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August 6, 2020 at 12:30 PM

Revisiting the 2011 draft: Theo Epstein's magnum (draft) opus

Thank you for checking in on the newest entry in our draft retrospective series. Yesterday was a pick-by-pick rundown of 2011, 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.

2011 MLB Draft

As was the case throughout the Theo Epstein-era, the Red Sox set themselves up to procure at least a few major leaguers from this draft. The Red Sox turned a season-and-a-half of Victor Martinez and one season of Adrian Beltre into picks 19, 26, 36, and 40. The one move that looks even worse in hindsight is giving the 24th pick to the Rays as compensation for Carl Crawford, but knowing he had four extra picks in his pocket helped ease the pain for Epstein. It's never a bad thing to have four picks in the top 40, but in 2011 it was more important than ever. 

Scouts raved about both the high-end talent as well as the depth of players in this draft, and looking back even the most overstated superlatives from before the draft fell short. The list of players drafted before Boston's pick at 19 reads like a current All-Star team, including Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer, Dylan Bundy, Anthony Rendon, Archie Bradley, Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez, George Springer, Brandon Nimmo, Jose Fernandez, CJ. Cron, and Sonny Gray. While you can look at these names and be mildly underwhelmed by what the Red Sox did with their first four picks, just know that those picks had a direct correlation to them taking Mookie Betts (pictured, above) in round five. An MLB draft is much more like a stock portfolio than its NBA and NFL equivalents, so diversifying with Matt Barnes (pictured, left) and Noe Ramirez, who were named to collegiate All-American teams in 2011, and Jackie Bradley Jr., who was named Most Outstanding Player of the College World Series in 2010, helped lead the Red Sox to take a chance on the upside of Betts. 

While there are a few home runs in this draft, there are also some examples of talented players never getting over the hump at the highest levels. From 2011-2013, most fans would have been keener to give up Betts in a trade than Blake Swihart or Henry Owens. In Barnes, the Red Sox got a very good reliever, but he was drafted with the hopes of being a top-of-the-rotation starter. Both second-round pick Williams Jerez and third-round pick Jordan Weems have made the majors as relievers, but they were drafted as position players and struggled immensely offensively. Their success as pitchers has more to do with their hard work and perseverance rather than some kind of scouting triumph. 

Even with revisionist history poking some holes in a few of the top picks, this draft is what led to the Red Sox dominating the AL East from 2016-2018 and ultimately winning a World Series. 

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

Major Leaguers drafted and signed
Mookie Betts (5th round, 41.8 bWAR)
Jackie Bradley Jr. (1st supplemental round, 15.9 bWAR)
Travis Shaw (9th round, 9.4 bWAR)
Matt Barnes (1st round, 3.1 bWAR)
Noe Ramirez (4th round, 0.7 bWAR)
Henry Owens (1st supplemental round, 0.1 bWAR)
Blake Swihart (1st round, -0.3 bWAR)
Williams Jerez (2nd round, -0.5 bWAR)
Jordan Weems (3rd round, 0.0 bWAR) Added to 25-man roster but did not appear in a game

Unsigned players who reached the major leagues
Daniel Gossett (16th round, -0.7 bWAR)
Mac Williamson (46th round, 0.2 bWAR)

Compensation considerations
Received first-round pick from Tigers and supplemental pick for loss of free agent Victor Martinez
Received first-round pick from Rangers and supplemental pick for loss of free agent Adrian Beltre
Club gave #24 overall selection to Rays for signing Carl Crawford

Getting back on track
After overseeing arguably the greatest stretch of drafting in Red Sox history from 2003-2007, Epstein and his team of Ivy Leaguers in the front office went cold from 2008-2010. While there was still hope for those draft classes by the time the 2011 draft came along, in hindsight, this was a make or break year for the Red Sox. The 2010 draft was Amiel Sawdaye's first as scouting director, and with his first four picks, he took four college players, with only one in Brandon Workman having any future success in the big leagues. It was clear that the plan for the 2011 draft was to get a wider variety of players, and this came to fruition on day one.

The major league team was in the midst of its most success since the 1910s, but in June 2011, the top three prospects in the system were Ryan Kalish, Anthony Ranaudo, and Felix Doubront. With the benefit of hindsight, Xander Bogaerts was the best player in the system, but he was just an 18-year-old getting his first taste of Greenville, so he was nowhere near the top of the prospect charts. A replenish was needed, and the Red Sox got it in spades. Three years later, four of the top six prospects in the system were 2011 selections.

Accumulating picks
In December 2010, the Red Sox traded Casey Kelly (#1), Anthony Rizzo (#3), and Reymond Fuentes (#16) to the Padres in exchange for Adrian Gonzalez. With Gonzalez entrenched at first base and David Ortiz set at designated hitter, the team no longer had a need for Martinez. Martinez spent most of his time behind the plate in 2010, but as he entered his age-32 season, it was clear that his days at catcher were numbered. Letting him walk allowed the Red Sox to recoup two draft picks, which they would turn into Matt Barnes and Henry Owens.

