I love the optimism in Major League Baseball’s amateur draft, the hope that comes with having, say, the seventh pick and realizing that the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Troy Tulowitzki, Prince Fielder, and Matt Harvey all arrived in pro ball via that very draft position.
But I’m also a realist, and I recognize that for all of the MLB Network’s effort into turning it into an event like the annual NBA and NFL drafts, the gratification will come years down the road if it ever comes at all. Matt LaPorta was a No. 7 overall pick. So was Matt Harrington, Dan Reichert, Matt White, and our old friend Kyle Snyder.
Trey Ball, the Red Sox’ pick in that spot Thursday night, may be a future ace, the next Jon Lester or Bruce Hurst. He also may be the next John Curtice, a first-round washout who was barely the first John Curtice.
Ball is an 18-year-old pitcher out of high school from the Midwest. He’s gifted, but he’s a long, long way from the big leagues. To wit: The most frequent comparison you heard for him Thursday night was Henry Owens — a very promising lefthander in the Red Sox system who hasn’t thrown a pitch above Single A yet.
So instead of throwing a few adjectives against the wall and pretending I have any clue what Ball will be five seasons from now, I figured I’d take a relevant trip in the Jerry Trupiano Way-Back Machine instead.
Using the Baseball Hall of Fame’s addictive Diamond Mines scouting data base, I went back and looked at what scouts said about past Red Sox first-round picks at the time they were drafted or shortly after they began their professional careers.
While the results aren’t as thorough as I’d have liked — I couldn’t find a single report for a Red Sox No. 1 pick after 1997, which leaves out the likes of Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, and Craig Hansen — there’s some pretty fascinating stuff here that confirms the wild hit-or-miss nature of projecting what talented young baseball players might become.
We’ll start with arguably the best pick the Red Sox ever made …
Aces, sluggers, and superstars
1. Roger Clemens, righthanded pitcher
1983, 19th overall
Scout: Larry Monroe
What he said: “Throws 87-88 with fair life. Delivery is fluid but does not use body at all. Should be easily improved and no reason he shouldn’t be in low 90s. I’m surprised he doesn’t have shoulder problems from standing up and just throwing. Some bend in legs and drive to plate would help velocity, life and location. … I would take him 2nd round and could be a #1 with right coaching. The kind of pitcher I’d love to work with because simple leg drive would make him very good.”
What we say now: Clemens was the 11th pitcher drafted in ’83. Five of those ahead of him never threw a pitch in the majors. (Stan Hilton, 5th; Jackie Davidson, 6th; Rich Stoll, 14th; Wayne Dotson, 15th; Erik Sonberg, 18th.) Kudos to Monroe for recognizing that Clemens could be something special, but man, is that scouting report ever an indictment of the University of Texas coaching staff.
2. Mo Vaughn, first baseman/DH
1989, 23d overall
Scout: Jon Niederer (California Angels)
What he said: “Had outstanding offensive freshman year hitting between Craig Biggio and [Marteese] Robinson. Has not seen the kind of pitches to hit since they left and power numbers have fallen off, although he still gets his hits. Feel numbers will come back when he becomes a professional. The bat speed is there. Also has worked hard and improved somewhat defensively. Will never be more than adequate defensively; sooner or later, a full-time DH. Seems like a fine young man, humble and unaffected by all the attention … positive influence and leader on bench.”
What we say now: Hit 230 homers with a .936 OPS in eight seasons with the Red Sox, and his leadership made him an essential figure in Red Sox lore. Enjoyed reading Niederer’s spot-on assessment of his character. And to think, they got him seven picks after selecting Greg Blosser.
3. Nomar Garciaparra, scrawny shortstop
1994, 12th overall
Scout: Kevin Burrell
What he said: “2nd report, has shown a lot of improvement from beginning of year. Still phys. weak, but has a lot of room to gain weight. Must do so to be a productive everyday ML shortstop in the future. Def. wants to sign, will not have Boris [sic] as an agent. (has been very explisive [sic] of that). Will want final year of school.”
What we say now: Hol-eeeee smokes, was he skinny. Also: Not a Scott Boras fan. Point, Nomar.
