The MLB First Year Player Draft lacks the excitement found in the drafts of the other American major sports, but that doesn’t mean baseball fans have nothing to look forward to. This has been readily apparent for the crowds at Fenway Park in 2016. In the second installment of his Revisiting the Draft series, Brandon Magee looks back at the 2011 Boston Red Sox draft.
Defining success for a major league ball club tends to be easy. While expectations must be considered part of the equation, simply making the playoffs would be a successful outcome for most teams. For some, making it to .500 is a win. However, defining a successful draft for a major league team tends to be less cut and dry. Can a draft be considered successful even if only one player graduated to the major leagues? What if they didn’t graduate any players? Today we look back five years to 2011 in an attempt to determine whether the Red Sox were successful in their drafting strategy.
The Overall Stats
In the final year for a 50-round draft – 2012 would begin a slightly condensed 40 rounds of player picking – the Boston Red Sox drafted 53 players. Although the Red Sox lost their own first-round draft pick (#24) for signing free agent Carl Crawford, the Red Sox gained the 19th pick and a supplemental first rounder from the Detroit Tigers for their signing of Victor Martinez, and also gained the 26th pick and a supplemental first rounder from the Texas Rangers, who signed Adrian Beltre.
The Red Sox brain trust – general manager Theo Epstein, assistant GM Ben Cherington, and scouting director Amiel Sawdaye – had a very balanced draft. The team drafted 27 pitchers (19 RHP / 8 LHP) and 26 position players (10 OF, 7 corner Infield, 5 middle infield, 4 catchers). Boston drafted 29 players out of high school, 21 out of four-year colleges, and three out of the junior college ranks. The Red Sox signed 29 of their 53 draftees, a fairly typical percentage.
Successful picks develop more often from those players picked higher, and Boston made sure that they could capitalize by signing 13 of their first 14 draft picks. Only eighth rounder Senquez Golson failed to come to terms with the Red Sox. Golson would go on to succeed on the gridiron instead of the diamond, first at the University of Mississippi and currently with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The First Rounders
With a bevy of first round draft picks, the Sox spread their selections between two pitchers (a righty and a lefty) and two position players (a catcher and an outfielder); two from the college ranks and two from high school.
The Red Sox first pick was a local product, right-handed starter Matt Barnes out of the University of Connecticut. Barnes would not make his professional debut until 2012 (after signing with the Red Sox on the August 15 deadline), when he started in the South Atlantic League for five games, giving up one run and striking out 42 in five starts. Barnes was challenged slightly more in High-A Salem, where he put up a 3.58 ERA over 20 starts.
Barnes would spend most of 2013 with the AA Portland Sea Dogs, where he had a 4.33 ERA over 24 starts, but struck out 135 in only 108 innings. After a single start for AAA Pawtucket in 2013, Barnes would spend the majority of 2014 in the PawSox starting rotation, putting up a 3.95 ERA and a 1.292 WHIP in 23 appearances. He would also earn a September promotion to Boston, where he struck out eight batters across five relief appearances totalling nine innings.
Barnes started the 2015 season in the PawSox starting rotation, but after a quick call-up and bullpen appearance for Boston, Barnes was shifted to a bullpen role semi-permanently (he was shifted back to the starting rotation in August and made three poor starts, two for Boston). In 42 relief appearances for Pawtucket and Boston, Barnes put up a 3.75 ERA while striking out more than a batter an inning. In his seven starts, Barnes had a 6.53 ERA with a K/9 just under 9.
Matt has been a permanent fixture in the Boston bullpen this season with a 2.93 ERA while striking out 27 batters in 27 2/3 innings.
The 26th pick out of V. Sue Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, Blake Swihart began his career with a two-game cameo in 2011 in the Gulf Coast League. Swihart began his developmental journey in earnest with the Greenville Drive in 2012. After producing a line of .262/.307/.395 for the Drive, he was promoted to High-A Salem where he batted .298/.366/.428 in his second full season of professional ball.
Swihart moved up one more step in 2014, spending 92 games in AA Portland, hitting .300/.353/.487 with a dozen home runs, earning him his first in-season promotion to AAA Pawtucket, where he batted .261/.282/.377 in his first 18 games. Blake started the 2015 season with the PawSox, batting .311/.363/.351 in 20 games before injuries to the catching corps forced his ascension to the major leagues. In his first 84 games for Boston, Blake produced a very encouraging line of .274/.319/.392 with 23 extra-base hits.
Swihart would begin the 2016 season as the starting catcher for the Boston Red Sox, but was soon sent back to Pawtucket with Christian Vazquez taking over the role. In his month with the PawSox, Blake was tasked with outfield duties as well as chores behind the plate, and was promoted back to Boston as the starting left fielder after Brock Holt was sent to the disabled list with a concussion. Swihart had started to get the measure of major league pitching again, batting .320/.414/.400 in his last seven games before an injured ankle forced him out of Saturday’s game (and onto the disabled list).
