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 in the equation, simply making the playoffs would be considered a success for most teams. For some, making it to .500 is a win. Defining a successful draft for a major league team tends to be less cut and dry. Can a draft be considered successful even if they only graduated one player 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.
With Boston’s first four picks all making some impact in the major leagues five years after the 2011 draft, there can be no question that the Red Sox had a successful draft. However, the team was able to extract additional value with picks later in the draft.
Major League Players
The 172nd overall pick in the 2011 draft, Betts was drafted by Boston in the fifth round as a shortstop out of Brentwood, Tennessee’s John Overton High School. After a brief one-game showcase with the Gulf Coast League Red Sox in August of 2011, Betts began his career in earnest with the Lowell Spinners in 2012. Shockingly, Betts was not transcendent in in first professional season. The 19-year-old batted a mere .267/.352/.307 with eight doubles and a triple. There were signs of a prospect – 20 steals in 24 attempts, 32 walks against only 30 whiffs – but nothing of substance. He was even moved off of shortstop (to second base) when 2012 first-rounder Deven Marrero was signed.
Betts began 2013 with the Greenville Drive, and it took only 76 games for him to drive out of South Carolina for a new home further north. In those games, Mookie batted .296/.418/.477 with 24 doubles, 8 home runs, 18 stolen bases, and 18 more walks than whiffs (58-40). In his 51 appearances for High-A Salem, Betts did even better, hitting .341/.414/.551 with 12 doubles, 3 triples, 7 round-trippers, 20 steals, and 6 more bases on balls than strikeouts (23-17). Over his first 127 games in full-season ball, Betts merely knocked 55 extra-base hits, stole 38 bases, and walked 81 times.
He was bumped as far north as he could be to start the 2014 season, playing 54 games in Portland for the AA Sea Dogs. With Dustin Pedroia ensconced at second and Jackie Bradley Jr. struggling in Boston, the Red Sox started playing Betts in centerfield and expanding his toolkit. A line of .355/.443/.551 with 27 extra-base hits and 22 more steals busted him out of Maine and to AAA Pawtucket, one rung from the majors. All Betts would need is 23 games of seasoning, in which he hit .322/.425/.444 with six extra-base hits, 16 walks and another 7 steals. On June 29, Betts made his major league debut, going 0-for-4 against the Chicago Cubs. Mookie would play in 10 games in his initial foray in Boston, going 8-for-34 with a pair of doubles and a home run.
When Shane Victorino returned from the disabled list, Betts was sent back to Pawtucket. Mookie took his promotion in stride, batting .319/.373/.596 in 11 games before receiving another temporary week-long trip to Boston. He would get another 11 games, where he crushed a line of .375/.444/.521 before finally getting a permanent call to Boston. In his final 39 games in the majors in 2014, Mookie merely batted .304/.391/.466 with 15 extra-base hits. Betts had arrived, and he arrived with a sonic boom.
Mookie Betts did not disappoint in his first full season in Boston in 2015. With a line of .291/.341/.479, Betts ranked among the top 10 in the American League in doubles (42), triples (8), stolen bases (21), putouts as an outfielder (358) and assists as a centerfielder (10). It was enough for him to garner votes for AL MVP, ultimately finishing 19th. This season has started out even more spectacularly. Besides leading the league in runs scored, Betts has had 31 extra-base hits in 57 games, and has joined the ranks of the “three home runs in one game” club along with an even more exclusive home run club, hitting five in two days. Even the move to right field from center hasn’t slowed him down, as he has picked up four assists and two double plays this season.
Drafted in the ninth round out of Kent State University, Travis Shaw’s ascension to Boston was not a fait accompli. In a good year, only a quarter of those drafted in the round get a taste of the major leagues; in a bad year, it may be only two players.
Shaw put up a .265/.372/.445 line between Lowell and Greenville in his first professional season. He began the 2012 season with High-A Salem, crushing Carolina League pitching to the tune of .305/.411/.545 with 31 doubles and 16 home runs in only 99 games. He was give the bump to AA Portland for the rest of the season, putting up a .781 OPS with 16 extra-base hits in 31 games. Shaw, who had played mostly third base in college and during his first season with the Red Sox, was moved to first base during the 2012 season due to the presence of Michael Almanzar in Salem. While Shaw would continue to play occasional third base through the rest of his time in the minors, first base was now his primary position.
Shaw was placed back in Portland for the 2013 season and struggled to hit. While Travis continued to show power – with 21 doubles and 16 bombs – and patience, walking 78 times, he batted just .221 over 127 games with the Sea Dogs. Travis was given a place in the Arizona Fall League, and he was a surprising revelation for the Surprise Saguaros. In 17 games, Shaw put up a 1.157 OPS with six doubles, five home runs, and ten walks.
Returning to AA Portland in 2014, Shaw slugged his way up the ladder in only 47 games, batting .305/.406/.548 with 8 doubles and 11 bombs. Shaw continued with his extra-base hitting in AAA Pawtucket, slugging 21 doubles and 10 homers in his 81 games with the club. This earned Shaw a place on the Red Sox 40-man roster.
