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July 10, 2020 at 12:30 PM

Revisiting the 2006 draft: Josh Reddick and the heartbreakers

Thank you for checking in on the newest entry in our draft retrospective series. Yesterday was a pick-by-pick rundown of 2006, while today we will dig a little deeper into a few of the more interesting and prominent draftees. For a quick list and links to player pages, check out our Draft History page.

2006 MLB Draft

Depending on your perspective, 2006 could be regarded as either outstanding or disappointing, one of the best drafts, talent-wise, in team history, or a huge missed opportunity. The Red Sox again had a bevy of high draft picks due to free agent departures, with four picks in the top 44 and seven of the top 103, giving them a shot to replicate the franchise-altering 2005 edition. On top of that, the team had a newfound commitment to spending money later in the draft on players who dropped due to signability issues rather than talent. 

The influx of talent to a system that had already greatly improved its regard in the game was immense. Boston signed only 29 players that it drafted, but 16 of those received six-figure deals, and nine signed for more than $400,000. For comparison’s sake, due to the capped pool system implemented in 2012, the team signed nine players to deals worth more than $400,000 in the 2018 and 2019 drafts combined.

Unlike 2005, however, the results were decidedly mixed. The 2005 class saw three of its five first-round picks become impact major leaguers, while the other two were top 100 prospects who earned significant looks in the majors. In 2006, only one of the four first-rounders had a notable career, and even that excellence was short-lived, as Daniel Bard’s run as a major leaguer really lasted just three years. The Theo Epstein player development machine had its first clear miss with a top pick in Jason Place, who never got past Double-A (and arguably hadn't even earned his promotion to that level). Still, the results from a scouting perspective were strong: 10 of the 29 players signed got a major league call, and five of those were top 100 prospects at one point. 

The glass-half-empty take would be that the Red Sox had four of the first 44 picks and got just 4.1 bWAR total of them, muffing a golden opportunity that could have radically changed a 2010 to 2015 stretch that saw the team make the playoffs just once and finish in last place three times. The glass-half-full take? Top-notch scouting and a willingness to spend money allowed the Red Sox to have what turned into a productive, valuable draft even without the production they’d have liked from the first round, and that some high-risk picks are naturally going to produce some high-profile misfires but also major successes.  

The Vitals
General Manager: Theo Epstein
Scouting Director: Jason McLeod

Major Leaguers drafted and signed
Josh Reddick (17th round, 25.4 bWAR)
Justin Masterson (2nd round, 10.1 bWAR)
Daniel Bard (1st round, 4.1 bWAR)
Kristopher Negron (7th round, 1.8 bWAR)
Dustin Richardson (5th round, 0.4 bWAR)
Kris Johnson (1st supplemental round, 0.0 bWAR)
Aaron Bates (3rd round, 0.0 bWAR)
Lars Anderson (18th round, -0.3 bWAR)
Ryan Kalish (9th round, -0.6 bWAR)
Caleb Clay (1st supplemental round, Added to 25-man roster but did not appear in a game)

Unsigned players who reached the major leagues
Brandon Belt (11th round, 23.0 bWAR)
Justin Marks (37th round, 0.2 bWAR)
Logan Schafer (31st round, 0.0 bWAR)
Matt LaPorta (14th round, -1.0 bWAR)

Compensation considerations
Received first-round pick from Yankees and supplemental pick for loss of free agent Johnny Damon
Received third-round pick from Dodgers and supplemental pick for loss of free agent Bill Mueller


What makes a draft successful? 
This was alluded to in the paragraphs above, but it can be hard sometimes to find what separates a good draft from a bad one. Reasonable people can disagree, and unreasonable people are sure to disagree even more loudly. Sure, there are obvious ones: 2011 was a success, 2013 was pretty much a disaster. But how do you compare 2004 with 2006? In terms of overall WAR, 2004 has a notable advantage but 2006 does well too. In terms of WAR for the drafting team, though, 2006 performs less admirably. Josh Reddick and Justin Masterson, the eventual valedictorian and salutatorian of the class, have a career bWAR that measures 35.5 and counting but combined for only 4.8 before being traded (a number that does not include Masterson’s return in 2015). From a scouting perspective, 2006 was full of hits, as 10 players who signed plus four more who did not went on to reach the majors. This is a major credit to those tasked with trying to figure out which 17-to-21-year-old ballplayers were physically skilled and mentally mature enough to complete the grind. 