Owens, the left-handed starter out of Edison High School in Huntington Beach, California, was drafted with the first supplemental pick for the Red Sox as the 36th player drafted in 2011. The lanky lefty, who – like Barnes did not sign until the August 15 signing deadline – did not debut until the 2012 season, when he went 12-5 with a 4.87 ERA and an 11.5 K/9 ratio for the Greenville Drive. Owens would pitch even better in 2013. In 20 starts for the Salem Red Sox, Owens went 8-5 with a 2.92 ERA before putting up a 1.78 ERA over six starts with the AA Portland Sea Dogs. Owens struck out 169 batters in 135 innings in 2013.
Owens would spend the majority of 2014 with Portland, going 14-4 with a 2.60 ERA and a 9.4 K/9 ratio before picking up his first six AAA starts at the end of the season. The 22-year-old pitched well for Pawtucket in 2015, putting up a 3.16 ERA and a 1.144 WHIP in 21 starts. Those stats would earn Henry 11 starts for Boston in August and September, where he had mixed success. In 4 of 11 starts, Owens pitched into the eighth inning, earning him three wins. In three other games, he allowed seven earned runs. Overall, Owens put up a 4.57 ERA and a 1.365 WHIP for the BoSox.
Owens has struggled with command in 2016, walking 43 and hitting seven batters in eleven starts between Boston and Pawtucket. However, at 23-years-old, the major league future still looks bright for Henry.
Jackie Bradley Jr. has had a topsy-turvy five-year run with the Red Sox. Drafted with the 40th pick out of the University of South Carolina, the outfielder blitzed his way through the minor league system. In his first full-season in 2012, Bradley put up a 1.006 OPS over 67 games in High-A Salem and then an .809 OPS over 61 games in AA Portland. Jackie was a consummate all-around performer, slugging 42 doubles, four triples, and nine home runs; stealing 24 bases and walking 87 times.
Jackie started the 2013 season with Boston, garnering three hits and four walks in his first four games, before going 0-for-17 with two walks in his next six. With David Ortiz coming off the disabled list, Bradley was sent to Pawtucket for more seasoning. Over the next six weeks, which included a two-week stint on the disabled list, Bradley crushed International League pitching to the tune of .354/.457/.544 with ten extra-base hits and thirteen walks. Jackie was called up to the Red Sox for another week in late May and early June (with Shane Victorino on the DL), where he went five-for-21 with his first major league home run against Texas. Sent down again, Bradley put up an .861 OPS in 25 games, and then a .733 OPS in 35 games to finish the season after a brief five-day interlude in mid-July with the Red Sox. He was called back up to Boston in September, batting .243/.317/.378.
Bradley once again made the Opening Day 25 for Boston in 2014, and he once again struggled. After putting up an OPS of .725 in April, JBJ slumped to an ugly .490 in May and .550 in June. While he would see an uptick in July (to .672), an 0-for-32 streak with 16 whiffs between July 27 and August 10 was the final straw that sent Bradley back to Pawtucket. Although Jackie would go 5-for-20 over his next five games, he was sent to Pawtucket on August 18, replaced by Mookie Betts. The demotion did not fix whatever ailed Bradley, as he batted a paltry .147/.171/.186 between Pawtucket and Boston the rest of the year.
With Betts ensconced as Boston’s centerfielder, Bradley began the 2015 season with Pawtucket. While he would get two brief call-ups to Boston due to injuries, JBJ was able to spend 71 games in Pawtucket getting his groove back. In those games, Bradley batted .305/.382/.472 with 28 extra-base hits, 30 walks and only 44 strikeouts. Jackie would return to Boston permanently in late July, hitting .267/.352/.539 with 30 extra-base hits in 59 games.
Back as the starting centerfielder for Boston this season, JBJ has been a revelation. The American League Player of the Month for May, Bradley had a 29-game hit streak this season during which he put up a line of .415/.488/.783 with 20 extra-base hits and 14 walks. For the season, Bradley has an OPS just under 1.000.
While there will always be critics – Barnes had to move to a relief role, Swihart was shifted to the outfield, Owens hasn’t established himself in Boston, and JBJ took multiple seasons in Boston to become a major league presence – Boston executed a perfect first round of the draft. Having four players all make it to the major leagues in the first five seasons is an impressive achievement, especially when two were from the high school ranks. However, the Red Sox had 49 other rounds to draft, and their biggest success story is yet to come.
In part two of our 2011 draft review, we look at two more Boston Red Sox starters and some players who are still progressing towards Boston.
Brandon Magee is our minor league expert; he has written about minor league travel, ranking prospects, a first round draft pick, and the MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Follow Brandon on Twitter @cuzittt.
[Editor’s note: Thanks to @PatVallier for pointing out a typo in the introduction.]