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

Mike Rosenbaum@GoldenSombreroMLB Prospects Lead WriterJanuary 29, 2014

Top prospect Xander Bogaerts headlines a deeply talented Red Sox farm system.
Top prospect Xander Bogaerts headlines a deeply talented Red Sox farm system.Jamie Squire/Getty Images

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 MLB.com 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.

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 28:  Dustin Pedroia #15 of the Boston Red Sox in action against the St. Louis Cardinals during Game Five of the 2013 World Series at Busch Stadium on October 28, 2013 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 4: Jackie Bradley Jr. #44 of the Boston Red Sox grounds out but knocks in a run against the Texas Rangers in the 6th inning during a game at Fenway Park on June 4, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

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
YearRoundPlayerPositionTypeHighest Level
20101sBryce BrentzOF4YRAAA
20101sAnthony RanaudoRHP4YRAAA
20102Brandon WorkmanRHP4YRMLB
20104Garin Cecchini3BHSAA
20111Matt BarnesRHP4YRAAA
20111Blake SwihartCHSA
20111sHenry OwensLHPHSAA
20111sJackie Bradley Jr.OF4YRMLB
20115Mookie Betts2BHSA+
BaseballAmerica.com

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 PeriodPlayerPositionCountryBonus
2008-09Junichi TazawaRHPJapan$1,800,000
2009-10Jose VinicioSSD.R$1,950,000
2009-10Xander BogaertsSSAruba$510,000
2009-10Jose IglesiasSSCuba$6,250,000
2011-12Raymel FloresSSD.R$900,000
2011-12Manuel MargotOFD.R$800,000
2011-12Tzu-Wei LinSSTaiwan$2,000,000
2012-13Jose AlmonteRHPVenezuela$610,000
2012-13Wendell RijoSSD.R.$575,000
2012-13Luis Alexander BasabeOFVenezuela$450,000
2013-14Dalier HinojosaRHPCuba$4,000,000
2013-14Rafael Devers3BD.R.$1,500,000
2013-14Emmanuel DeJesusLHPVenezuela$600,000
2013-14Jhonathan DiazLHPVenezuela$600,000
SoxProspects.com

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.