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 2018 at the center today. We’ll look at picks from the first five rounds, plus the best hitters and pitchers from beyond those rounds.
Triston Casas, American Heritage HS (FL)
The Red Sox broke out of their comfort zones a little bit picking 26th overall in 2018, selection Casas as a prep corner infielder listed as a third baseman but with most knowing he’d move over to first. He was the first prep bat they’d selected in the first round since Michael Chavis in 2014, and the first corner infielder (according to Baseball-Reference’s listed positions) they’d selected in the first round since way back in 1989 when they picked Mo Vaughn. Of course, Casas’s bat is the reason they felt comfortable with the pick. He was ranked 25th on Baseball America’s rankings and the big infielder was seen as a prospect with big power and some questions with his hit tool. Fast forward a couple of years he is either number one or two in the system depending on who you ask and is one of the best first base prospects in all of baseball.
Nick Decker, Seneca HS (NJ)
Boston went with a very similar player to Casas with their second selection as well, picking another prep bat in Decker with this pick. Coming from a cold weather state there was a little bit more work to be done with Decker as a player, but the raw tools were there. Coming into the draft ranked 110th by Baseball America, he may have been a bit of reach by Boston at number 64 but they liked the raw power as well as the athleticism and arm in the outfield. He’s not a center fielder but can more than hold his own in right field. The big question for Decker moving forward is whether or not he will make enough contact for that power to play consistently enough. He’s yet to play full-season ball, but he showed enough flashes in Lowell last summer to at least be moderately excited about the potential.
Durbin Feltman, Texas Christian University
This was, weirdly enough as a third rounder, the pick that most people were made aware of quickly from this draft. Feltman was ranked 94th on Baseball America’s rankings and was fairly widlely recognized as the player in the entire class most likely to make the majors first. He was a nearly major-league-ready reliever who had an outside chance at getting to the bigs that season and at least getting there in 2019. Of course, things haven’t quite gone according to plan as the adjustment to pro ball has been tougher than expected. Feltman’s command was all over the place in Portland last season, and missing out on a minor-league season in 2020 is a big blow for someone who had a good portion (but certainly not all) of his value in being a quick contributor.
Kole Cottam, University of Kentucky
Boston made it three bats in their first four picks by selecting Cottam 130th overall here, but they went to the college ranks for the first time on that side of the ball for the pick. The former Wildcat catcher was ranked 361st by Baseball America coming into the draft. Coming out of college there was some question about his ability to stick behind the plate as his defense had regressed at Kentucky, but the bat contained big power that would be very good if he could play even passable defense behind the plate. His first full season in 2019 was split between Salem and Greenville and he did solid at the plate, finishing with a .787 OPS. The jury, however, is still out on the defense, though at this point it’s probably good enough to stick there in a backup role if the bat develops.
Thad Ward, University of Central Florida
This could end up being the steal of what is looking early on like a fairly strong class for the Red Sox. Ward wasn’t even ranked among the top 500 draft prospects by Baseball America, but the Red Sox saw some room for growth and they have looked smart early on in his career. The righty struggled a bit in his first taste of pro ball in the summer of 2018 in Lowell, but then added a cutter to work with in 2019. That paid off tremendously as the righty broke out and suddenly looks like potentially one of the best starters in the system. Ward pitched in both Greenville and Salem last season, pitching to a 2.14 ERA with over 11 strikeouts per nine innings. There are still some control issues to iron out and he has yet to face upper minors competition, but the development in 2019 was a major, major step forward.
Jarren Duran, 7th Round, California State University-Long Beach
Brandon Howlett, 21st Round, George Jenkins HS (FL)
Nicholas Northcut, 11th Round, William Mason HS (OH)
The reason Ward wouldn’t be the steal of this draft would be because Duran took that title from him. The speedy outfielder came out of CSLB as a solid hitter but the Red Sox saw a tweak in his mechanics they thought could bring him to another level. Fast forward to today and he already has some Double-A experience under his belt and is a top ten prospect in the system who could potentially take over the center field job sooner than later.
Howlett is another player who the Red Sox “fixed” after being drafted. Howlett struggled in a major showcase leading up to this draft which caused him to slip a bit, but the Red Sox soon discovered some vision problems that were quickly solved with new contacts. That led to a massive breakout the summer he was drafted and an aggressive placement in Greenville last year. That didn’t turn out so well, but Howlett is still plenty young enough to still be excited about.
Northcut was an exciting overslot pick in the 11th round, but the results have not been there so far as a pro. His big issue is making contact, and so far pro pitching has simply gotten the better of him.
Yusniel Padron-Artilles, 22nd Round, Miami-Dade College
Chase Shugart, 12th Round, University of Texas
Logan Browning, 24th Round, Florida Southern College
This class is much more heavy on the hitters than the pitchers, but Padron-Artilles has a chance to come out of nowhere as a prospect. He has only a little experience above Lowell which certainly tempers some of the hype, but he pitched to a 2.67 ERA with almost 12 strikeouts per nine with the Spinners and in a postseason game struck out 12 batters in a row.
Shugart is likely to end up as a reliever and has missed time already with a drug of abuse suspension, but he pitched very solidly last year as a starter for Greenville. Having only made 16 starts last year he is certianly hurt by the likelihood of 2020 being cancelled, but there’s still excitement to watch for here.
Browning is a pure reliever without standout stuff, and I might be the only one who would include him on this list. But he has done nothing but put up numbers in the low minors — he pitched to a 2.21 ERA last year with 82 strikeouts and 17 walks over 73 1⁄3 innings — and has deceptive enough mechanics and secondaries to get by. He needs to prove it against better competition before really buying in, but he’s at least worth keeping an eye on so you can say you got in on the ground floor.