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SoxProspects News

June 1, 2007 at 6:00 PM

The 2003 Draft: 4 Years Later

Typically it takes up to five years to properly evaluate a draft, but after four years, the 2003 draft – the draft from SoxProspect.com’s first year of existence – is ripe for analysis. The 2003 draft is also notable as it was the first year that General Manager Theo Epstein was in charge of the draft.

In 2003, the Red Sox farm system was somewhat weaker than it is now, with only a few high level prospects worth watching. The top prospects midway through the season were Kevin Youkilis, Freddy Sanchez, Jorge De La Rosa, Kelly Shoppach and Hanley Ramirez. All of these players are now contributing to major league teams, but only one with Boston. Beyond that, a few current prospects such as Jon Lester, Brandon Moss, Manny Delcarmen, and Chad Spann, while showing potential, had yet to demonstrate significant success at the pro level. Given that the construction of the $100-million player development machine was in its early stages, the farm system was in need of an infusion of talent and depth.

To immediately improve the Red Sox farm system, Epstein decided the best route was to go college-heavy in the draft. Drafting in this manner, the Red Sox would gain immediate depth in the farm system - even if some of these players had limited ceilings. In fact, the team only took one high school player in their first 18 picks.

The first selection of the Epstein era was Baylor University outfielder David Murphy, taken with the 17th overall pick. Coming out of Baylor, Murphy was a tall, athletic left-handed hitter with a nice swing and good patience at the plate. Murphy got off to a great start at short-season Lowell, hitting .346 in 78 at-bats before being promoted to High-A Sarasota to finish the 2003 season. However, the success did not continue for him as he only put up a .636 OPS in 153 at-bats at Sarasota. Murphy also struggled in both 2004 and 2005, as he put up OPS numbers of .669 and .767, respectively. There were many at this time who thought Murphy was turning into a bust and that the Red Sox made a mistake in drafting him. However, Murphy rebounded in 2006 with successful stints in Portland and Pawtucket before getting the call to the big club late in 2006. He hit his first major league home run in Yankee Stadium in September. In 2007, Murphy started the year in AAA Pawtucket where he is currently putting up very respectable numbers. If Murphy can add some muscle to his frame, he has a chance to be a decent player – but at this point he still likely projects as more of a fourth outfielder, particularly if he sticks with the Red Sox.
Some of the notable draft picks taken after Murphy were Conor Jackson, Chad Cordero, Brandon Wood, Chad Billingsley, Carlos Quentin, Adam Miller and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

The Red Sox also had a first round compensation pick after losing Cliff Floyd to the New York Mets via free agency. With that selection, the Red Sox chose Georgia Tech outfielder Matt Murton. In his first season in the organization, Murton put up a .777 OPS. In 2004, he got off to a great start in High-A Sarasota, posting a .824 OPS with 11 home runs in 376 at-bats. But he later ended up being included in the trade that changed Red Sox history - he was dealt with Nomar Garciaparra to the Chicago Cubs in a four team trade that netted the Red Sox Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz, who ultimately helped the Red Sox win their world championship since 1918. Murton has been a solid role player for the Cubs since coming up in 2005.

The Red Sox also had two second round picks in 2003. With their first second rounder due as compensation from the Mets, the Red Sox selected Long Beach State lefthander Abe Alvarez. A soft tosser, Alvarez shot his way through the minors and made it to Boston in his second professional season, making a spot start against the Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles roughed up Alvarez and he ended up getting shipped back to Portland to finish the season. Since that appearance, Alvarez's numbers have regressed. He is now considered a fringe AAA starter at best and may be tried out in a relief role for the remainder of the 2007 season.

With their other second round pick, the Red Sox took Mickey Hall, a high power-ceiling high school outfielder out of Georgia. Hall has never been able to turn his tools into consistent performance. He has struggled with strikeouts throughout his career and has failed to hit for average or significant power in the last three years. He has not made it out of A ball in his five professional seasons. Hall is now a platoon outfielder for Lancaster.

In the third round, the Red Sox took Arizona State right handed pitcher Beau Vaughan. A big pitcher, Vaughan had some early success at short season Lowell, posting a 2.32 era in 31 innings. After struggling for a couple seasons, he rebounded in 2006 with a successful stint in Single-A Wilmington, posting a 3.72 era with 60 strikeouts in 65 1/3 innings. Vaughan began 2007 in AA Portland where he has been very effective working out of the bullpen. Vaughan, who turns 26 next week, could still be a late bloomer and should not be counted out as a prospect just yet.

In the fourth round, the Red Sox made their best selection of the draft in Mississippi State pitcher Jonathan Papelbon. The big right handed pitcher struggled out of the gate in short season Lowell but broke through in 2004 as a starter with High-A Sarasota, going 12-7 with a 2.64 era. In 2005, Papelbon began in AA Portland and showed continued success there, before ultimately getting the call to the big leagues after the All-Star break. After three starts, he was optioned to Pawtucket where he was converted to a reliever before being called back up to Boston. In the 2005 playoffs, as the Red Sox were getting swept by the White Sox, Papelbon was by far the team's most impressive pitcher. Then, in 2006, Papelbon had a breakout season taking over as the closer from Keith Foulke and becoming an American League All-Star with 35 saves and a 0.92 era. Papelbon is now one of the elite relievers in the game today.

The players selected in rounds five through ten are no longer with the organization as Brian Marshall, Jesse Corn, Lee Curtis and Jon Wilson were released, Chris Durbin retired in spring training 2007, and Jeremy West was traded to the White Sox prior to the start of this season. The rest of the draft produced no other significant prospects, and only three players selected outside of the top ten rounds remain in the organization: Barry Hertzler (11th round), Zach Borowiak (14th round), and Iggy Suarez (24th round). All three are playing with the Sea Dogs and likely project as organizational players.

Overall, the 2003 draft in general was limited in terms of depth, and Boston knew going in that its selection of mainly college players could limit “upside” players. Nonetheless, Boston’s draft still has to be considered a success if only on the basis of Papelbon’s success and the use of Murton in the big trade. On top of that, Murphy is close to contributing this season or could be used as a valuable trading chip at the deadline. Ultimately, the Red Sox seemingly accomplished their goal of building minor league depth while still selecting some players who have and are likely to contribute at the MLB level.