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August 21, 2020 at 12:30 PM

2013 Draft Retrospective: A well-documented misfire

Thank you for checking in on the newest entry in our draft retrospective series. Tuesday was a pick-by-pick rundown of 2013, 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.

2013 Draft

The disastrous, soul-crushing embarrassment that was the Bobby Valentine era in Boston came to a merciful end after one season. It is hard to take many positives away from that season, but one clear benefit was that for just the second time since the 1967 Impossible Dream season, the Red Sox had a slot in the top 10 picks in the draft. Boston would be drafting seventh overall, the same spot they were in 20 years earlier when they nabbed prep outfielder and football star Christopher Trotman Nixon. Nixon would spend 13 years in the Red Sox organization, appearing in 982 games and finishing with a .278/.366/.478 line and 133 homers. It was also the spot where Hall of Famer Frank Thomas and likely future inductee Clayton Kershaw were taken. 

Obviously, those sky-high expectations were going to be unfair to anybody, but it wasn’t just the miss with the Trey Ball pick that made the 2013 draft Boston’s worst of the 21st century. None of the team’s first eight draft picks reached the majors, and only one got as far as Triple-A while in the Red Sox system. Nearly a million dollars of the team's likely draft budget (typically the bonus pool plus 5 percent) went unspent. The team’s few successful picks, coming in the late rounds of the draft, were all dealt as secondary, tertiary, and even quaternary pieces in deals in which the return varied in quality. When combined with a 2012 draft that also failed to produce impact talent, the 2013 failure resulted in a major talent gap following the run of prospect graduations from 2015 to 2017. It would be unfair to blame the 2020 team’s struggles directly on the 2013 draft, but it’s part of the story.  

The Vitals
General Manager: Ben Cherington
Scouting Director: Amiel Sawdaye

Major Leaguers drafted and signed
Mauricio Dubon (26th round, 0.6 bWAR)
Carlos Asuaje (11th round, 0.2 bWAR)
Kyle Martin (9th round, 0.0 bWAR)
Gabe Speier (19th round, -0.2 bWAR)

Unsigned players who reached the major leagues
Matt Thaiss (32nd round, 0.3 bWAR)

Can the Red Sox develop pitching? 
It’s a question that has been asked several times in recent years, and the volume seems to rise with the 2020 staff’s ERA. The team has continued to identify and nurture outstanding position players, enabling them to win four World Series titles in a 15-year stretch. In recent years, the emergence of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, Yoan Moncada, Rafael Devers, and Jackie Bradley going from top prospects to impact MLB players was juxtaposed by the team consistently needing to look outside of the organization to acquire pitching. 

In upcoming entries in this series, it will become clear that this criticism is somewhat outdated. Significant pitching prospects who were drafted from 2014 through 2016 were keys to the team being able to acquire the major-league talent that won the team the 2018 World Series. But the story of the 2013 draft isn’t yet the one of Michael Kopech, Logan Allen, Jalen Beeks, Shaun Anderson, and others ready or nearly ready to make an impact in the majors. The story of 2013 was its position as the most notable and most spectacular example of a multi-year failure. While attention is understandably paid to Ball, the Red Sox gave eight pitchers bonuses in excess of $100,000 in 2013. Only one – the last one of those eight drafted – has reached the major leagues, and it took Gabe Speier four trades and six years to debut. Given that this followed a 2012 draft in which the organization selected pitchers with eight of its first nine picks, with all of those pitchers failing, so far, to make a significant impact, it makes sense to try to piece together the reasons.

A common theme is the organization’s ability to look beyond raw physical tools and the traditional look and find players who simply had outstanding baseball skills, or, in the simple parlance, they keep getting short guys who can hit. While the team has had its share of prototypical physical specimens (Bogaerts, Moncada, Jacoby Ellsbury), it has gotten championship-level contributions from sub-6-foot stars like Betts, Bradley, Benintendi, Devers, Dustin Pedroia, and others. The success prioritizing skills over physical attributes in developing hitters makes at all the more frustrating that the organization eschewed that approach for amateur pitchers, seemingly blinded by a laser focus on height dating back to 2007. 

It feels unfair to continue to focus so much on Ball specifically, an extraordinary athlete who never grew into an excellent pitcher and in so doing became the avatar for the team’s inability to develop arms. Baseball America ranked Ball the ninth-best prospect headed into the draft, and 89th in the minor leagues headed into 2014. Those rankings were mirrored by Perfect Game USA and MLB.com. Pre-draft forecasts didn’t seem to have Ball on the Red Sox radar, but our Editor-in-Chief, Mike Andrews, did have him as one of five possibilities for the pick in his pre-draft preview, and in hindsight, Ball seems to have fit perfectly into the team’s blind spot. A very tall, supremely athletic lefthander whose projectability was enough to make scouts overlook that the stuff was not yet there. The Red Sox were not alone in their high regard for Ball, but it does seem frustrating in hindsight that his athleticism seemed to overshadow that Ball threw a straight fastball in the low-90s, complemented by a curve and change, neither of which could at the time be projected as having plus potential. Ball joins a long list that included hurlers like Pat Light, Anthony Ranaudo, Henry Owens, and Jamie Callahan (and to some degree Ty Buttrey, although he is now closing for a struggling Angels team) whom the Red Sox believed could succeed as a direct result of their height, athleticism, and high release point but did not go on to have impactful careers.

Some success (alas, with little value to Boston) in later rounds
One common theme of the Dave Dombrowski era was his willingness to try to sell high on second-tier prospects who were playing well or coming off of good seasons, particularly if they were players who didn’t have a clear defensive position. This modus operandi served the organization well when the team had a deep system but had clear consequences as the minor league talent pool thinned out and he needed to keep going outside the organization to supplement the major league roster. 