Does a draft become less successful if you sell the wrong guys at the wrong time? Thinking Ryan Kalish was better than Reddick in 2010 and 2011 was not a rare or wild opinion, but Reddick went on to have an excellent career while injuries annihilated that of Kalish. Do you grade the draft more favorably because the team traded Masterson for the right player in Victor Martinez, but traded Reddick for the wrong one in Andrew Bailey? That seems like a mistake in talent evaluation that came five years and a whole regime later, but it certainly had a major effect on the value to the major league team that the draft had. So, if you’re evaluating the draft as a piece of the player development process, maybe those later talent evaluations do matter. Would it be fair to rate the draft better if they’d traded Lars Anderson and Daniel Bard at the 2009 trading deadline instead of Masterson? It’s likely that would have brought an even greater return than Martinez, one that would have altered the 2010 malaise and 2011 swoon, and likely prevented the 2012 Valentine massacre. 

These questions arise because the 2006 draft invites a lot more questions than answers, even 14 years later. Going through pick-by-pick, there are so many moments when it feels like the player or pick didn’t bring the value it could have, but only the years-later trade of Reddick stands out as a clear mistake. 

Daniel Bard: An epic play in several acts
It all began right on draft day. Some surprising moves near the top shuffled the expected order of things, resulting in Daniel Bard, consensus top-15 prospect, falling into the Red Sox' lap with the 28th pick. Some instances of wobbly control and inconsistent velocity at UNC probably started the slide, with signability concerns enabling the free-fall. If there’s one clear lesson in the 2006 class, it’s that the Red Sox weren’t going to let a couple hundred grand come between them and their player, so they were happy to see Bard slide to them. Instead of the July signing deadline we are familiar with today, Boston had until the start of fall classes at Chapel Hill to bring Bard into the fold. Negotiations took some time, but as is usually the case, the team got its man, signing Bard to a $1.5-million contract, the largest of the many large contracts they handed out that summer. 

Bard signed too late in 2006 to debut. The following spring, he would join fellow college hurlers Justin Masterson and Kris Johnson with an assignment to the Red Sox' new High A affiliate in Lancaster, California. The Red Sox could be forgiven for underestimating just how extreme the park effect was high in the California Hills, but it was soon apparent. Games with both teams scoring in the double-digits were not uncommon and pitchers looked shell-shocked. Some, like 2005 draftee Michael Bowden, solidified their status as legitimate prospects by excelling in those impossible environs. Others, like Masterson, battled it largely to a draw, with numbers that look mediocre out of context but were actually quite good, predicting a continued rise in the system. Others, like Bard, were thrown entirely out of whack by the experience. He made five starts, covering 13 1/3 innings. In that time, the right-hander had allowed 23 runs (15 earned) on 21 hits, striking out 9 against 22 walks. He was placed on the disabled list and brought to Boston to work with various staff, including major league pitching coach Bob McClure, but the struggles continued even being reassigned to Greenville: 17 starts, 61 2/3 innings, 49 runs, 38 strikeouts, and, most troublingly, 56 walks. Bard had occasional issues keeping his arm slot at UNC, but this was a level of struggles that he had not yet experienced. While his UNC teammate, fellow first-rounder, and good friend Andrew Miller was fast-tracked to the Tigers that September for the pennant race push, Bard went home with his prospect status very much in limbo.

Bard went to the Hawaiian Winter Baseball League to work on his mechanics, including an intentionally lower arm slot, in a bullpen role. While control remained an issue with 15 walks in 16 2/3 innings, he was difficult to generate solid contact off of, allowing just four runs (two earned on eight hits). In 2008, the Red Sox took a conservative approach out of spring training, sending Bard back to Low A Greenville. The results of the offseason work were immediate and outstanding: He was unscored upon in his first 11 outings, giving up just nine hits in 22 innings, striking out 34 and walking 4. Bard’s former batterymate at UNC, Benji Johnson, took him deep in the next contest, but he bounced back with three straight hitless outings. Clearly having outgrown Greenville, the team decided not to try a redux of the Lancaster experience and promoted him straight to Double-A Portland. The excellence continued with a 1.99 ERA, 64 strikeouts, and 26 walks in 49 2/3 innings. Most impressively, eight of the 11 earned runs Bard allowed came in two contests soon after his promotion; from June 12 onward, he gave up just two earned runs in 36 1/3 innings. Any fear of a relapse in 2009 was quickly put to rest, as he dominated the International League. In 11 appearances, Bard gave up two runs on six hits in 16 innings, walking just five and striking out 29 of the 58 batters he faced. It was on to the majors.

