The first ten rounds of the MLB Draft are in the books. We already told you about the top two picks the Red Sox made, but let’s step back now and take a broader look at how the 2023 draft class is shaping up.
- No. 14: Kyle Teel, C, UVA
- No. 50: Nazzan Zanetello, SS/OF, Christian Brothers (HS)
- No 83: Antonio Anderson, INF, North Atlanta (HS)
- No. 115: Matt Duffy, P, Canisius College
- No. 132: Kristian Campbell, SS, Georgia Tech
- No. 133: Justin Riemer, SS, Wright State
- No 151: Connelly Early, P UVA
- No. 178: CJ Weins, P, Western Kentucky
- No. 208: Caden Rose, OF, Alabama
- No. 238: Trennor O’Donnell, P, Ball State
- No. 268: Blake Wehunt, P, Kennesaw State
- No. 298: Ryan Ammons, P, Clemson
Breaking this down by the numbers, we have:
- 4 college position players
- 2 high school position players
- 6 college pitchers
- 0 high school pitchers
- 2 first names I’ve never heard before in my entire life
What’s interesting about this draft class is that it shows that Chaim Bloom and the Sox have a pretty discernible strategy. Early in the draft, the Sox identified and aggressively pursued athletic, up-the-middle position players with solid hit tools. This is where they’re spending most of their money, as it’s been reported that both Zanetello and Anderson required over-slot bonuses (while Teel, as a college junior with less leverage, reportedly signed for slightly under slot). This is more or less a continuation of recent drafts, as the Sox had drafted high school infielders first in each of the last four drafts.
Next, the Sox moved onto a range of players mostly known as college strike-throwers. The term “college strike-thrower” can sometimes be construed as a back-handed compliment. While it doesn’t have a standard definition, it’s usually used to connote a kid who is polished and possesses a good feel for pitching, but doesn’t necessarily have outstanding stuff. The Sox stayed away from high school pitchers entirely.
On the pitching side, this is mostly about minimizing risk. Pitchers are less projectable and present greater risk than position players in general, and that’s exponentially the case with high schoolers. What the Sox are doing is bringing as many solid if unspectacular arms into the system as possible, and hoping the pitching development team will be able to unlock something mechanical in one or two of them that turns them into big league pitchers.
Notably, this pitching strategy is exactly what the Cleveland Guardians have been doing for years, with tremendous success. Shane Bieber and Aaron Civale were both college strike-throwers (picked in the fourth and third rounds, respectively) who subsequently made dramatic velocity gains once they were in the Guardians system. This also more or less describes what happened to Jacob deGrom, Spencer Strider, Brandon Woodruff, and Joe Ryan, amongst others.
The career trajectories of guys like Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker show the sense of this strategy. Leiter and Rocker, both pitchers out of Vanderbilt, were two of most hyped draft picks in years. But two years after the Rangers made Leiter the second overall pick, his development has completely stalled, as he’s struggling at AA for the second year in a row. Rocker, meanwhile, just got his first Tommy John surgery under his belt. You just can’t count on a smooth path to the Majors for any particular draftee, and that’s doubly true for pitchers.
But now comes the hard part. Can he Sox turn any of these guys into effective starters? The Sox recent track record with minor league pitchers is spotty, to say the least. While Brayan Bello is a clear development success (he was so unheralded as an amateur that he signed a year later than most Dominican players), guys like Bryan Mata and Brandon Walter seem to be going backwards, and there is currently very little in the way of upper minors pitching to get excited about.
We were told at the beginning of the season that Bloom is putting a lot of effort into overhauling the behind-the-scenes player development machine. I’ll guess we’ll have to check back in three years from now to see if it’s working.