Boston Red Sox nab value, address needs in surprising draft

Heading into yesterday’s MLB draft, there was little chance that a highly ranked shortstop from Arizona State would still be on the board by the time Boston’s first pick came around.  And yet, in a day full of surprises, the Sox enjoyed the unlikely good fortune of watching Deven Marrero slide all the way to the number 24 spot.

Most experts thought that the top pick would be Stanford’s Mark Appel, but the Astros went in a different direction by selecting shortstop Carlos Correa.  Appel fell all the way to Pittsburgh at number 8.  High school hurler Ty Hensley, nearly selected at 10th by Colorado according to war room rumors, tumbled all the way to 30th as a steal for the Yankees.  The Indians offered up a puzzling pick by taking Aggie outfielder Tyler Naquin roughyl ten spots higher than most thought he go.  And of course, Boston threw in a couple of twists of its own.

Marrero posted solid numebrs at ASU and shined in the Cape Cod League (Marc Lachance/ Cotuit Kettleers Baseball)

Prior to his junior season at ASU, Marrero was thought to be a Top 5 prospect, a 6’1″, 190-pound shortstop with plus speed, defense, and arm strength.  As a freshman All-American in 2010, Marrero posted a dominant slash line of .397/ .442/ .698 (1.140 OPS).  His sophomore season featured a respectable .313/ .352/ .434 as players adjusted to a new type of bat; the Batted-Ball Coefficient of Restitution (BBCOR) bats, also used in high school games, are thought to significantly reduce power numbers.  The NCAA had conducted its own assessment prior to the 2011 season, and despite mixed reviews elected to move forward with the change.

To provide a sense of the difference between the old style aluminum bats and the BBCORs that more closely resemble the performance of wooden bats:

“…there were some glaring differences, especially in two of the Division I conferences that are known for its power numbers. Atlantic Coast Conference teams hit 47 homers in 38 games during the opening weekend of play last year, but blasted just 18 round-trippers in the same amount of games this season. In the Southeastern Conference, teams belted 44 home runs in 36 games last year, but managed to hit just 21 out of the park in 38 contests during this year’s opening weekend.”

Taking the new equipment and the switch itself into consideration, Marrero’s .786 OPS seems perfectly reasonable.    And even if there were concerns about the diminished offense, Marrero still impressed overall.  he was named the 2011 Pac 10 Defensive Player of the Year.

After completing the Sundevils’ season Marrero went on to play for Team USA and in the ultra-competitive Cape Cod League, where he earned All-Star honors after batting .326 for the Cotuit Kettleers.

Returning to Tempe for his junior campaign, the talented infielder hit .284/ .340/ .436 while nursing a sprained ankle.

Heading into Monday’s draft, Baseball America had Marrero ranked 14th overall.  ESPN’s Keith Law predicted he would be taken in the Top 15, possibly at #14 by Cincinnati.  Instead, he slid into the twenties.  Drafting him at 24 gave the Red Sox exceptional value.

As the Boston Globe reported, the club isn’t concerned about the downward trend of Marrero’s offensive numbers.  For one thing, his defensive tools provide more than enough of a foundation for young prospect, giving him indisputable upside.  For another, the Sox put a lot of stock in summer performances.  Players who succeed in the Cape Cod League often have good professional track records, and the hope is that Marrero will follow that pattern. 

While he’s unlikely to boast big power numbers, his body of work suggests that Marrero could develop into a reliable hitter bringing excellent defense to a position of need.  Some critics are already drawing comparisons between him and fellow Boston shortstop prospect Jose Iglesias; all glove, no bat.  That’s not quite a fair evaluation.  Marrero has demonstrated results in the nation’s premiere summer league as well as in a major collegiate conference.  While there’s certainly some risk involved, grabbing him with their first pick was a no-brainer for the Red Sox.

A powerful lefty, Johnson brings both pitching and hitting skills to the table (Streur/ WBR)

Following that selection, Boston acquired two more players, and having addressed the perennial pain point in their infield, the Sox went for arms.  Using a pick obtained as compensation after Jonathan Papelbon signed with Philadelphia, the club selected Florida pitcher Brian Johnson.  Baseball America had Johnson ranked 39th, but the Sox took him at 31.  Like Marrero, Johnson comes with good numbers from a major college program.  And like Marrero, he’s a Cape League veteran who demonstrated that he can hang with the nation’s elite.

With the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox, Johnson made three appearances, posting a 4.30 ERA and  1.23 WHIP in 14.2 innings.  More impressive were his power numbers: the 6’4″ southpaw struck out 19 batters and K:BB ratio of 4.75. 

With the Gators, Johnson has enjoyed three nice seasons, improving each year.  His freshman campaign featured a 4.03 ERA/ 1.38 WHIP in 73.2 innings, and he lowered those numbers to 3.61/ 1.17 in 79.2 innings in 2011.  This season he tossed a career best 81 innings, posting a 3.67 ERA and a solid 1.12 WHIP.  Over the three years his strikeout numbers have remained strong with a collective K/9 of 7.18.  Stats are provided by the NCAA’s official site.  

The big lefty brings additional value to the organization.  Johnson was one of the best multi-position players in college baseball over the past couple of years, compiling 456 career at bats and posting a lifetime .329 average.  Boston has assured us that Johnson will be a pitcher in the pros, but it’s never a bad thing to have a backup plan.

The 6'6" Light has a killer fastball that appealed to Boston scouts (Monmouth Sports)

With the 37th pick, the Red Sox selected Monmouth University’s (NJ) Pat Light, a 6’6″ 200-pound junior.  The right-handed pitcher posted numbers that dramatically improved over three years, culminating in 2012’s outstanding 2.40 ERA and 0.99 WHIP accrued over a whopping 100.1 innings.  With a  ridiculous 6.38 K:BB ratio, Light boasts elite power numbers- his 102 Ks ranked 31st in Division 1.

Though Baseball America had Light as the 81st-ranked propsect overall, there’s no denying his development at the college level.  He’s slashed nearly two full runs off of his ERA each year, and while Monmouth is at the bottom of the Division I talent pool, Light was good enough to earn a spot with the Cape League’s Chatham A’s.  In 31 innings over 12 appearances he posted a 3.77 ERA; though he allowed a few too many baserunners, his summer numbers speak to his potential.

It’s hard to ignore the fact that Boston went for size on the mound.  Sox scouting director Amiel Sawdaye praised both for their power, telling the Globe, “Both are physical presences, (and) [Light] has one of the best fastballs in the draft.’’

Most importantly, Boston recognized its organizational needs and kept timing in mind.  By drafting a trio of proven collegiate players, the Sox showed a commitment to bolstering the upper levels of their farm system.  Marrero and Johnson will both be 22 in 2012 while Light is a year younger.  If they continue to develop, it’s reasonable to think that the pros might not be all that far away.  For a club with major needs at shortstop and on the mound, that matters.