5 reasons why the Red Sox really liked their Draft

Rob Bradford
June 12, 2020 - 8:03 am
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Chaim Bloom has been in enough rooms (Zoom or otherwise) during the MLB Draft to understand how this whole thing works. It is an inexact science that will tempt teams with false hope and unrealistic expectations while blanketing each selection with plenty of anxiety.

"Over the past few years, I’ve appreciated more and more that the most successful drafts aren’t necessarily the ones where you’re high-fiving after every pick because you got a player you love," Bloom told WEEI.com prior to this year's event. "Of course, you want things to fall your way but you can’t control who the other 29 clubs pick. So it’s on us to do a really good job building that board. That way, when it’s our turn to pick, we can feel really good about why we’re selecting the player and why he was our top choice in that moment. If we do that well, more often than not it’s going to lead to really good results. We always ask our players to focus on the process and to trust it. The same thing is true for us in the draft room."

But when the moments come, it still is hard not to high-five, even through a virtual attaboy. That was the test the Red Sox were put to once again the last two nights.

"I enjoyed it," said Paul Toboni, who had just finished his first Draft as a scouting director. "A couple of things: We’re five minutes removed but you always kind of think about maybe things you should have done differently instead of dwelling on the things the group did well. I would say this year it was so unique just from a perspective of doing it all remotely and checking in on our scouts virtually on a Zoom call. It was different. Not necessarily different in a bad way, it was just different. It was tough to get used to but at the same time, I think it flowed pretty well and I think we were very well prepared. With what we were presented I think we made the most out of it. I don’t say this with any sort of false admiration for our group, but I’m just excited that I’m part of this group and we have the group that we have because it’s a really special group of people and the makes it easy."

When it comes to the usual round of report cards following the Draft the Red Sox likely will not be among the honor students in the eyes of many. (Speaking of report cards, it's funny to look back at Bleacher Report giving the Red Sox an A-plus for their highly-touted 2011 Draft, basing a big part of the grade on Henry Owens while not even mentioning Mookie Betts.)

The perception among the pundits was that their first-round pick Nick Yorke represented one of the biggest reaches in recent years. They didn't even have a second-round pick. And while third-round selection Blaze Jordan was universally met with a positive reaction, the two pitchers the Red Sox closed out with in the fourth and fifth round, respectively -- Hawaii's Jeremy Wu-Yelland and Shane Drohan of Florida State -- weren't going to move the needle enough in the eyes of the experts.

So be it. The Red Sox clearly were content. Here are five reasons why:

THEY GOT THE NEXT BRYCE HARPER

OK, maybe that's a leap of faith, especially considering Jordan was the 89th overall pick in the Draft. But few youngsters -- and he is young, just 17 years old -- have lived through the hype that the Mississippi third baseman have. When you hit a 395-foot home run in a big-league park as an 11-year-old, or celebrate with major leaguers during All-Star Weekend after winning another HS Home Run Derby, such attention is going be understandable.

But this was a player the Red Sox clearly strategized to get, paying under slot for first-rounder Yorke in order to draw Jordan away from a Mississippi commitment he had locked in on as an 8th-grader.

"Obviously, we were really, really excited to have the opportunity to select him," Toboni said. "Quite frankly, we didn't think he'd make it that far in the draft. He's a unique talent. A ton of power upside, good feel to hit, really recognizes pitches early, and he's doing this all being a year younger than his counterparts because he reclassified. Just a really exciting talent, there's really no other way to put it, and we're really happy that he's a Boston Red Sox."

"We had a select group of players just because what we thought they were going to be asking in terms of a signing bonus they might slip down the draft a little bit," Toboni added. "We had a small group of them and we were lucky in one of them in Blaze was able to get there. I don’t want to say it’s how we drew it up, but it’s pretty darn close to how we drew up. We’re really excited and I think you hit the nail on the head, getting that kind of upside at Pick 89, it’s not normal. We were able to assume the risk mainly just because of the expected value that we thought we were getting were really, really good in that area of the Draft."

One legitimate question came up in the Thursday night conference call: Has it been too much, too soon for Jordan?

"I haven't thought a ton about whether that's a good thing or bad thing for him," Toboni noted. "What we did think a good amount about was how he handled that notoriety, and for me, it was just that the kid was or is so mature beyond his years, and I just remind myself every now and then, what I would be like at 17 years old and what was I like, and the answer to that question is Blaze is far more mature than I was. I think it doesn't hurt that he's been on big-league fields taking batting practice and hitting home runs and then slapping five with Mookie Betts and other big leaguers. It for sure doesn't hurt, and especially with someone who carries himself with great humility and a strong work ethic, I think it's going to bode well for him in the future."

