A tip of the ball cap to Michael Chavis, the Georgia prep shortstop chosen by the Red Sox in the first round of the MLB Draft Thursday. It must be a thrill, the most fulfilling moment of his 18 years on this planet. He sure does look happy. The bow tie is a nice touch.
Here’s hoping we see him styling and starring at Fenway down the road, maybe even as soon as 2019 if all goes well. Good luck to the kid, and let’s check back in on his progress in this space when he gets to Portland in three years, maybe four.
I hope that doesn’t sound snide. I don’t mean it to be. I mean it to be honest. As someone who loves baseball — I think and hope that is obvious — I do not get the buzz surrounding the MLB Draft. At all. Whatsoever.
It’s manufactured, and while MLB is promoting the hell out of it (even Bud Selig has to be sick of seeing that ubiquitous photo of him with his arm around all-time outlier Mike Trout on Draft Night 2009), the payoff is not immediate enough for me to get fired up about some kid who is years away from the majors, presuming he is among the small majority of first-rounders who get there and stay.
Baseball is trying make draft day what it is in the NFL and NBA, and it just cannot be that. There’s too much time and development required between the draft and a player’s eventual debut for it to matter much in the moment.
I hope Chavis makes it. I have no clue right now whether he will. Neither does anyone else. The draft is the beginning of his journey, not the end.
To me, the draft is something that is enjoyed so much more in retrospect, with some knowledge if not full-career knowledge of what a player became. Baseball Prospectus had great fun with this concept a few days ago, with several writers chiming in on a column about draft-day what-ifs. We’ll never know how history would have been different, say, had the Astros drafted Derek Jeter rather than Phil Nevin first overall in 1992. But we can presume gift baskets in Houston include much different prizes — beef jerky, that sort of thing — than they do in New York.
That in mind — and with this year’s draft out of mind — I took a look back through various Red Sox drafts to consider some paths and players they chose, and how history might have been altered had they selected a different player that day. Maybe you agree, maybe you don’t, but to me, looking back is so much more fun than speculative projecting …
The Red Sox had the third overall pick during the summer of The Impossible Dream due to their ninth-place finish in the AL in ’66. (Only the Yankees were worse.) They used the choice on Mike Garman, a hard-throwing high-school righthander from Idaho. He went on to pitch nine years in the big leagues, though he won just two games a member of the Red Sox in 20 appearances over four years. The Red Sox could be excused for passing on catcher Ted Simmons (10th overall, Cardinals) since they’d spent their first-round pick in the January phase of the draft on a catcher carved from New Hampshire granite named Carlton Fisk. But it’s hard not to retrospectively envy the Orioles’ first two selections. With the 19th pick of the first round, they chose Long Beach high school Bobby Grich, who became one of the most underrated players of any era, then swiped Austin, Texas prep star Don Baylor in the second round. Baylor and Grich would be longtime teammates with the Orioles and Angels and rivals during the 1986 American League Championship Series.
The Red Sox spent their first pick on a 6-foot-6-inch catcher from California named Thomas Maggard. He was taken 20th overall, 16 picks after another catcher of great promise was selected by the Yankees: Thurman Munson. Munson of course became a star and rival of the Red Sox through the ’70s before dying in a plane crash in August 1979. Maggard never saw a day in the major leagues, for he too was ill-fated: he died in September 1973 of an allergic reaction to a bug bite. He was just 23.
Of the 24 players selected in the first round, 18 made the majors. Just their luck that the Red Sox chose one of the six who didn’t — in fact, their top pick, Minnesota outfielder Noel Jenks, never even played pro ball. The Red Sox took him 13th, one spot before the Reds chose lefthander Don Gullett. Gullett, a smoke-throwing lefty, started three games of the 1975 World Series against the Red Sox, including Cincinnati’s Game 7 win. That prompted his Red Sox counterpart to deliver this classic ah-bleep-it quote: “[Gullett] may be going to the Hall of Fame,” said Bill Lee, “but I’m going to the Eliot Lounge.” I know you know that quote. It’s forever worth repeating.
If you have a beef with one Jim Ed Rice as the Red Sox’ first pick (15th overall), I’ll presume you’re related to a pitcher he once tormented. Rice was the best prospect the franchise has ever had in the draft era, and his fulfilled promise took him to Cooperstown. But if, say, you happened to believe the Red Sox needed talented third base prospect in their system at that time, a couple of pretty decent ones were available in the second round. I don’t know about you, but I had no idea that George Brett (29th overall) and Mike Schmidt (30th) were chosen back-to-back the same year.
Is it fair to honestly eulogize Don Zimmer by saying he seemed like a more than decent man, one who cherished a life lived in baseball, while also acknowledging that he was less than a decent manager? Maybe the timing of the assessment is callous. It’s just that when I see Bruce Hurst — the 22d overall pick in ’76 and first among first-rounders that year in career WAR (34.8) — I’m reminded that he was one of countless young pitchers mishandled by Zimmer, and one of few who thrived afterward. (Sigh.) Two other notes from this draft: The Red Sox thought they were getting their shortstop of the future in the second round in Glenn Hoffman. The Tigers actually did with Alan Trammell. And, the Red Sox spent their fourth-round pick on Florida State righthander Larry Jones. He didn’t sign. The player chosen by Oakland two picks later did. Wonder who broke it to Rickey Henderson that he was drafted only 96th overall?
