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On the first day of the Major League Baseball Rule 4 draft the Boston Red Sox continued Theo Epstein’s plan to build and maintain a development machine. With four selections in the first round and the supplemental “sandwich” round thanks to free agent compensation picks, the Sox could take advantage of the draft board to restock a farm system that has weakened lately with the trade for Adrian Gonzalez and the promotion of prospects to the major league club.
In the first round the Red Sox selected Matt Barnes, a right-handed pitcher from UConn. Many experts predicted Barnes would be a top-10 pick and his availability at pick 19 came as something of a surprise. Kevin Goldstein, in his Baseball Prospectus Mock Draft, had Barnes going ninth overall. With a large build and good velocity, Barnes is the type of guy who could become a fixture in the rotation down the road. For a team that is always picking in the latter part of the first round, a player with Barnes’ potential even reaching the Sox is a great victory. If he can reach his ceiling the Red Sox could have a steal on their hands.
With their second first round selection the Red Sox took switch-hitting catcher Blake Swihart. A catcher with an athletic build, the six foot 175 pound high schooler has the ability to move to third base or the outfield if he needs a move from behind the plate. While he is committed to attending college at the moment, the Red Sox are likely to make him an offer that will convince him otherwise. While he is obviously more than a few years away from reaching the major leagues, strong hitting catchers are a rare commodity and someone with Swihart’s athletic abilities would be able to play himself onto a major league roster, no matter what position he settles at.
Picked thirty-sixth overall, Henry Owens is a tall, left-handed, high school pitcher. The hard-throwing lefty, able to reach 94 with his fastball, is an unusual addition to the Red Sox farm system. Aside from Jon Lester, the Sox have not had many hard-throwers from the left side and as with their selection of Barnes, if Owens can learn to build on what he has, the team may have found another themselves another bargain.
The last pick for Boston (40th overall) on the first day of the draft was college center fielder Jackie Bradley. A powerful offensive and defensive force for the University of South Carolina in his freshman and sophomore years, Bradley has dealt with injuries that decreased his value. Going from .340/.430/.537 as a freshman and .368/.473/.587 as a sophomore to just .259/.361/.468 this year allowed the Sox to grab a player who, entering this season, was expected to go much earlier. Similar to how they acquired Anthony Ranaudo last year, the Red Sox took a gamble on a player with a strong track record coming off a disappointing, injured season. Ranaudo was even the 39th pick last year. Dominating the Cape Cod League last season after falling due to injuries of his own, Ranaudo quickly eased concerns. If Bradley recover nearly as well, this strategy could really start paying off for the Sox.
As a wealthy team capable of signing free agents like Carl Crawford, or trading for young stars like Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett, the Red Sox have tried to build an organization with depth and breadth. While the draft is not a fortune cookie or an investment guaranteed to pay off, by targeting players who other teams are not willing to take the financial risk on, the Sox can still draft well, even as they are in the playoff hunt every season.