Some smart, solid selections …
4. Bruce Hurst, lefthanded pitcher
1976, 22d overall selection
Scout: Gordon Lakey.
What he said: “Tremendous natural ability. Premium draft. Mormon religion. Can become above-avg. major league pitcher. Desires to play basketball in JC even if he signs.”
What we say now: Hurst, a star of the 1986 World Series, is tied with Dennis Eckersley for 20th in Red Sox history with 88 wins. One nitpick with the scouting report: Lakey cites Hurst’s “strong facial features.” It’s so offensively absurd that a prospect had to look the part so recently.
5. Trot Nixon, outfielder/Dirt Dog forefather
1993, 7th overall
Scout: Bill Meyer (Chicago White Sox)
What he said: “Has all the tools and instincts to be an ML 1st division starting outfielder. Skills more suited for RF position.”
What we say now: Ball is the Red Sox’ first No. 7 overall pick since Nixon 20 years ago. I don’t think anyone would consider Trot a disappointment — he had an .845 OPS and 133 homers in eight-plus seasons as a popular member of the Red Sox. But had he not been plagued by injuries virtually from the beginning of his professional career, he might have been a true superstar.
6. Adam Everett, another scrawny shortstop
1998, 12th overall
Scout: Russ Bove
What he said: “Built in the Mark Belanger/Gene Michael mold. Plus defensive skills. Makes the routine as well as the spectacular play. … Plus, plus runner. Not a true base stealer but should steal 20 bases. Good first to third runner. Contact, spray hitter. Some alley pop. Potential Walt Weiss type ML SS…”
What we say now: The Sox hit it big on one skinny, smooth-fielding college shortstop four years earlier, so they went back to the well. Everett never learned to hit, though — he had a 66 OPS+ in his 11-year career, which was actually worse than Belanger’s 68 OPS+. Traded to the Astros for Carl Everett (no relation).
7. Chris Reitsma, righthanded pitcher
1996, 34th overall
Scout: John Karp
What he said: “Player has the arm and physique to be a major league starter. Player demonstrates aptitude and willingness to learn. Instruction to date has been minimal. Excels as a champion volleyball player and Division 1 basketball prospect. (Heart is with baseball.) Scholarships are baseball/basketball combos. Has signed with Fresno State.”
What we say now: Had a respectable seven-year career in the majors for Cincinnati, Atlanta, and Seattle. Never pitched in bigs for Red Sox, who traded him along with minor leaguer John Curtice to the Reds for Dante Bichette in August 2000.
… and scattered spare parts
8. Sam Horn, born designated hitter
1982, 16th overall
Scout: Ed Dunn
What he said: “If he makes it, it will be at DH or possibly LF. Very poor 1B. Excellent power to all fields. Hits with a lot of authority. Will have to adjust to the good FB in on him. Drags bat. Only strength allows him to hit it to opposite field. Can run some.”
What we say now: The patron saint of Red Sox message boards was a fun flash late in the ’87 season, hitting 14 homers in 177 plate appearances. But his flaws were glaring — he was brutal defensively, couldn’t hit lefties, and contrary to this report, could only run in the most rudimentary sense. He never really found the right fit as a righty-mashing DH in his eight-year career. I’ll always believe he could have had Cecil Fielder‘s career with a couple of breaks.
9. Steve Lyons, infielder-outfielder(-self-depantser)
1981, 19th overall selection
Scout: Gordon Lakey
What he said: “Exciting player to watch, hyper and flaky but always in the game. Not a fluid infielder but makes all the routine plays. Probably will wind up at 3B but would let him play his way off SS. Bat will take some time but is too aggressive to give up on with it.”
What we say now: Versatile, hustling, space-shot of a utilityman who had four separate stints with the Red Sox in his nine-year career. Greatest contribution to the franchise? Bringing back Tom Seaver in a trade with the White Sox in June 1986.
10. John Marzano, catcher
1984, 14th overall
Scout: Tom Ferrick
What he said: “Blue chip type. Can be front liner in ML with imp on hitting. Running speed has improved, 4.4 to 1B. Knows how to receive. Shifts easy. On US Olympic team. Wants to sign.”