YORKE WAS THE RIGHT GUY AT THE RIGHT TIME

It didn't take much Googling effort to find the industry eye-rolling when it came to the Sox' pick of the high school infielder. But from the Red Sox' perspective, the selection might end up being one of their finest moments.

First of all, the savings they managed with the Yorke pick allowed to swoop in on a class of high school players in third round some teams might have been scared off by. With no second-round pick, they knew just settling for third-round ability wasn't going to be the play.

And most importantly, the Red Sox really liked Yorke. More than most, sure. But due to a familiarity with the player, they felt it was the rest of the league which was missing the boat on the 18-year-old. (By the way, any scout that anonymously passed on they "never heard of" Yorke should be embarrassed. It makes for good copy, but it is still a ridiculous notion.)

IF THERE WAS A SEASON ...

So much of the Draft analysis was imperfect this time around because of virtually no 2020 season. This was a lot of what happened a year ago, and projecting what have been. Never before has the results of the Cape Cod League been leaned on so heavily when trying to decipher value for picks.

The Red Sox fourth-round selection Jeremy Wu-Yelland was a perfect example of the imperfect dynamic.

If you looked at Wu-Yelland's abbreviated recent results there is a ton of optimism. After performing well for Chatham last summer the lefty came back and struck out 16 in his only 13 innings for Hawaii this past season, posting a 0.69 ERA with a fastball that sat between 94-97 mph. But before that? If you were to go off his previous collegiate results there might be a different perception. But this is where scouting and projections became more important than ever.

"(Scout) J.J. Altobelli did an incredible job on him," Toboni said. "As you know, kids at the University of Hawaii are pretty tough to scout. And they are especially tough to scout when you only get three or four weekends in the spring. But the communication right from the get-go was on point in terms of this kid’s talent. We had seen him pitch on the Cape, where he threw great. J.J. went over there over the course of the winter, got a good look at him there. And then they came out and played at Vanderbilt, I think that was in early March and he threw great again there. J.J. really drove it with how well he communicated. We were able to get a really robust process early on the kid which left us in a really good position to select him in the fourth round."

One of the reasons the Red Sox picked Yorke when they did was because they didn't have much confidence he would be available when they picked again 62 selections later. That's a gamble the Sox weren't willing to take.

The gamble the Red Sox did take later in the Draft -- prioritizing Wu-Yelland in the fourth round instead of Drohan -- did pay off.

When it came to the Florida State hurler, the Sox waited, waited, waited and then ... finally got their guy, a former high school quarterback who strikes out a bunch of guys.

"Dante Ricciardi, I say it’s his first year, he’s probably been scouting since he was two. He did a tremendous job," Toboni said. "I laugh thinking about it. I remember being down at spring training in early March and seeing in our office at JetBlue and Dante was talking to me about this kid for probably 15 minutes and telling me how good of a football player he was and how he had so much runway left and how he’s just scratching the surface and so we’re really, really excited to get Shane in the fifth round. Quite frankly, we didn’t think he was going to be there even in the fourth really. When we took Wu-Yellen, we were like, there’s no way he’s going to be there in the fifth. We were happy to be able to consider him there. Another unique talent. He just does it so easy. When you watch him throw, it looks like it’s not taking much effort and then you check the radar gun and it’s 94, 95 (mph). So we’re excited to get Shane as well."

FRUITS OF THEIR LABOR

Just before wrapping up Thursday night's Zoom call with the media, Toboni asked for just a few more minutes ...

"This is a note to all you guys, and I know you’ve worked your tails off covering all this, so I wanted to mention just a couple of things. The first thing is, and I think we’ve done a decent job, especially you guys have done a decent job recognizing this, but I think in the industry as a whole, the work that our scouts, particularly our area scouts do in my mind is categorically under-recognized across the sport. And I think the work that Josh Labandeira did this year was remarkable. I mentioned JJ (Altobelli). I mentioned Dante. Danny Watkins every year kills it. And I just think of the hundreds of nights they spend away from their families, largely isolated, it’s pretty thankless and quite honestly, a lot like what all of you do. But it shouldn’t be. And I think not just our scouts but our analysts, particularly Dan Meyer. Dan Meyer has worked for the last 12 months for seemingly 12 hours a day trying to really help guide our decision-making process for this draft, and I mentioned that the scouts work is under-recognized, but just as much, our analyst work goes underrecognized. So really I just wanted to say that to shed some light and maybe give them some recognition. I think it’s what’s so cool about our group and our process is the way those groups come together and being a part of the same team and making the right pick and placing that importance over any sort of self-recognition is what makes our group so special, but at the end of the day, I did want to shed some light on that because I think it’s important. So that’s all I go. Thanks for listening to my mini tangent there."