For three years, Bard was one of the best relievers in the American League. He posted a 2.88 ERA in 197 innings from 2009 through 2011, a stretch that included a club-record 25 straight scoreless appearances. He ranked third in baseball among relievers in 2010 with a 3.1 bWAR. Yet his reign as a top reliever was short. The epic chicken-and-beer collapse of 2011 seemed to cast a pall over the entire pitching staff. Bard, with a 2.03 ERA through August, gave up 14 runs in 11 innings in September. Already facing a tumultuous offseason after that debacle, the Red Sox also had to deal with the fact that Bard made known his preference for starting. The experiment the following spring did not go well, on multiple levels. Bard’s failure as a starter has probably been overstated: He had quality starts in two of his first three attempts. After ten starts, he carried a respectable 4.56 ERA, but had only 32 strikeouts against 31 walks in those outings. He left his next start on June 3 with an injury, and that was the last one he would make. Adding to the issue was the struggling bullpen: the departure of Jonathan Papelbon in free agency and Bard’s move led to the team disastrously trading five players, including Reddick and Jed Lowrie, to get Mark Melancon and Andrew Bailey. Bobby Valentine didn’t make things better by losing trust in Melancon and giving the closer slot to the combustible Alfredo Aceves, and Bailey was seemingly never healthy during his two seasons with the club. The calls were strong for Bard to rejoin the bullpen upon his return, but the injuries and any underlying mechanical issues had rendered him ineffective. 

Things went downhill for Bard, as control trouble turned into a full-blown case of the yips. On a rehab stint with Portland in 2013, he walked 17 of the 64 batters he faced. After a layoff, he made two more rehab appearances in the GCL, facing 11 batters, walking six, and uncorking two wild pitches. Removed from the 40-man and claimed by Texas, Bard went to the Puerto Rican Winter League, where he faced 13 batters, walking nine and hitting three more. In four appearances with the Hickory Crawdads, Texas’s South Atlantic League affiliate, he faced 18 batters, walking nine and hitting seven. He spent 2015 facing hitters at the Cubs' Arizona complex and didn't get into an official game. 

Bard signed with the Pirates in 2016, who diagnosed him with thoracic outlet syndrome, but after his offseason surgery (trumpeted for a very short time as a miracle fix to what had ailed him), he didn't even make it through May with the organization. He signed with the Cardinals in June, was cut in May 2017, and finished the year with the Mets before retiring and becoming a player mentor in 2018 with the Diamondbacks, at that point run by several former members of the Red Sox front office like Mike Hazen, Jared Porter, and Amiel Sawdaye.

But Bard's story isn't over yet, as he unretired this past offseason (the planned one) and signed with the Rockies. Though he struggled in spring training, those struggles were of a more traditional variety: he walked only 3 of 14 batters in his three outings. Bard, always a thoughtful interview regarded for his intelligence as well as being a fierce competitor, is definitely someone to root for. 

Who’s #1? 
The dynamic nature of evaluating prospects was highlighted by the 2006 class. Looking at the rankings archives, nine different players from this draft appeared in the SoxProspects.com Top 10. The last of the nine to make it, Reddick, went on to clearly establish himself as the best player the Red Sox signed this year. Oddly, none of the four players selected in the first and supplemental rounds were ever the highest-ranked prospect from the draft class, although three of those four were ranked in the September 2006 ranking. A quick recap of the Top 10 from the end of 2006 through 2010: 

9/2/2006: Cox (5); Bard (6); Masterson (7); Johnson (8); Place (9)
3/18/2007: Cox (5); Bard (6); Masterson (8); Place (9); Anderson (10)
6/28/2007: Anderson (4); Materson (6); Bates (8); Bard (9)
9/17/2007: Masterson (4); Anderson (6); Kalish (9)
3/17/2008: Masterson (3); Anderson (4); Kalish (8)
6/20/2008: Masterson (1); Anderson (4); Reddick (5); Bard (6); Kalish (8)
9/19/2008: Anderson (1); Reddick (3); Bard (6)
3/22/2009: Anderson (1); Reddick (3); Bard (4); Kalish (10)
6/19/2009: Anderson (1); Bard (3); Reddick (6); Kalish (8)
9/18/2009: Reddick (2); Kalish (3); Anderson (5)
4/2/2010: Reddick (2); Kalish (3); Anderson (4)
6/11/2010: Anderson (2); Kalish (3); Reddick (8)
9/17/2010: Kalish (2); Anderson (4); Reddick (8)

As mentioned yesterday, it’s something of a surprise that Reddick ended up being the guy here. It took him two years to reach the team’s top 10 (granted, there was significant organizational depth at the time) despite being the SoxProspects.com Rookie of the Year for his excellent debut in Greenville in 2007. The fact that he needed to make an adjustment at the major league level and only broke through with regular playing time isn’t surprising, given his development path. He struggled in his introduction to Portland in 2008 with a .214/.290/.436 line, but improved markedly to .277/.352/.520. In his first exposure to Triple-A, Reddick slumped to a 9-for-71 start only to return in 2010 to .266/.301/.466 slash. In parts of the 2009 and 2010 seasons in the majors, a plainly not-yet-ready Reddick struggled to a .182/.208/.331 line. In 2011, he blossomed to .280/.327/.457 during his real stint in the majors. That turned out to be the more accurate view of what he was to become. 