Despite struggling in his first 24 games for the PawSox in 2015 (.189/.245/.311), Shaw earned his first trip to Boston in May when David Ortiz served a one-game suspension. He continued to shuttle back and forth between Rhode Island and Massachusetts the rest of the summer, finally earning a permanent place in Boston on his fifth call-up of the season on August 1. Over the final 56 games of the season, primarily at first base after replacing Mike Napoli, Shaw hit .275/.332/.507 with 10 doubles and 13 home runs. This season, he outplayed Pablo Sandoval in spring training, earning the starting job at third base. In his first 57 games, Shaw continues to pick up extra-base hits, putting up an .836 OPS with 19 doubles and 7 home runs.
Is Shaw on his way to becoming another Kevin Youkilis, a third baseman drafted out of an Ohio college in the lower half of the top ten rounds?
The club’s fourth round draft pick out of Cal State-Fullerton, Ramirez began his professional career as a starter with the Greenville Drive in 2012. In 16 starts, Ramirez put up a 4.15 ERA, in large part due to a high home run rate, giving up 12 bombs. Ramirez, however, did show strikeout ability, whiffing 82 in 84 2/3 innings.
Moved to the bullpen in the 2013 season, Ramirez put up a 2.38 ERA and a 1.057 WHIP in 36 relief appearances between High-A Salem and AA Portland. Ramirez reduced his home run tendencies – giving up only four – while striking out 75 in 75 2/3 innings. Ramirez continued his rise with a full season in Portland in 2015, putting up an ERA of 2.28 and a WHIP of 1.075 over 42 appearances. Ramirez picked up 18 saves for the Sea Dogs and did not give up a home run over 67 innings.
Last season, Ramirez picked up four wins out of the bullpen in Pawtucket in 16 appearances during the first three months, before being added to the PawSox shuttle, making his Boston debut on July 3. Ramirez would get two more call-ups to Boston during the season. Noe put up a 2.32 ERA with a 1.195 WHIP in 30 appearances for Pawtucket and a 4.15 ERA with a 1.538 WHIP in 17 appearances for Boston.
Noe started the 2016 season in Boston, delivering a 5.79 ERA in nine appearances before being sent back to Pawtucket. In his first three appearances in Pawtucket, Ramirez continued to struggle, giving up six runs in 5 2/3 innings and picking up a loss in each game. In his last five appearances for the PawSox, Noe has not given up a run in 7 1/3 innings. Ramirez is a major player on the PawSox shuttle, having been optioned to Pawtucket five separate times this season.
Future Major Leaguers?
In the second and third rounds, Boston opted for a couple of high schoolers: Williams Jerez, a centerfielder out of New York, and Jordan Weems, a catcher out of Georgia. However, if either makes it to Boston, it will be in a different role.
Jerez played in 148 games in the field between 2011 and 2013 with the GCL Red Sox and the Lowell Spinners, but hit only .221/.254/.275 with ten doubles and four triples in his three seasons with the bat. The 6-foot-4 left-hander was converted to a pitcher for the 2014 season, throwing in 14 relief appearances between the GCL and Lowell, where he put up a 3.67 ERA while striking out 40 in 34 1/3 innings. Last season, Jerez registered a 2.06 ERA over 14 appearances with Greenville, allowed two runs over 12 1/3 innings in High-A Salem, and finished the season with 22 appearances for AA Portland. In his 88 2/3 innings over 41 relief appearances during 2015, Jerez struck out 86.
Jerez was placed on the 40-man roster during the offseason. This season, back in Portland, Williams has put up a 3.52 ERA and a 1.467 WHIP in his first 17 appearances of the year.
Jordan Weems spent his first five-plus seasons as a part-time catcher with the Red Sox organization, starting with the GCL in 2011 and ending earlier this season with the AA Portland Sea Dogs. Like Jerez, Weems has failed to hit, batting .207/.306/.262 with 47 extra-base hits in his 305 games played. After beginning this season batting .119/.241/.134 in 22 games with the Sea Dogs, Weems was sent to extended spring training in early May to begin the conversion to the mound. The 23-year-old right hander will look to do better than Edgar Martinez, who could never progress past Pawtucket after his conversion from catcher in 2004. Martinez last pitched with the Red Sox organization in 2008 with Pawtucket, the last season that he pitched in affiliated ball. Martinez continued to play in the independent and foreign leagues through last season.
The 28-year old McCarthy has been a fantastic organizational pitcher for the Red Sox since being selected in the 14th round in the 2011 draft. Mike has never put up great numbers. His best season was probably his first full season when he put up a 3.35 ERA and a 1.218 WHIP in 31 appearances, including eight starts, between Greenville and Salem. However, McCarthy’s willingness to do whatever the organization needs has served him well. In his six professional seasons, McCarthy has pitched in 144 games – starting 58 and ending 42 out of the bullpen. Although McCarthy is not likely to make it to Boston, his perseverance could eventually earn him a major league call-up.
Getting even one regular starter out of the Rule 4 Draft is an accomplishment. With Jackie Bradley Jr., Blake Swihart, Mookie Betts, and Travis Shaw, the 2011 Red Sox accomplished a quartet of success. With Matt Barnes in the midst of becoming a successful major league reliever, Noe Ramirez being the first reliever up out of Pawtucket, and Henry Owens garnering 14 starts – with more likely to come – Boston has already enjoyed success with seven of its first 12 picks.
While the conversion projects of Weems and Jerez could bring the hit rate up to 75 percent from the first 12 picks, the truth is, the Red Sox would just be putting additional cherries onto their overloaded sundae. The verdict is already in: Boston bossed the 2011 Draft.
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.