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July 27, 2020 at 12:30 PM

Revisiting the 2009 draft: McLeod era ends with a thud

Thank you for checking in on the newest entry in our draft retrospective series. Yesterday was a pick-by-pick rundown of 2009, 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.

2009 MLB Draft

The 2009 campaign started to mark what seemed to be a transitional season for the organization. The major league team continued to excel, winning 95 games and reaching the playoffs once again. However, the unceremonious loss to the Angels in the Division Series that fall marked the end of a seven-year stretch in which the Red Sox made the playoffs six times. Over the next six years, the team would make the playoffs only once: The odd, fluky, magical 2013 championship season. The farm system, so strong in the winter following the 2007 championship, had thinned considerably due to graduations and trades. Back-to-back mediocre drafts and some awful luck helped continue that slide.

Additionally, the Red Sox' continued success had understandably made their top lieutenants very highly-regarded around the league by teams looking to replicate what Boston did. Two years after Josh Byrnes took the top job with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Jed Hoyer joined him in the National League West, getting the same position with San Diego. Hoyer brought along scouting director Jason McLeod, making 2009 the final draft with McLeod at the helm. 

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

Major Leaguers drafted and signed
Alex Wilson (2nd round, 5.1 bWAR)
Jeremy Hazelbaker (4th round, 1.1 bWAR)
Madison Younginer (7th round, -0.1 bWAR)
Alex Hassan (20th round -0.1 bWAR)
Chris McGuiness (13th round, -0.3 bWAR)
Reymond Fuentes (1st round, -0.6 bWAR)

Unsigned players who reached the major leagues
Mike Yastrzemski (36th round, 2.8 bWAR)
Matt Koch (37th round, 0.7 bWAR)
Luke Maile (43rd round, 0.5 bWAR)
Luke Bard (16th round, 0.2 bWAR)
Branden Kline (6th round, 0.0 bWAR)

Compensation Considerations
None. For the first time since the 1999-2000 offseason, the Red Sox did not sign nor lose any Type A or Type B free agents.

Who’s #1? 
Who was the player drafted in 2009 went on to garner the highest ranking in the SoxProspects.com Top 60? If you answered tenth-round pick Brandon Jacobs, then you were paying close attention to the system in the early '10s or have read the companion pick-by-pick piece that preceded this one. 

Three editions ago, we ran this sub-headline to show the many 2006 draftees who were ranked as the top prospect from their class by this site over time, with nine players at one time getting into the Top 10. For a variety of reasons, the 2009 draft was not that. Only three players: Jacobs, first-round pick Reymond Fuentes, and second-round pick Alex Wilson ever were in the site’s Top 10. Not only did the draft not produce a star, it really never had anyone who looked like a potential star at one point, only to fall short. There wasn’t a Lars Anderson, Casey Kelly, or Henry Owens who had significant peak value as a prospect without ever making a major impact. The .303/.376/.505 line that earned Jacobs 2011 South Atlantic League Player of the Year honors brought him some attention, but he was always seen as a raw athlete working toward putting his skills together rather than someone on a likely major league path. 

The effects of this were two-fold: Not only did the team not get MLB contributions from this draft, they also didn't have the kind of deep system that would have allowed them to trade from depth to supplement the team. Fuentes was the tertiary piece in the Adrian Gonzalez deal just 18 months after signing. Wilson was a secondary part of the Yoenis Cespedes-for-Rick Porcello swap. Jacobs netted 36-year-old pending free agent Matt Thornton, who pitched 15 1/3 innings and did not make the playoff roster. The one player one could argue the organization sold high on was Miles Head, except for the fact that he was dealt as one of two secondary pieces to Josh Reddick in the disastrous Andrew Bailey/Ryan Sweeney deal. 

The fact that value doesn’t just come in the form of major league contributions underlies a theme we continue to touch upon throughout this series: What is the proper way to evaluate a draft? While it might be a useful shorthand to evaluate a draft in terms of overall WAR drafted and signed, that can miss quite a bit at the margins and quite a bit in the fluidity of player development as a process designed to supplement the major league team in multiple ways. While the 2008 draft doesn't look notably better on a strict scale of WAR output, the team's ability to build value for some of those players and sell high on them made it marginally better.

