Over the last 20 years the Red Sox have been arguably the most dominant team in the MLB. While it would be easy to assume that they bought their success like the Yankees, which isn’t entirely untrue, drafting and player development is the true savior of the franchise.
2004: Championship Team
This was lesser of the fact earlier in the 2000s. The 2004 team was a bit lackluster in players they developed. Varitek was the only consistent starter to have started in the minors with the Red Sox. Besides that, Youkilis, Nixon, and Nomar were really the only other guys. Even then, Youkilis and Nixon weren’t starters, and Nomar was traded during the season.
The pitching was even worse in this regard. Schilling was drafted by the team, but didn’t play in the majors with Boston until he was 37. Wakefield and Lowe weren’t drafted by the Sox, but they were the ones to develop him. The rest of the pitching core didn’t receive as much influence, with most coming later in their careers via trade or signing as a free agent.
The Red Sox also began their impressive drafting this year, selecting their future superstar second baseman in the second round. They would add a future starting center fielder and starting pitcher the next year as well. Don’t worry, we’ll get to all three later.
2006: Speed Rebuild
The Red Sox made a wise decision to begin incorporating youth players into the roster two years removed from their championship. While they missed the playoffs this year, the Sox would be rewarded for their efforts. They let Miller walk in free agency, and replaced him with home-grown Youkilis. Pedroia also made his first appearance in the majors, but not to a large extent yet.
On the pitching end, Jon Lester became a crucial piece to the starting rotation in just his first season. He was third among their starters in era, while being 17 years younger than the two ahead of him. Papelbon became the Sox closer in his first full season, after being in Boston’s minor leagues for three years. Lastly, Boston native Delcarmen became a regular out of the bullpen, after taking six years in the minors to get there.
After 2006 there would be a steady addition of new players. Pedroia would become a starter in 2007. Jacoby Ellsbury, drafted in 2005, made his first appearance as the second backup outfielder behind Pena. Daisuke and Okajima were signed from Japan, and both became crucial to the 2007 championship. Lowrie joined as an infield utility guy in 2008, as well as 2005 starting pitcher draftee Buchholz.
In 2011 the Red Sox added a handful of minor league talents, AND hit it big in the draft. 2006 draftee Josh Reddick became the backup outfielder, but would be traded the following year. Daniel Bard was in his second year as a regular in the bullpen, and was an reliable choice in the later innings of a game.
But the draft was what made this year so special. Matt Barnes, who is now an important reliever for Boston, was drafted in the first round. Jackie Bradley Jr. was taken 20 picks later, and has since become one of the best defensive outfielders in the league. In the fifth round the Red Sox stole Mookie Betts, and there’s no need to go over his impact on the team. The last really notable player was Travis Shaw, who showed star potential but has since looked average at best. This was possibly the best Red Sox draft since 2000, with none reaching the same volume since.
2012: Extra Injection of Youth
This team was one of the worst in Red Sox history, but it was due in part to the Red Sox trying to get younger. Middlebrooks became the starting third baseman in his first season in the majors, hitting .288 with 15 homers. His backup was Ciraico, who played over 23 games for the first time in his career. Backup catcher Lavarnway, first baseman Gomez, and outfielder Kalish saw decent time this year, but Gomez and Kalish wouldn’t see the major leagues again in a Red Sox jersey.
While there was really only one pitcher, the quality makes up for the quantity. It’s not like Felix Doubront was a star, but he was the third best starter in a relatively weak rotation. He had been on the major league roster for the prior two years, but in 2012 he pitches over four times the amount of innings than the prior two seasons combined. This was the turning point for the club, as even though they won a third championship in 2013, Boston began to ramp up the promotion of home grown talent.
2014: Reshaping of Culture
Looking back, this year was crucial to the future of Boston’s success. They choose an unusual path following their World Series victory. Instead of going for a repeat, they chose to add in some prospects. While it wasn’t entirely by design, the Red Sox added a handful of players that would one day bring home another World Series ring.
For starters, two starters in their lineup were replaced by considerably younger players. Shortstop Stephen Drew was traded to the Yankees, opening up a spot for international prospect Xander Bogaerts. Another starter, center fielder Ellsbury, also left for the Yankees, which opened a spot for JBJ to finally start. The bench also saw three more future starters added: Brock Holt, Mookie Betts, and Christian Vazquez.
