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July 30, 2020 at 12:30 PM

Revisiting the 2010 draft: The great draft that wasn't

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.

2010 Draft

Ten years gone, the 2010 draft as a whole looks like one of baseball’s best. Bryce Harper was seen as an exceptional talent at number one, but additional first-rounders such as Manny Machado, Chris Sale, and Christian Yelich emerged as franchise players. With four picks in the first two rounds, including three of the first 39 overall, Red Sox were in an excellent position to bounce back from a pair of weak draft crops. Under new scouting director Amiel Sawdaye, Boston turned to an approach that had historically served them well: a focus on polished college players.

In the years immediately following the draft, the strategy looked like another success. While top pick Kolbrin Vitek never really hit as the team hoped and washed out relatively quickly in part due to injuries, several other picks from this class showed a lot of promise up into the high minors. As late as midseason 2013, the 2010 draft had four players in the then-resurgent system’s top 11 prospects. 

The Vitals
General Manager: Theo Epstein
Scouting Director: Amiel Sawdaye

Major Leaguers drafted and signed
Brandon Workman (2nd round, 3.2 bWAR)
Garin Cecchini (4th round, 0.2 bWAR)
Bryce Brentz (1st Supplemental round, 0.0 bWAR)
Jason Garcia (17th round, -0.1 bWAR)
Anthony Ranaudo (1st supplemental round, -1.6 bWAR)

Unsigned players who reached the major leagues
Hunter Renfroe (31st round, 6.1 bWAR)
JT Riddle (35th round, 1.7 bWAR)
Dan Slania (42nd round, 0.0 bWAR)
Stevie Wilkerson (15th round, -1.0 bWAR)
Dillon Overton (26th round, -1.5 bWAR)

Success with college bats (just not this time)
From 1989 to present, the Red Sox have drafted 27 players in the first round from a four-year college program. Only three have not reached the major leagues, and one of those is 2017 first-round pick Tanner Houck, who is very likely to debut soon, perhaps even this year. Other than Vitek, the only Red Sox college draftee in the past 30 years to retire without reaching the majors was Georgia Tech outfielder Mark Fischer, taken with the 35th pick in the 1997 draft, in the middle of a generation of Dan Duquette-era misses.

Taking it a step further, here are all of the college bats taken by the Red Sox with top-50 picks between 2003 and 2015, with career games played: 

Andrew Benintendi: 475
Deven Marrero: 163
Jackie Bradley: 822
Kolbrin Vitek: 0
Bryce Brentz: 34
Jacoby Ellsbury: 1235
Jed Lowrie: 1118
David Murphy: 1110
Matt Murton: 346

Of the eight, three played in 1000 major league games and two more are very likely to get there. If you include Murton’s stint in Japan, where he played in the back half of his prime and starred, he actually leads the group in games. The only pick of the group that wasn’t from the 2010 class that didn’t go on to have a long, impactful career somewhere in the world was Deven Marrero, and Marrero appeared in 71 games for the division-winning 2017 Red Sox, ably solidifying the third base position in between the final flameout of Pablo Sandoval and the arrival of Rafael Devers

It's difficult to separate player scouting and development from the process behind it, and the scouting process that led the Red Sox to land on Vitek and Bryce Brentz has been extremely successful this century. The team has been arguably the best in the game at identifying, drafting, and developing position players this century, and that’s the key reason it won four World Series in a 15-year stretch. 

Vitek’s profile was right in the team’s wheelhouse: an athletic, up-the-middle college player whose ability to hit was his carrying tool. As a sophomore at Ball State, Vitek steamrolled to a .389/.465/.736 line with 13 homers and 25 doubles in 50 games. He continued his assault on MAC pitching as a junior, hitting .361/.445/.691 with 17 homers and 20 doubles. It was also not poor play alone that cost Vitek his shot at a major league career: a series of physical setbacks, including a shoulder injury and bursitis in his back, stalled his attempts to learn third base and, at the very end of his career, left field. In 2012, the pain was such that he was unable to play on consecutive days. That’s not to defend the pick: even when healthy, Vitek didn’t hit in the low minors the way any of the other players on this list have. Brentz, taken 16 picks later, very quickly surpassed him despite being placed at a lower level in their first full seasons. What made the Vitek pick so frustrating wasn’t just that it was a miss, it was a miss on a type of player they’d historically gotten right.   

