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A brief history of the fourth overall pick

How have teams fared in this spot before?

National Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Red Sox are watching their farm system tick upward, a trend they’ve been seeing for a few years now and have accelerated since Chaim Bloom took over. They have a big chance to add top-end talent to their organization on Sunday, picking fourth overall in the draft. It’s not often the Red Sox are afforded the chance to select this high — and considering what you have to do to get there, the hope is it’s a while before it happens again — so it’s worth looking at just what kind of talent is available at this spot.

The best player to ever be taken with the fourth overall pick is the man pictured at the top of this post, Barry Larkin. He was selected in this spot by the Reds back in 1985, spending his entire career there and entering the Hall of Fame in the class of 2012, his third year on the ballot. Over his career, he put up 70 bWAR, the highest at this pick, just barely ahead of Kevin Brown (selected the next year in 1986) and Dave Winfield (1973). Other notables at this pick are Thurman Munson, Kerry Wood, and Ryan Zimmerman. Kevin Gausman, selected by the Orioles in 2012, is the best active player taken fourth overall by bWAR.

Looking more recently, there has been some success over the last few years at this pick. Last year the Royals took Asa Lacy, a college pitcher, while the Marlins took JJ Bleday, a college outfielder, in 2019. Both players were in the back half of the most recent Baseball America top 100 list. Prior to that, Nick Madrigal was taken by the White Sox and Brendan McKay was taken by the Rays, with both players having already made the majors.

College players have been taken with the fourth overall pick in each of the last four years and in six of the last seven. The only high schooler to be taken in that time is Riley Pint, and the last high schooler to be taken here and put up at least 5.0 bWAR was Dylan Bundy, taken in 2011. The last to put up at least 10.0 bWAR was Gavin Floyd, taken in 2001.

As for the Red Sox specifically, they have selected at number four just once in their history, way back in 1966. With that pick, they selected Ken Brett, a left-handed pitcher out of high school in California. He spent a couple of seasons with the Red Sox before bouncing all around the league for a 14-year career. Brett spent time as both a starter and a reliever (and also had some solid numbers at the plate), making his one All-Star Game with the Brewers in 1974.

Looking a little further down the draft board, Boston’s next three selections after that top one will be at picks 40, 75, and 105. The best players taken in those spots (and signed) by career bWAR are Kevin Tapani (1986; 29.2 WAR), Grady Sizemore (2000; 27.8 WAR), and Cliff Lee (2000; 43.2 WAR), respectively. The best players the Red Sox have ever taken at those spots are Jackie Bradley Jr. (2011; 18 WAR), and Brian Rose (1994; -0.1 WAR), with them having never picked at number 105.