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September 4, 2020 at 12:30 PM

2015 Draft Retrospective: The end of the Cherington era


Thank you for checking in on the newest entry in our draft retrospective series. Tuesday was a pick-by-pick rundown of 2015, 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.

2015 Draft

Background: 
Cherington had the magic touch after the 2012 season, with basically every move he made at the major league level contributing to the 2013 World Series victory. A lot of these signings were role players or undervalued regulars, and he spent about $100 million in total on Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Koji Uehara, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Dempster, Stephen Drew, and David Ross. With the 2014 team suffering a World Series hangover and scuffling to a 71-91 record, Cherington decided to change course. 

With a revamped farm system thanks to the 2011 draft, several talented, cost-controlled players such as Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Blake Swihart, Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Matt Barnes were either knocking on the door to the majors by the end of the 2014 season or were already there. This, combined with the financial flexibility from the Adrian Gonzalez trade to the Dodgers, allowed Cherington to flex Boston's financial muscle and pay a premium for established talent and high-end international professionals. $255 million later, the Red Sox had signed Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, and Rusney Castillo, three signings that would, arguably, ultimately cost Cherington his job. 

On top of the financial obligations to Sandoval and Ramirez, their signings also required the Red Sox to surrender picks 47 and 72 in the 2015 draft and the accompanying $2,144,900 in slot value. Equipped with the 7th pick for the second time in three years, Red Sox fans were hoping the 7th overall pick would more resemble Trot Nixon from the 1993 draft than Trey Ball from the 2013 draft. 

The Vitals
General Manager: Ben Cherington
Scouting Director: Mike Rikard

Major Leaguers drafted and signed
Andrew Benintendi (1st round, 9.7 bWAR)
Travis Lakins (6th round, 0.5 bWAR)
Bobby Poyner (14th round, 0.4 bWAR)
Ben Taylor (7th round, -0.1 bWAR)
Logan Allen (8th round, -0.3 bWAR)
Trevor Kelley (36th round, -0.4 bWAR)

Unsigned players who reached the major leagues
Kevin Ginkel (26th round, 0.4 bWAR)

No room for error
With their second selection not coming until pick 81 and over $2 million of bonus money forfeited for free agent signings, the Red Sox had to hit on the 7th overall pick. As was noted in the previous Draft Retrospective post, the Red Sox were all over LSU shortstop Alex Bregman during the 2015 college season, but when it was clear that he was going earlier than pick seven, it was uncertain which direction the Red Sox would take. By the time the draft came, it looked like they were locked in on Andrew Benintendi (pictured, above) and Vanderbilt right-hander Carson Fulmer

Like Bregman, Fulmer was drafted by the Red Sox in 2012, and his college career was nothing short of fantastic. As a sophomore, he was named the SEC Pitcher of the Year and led the Commodores to the 2014 College World Series title. In the summer of 2014, he pitched for the United States collegiate national team, and in 2015 he won the National Pitcher of the Year Award and was a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award, college baseball's Heisman trophy. Boston's failure to develop pitching prospects was already well-documented at the time, but they rarely had a chance to draft a pitcher like Fulmer. 

While Fulmer was one of the most heavily-scouted players in the years leading up to the draft, Benintendi was flying completely under the radar. A draft-eligible sophomore after a freshman season that saw him hit .276/.368/.333 with one home run in 61 games, it was reported that several teams did not even know that Benintendi was draft-eligible until March of his sophomore season. At the end of March, Arkansas was 14-14 and Benintendi had 7 home runs, but over their final 29 games, they went 21-8 and Benintendi hit 12 more home runs en route to a College World Series birth. In the Super Regionals, Benintendi (and Boston's 35th-round pick, Tyler Spoon) beat Missouri State and Boston's fourth-round pick Tate Matheny (pictured, above)

In all, Benintendi hit .380/.489/.715 and beat out Fulmer to win the Golden Spikes Award. Once he was in the fold, the early returns were outstanding: he breezed through the minors and made his major league debut on August 2, 2016, less than 14 months after draft day. He was an above-average regular in 2017 and 2018 for the Red Sox, finishing second in Rookie of the Year balloting in the former and reaching the final vote for an All-Star spot in the latter. After tailing off in the second half of 2018, he was closer to league average in 2019 and his play dropped off significantly to start 2020. An age 23 season that featured a 4.5 bWAR and key role leading the Red Sox to a World Series title feels like something of a distant memory, but at just 26-years-old he has plenty of time, and will get plenty of chances, to right the ship. 

So where would Benintendi go in a 2015 re-draft? While his stock may be low in the eyes of fans right now, it is important to put his play in perspective. At 9.7 bWAR, he is third in total bWAR behind Bregman and Cardinals fourth-round pick Paul DeJong from this draft. Players like Mike Soroka, Walker Buehler, Chris Paddack, Brandon LoweTriston McKenzie, and Kyle Tucker may arguably have more value than Benintendi right now, but in a re-draft, the chances of Benintendi slipping out of the top 10 are slim. Considering that Fulmer has been a negative-bWAR contributor in the majors, it would be very hard to argue the Red Sox didn't make the right pick here, even with his recent struggles. Frankly, his contributions to the 2018 championship alone justify the pick.