Bryce Brentz and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad timing
While Vitek’s prospect shine dimmed so quickly that he was out of the team’s top 60 within two years, the opposite was true for the other bat the team drafted in the first round. Brentz got off to a worrisomely terrible start in his initial assignment to Lowell, striking out 76 times in 262 at-bats on his way to a .198 batting average, learning the hard way about what it took to succeed as a professional. Given the way other college players have performed in the New York-Penn League, there was cause for concern. While those college bats had traditionally been assigned to High A out of their first spring training, the Red Sox took a cautious approach with Brentz, hoping to build some of his confidence back with an assignment to Greenville. The strategy worked, as Brentz tortured South Atlantic League pitching to the tune of .359/.414/.647, blasting 11 homers in just 40 games before a mid-May promotion. He showed that the hot start was not simply a matter of him feasting on Sally League pitching alone, as he hit .274/.336/.531 with 19 homers in 75 games with Salem, an impressive line in the notoriously power-sapping conditions in the Carolina League. Outside of the top 20 prospects when the season began, Brentz climbed up to eighth on the SoxProspects.com board by the end of the year. A followup .296/.355/.478 campaign in 2012 with Portland pushed him into the top five, earned him an end-of-year cup of coffee with Triple-A Pawtucket, and had him on the brink of the majors. 

From that point on, Brentz’s career seemed to devolve into a series of incredibly poorly timed injuries and incidents. Seemingly primed for his first major league spring training in 2013, he found himself in the news for all the wrong reasons when a gun he was cleaning discharged, shooting him in the leg. He suffered nothing more than minor injuries, but the error cost him the spring training invite. Jackie Bradley Jr, coming off a tremendous breakout year with Salem and Portland, impressed so much in spring training that he jumped over Triple-A to make the opening day roster in Boston. The debatable wisdom of that decision aside, Brentz likely cost himself a long look during a spring training when a starting job was open. 

Three months later, in the midst of a solid-if-unspectacular season with the PawSox, Brentz suffered a meniscus tear in his knee that required surgery. His position outside of the 40-man roster made it unlikely that he would have been the one getting the call when the major league club needed reinforcements later that week, but it’s also worth noting that the call went again to Bradley, who was being outplayed by Brentz in Pawtucket leading up to the injury. 

Brentz was added to the 40-man roster ahead of the Rule 5 deadline in November 2013. After an incident-free offseason, he impressed at major league spring training, going 9 for 25 with three homers. After a mediocre start to the PawSox season, Brentz seemed to break out on May 15 with a homer and two doubles in his first three at-bats. On his fourth plate appearance of the day, Brentz heard a pop in his leg while trying to leg out a ground ball and was diagnosed with a severe hamstring pull. Three days later, Red Sox starting right fielder Shane Victorino also injured his hamstring. For the next two months, right field at Fenway was manned by a combination of Jonny Gomes, Grady Sizemore, Daniel Nava, and Brock Holt. In the meantime, a more long-term roadblock to the right field job would arrive as Mookie Betts, just 13 months removed from a brutal first month in Low A Greenville that made him consider retiring, made his major league debut in June. 

And so it continued. A fractured finger in June 2015 put Brentz on the shelf for the rest of that season, at a time when the underperformance of Rusney Castillo and another injury to Victorino would likely have given Brentz a shot at a major league job. Instead, the lack of an internal option necessitated the acquisition of Alejandro De Aza to finish out the season. A week before the Brentz’s injury, the Red Sox made a decision that would lock up the other corner outfield position for the foreseeable future, picking Andrew Benintendi with the seventh pick in the draft. 

In 2016, his final option year, Brentz did get the call when Chris Young went out with an injury, getting 17 starts in left field that summer. A .279/.313/.377 line in 25 games bridged the gap for the eventual division winners until the August call-up of Benintendi. Out of options, Brentz was outrighted off of the 40-man roster when he didn’t make the 2017 team out of spring training. After three years of declining power, he had a huge comeback season with the PawSox, hitting .271/.334/.529 with 31 homers, but despite a concerning lack of power in the Boston lineup, Brentz never got the call, even when rosters expanded, a move that was made all the more curious when the team purchased his contract after the season one day before he hit minor league free agency. However, he would be dealt to Pittsburgh right before spring training, ending his initial Red Sox run with just 34 games played. After a one-year stint with the Mets' Triple-A affiliate that was again marred by injury, he returned to Pawtucket in 2019, failing to produce enough to put himself back on the radar.