The Red Sox used the first pick of the second round (technically a supplemental pick for losing Bill Campbell and his Zimmer-fried arm to free agency) on Arizona State outfielder Kevin Romine. He was the quintessential 26th man for several years, playing parts of seven seasons for the Red Sox but surpassing 85 plate appearances in a season. He’d also probably start in this year’s outfield. Three transcendent talents were chosen after Romine in the second round — four if you include David Wells, who was the following pick. The Giants selected Serra (Calif.) High School outfielder Barry Bonds 39th overall. The Yankees took Bo Jackson 50th — word is he became pretty adept at another sport before coming back to baseball — while the Reds chose hometown kid Barry Larkin with the next choice. None of the three signed — the Reds selected Larkin again three years later with the fourth overall pick.
In the second round, the Red Sox, apparently not satisfied with having one Jeff Ledbetter, spent their pick on power-hitting college outfielder Scott Wade. He never played a day in the majors, hitting 84 homers in nine Triple A seasons. Wood bats, man. They can be cruel to those who knew the sweet ping of an aluminum bat home run. The Red Sox weren’t big on drafting New England kids in those days. Too bad. Billerica lefty Tom Glavine went five picks later, 47th overall. He’d wear that number throughout his 22-year Hall of Fame career, all with the Braves. (Mets years? Never happened, and you can’t prove they did.) One other note from that round: Did not know Glavine and Greg Maddux were drafted in the same round the same year. Maddux went 31st to the Cubs, a pick before the Indians took Scott Wade’s Oklahoma State teammate. Some kid named John Farrell.
The first-round of this draft is legendary for the star-caliber talent and depth it supplied. Twenty of the 28 picks played in the majors, and those 20 players averaged a ridiculous 24.8 WAR. Bonds and Larkin, second rounders three years before out of high school, were top-six picks after decorated college careers. Mississippi State sluggers Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro also went in Rd. 1, as did quality players such as B.J. Surhoff, Gregg Jeffries, Joe Magrane, Brian MacRae, and Canton’s Bobby Witt. As for the Red Sox? Well, they ended up with one of the eight that didn’t see the big leagues. They took Michigan high school righthander Dan Gabriele a pick before the Cubs chose Palmeiro. Gabriele was rated the Red Sox’ No. 2 prospect in 1988 and No. 3 in ’89, a year in which he threw a no-hitter in Double A. A wrist injury cut short his career.
Just including this one as a reminder that we lived in a world in which Josh Booty and Todd Walker were chosen ahead of Nomar Garciaparra and Jason Varitek.
With the 15th pick, the Red Sox chose Texas high school righthander Andy Yount (pictured). Two picks later, the Blue Jays took a Colorado high school righthander — Roy Halladay. But this tale is more complicated than a case of simply selecting the wrong pitcher. Yount threw smoke, drawing comparisons to Roger Clemens and Bret Saberhagen, and in his first year of pro ball, he was rated a better prospect than fellow Gulf Coast League pitchers Halladay and Kerry Wood. He struggled the next season, walking 38 in 34.1 innings at Lowell, but the chance never came to prove whether the control problems were a temporary hiccup or something worse. While visiting the grave of a friend who had died in a car accident after the 1996 season, Yount suffered a devastating 40-stitch gash to his pitching hand. From a Gordon Edes feature on Yount from February 1997:
A Red Sox official said Yount was carrying a bottle. Yount said it was a drinking glass, filled with orange juice.
“I got out of the car,” Yount said yesterday, “and I just freaked out.
“It was one of those things that doctors say you don’t realize what you’re doing. I was squeezing the glass so hard it shattered, right in my hand.”
On the way to the hospital, Yount lost so much blood that he passed out. He’d severed the tendons at the base of the middle finger of his pitching hand.
He attempted comebacks, even for a time as an outfielder. But for all intents and purposes, his pitching career ended that day he went to the cemetery to mourn a friend.
The Red Sox did not have a first-rounder — the A’s got it as a compensation pick for losing Johnny Damon in free agency and chose Nick Swisher and his million-dollar smirk. Losing the choice certainly wasn’t lamentable for the Sox. Damon’s place in Boston lore needs no explanation, and while the Phillies took Cole Hamels with the following pick, the Red Sox got a very similar lefthander a round later, 57th overall: Jon Lester. It was a much better pick than the Yankees’ choice of Brandon Weeden 14 selections later.
The Red Sox are said to have coveted two players with the 65th pick of the second round: Arizona State shortstop Dustin Pedroia and Cal-State Fullerton catcher Kurt Suzuki. Think they got it right? Yeah, me too.
The Red Sox drafted center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury with the comp pick they received for losing Orlando Cabrera to the Angels. The Cardinals drafted center fielder Colby Rasmus with the comp pick they received for losing Edgar Renteria to the Red Sox. Worked out pretty well despite Renteria’s one-and-done season with the Sox.
The Red Sox used the 62d pick on Long Beach high school shortstop Ryan Dent. He’s organizational filler at this point, playing at Single A Salem after three partial seasons at Portland in which he put up a .617 OPS. Fourteen pick later, the Marlins took Sherman Oaks, California high school first baseman Giancarlo “Mike” Stanton.
You know what this means, right?
THE SOX ARE KEEPING DENT TO INCLUDE HIM IN THE INEVITABLE STANTON TRADE! IT’S GENIUS!
Oh, and if you suspect that the premise of this entire column was to set up one more Stanton-to-Boston scenario — even a completely cockamamie one — I’m not about to dispute that. Maybe if they’re on to Dent, they’ll take Chavis.