Beltre had the second-best year of his illustrious career with Boston in 2010, accumulating 7.8 bWAR while playing on a one-year deal for $9,000,000. With the Red Sox committing big money to Gonzalez and Crawford that offseason, there was no way the Red Sox could also give Beltre the six-year, $96,000,000 deal that the Rangers offered. While Kevin Youkilis could never match what Beltre did defensively, offensively he was almost as valuable, and the Red Sox hoped their lineup would not miss a beat with Beltre leaving. They were right, as Youkilis made the All-Star team in 2011, but injuries started taking their toll shortly thereafter, and it left a big hole at the hot corner that the team was not able to fill consistently until Rafael Devers came along. Letting Beltre walk gave the team two more picks, which turned into Blake Swihart and Jackie Bradley Jr. (pictured, right).

Swinging for the fences on Day One
Over the last several drafts, it was clear that the Red Sox were not afraid to pay up for elite talent, and in 2011, they shelled out the most money for a draft class in franchise history. With the current restrictions on draft spending, the Red Sox probably will not spend $11 million on a draft class again until they get a top-five pick. With their first pick, at 19, the Red Sox watched in awe as talented college right-handers Sonny Gray and Barnes fell to pick 18. Baseball America (BA) had Gray as the 12th-ranked prospect and Barnes at 13, so the Red Sox could not go wrong either way. When Gray went to Oakland, the Red Sox jumped at the chance to draft Barnes, who Epstein had scouted in Connecticut in the weeks leading up to the draft.

With the 13th-rated prospect in hand and three of the next twenty picks, the Red Sox did not take their foot off the gas. At pick 26, the Red Sox drafted BA's 17th-ranked prospect in Swihart, who joined Josh Bell as the best high school hitters on the board. Already checking off the college pitcher and high school hitter boxes, the Red Sox went with a high school pitcher at pick 36 in Owens, BA's 33rd-ranked prospect, and they ended the first day with a college outfielder in Bradley who BA ranked 34th. A talented, diverse group who the Red Sox would pay $6,650,000 for, the strong execution of their plan on the first day of the draft led to more success as the draft went on.

Changing the franchise on Day Two
The Red Sox went back to the high school position players in rounds two and three with Jerez and Weems, who were ranked 53rd and 188th, respectively, and then in round four they drafted BA's 93rd prospect in Ramirez after a phenomenal season at Cal State-Fullerton. Defying the odds, all three of these players would go on to make the major leagues as relievers.

In the fifth round, the Red Sox drafted Betts, a pick so good that it almost single-handedly spurred Alex Speier to write the book Homegrown. Betts was not ranked by BA or Perfect Game USA, but the Red Sox knew his potential was special. They put Betts, along with other prospects, through a neuroscouting process, and Betts blew everyone else out of the water. The quickness with which his brain could read and react to situations had just as much to do with them drafting him as his elite athleticism. Armed with all five tools, and six if you include his brain, Betts tore through the minors after some initial struggles, and by the time he made the majors in 2014, he was arguably already the best player on the team. From his debut in 2014 through the end of his Red Sox career in 2019, the only more valuable position player in baseball was Mike Trout. Taking into account where he was drafted, Betts is on a pace to wind up in the conversation for the greatest Red Sox draft pick of all-time.

Finding three major league relievers and a future MVP on day two is nearly impossible to do, but the Red Sox put the cherry on top by drafting Travis Shaw (pictured, left) in the ninth round. Having failed to sign Shaw after drafting him in the 32nd round in 2008, the Red Sox drafted him again, and he started performing right away. Corner infielders with a bat-first profile who were drafted in a later round rarely pan out, but Shaw hit his way to the big leagues by 2015, and between 2017 and 2018 with the Brewers hit 63 home runs and drove in 187. The Red Sox trading him, Mauricio Dubon, and others for Tyler Thornburg after the 2016 season still stings.

Missed opportunities
The 2011 draft was so loaded that you can look at every pick and see talented players on the board that the Red Sox did not take. Trevor Story and Blake Snell were on the board for each of their first four picks, but those guys were ranked lower than the players the Red Sox actually took. A team dreams that the 40th pick turns into a player like Bradley, so it's hard to knock them for that. The one player many fans were clamoring for in the second round was Austin Hedges, who went one pick after the Red Sox took Jerez, but after taking Swihart in the first round, Hedges was a bit redundant.

With regards to unsigned picks, only two went on to make the majors in Daniel Gossett and Mac Williamson, with neither having sustained success. Both players were released in 2020 and are not currently on a roster. Eighth-round pick Senquez Golson went to college and went on to become a second-round pick, but that was by the Pittsburgh Steelers after he focused on football full-time at Ole Miss. 

Final thoughts
There are scouts and front office staff who deserve a lot of the credit for this draft, like Sawdaye, Mike Hazen, Ray FagnantQuincy BoydDanny Watkins, and Jon Adkins. But fair or not, it is Epstein who will be remembered as the mastermind. He made the moves to acquire the extra picks, he put the right people in place to draft the best available players, and he set up the talent development juggernaut that produced position players better than any other franchise. The only ironic thing is that he never got to reap the rewards from this draft, as after the 2011 season he left Boston and went to the Cubs.

When Betts signed a long-term deal with the Dodgers before the start of the 2020 season, it certainly changed the way this draft will be viewed going forward by Red Sox fans. But Betts playing elsewhere does not make that pick any worse. The Red Sox still drafted a generational talent in the fifth round as part of a draft that saw the first eight players make it to the bigs and set in place the core that was one of the top teams in baseball from 2016 through its 2018 World Series victory. 

Photo Credit: Mookie Betts, Matt Barnes, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Travis Shaw by Kelly O'Connor

Jim Crowell is a Senior Staff Writer for SoxProspects.com.