Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Boston's Best Late Draft Picks Part 1

How many of you knew there was a baseball draft last night? Probably not many. MLB’s draft is not the spectacle of the NFL or even NBA draft for 2 reasons. The first is that college baseball (let alone high school) is not nearly as big as its counterparts so the players who are drafted are not household names. That is especially the case this year as, despite this being one of the strongest draft classes ever, there are no phenoms like Bryce Harper who made the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16 years old. The second reason is that it can take anywhere from 1 to 5 years for these first rounders to make the majors. Again, since there is no mature stud like Stephen Strasburg, it is unlikely we see any of these players on the big stage before the middle of next year. It is this overall anonymity that makes studying, watching and analyzing the MLB draft quite difficult.

The Red Sox had 4 picks last night in the first and “Sandwich” rounds (the round between the first and second for compensation picks awarded to teams for losing free agents), which was the second most on the night to only the Rays who had a whopping 10 of the first 60 picks. Armed with a large budget and an array of picks, it was pretty difficult for the Sox to have a bad night. The picks were as follows:

19. Matt Barnes, RHP, UConn
26. Blake Swihart, C, Cleveland HS (Rio Rancho, NM)
36. Henry Owens, LHP, Edison HS (Huntington Beach, CA)
40. Jackie Bradley, CF, South Carolina

I won’t try to analyze these picks because frankly I don’t know anything about any of them besides a few things I’ve read. You can get some analysis from Dallas Jackson at Yahoo! Sports, and below is a quote from ESPN’s Keith Law on the Red Sox, whom he deemed a “Winner” on the night:
 I hinted at this on Twitter, but some of the credit for Boston's draft is just that the right guys fell to the team. However, the Red Sox do deserve the rest of the credit for actually taking them (and, presumably, paying them). They got Blake Swihart, who I think will be an impact hitter and has a chance to do it as a catcher, with their second pick after preseason top-10 guy Matt Barnes -- whose velocity was fine but didn't show great command this year -- fell to them at No. 19. Henry Owens was spot on in the sandwich round as a projectable lefty who already hits 93 mph and has great deception, and they took a flier on Jackie Bradley's recovery from injury much as they did last year with Anthony Ranaudo.

Some solid praise for a team that has had a strong recent draft history. And that is what I would like to look at today, the Red Sox draft history. Since we won’t know for several years if Barnes is the next Josh Beckett, Swihart is the next Jason Varitek, Owens is the next Jon Lester or Bradley is the next Jacoby Ellsbury, let’s look back and see how the Red Sox have done unearthing talent in the draft. To do this, I want to look at the 10 best later round (5th or later) picks the Red Sox have had since the draft began in 1965. Why not look at earlier round picks? Because that is too easy and boring. Do I really need to talk about how impressive it was to find guys like Clemens, Nomar, and Fisk in the first round? Wouldn’t it be more fun to learn about the needles in the haystack (or the hay in the needle stack)? Well I think so so that is what we will do.

I will be using career Wins Above Replacement (WAR) to make my list. For this exercise, don’t worry too much about what WAR is, just think of it as a way to measure how many wins a player contributed to his team over the course of his career. Someday I will go much more in depth on WAR, but for now it is just a nice tool for us to use. This is Part 1...

10) Ben Oglivie, LF, 1968, 11th Round, Roosevelt HS, 25.7 Wins Above Replacement

Ogilvie, a native of Panama, made his debut with the Red Sox in 1971. He played 3 underwhelming seasons for the club and with Dwight Evans already in Boston and Jim Rice and Fred Lynn knocking on the door, Oglivie was deemed expendable. He was traded to the Tigers in 1974 (for aging second baseman Dick McAuliffe). In his 4 years with the Tigers he was never a full time player, but he provided  above average hitting when he got his chances. In 1978 he was traded to the Brewers and his career took off. He became one of the better power hitters in the game and was a key member of Harvey’s Wallbangers. He tied for the league lead in HR (with Reggie Jackson) with 41 in 1980, which was also the first of 3 All Star appearances. Oglivie was really only a full time player for about 8 years, but he retired at the age of 37 with 235 career home runs.

9) Jack McDowell, RHP, 1984, 20th Round, Notre Dame HS, 26.8 WAR

Black Jack McDowell was originally drafted by the Red Sox, but he did not sign. Instead, he chose to go to Stanford and after his junior year was drafted 5th overall by the White Sox. This is a highly common occurrence in the draft. The baseball draft is different that the NFL or NBA draft in that players don’t declare themselves eligible for the draft. Teams are allowed to draft the best players eligible (HS seniors, college juniors, seniors and some sophomores, junior college grads) and it is their job to convince them to sign. Typically, high school players will get picked in later rounds, like McDowell, and forego the low signing bonus to go to college and improve their skill and in turn their draft position. Going from a 20th rounder to the 5th overall pick was a huge coup for Black Jack. He was a three time All Star and (undeservedly) won the AL Cy Young in 1993 due to his league leading 22 wins.

8) Kevin Youkilis, 3B, 2001, 8th Round, University of Cincinnati, 28.4 WAR

Youk is one of two active players on this list. He made it to the majors at 25, but gained notoriety a couple years prior when Billy Beane designated him “The Greek God of Walks” in Michael Lewis’ book, Moneyball (Youk is of course Jewish, not Greek, just ask Dennis Leary). In fact, Youk was even famous before being mislabeled by Beane. If you pay attention real closely to this clip, you will see a 14 year old Youk with a small part in Milk Money (he's the kid collecting money), starring Melanie Griffith. Since the acting didn’t pan out, he decided instead to become one of the best two way players in baseball, a key player on two World Series champions and a cult hero in Red Sox nation, while Griffith now looks like this.

7) Brady Anderson, OF, 1985, 10th Round, UC Irvine, 30.7 WAR

Anderson was a part of one of the biggest trades in Red Sox history that worked well for the team in the short term, but backfired long term. At the 1988 trade deadline, the Sox traded Anderson and minor league pitcher Curt Schilling to the Orioles for Mike Bodicker. Bodicker pitched 3 strong seasons for the Sox and was key in the 1988 and 1990 playoff runs. Unfortunately, Anderson turned into a 3 time All Star and Schilling a potential Hall of Famer while the Sox failed in both postseasons to win it all. Anderson is probably best known for being the fishiest player to ever hit 50 home runs in a season. What makes his accomplishment crazier is that those 50 homers didn’t lead the league (McGwire had 52) and even though he helped lead his Orioles to the playoffs that year he only finished 9th in the MVP voting, behind his teammate Rafael Palmeiro, who finished 6th. This was probably because Anderson only had 110 RBI to show for his 50 HR, but this was a function of the fact that he hit leadoff or second in every game he started that year (another reason why RBI are worthless). I also like to think that the voters realized how fishy his season was and couldn’t bring themselves to vote him any higher.

6) John Valentin, SS, 1988, 5th Round, Seton Hall, 30.9 WAR

Valentin is a prime candidate for a “Back to the Future” post so I’m not going to go in depth here. I would like to point out that Valentin had two teammates on that Seton Hall team that would go on to become much more famous than he. The first was his future Red Sox teammate, Mo Vaughn, who would be drafted in the first round the following year and would later win the 1995 AL MVP. The second was drafted the previous year in the first round as a catcher. His name was Craig Biggio. That 1987 team also starred National Collegiate Player of the Year Marteese Robinson, who was drafted in the 6th round by the A’s year but never made the majors. 

Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow...

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