How the Big-Market Red Sox Built One of MLB's Best Farm Systems

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How the Big-Market Red Sox Built One of MLB's Best Farm Systems
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Top prospect Xander Bogaerts headlines a deeply talented Red Sox farm system.

It doesn’t take an industry expert to point out that the Boston Red Sox boast one of the best farm systems in Major League Baseball.

Since the beginning of the 2009 season, the Red Sox have been quietly collecting a combination of high-ceiling talent and depth on the farm that now has the organization poised to compete at the highest level for the foreseeable future.

The emergence of top-billed prospects Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Allen Webster and Brandon Workman last season marked the commencement of an influx of young talent that’s arriving at the perfect time, with the team’s core and veteran players beginning to decline or head elsewhere.

Boston’s impressive farm system extends well beyond those four players, however.

Though Prospect Pipeline has yet to release its list of the top 100 prospects for the 2014 season, it’s likely that the Red Sox will have seven representatives on this year’s list. And for comparative purposes, it’s worth pointing out that ranked nine Red Sox prospects in its 2014 Prospect Watch.

So, how was Boston able to build one of baseball’s best farm systems in spite of its robust payroll and a need to remain competitive at the highest level?

Finding Balance

As a big-market franchise in the American League East, the Red Sox are expected to be perennial contenders. And thanks to the second-highest average annual payroll ($156,696,585) among all 30 teams over the last five seasons (per Cot’s Baseball Contracts), they have never shied away from signing a free agent or offering an extension to a current star.

At the same time, the Red Sox have been smart about whom they sign and even smarter about whom they don’t sign.

Prior to the implementation of Major League Baseball’s current Collective Bargaining Agreement, which was officially ushered in on Nov. 22, 2011, the Red Sox avoided signing Type A free agents, which would have cost the organization a first-round draft pick. Meanwhile, the organization has employed the same philosophy under the new CBA, opting not to sign those free agents who were issued qualifying offers.

Every Prospect Has Value

Boston’s farm system wasn’t always the beacon of talent it is today.

The Red Sox's success at the major league level subjected the organization to a poor drafting slot for the last decade.

Elsa/Getty Images

Prior to the 2013 draft, when they had the seventh overall pick, one has to go all the way back to 2003 for the last time the Red Sox drafted within the first 18 picks. Yet, the organization still produced its share of homegrown stars during this time period, in spite of its perennially unfavorable drafting position, including Dustin Pedroia (2004; he was a second-round pick but the first made by Boston that year), Jacoby Ellsbury (2005) and Clay Buchholz (2005).

Boston’s capacity to field a highly competitive and well-rounded major league team directly affected the organization’s drafting strategy from 2006-09, as it allowed them to gamble on younger, more high-risk/reward prospects without worrying about producing sure-fire big-leaguers. It’s also the reason why so few of the team’s best draft picks during that span have reached the major leagues with the organization.

Though the Red Sox have always been aggressive on the open market, they have also shown a willingness to deal top-ranked prospects in the early stages of their careers as a means of addressing organizational needs.

Lastly, because the Red Sox are opposed to holding notable prospects in the minor leagues for an unnecessary amount of time, each player carries significant value within the organization and represents a potential opportunity to upgrade at the major league level through a trade.

Strong Drafts and International Signings

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The 2010 and 2011 drafts, the last two under then-general manager Theo Epstein, are the reasons why the Red Sox currently boast one of the best farm systems in the American League.

Specifically, those two drafts produced seven of the players on my list of the organization’s top-10 prospects for the 2014 seasonLHP Henry Owens (No. 2), OF Jackie Bradley Jr. (3), C Blake Swihart (4), 3B Garin Cecchini (5), 2B Mookie Betts (7), RHP Brandon Workman (8) and RHP Matt Barnes (9)as well as several more players who are expected to contribute in the major leagues in the near future.

Red Sox: Notable 2010 and 2011 Draft Picks
Year Round Player Position Type Highest Level
2010 1s Bryce Brentz OF 4YR AAA
2010 1s Anthony Ranaudo RHP 4YR AAA
2010 2 Brandon Workman RHP 4YR MLB
2010 4 Garin Cecchini 3B HS AA
2011 1 Matt Barnes RHP 4YR AAA
2011 1 Blake Swihart C HS A
2011 1s Henry Owens LHP HS AA
2011 1s Jackie Bradley Jr. OF 4YR MLB
2011 5 Mookie Betts 2B HS A+

So, what made these two drafts so successful?

Well, the Red Sox specifically targeted a certain ilk of amateur player in both years in anticipation of a system turnover during the 2013-15 seasons.

In terms of positional talent, the organization focused on drafting young, athletic players with advanced hitting skills (at least relative to their respective ages and backgrounds), with an emphasis on prospects who had a chance at sticking at an up-the-middle position.

On the mound, they targeted college pitchers—save for Henry Owens in 2011—with plus arm strength and projectable, durable frames. Specifically, the organization pursued pitchers with strong amateur track records as well as those who they deemed to have untapped potential.

Though the strategy represented a deviation from the organization’s approach in prior drafts, it helped to restock the farm system with future big-leaguers who were capable of contributing at the highest level in a matter of years.

In addition to a series of strong drafts, the Red Sox have also bolstered their farm system in recent years through international signings.

Red Sox: Notable International Signings (2008-current)
Signing Period Player Position Country Bonus
2008-09 Junichi Tazawa RHP Japan $1,800,000
2009-10 Jose Vinicio SS D.R $1,950,000
2009-10 Xander Bogaerts SS Aruba $510,000
2009-10 Jose Iglesias SS Cuba $6,250,000
2011-12 Raymel Flores SS D.R $900,000
2011-12 Manuel Margot OF D.R $800,000
2011-12 Tzu-Wei Lin SS Taiwan $2,000,000
2012-13 Jose Almonte RHP Venezuela $610,000
2012-13 Wendell Rijo SS D.R. $575,000
2012-13 Luis Alexander Basabe OF Venezuela $450,000
2013-14 Dalier Hinojosa RHP Cuba $4,000,000
2013-14 Rafael Devers 3B D.R. $1,500,000
2013-14 Emmanuel DeJesus LHP Venezuela $600,000
2013-14 Jhonathan Diaz LHP Venezuela $600,000

Of course, any conversation about the team’s success on the international front must begin with the mentioning of Xander Bogaerts, who signed as a 16-year-old out of Aruba in 2009.

Since joining the organization, Bogaerts has developed into one of baseball’s top prospects, even emerging as the Red Sox starting third baseman last year in the ALCS and the World Series.

Bogaerts almost still cannot believe how quickly he ascended and that last year happened as it did (h/t to Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald for a great interview and the below quote):

Remember the triple I hit against the Cardinals at their home [in Game 3 of the World Series]? That for me was a big moment. I think it was my first hit in the World Series. It was like a confidence boost. I was actually thinking about that today, just reflecting on the season, like, "Wow, this really happened. It’s not a dream."

It shouldn’t be long until baseball fans start to hear more about some of the team’s other big-name international signings such as 3B Rafael Devers, OF Manuel Margot and 2B Wendell Rijo.

Final Thoughts

The Red Sox face an enviable predicament at the moment in that they have more potential impact prospects than they know what to do with.

While the organization’s overall depth, both on the mound and positionally, will help them plug holes at the major league level in the event of an injury, it also gives them the freedom to improve their on-field product with an in-season trade.

Either way, Boston is poised to contend for another World Series title in 2014, and possibly beyond if their top prospects come even remotely close to reaching their respective ceilings.

All draft information courtesy of Baseball America unless otherwise noted.

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