If there was a silver lining in the 2013 draft, it came in some smart and inspired drafting later on in the draft. The team’s best pick, without question, was 26th-round selection Mauricio Dubon. A slender, raw, athletic infielder with natural defensive skills and excellent coordination, Dubon’s backstory deserves retelling. At age 15, a group of Christian baseball missionaries came to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, a country not known for producing baseball talent: Gerald Young was the only Honduran-born player in major league history, and he was raised and educated in California. Dubon so impressed the group that they invited him to come to Sacramento, where he could enroll in Capital Christian High School and develop his baseball skills. He proceeded to bat .509 during his high school career while also starring in soccer. Still, he was not seen as an impact prospect: neither Baseball America nor Perfect Game USA had him listed on their top-400 lists, and he did not get scholarship offers from any major college programs. 

Dubon impressed scout Demond Smith and the Red Sox were able to bring him into the fold for only $16,000. He struggled in his initial assignment to the Gulf Coast League, hitting just .245/.298/.302 in 20 games, but endeared himself quickly to coaches and teammates, earning him a longer look the following year. From there it was a steady, notable improvement; .320/.337/.395 for Lowell in 2014; .288/.349/.376 in 2015 split between Greenville and Salem (his promotion to the latter team highly aggressive and likely done largely to free up infield playing time on the legendary 2015 Drive squad that also featured Javier Guerra and Moncada in the middle infield, with both Devers and Michael Chavis at third); and a 2016 breakout, hitting .306/.387/.379 for Salem followed by a .339/.371/.538 line after a promotion to Portland. 

Those eye-popping numbers at Double-A were out of line with anything Dubon had previously delivered, and he did not have a clear path to playing time with Pedroia entrenched and under a long-term deal at second base and Bogaerts having established himself at shortstop. Believing it was the right time to sell on the 22-year-old was hardly a crazy decision, though whether including him as one of four pieces in a deal for a high-risk reliever constitutes “selling high” is an open question. On to the Brewers in the maligned Tyler Thornburg deal, Dubon went on to have a solid-but-unspectacular year between Double-A and Triple-A. He got off to a hot start in 2018 but tore his ACL in early May, ending his season. Fortunately for Dubon, the effects would not linger, and he returned strong in 2019, making his major league debut on July 7. He was dealt to the Giants for old friend Drew Pomeranz, and has started to establish himself in a super-utility role back in Northern California. 

Beyond Dubon, mid-round picks Carlos Asuaje, Joe Gunkel, and Gabe Speier were dealt for veteran talent, while Nick Longhi was moved for $2.75 million of international bonus pool space in 2018 that allowed the club to sign the late Daniel Flores to a $3.1-million bonus. Asuaje’s background story is less dramatic than Dubon’s, but his role in the system wasn’t wildly different. He followed a great full-season debut with a solid 2015 at Portland that made it easy to envision him in a major league utility role. Using him as a trade chip was uncontroversial in a general sense, but he did seem overqualified as a fourth piece in a deal for a closer, even one as excellent as Craig Kimbrel. Speier has been traded for Rick Porcello, Cameron Maybin, Dansby Swanson, and Jon Jay. Gunkel, who has so far fallen short of the majors despite some solid Triple-A numbers, went to Baltimore when a bevy of outfield injuries triggered the acquisition of Alejandro De Aza

Missed opportunities
Let’s get the obvious out of the way quickly: know that the Red Sox passed on Austin Meadows to select Trey Ball. You’re not telling us anything original when you tweet that at us or sign up for our forum to complain about it. Meadows was a relatively controversial prospect with scouts pre-draft, and he doesn’t particularly fit the profile of the type of position player the Red Sox have drafted. Though 2013 has come to be recognized as a relatively poor draft around baseball, the late emergence of some high school talent has evaluations of that class on the upswing. Players like Meadows, Hunter Renfroe, and Tim Anderson all would have been strong additions. 

More than any individual pick, the biggest miss in 2013 seems to be the $931,810 the team had remaining in the team's budget (the team’s bonus pool cap number plus 5 percent). Though the details have never totally emerged, it seems that the Red Sox believed they would be able to come to terms with 13th-round pick Jordan Sheffield and that much of that money was ticketed for him. However, with no strong indication that a deal was in place, the team would have done well to draft another couple of players with asks in a similar price range. Perhaps they thought Ryan Boldt was bluffing on his rumored $2-million asking price and would come down when presented with the money. Indiana State left-hander Sean Manaea, a consensus top-10 talent headed into his junior season, saw his stock drop when he suffered an injury but did not seem to lower his bonus demands. Manaea would go on to sign with Kansas City as a low-first-round pick for $3.5 million, about $750,000 more than what it took to bring Ball into the fold. If the Red Sox selected Ball because they preferred him to Manaea in terms of talent, it is a defensible error. If they chose Ball in order to spread around more bonus pool money and then failed to do so, it has to be regarded as a huge missed opportunity. After all, Boston teams don't get a top-10 pick very often and should know better than anyone to draft the guy from Indiana State. 

Final thoughts
When a team drafts so consistently well for an extended period of time, the poor drafts stick out more jarringly. In the SoxProspects.com era, only the 2009 draft comes anywhere close to the futility of 2013, an edition that seems to fit in more closely with the disastrous Dan Duquette-era ones of the 1990s than with the Epstein and Cherington models.

Photo Credit: Mauricio Dubon, Trey Ball by Kelly O'Connor

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