The pitching core once again saw changes to the starting rotation. 36-year-old Dempster retired, while Doubront was traded away. In their place, we saw Rubby De La Rosa play his longest season yet, while Brandon Workman was tried out as a starter. De La Rosa was not drafted by the Sox, but he was further developed by them. As for Workman, we know now he didn’t stay as a starter, as he would find his place years later as the team’s de facto closer. The teams future became brighter following this year, but more was to come.
2015: Highly Regarded Additions
While only one year removed from 2014, the Red Sox continued to add to their blossoming youth core. Mookie became the starting center fielder, as JBJ was sentenced to the bench. Blake Swihart jumped right in as the starting catcher after the prior one was traded. Vazquez would be sent back down due to how impressive Swihart initially appeared, but that wouldn’t last. Meanwhile, Shaw became the air-apparent to an aging Napoli at first base, though he would switch to third in the near future.
Two highly touted starters joined the majors as well, continuing the constant circus of the starting rotation. In fact, five out of the six starters from the prior year were not there in 2015. Four were traded, a couple of which were traded for two new starters. A third was added in another trade, while Buchholz remained as a fourth. Getting back to the point, the two prospects were 22-year-olds Eduardo Rodriguez and Henry Owens. Owens would surprisingly fade away quickly, while Rodriguez would begin to cement himself as a regular starter.
2017: Final Touches
At this point the Red Sox had the makings of a championship team. The once raw prospects have now blossomed into starts. The Red Sox also successfully hit on a few notable free agents, ending a streak of poor signings. And of course, the team introduced a handful of new, and some old, prospects.
The lineup saw huge adjustments. Following the retirement of David Ortiz, Ramirez was moved to DH and new signing Moreland replaced him at first. Vazquez continued with his success upon returning to the majors, becoming an impressive two-way starting catcher. And of course, you have the first sighting of third baseman Rafael Devers following Shaw’s departure.
Devers would start his career slow, but picked it up after his first campaign. Benintendi would become the starting left fielder, allowing Holt to return to his famous utility role. There’s also the inclusion of Deven Marrero as the backup second baseman, but like Henry, he never lived up to expectations.
The pitching unit saw a lot of changes, but mostly from signings and trades. The only relatively new addition was Matt Barnes, who already made his debut as a regular reliever the year prior. This would be the last big influx of young prospects to this date, but there is still one more occasion where Boston added a new class of talented homegrown players.
2019: The Next Generation
The 2019 was a disappointment in more ways than one. But there were definitely a handful of bright spots on the team. A few of those happened to be newly introduced prospects. The most popular of those being infielder Michael Chavis. He was the top Red Sox prospect back in 2018, as well as 69th overall and 8th among third basemen.
Chavis was very similar to Devers in the minors, and his career to this point also seems to be following the same path. Next season he will most likely be a starter of either second or first base, depending on if any other prospects like Dalbec or Chatham join the majors. Travis also made an appearance, but struggled batting and was traded in the offseason.
There was also the reintroduction of Marco Hernandez, who played his career-high in games in 2019. He continues to show promise, but his once bright career is beginning to fade as he continues to age. A very pleasant surprise was Colten Brewer, who the Sox acquired via trade from the Padres. Boston developed him quickly, and he became a solid part of the bullpen in his first season with the team.
That was the final influx of young talent, but there should be many more over the next couple of years. In addition to the aforementioned Dalbec and Chatham, Jonathan Arauz is another intriguing infield option. Arauz was recently selected from the Astros by the Sox in the Rule 5 draft, and looks to compete for the second base job. Catcher/infielder Connor Wong could compete for the backup catcher job, or as a utility guy to potentially replace Holt.
The most likely options for next year will be pitchers, with three players having the best chance to join the majors. Starters Bryan Mata and Tanner Houck have dominated the higher levels of the minors. Mata could fight for a spot in the starting rotation, while Houck will probably be added to the bullpen. Durbin Feltman is a solid relief option, but he will need to improve his numbers in the minors before he gets a shot with Boston. As long as the Sox can continue to add fresh young talent to the team, they will always have a shot at competing for another World Series.