Workman-like effort pays off 
Forgive the punny sub-head, but for a pitcher named “Workman” who had his first positive-WAR season seven years after being drafted and his first impact season two years later, it seems perfectly on-the-nose. The righty was generally used on a conservative promotion schedule, spending his first full season in the Greenville rotation. He impressed in 2012, splitting the year between Salem and Portland, posting a solid 3.50 ERA and ratio of 130 strikeouts against only 25 walks in 138 innings. He continued his good work into 2013, earning a steady role in the major league bullpen by the end of the year (highlighted by the extremely questionable decision to allow him to bat in a tie game with one out in the ninth inning in game three of the World Series). He moved back into the major league rotation in 2014 and struggled mightily with a career-high walk rate, a 5.17 ERA, and team-record 10 consecutive losing decisions.

Coming off that frustrating year, Workman had another setback when a sore right elbow shut him down late in spring training in 2015. Doctors and the team were hopeful that he could heal through rehab, but the decision was made in June that he would undergo Tommy John surgery, taking him out of play essentially through 2016. 

Workman returned in 2017 with two advantages: he was healthy for the first time in two years, and he also knew he would be working exclusively out of the bullpen for the first time in two years. He took to the more regimented role, dominating in Pawtucket with a 1.55 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 29 innings. On May 4, he made his first MLB outing since the 2014 season. He would spend that season and the next pitching well while riding the I-95 shuttle between Boston and Pawtucket as the Red Sox used his final two option years to help maximize their roster flexibility. 

Despite a 3.22 ERA in 72 appearances over two years, Workman was out of options headed into 2019 and was not a guarantee to make the team. Fortunately for the Sox, their patience in the righty paid off. Not only did Workman make the team, a refined pitch mix made him the best reliever in Boston and one of the most valuable bullpen arms in the American League. Eschewing the conventional wisdom that everything plays off of the fastball, Workman began throwing his excellent curveball nearly 50 percent of the time. The move kept hitters off-balance, made his fastball velocity play up, and resulted in consistent soft contact and huge whiff numbers. The combination of 104 strikeouts in 71 2/3 innings and a .209 batting average on balls in play led to a 1.88 ERA and opposing batters’ line of .123/.267/.166. The resulting 3.2 bWAR for the year put him among Craig Kimbrel’s 2017 and Koji Uehara’s 2013 among the great Red Sox reliever seasons of the decade. His "exciting" save of the team's second win last night aside, he entered 2019 firmly entrenched as the club's closer and the clear top player among the team's 2010 draft signees.

Missed opportunities
Hoo boy. When we talk about missed opportunities, obviously we talk at some level about the players the team decided not to draft, and in 2010 they passed on some truly great players. First and foremost among the misses was Christian Yelich, arguably the best player in the game that the Red Sox could have drafted and didn’t. While stars like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, and others were long off the board when the Red Sox got their opportunity to pick, Yelich was a consensus first-round talent right there for the taking with the 20th pick with no obvious signability or off-field concerns. While it's hard to be too hard on an organization for any specific miss, passing up a player who is having a HOF-quality peak is one that it’s fair to say they got wrong. In the first supplemental round went Noah Syndergaard, whose height and power repertoire seemed to make him exactly the sort of pitcher the Red Sox tried to find in that era. It’s certainly tantalizing to think of the bumper crop of prospects that debuted in the mid-2010s with those two mixed in. 

Beyond just the players the team didn’t pick, 2010 generally feels like a missed opportunity in terms of how good the class looked while it was actually in the system. In strict wins-above-replacement terms, this draft ranks among the worst of the SoxProspects.com era, a statement that would’ve been almost unthinkable in 2012. With most drafts that end up producing little value, it typically becomes apparent rather quickly, as it was with the 2009 and 2013 (and, at least trending that way, 2017) classes. This is a fact of life in the crapshoot that is the draft. But that was not the case here, by any stretch. As discussed above, Brentz showed tremendous power in the minors that looked like it would get play at least as an MLB platoon player. Anthony Ranaudo was the sort of high-risk/high-reward talent that looked like a steal at number 39 when he dominated on the Cape and got off to a strong start of his pro career. He was the International League's Pitcher of the Year in 2014. Garin Cecchini appeared to have one of the best pure hit tools in all of the minor leagues, with advanced plate discipline and good gap power. Workman showed durability and control with the upside of a major league starter. Brandon Jacobs was a tremendous raw athlete who seemed to be quickly translating his tools into skills as he won the South Atlantic League Player of the Year as a 19-year-old, first-year pro. Sean Coyle seemed to have a major league combination of middle infield defense and real power. Given the attrition rate of prospects, any individual prospect who doesn’t pan out doesn’t seem like a surprise, but for that class to only produce a single major league regular, and that in a late-inning bullpen role? C'est la vie.

Final thoughts
As our friends over at Baseball Prospectus remind us, prospects will break your heart.

Photo Credit: Brandon Workman, Bryce Brentz by Kelly O'Connor

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