While it's probably unfair to saddle too much of the 2009 discussion on Fuentes, a player who reached the majors and found his way onto a playoff roster in 2017, the top pick is always going to be the face of a draft, and the problems with the Fuentes pick are illustrative of the problems of this year's draft more broadly. The issue wasn’t just that he didn’t pan out as a regular major leaguer, it was also that he never really had significant value. After signing quickly, he hit a decent-but-unremarkable .290/.331/.379 in the Gulf Coast League. The next year he was sent to Greenville, a relatively challenging assignment for a 19-year old but not overly aggressive for a prep first-rounder. Again, Fuentes handled the assignment but did not really excel, hitting very close to his GCL debut with a .270/.328/.377 line. He impressed on the basepaths, going 42-for-47 in steal attempts, but showed an inconsistent approach and didn’t display a ton of power. He closed the 2010 season ranking 16th in the system.  

Players selected soon after Fuentes like Slade Heathcott and Brett Jackson didn’t pan out, and Matt Davidson settled in as essentially a replacement-level player, but all three were consensus top-100 prospects and would have been in the top-five in the system at the time of the Gonzalez deal, giving the team more depth and flexibility. Davidson offers a good, Red Sox-adjacent example of the value a team can get from a prospect who builds value even if he doesn’t turn into an impact player in the majors. Following the 2013 season, the Diamondbacks were able to nab Addison Reed from the White Sox in exchange for Davidson. Reed at that time was just 24, one of the better young relievers in baseball, and under team control for four more years. Three and a half years later, the Red Sox would pay Jamie Callahan, Gerson Bautista, and Stephen Nogosek to acquire Reed’s services for just two months. 

There can be only one
Who is the greatest scouting director in franchise history? Despite finishing with two relatively weak drafts, there is a very good argument that prize belongs to Jason McLeod. Overseeing five drafts from 2005 through 2009, McLeod selected and signed six players who have accumulated at least 10.0 bWAR, highlighted by Jacoby Ellsbury 2005 and Anthony Rizzo in 2007. In total, 16 McLeod Red Sox draftees earned recognition in the Baseball America Top 100, an average of more than three per draft. To put that into some context, the Red Sox have drafted three Top 100 prospects total since 2016. Of course, some of that is due to how radically different the draft is today, the slotting system and draft cap severely limiting the amount of money teams can spend to bring in, say, a Lars Anderson in the 18th round, and the compensation system no longer so strongly incentivizing playing musical chairs with free agents in order to stockpile draft picks the way they did in 2005 and 2006. 

Once he left the system, McLeod (as well as Hoyer) was able to provide a final major benefit to the organization. His familiarity with the players he’d scouted gave the Red Sox the inside track on a move that has been discussed frequently in this and the previous two editions of this series: the acquisition of highly-coveted All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. An entire book could be written on whether the Gonzalez trade was worth it: the Red Sox gave up two recent first-round draft picks and a first baseman who turned into a star in exchange for someone who had one good year as part of the most disappointing Red Sox team of the century. At the time in 2010, however, the trade felt like a major boost to the franchise. Other teams were willing to offer similarly-rich packages, but it was the Padres front office’s knowledge of Anthony Rizzo, Casey Kelly, and Fuentes that made the deal possible. 

The rest of the story
Alex Wilson turned out to be the most successful of a group of solid-but-unspectacular right-handed pitching prospects who seemed to be hanging out in the 10-to-20 range in the rankings around the start of the last decade. An extra year before being Rule 5 eligible likely spared him during the roster crunch that claimed Stephen Fife and Kyle Weiland. After a bullpen move, Wilson reached he majors in 2013 and had a strong statistical campaign in 2014. Despite his 1.91 ERA, he never quite worked his way into a higher leverage role in the John Farrell bullpen, and he was dealt following that season with Yeonis Cespedes and Gabe Speier for Rick Porcello. Wilson followed up with very strong years for the Tigers in 2015 and 2016. 

With a solid year in 2020, Mike Yastrzemski will push his family’s career bWAR up over 100.0. Carl’s grandson had a firm commitment to Vanderbilt and was never really thought of as having a chance to sign. Once he finished in Nashville, his family preferred he not be redrafted by Boston, feeling that Yaz the Elder's legacy would put unnecessary pressure on Yaz the Younger.

Final thoughts:
Throughout the 21st century, the Boston Red Sox have been arguably the best organization in baseball at drafting and developing the talent that enabled them to win four championships and make the playoffs 10 times. There are multiple drafts that can be held up as examples of that excellence, that even with some misses the team acquired a great deal of talent, managed it well, and turned picks into victories. 2009 was not one of those drafts.

Photo Credit: Alex Wilson by Kelly O'Connor; Clay Buchholz, Josh Reddick, and Ryan Kalish on St. Patrick's Day 2011 by Kelly O'Connor

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