what the Red Sox targeted throughout this draft, including with their first pick. With the 24th overall pick Boston selected Houck, ranked 22 on Baseball America’s rankings. There was some pretty clear good and back with Houck. The good being his success in the SEC, college baseball’s premier conference, as well as his big frame and the stuff to match on. On the negative side, there were questions with consistency of his command and his mechanics that led to doubt from some that he’d stick as a starter. Fast-forward to today, he is on the cusp of the majors at Triple-A, but those same doubts linger. Most think he’ll end up in the bullpen at this point, though, the Red Sox are not yet ready to give up on him as a potential starter.
Cole Brannen, The Westfield School (GA)
This selection has sort of flown under the radar as one of the worst picks in recent Red Sox drafts. It’s no Trey Ball, of course, but Brannen simply has not worked out. He was selected here out of high school with the 63rd pick, and with his ranking of 54 (right behind Jeter Downs, for what it’s worth) on Baseball America’s list it seemed like solid enough value. Coming into the draft Brannen was seen as a highly athletic outfielder who had very good bat control and would hopefully be able to ride the hit tool to success. Unfortunately, it simply has not worked out to this point. Brannen is still only entering his age-21 season in 2020 so it’s not as though he should be completely written off, but in 967 career plate appearances as a pro he has hit just .197/292/.235.
Brett Netzer, University of North Carolina-Charlotte
The Red Sox went a little bit below slow with their third pick after picking Houck, who was seen as a slot deal, and Brannen, who might need a bit more than slot. They reached a little bit for Netzer with the 101st selection as the infielder was ranked 237 on Baseball America’s list. While the ceiling wasn’t seen as being huge with Netzer, he was coming off a very impressive college career, particularly his sophomore year in which he hit .384 with a 1.016 OPS and parlayed that into a solid showing down on the Cape. There were some questions about where he’d land defensively, but the hit tool was seen as a solid foundation for a solid player. Today, Netzer is still in the organization but he’s never really gotten the bat going and it’s more likely than not at this point that he won’t reach the majors. He still has some moments with the bat and he can play second base and left field so there’s some chance at a bench player emerging, but it’s not something I’d bet on.
Jake Thompson, Oregon State University
After going with a couple of bats in the previous picks and going down the BA rankings with their third round pick, they went back into the top 100 for this selection, grabbing the 83rd ranked Thompson with the 131st overall pick. He was a little bit older than your typical college junior at the time of his selection, but he was coming off an absolutely monster 2017 at Oregon State after battling injury and putting up frankly mediocre numbers prior to that. He had a big fastball, and the key was going to be consistent control and the development of his secondaries. He is still in the Red Sox organization, but he was converted to relief to start 2019 and went down with an injury that eventually required Tommy John surgery after just four appearances. He’s probably just organizational depth at this point.
Alex Scherff, Colleyville Heritage HS (TX)
This was the most exciting pick of the draft, with Scherff being ranked at number 59 by Baseball America and still being available in the fifth round. The Red Sox had saved money in the third and fourth rounds and were ready to use that on Scherff, the big prep righty from Texas. He came into the draft with a big-time fastball/changeup combination and had a breaking ball that was still a work in progress but could be developed. It should be noted, though, that Scherff was older than most high schoolers at the time, having already turned 19 in February of his draft year. The righty remains in the organization today, and while scouts have still been impressed by him at times he hasn’t been consistent enough just yet. This was going to be a fascinating season for him, but of course the minor-league season almost certainly isn’t happening.
Tyler Esplin, 7th Round, IMG Academy (FL)
Tyler Dearden, 29th Round, Rancocas Valley Regional HS (NJ)
Garrett Benge, 13th Round, Oklahoma State University
The later rounds weren’t overly kind to the Red Sox in this draft, though the two Tylers were very interesting picks at the time and remain players to watch at least as potential breakouts. Esplin wasn’t a highly touted prep player at the time of being drafted, not even cracking BA’s top 500, but he was a big outfielder and he’s shown off that power at times as a pro. Dearden was a little more highly touted, and joins Esplin as an outfielder with some power potential who is still looking to put it all together as a pro. Benge doesn’t have the ceiling of the Tylers and scouts see him as an organizational piece, but he’s been an on-base machine in the minors and just keeps putting up numbers. Those are the types of players you bet on to surprise people, even if it’s far from a sure thing.
Kutter Crawford, 26th Round, Florida Gulf Coast University
Zach Schellenger, 6th Round, Seton Hall University
Rio Gomez, 36th Round, University of Arizona
Crawford has been a personal favorite of mine since he started to break out in 2018, showing off some improved stuff and, more importantly, improved command. He looked like a guy who could easily outperform this draft position, but after a solid but somewhat uneven first half last season he went down and had to undergo Tommy John surgery. It remains to be seen how he comes back from that. Schellenger is another guy who I’ve been big on, with that going back to when he was drafted. The big question for him on draft day was his injury history, and he’s struggled with health a big in the system as well, and then last year simply couldn’t throw strikes. He’s running out of time as a pure reliever on the older side. Gomez is mostly known for being the son of ESPN reporter Pedro Gomez, but the lefty has been able to put up strong numbers despite a lack of standout stuff. He’s been quite a bit older at every level which has certainly helped, but he’s someone to watch until those stats start dipping.