What we say now: Never hit enough to become that front-line catcher — he went 4 for 50 in 19 games for the 1992 Red Sox — but he did carve out a respectable decade-long career as a backup. Dies at age 45 in 2008 after falling down stairs outside his apartment.
Promises that went unfulfilled
11. Greg Blosser, outfielder
1989, 16th overall
Scout: Joe Branzell (Texas Rangers)
What he said: “He is going as far as his bat takes him and that could be a long way, all the way to the majors. He may be a tuf sign, unless the selecting club will give his family what they want. Has signed a sch. to Miss. State Univ. Has one of the three tools that is very good (outstanding as a hitter pot.) but his throwing and running speed is short.”
What we say now: The attraction came to Fenway, but he didn’t stay long, hitting .077 without a home run in 22 games and 45 plate appearances in 1993-94. Did hit 199 homers in a vagabond 15-year minor league career.
12. Kevin Morton, lefthanded pitcher
1989, 29th overall
Scout: Scott Reid
What he said: “Very poised & aggressive with plus CB & CON. First year; pitched in Elmira & Lynchburg in 1989.”
What we say now: Not exactly the most thorough report there, huh? Morton had a ton of hype as he rocketed through the Red Sox system, but he just didn’t have the fastball to succeed in the majors. Made 15 starts in ’91, struck out 45 and walked 40 in 86.1 innings, allowed a homer in his debut to Cecil Fielder that is currently orbiting a yet-to-be-discovered planet, and never threw another pitch in the big leagues after that season. The Abe Alvarez of his time.
13. Bob Zupcic, outfielder
1987, 32d overall
Scout: Steve Vrablik
What he said: “Has great body strength and speed to go with it. Shows good bat speed and power. … [Needs better] bat discipline and [to] be more selective at the plate. Has to work on a better arm release, muscles the ball in. They said he works on weights during the winter. This player has some good tools going for him but will be a project.”
What we say now: The winter weight work — that was notable then? — might have helped the 6-foot-4-inch, 220-pound Zupcic look the part. But it never translated to big-league power — he hit seven homers with a .346 slugging percentage in 886 at-bats. For the miserable ’92 Red Sox, he hit three homers in 432 plate appearances.
And just for the sport of it,
a pair of second-rounders
14. Jeff Suppan, righthanded pitcher
1993, 49th overall
Scout: Joe Stephenson
What he said: “Parents changed their minds and now say he can sign if college is included and he is drafted high. … The best RHP I’ve seen in the last 6 years. Better than Jack McDowell or any college pitcher I have seen this year.”
What we say: Suppan did a small part to help the Red Sox win a World Series — not as a pitcher during his two stints with the team (1995-97, 2003) but with some daffy baserunning as a Cardinal in 2004. Two pitchers chosen ahead of him in ’93 had a higher career bWAR — Chris Carpenter and Billy Wagner. Somehow I doubt his parents regretted letting him sign out of high school — Suppan made more than $58 million in his career.
15. Fred Lynn, outfielder
1973, 41st overall
Scout: Joe Stephenson
What he said: “Drafted by NY Yanks in 6/70. Wanted $60,000 tax free at that time. In high school pitched and played outfield. At USC has been used only in OF. Built something like Brett with same kind of arm, but has good quick bat and shows signs of becoming an outstanding hitter. Believe OF to be his best spot. Believe him to be one of the best prospects at SC. Will follow.”
What we say now: First, I refuse to believe Lynn was drafted by the Red Sox 40 years ago. He barely looks 40 now. Second, the reference to Brett is not to George Brett, but his brother Ken Brett, who was a mega-prospect as both a pitcher and an outfielder, with many teams liking him better as a center fielder. The Red Sox chose him fourth in ’66, and he debuted at Fenway the next, glorious season.
Which brings us back to Ball:
This is the highest the Red Sox have taken a LHP since 1966 when they took George Brett’s older brother Ken 4th overall
— Jeremy Lundblad (@JLundbladESPN) June 6, 2013
And that, friends, is how it all ties together.