Playing it safe and getting burned
Similar to the 2020 draft, the Red Sox were handcuffed by the lack of a second-rounder. Knowing that Benintendi would require the full slot amount of $3,590,400, they only had $2,944,590 to work with, assuming that they would go five percent over their cap amount. They did not have much room to get creative, so in rounds three, four, and five, they found players they could sign for the exact slot amount. Austin Rei, ranked 68th by Baseball America ("BA"), was taken with the 81st overall pick. Matheny (BA #107) was picked at 111, and Jagger Rusconi (BA #322) was picked at 141. These three would require $1,639,100 collectively to sign, and while all three are still in the system, they are profile as upper minors depth at this point. 

Logan Allen's place in history
The Red Sox did well in rounds six and seven, getting Travis Lakins (pictured, left) for slightly above-slot and Ben Taylor for just $10,000. Both players would go on to make the majors for Boston before moving on to other organizations. The money Boston saved on Taylor and, subsequently, on ninth and 10th rounders Tucker Tubbs and Mitchell Gunsolus went to Logan Allen, BA's 128th-ranked prospect in the draft. The South Carolina commit was a perfect 9-0 with a 0.87 ERA at IMG Academy in Florida, and when he signed in Boston and debuted in the GCL, his numbers were eerily similar. He was on an innings-limit so he did not record any wins or losses, but he had an ERA of 0.90 over 20 innings, striking out 24 and walking only one. The buzz around Allen was starting to grow, and it looked like the Red Sox did well to get him into the organization for third-round money. 

When Dave Dombrowski took over for Cherington in August 2015, fans knew based on Dombrowski's reputation that many of their favorite prospects would be traded in the coming years and that he would be willing to pay a steep prospect price to get his targets in a way that Cherington was not. Allen was one of the first players out the door, as he was traded along with Carlos Asuaje, Javier Guerra, and Manuel Margot to the Padres for Craig Kimbrel. His inclusion in that deal made Allen was the first player traded under the "Trea Turner rule," which allowed recent draftees to be traded after the World Series was completed in the year they were drafted. Previously, teams had to wait a full calendar year after a player's signing date to trade them, but were allowed to make them players-to-be-named-later, which is what kept Turner in limbo for half of the 2015 season despite it being no secret he was heading from San Diego to Washington. 

Allen's inclusion in the Kimbrel trade looks even worse in hindsight. Margot was a top-100 prospect in baseball and ranked fourth in the Red Sox system, while Guerra was not too far behind him at six. Asuaje was a borderline top-20 player in the system as well, and the odds of anyone else topping that package for Kimbrel was unlikely. But Dombrowski threw in Allen as a lottery ticket—a decision that was questionable at the time, never mind in hindsight—making it a four-for-one deal and entrenching Kimbrel as Boston's closer for the next three seasons. Allen is now in Cleveland's pitching development juggernaut, and at just 23-years-old, his best years are ahead of him. He may not profile as a future ace, but he certainly would have been seeing significant time in Boston over the past season-and-a-half.

Missed opportunities
The overall talent of the 2015 draft was solid, but the first-round is littered with players who will never make the major leagues. Fulmer was taken one pick after Benintendi, but the White Sox rushed him to the majors in 2016 and he never recovered. He was designated for assignment in July 2020 and is now with Cherington in Pittsburgh. Ian Happ was another player who could have been on Boston's radar at pick seven, and after a couple seasons that saw him contribute slightly-above average offense while being a liability on defense, he was demoted for most of the 2019 season. He is having a breakout season in 2020 as he has gotten his strikeout rate below 30 percent.

While it would have been great to draft a lot of the players mentioned earlier, they were either gone by the time Boston was back on the clock in round three or they were not rated high enough to take at pick seven. This underscores the squandering of the two picks that were surrendered for Sandoval and Ramirez, as they had no chance to get creative and had to play the board as it fell to them. 

Final thoughts
At this point the draft hinges on Benintendi, and based on his pedigree, it would be foolish to write him off. There was nothing fluky about his 2018 season when he was a borderline All-Star, and in 2019 his batted ball profile showed that he got a bit unlucky, with an expected slugging percentage of .470 compared with his actual slugging percentage of .431. His 2020 season, prior to the rib injury that now appears to have ended his campaign, was ugly, but it was just a 14-game sample size in a very bizarre year under unique circumstances. The Red Sox still view him highly, and he will enter 2021 with a starting spot unless another team decides to overpay for him in a trade. 

The only other player still in the organization who might reasonably provide some value is Poyner (pictured, right), though he was ultimately removed from the 40-man roster, cleared waivers, and is no longer in the 2020 Player Pool. 2015's draft class, headlined by a single early pick followed by two forfeited selections, looked fated to potentially become a one-man draft in a way that even the 2013 draft was not. So far, the return has been solid with Benintendi, whose return to form will determine whether the draft is viewed along the lines of 2004 when Dustin Pedroia's stellar career more than made up for a lack of depth.

Photo Credit: Andrew Benintendi, Tate Matheny, Travis Lakins, and Bobby Poyner by Kelly O'Connor

 
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