Kalish, Anderson, and the agony of prospect watching
Ryan Kalish and Lars Anderson were two of the most exciting and likable prospects come through the system in the last 20 years. We won’t be going into too much detail on their careers; their stories have been well-told elsewhere, including by them. Kalish was a fiery, hard-nosed natural athlete who at one point played violin in his spare time (inspired by the band Yellowcard). Anderson was California chill with artist parents and a passion for the Grateful Dead. Kalish’s career was derailed by neck, shoulder, and knee injuries. Anderson, at one time a top-20 prospect in the game, saw his status wane after struggling in Triple-A before embarking on a baseball world tour that brought him to exotic locales such as Australia, Germany, and Ohio. Anderson keeps a blog at the website of Birdman Bats, a baseball bat company he was introduced to by Kalish, and has written pieces for The Athletic. The post-baseball career of the two was chronicled by Tim Brown at Yahoo Sports.

The rest of the story
Justin Masterson ranks as the third-best pitcher the Red Sox have drafted in the SoxProspects.com era by pretty much any standard. A favorite of Terry Francona who got to work with him again in Cleveland, Masterson sped through the minor leagues and came right in to work in a key bullpen role down the stretch for the 2008 club that fell just one game short of the World Series. Some trivia: Masterson is the only Jamaican-born pitcher in major league history (though Chili Davis, also born in Jamaica, did once appear in a game as a pitcher). He was dealt along with Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price in the Victor Martinez deal. An extreme groundball pitcher who was murder on righties, teams occasionally had success loading their lineups with lefties against him. Extremely durable in his mid-20s with Cleveland, Masterson excelled in 2011 and 2013 but waned quickly, throwing his last major league pitch at age 30. And of course, because of Justin, we were introduced to his wife Meryl's sublime baking skills. Meryl's Home Plate Cookies were a SoxProspects staff holiday gift favorite.

Caleb Clay deserved better. Taken with the 44th pick in the draft, Clay toiled for 10 years and 740 minor league innings. He got a call to the majors with Anaheim in 2014 but was optioned back to the minors without appearing in a game, never to return. 

After struggling to find his niche stateside, Kris Johnson found a home with the Hiroshima Carp in Japan’s Pacific League. He is 57-32 with a 2.59 ERA in 769 1/3 innings and counting, having largely harnessed the inconsistent control that plagued him in the US. 

Missed opportunities
In terms of draft day, despite all of the frustrations, it is hard to find much that’s obvious that the organization should have done differently here. The 2006 draft overall was very strong at the top, with several impact players, including three who figure to have defensible Hall of Fame arguments in Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, and Evan Longoria. However, it was not a particularly deep draft. After Place was drafted with the 27th pick, the next player who compiled a 15.0-bWAR career was Jeff Samardzija in the fifth round, a spot he fell to because of the possibility he would pursue an NFL career as a wide receiver. Several solid players were taken in the meantime. Northeastern right-hander Adam Ottavino, an understandably popular choice among the locals, was taken with the 30th pick. Oklahoma prep lefty Brett Anderson fell into the second round at #55. Still, this wasn’t a situation where the Red Sox left a lot of value on the table or missed out on a future superstar. 

Indeed, the bigger miss seems to have come on the internal evaluations of these players in the years after the draft. Injuries played a major role in Bard and Kalish not realizing their full potential, but the decision to move Reddick as part of a 3-for-1 deal for a reliever was tough to take at the time and proved a definite misstep with the benefit of hindsight. While it’s often too easy to say a team should know when to sell high and when to hold, it is fair to look at the value the 2006 draftees had as prospects and as major league players and determine the Red Sox didn’t get enough benefit from it. 

Final thoughts: 
From an amateur talent acquisition perspective, this was an excellent draft. It produced 10 major leaguers, two All-Stars, and five prospects who appeared in a Baseball America Top 100. From a player development perspective, it was also a big hit. The team was able to rebuild Bard after his disaster of a 2007 season, nurture a raw talent like Reddick into a very good major leaguer, and put several players in a spot to showcase and enhance their value. As part of an overall organizational-building strategy, however, this is a draft that had its share of lessons. 

Photo Credit: Josh Reddick, Daniel Bard, Ryan Kalish & Lars Anderson by Kelly O'Connor

James Dunne is Managing Editor of SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesDunneSP.