What Could Have Been?

Red Sox outstanding 2005 draft could have been better

CHICAGO—The Red Sox had five picks before the second round of the 2005 draft, and they may have gone 5-for-5.

In the first round, they landed Jacoby Ellsbury and Craig Hansen. With three compensation picks in the sandwich round, they grabbed Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie and Michael Bowden. They have the potential to become an all-star center fielder, a power set-up man, an ace (who spun a no-hitter in his second big league start), an offensive shortstop and a solid mid-rotation starter.

Ellsbury and Buchholz are already regulars in Boston. Lowrie is putting pressure on Julio Lugo, while Hansen is trying to find his niche in the bullpen. The lone high school draftee of the bunch, Bowden is carving up Double-A hitters at age 21.

It's already shaping up as one of the top drafts of decade. It was the first draft for Jason McLeod as Red Sox scouting director, and he admits he thinks about it nearly every day.

Pedro Alvarez
Just not for the reasons you might think.

Three years later, Vanderbilt third baseman Pedro Alvarez ranks as the top prospect in the 2008 draft. South Carolina's Justin Smoak is the best of an exceptionally deep crop of college first basemen. Stanford catcher Jason Castro, Gamecocks shortstop Reese Havens and Wake Forest first baseman Allan Dykstra could join Alvarez and Smoak in the first round.

They all could have been Red Sox in 2005.

Slotting Strikes Again

Boston valued Alvarez and Smoak as much as any team. If either would have signed for sandwich-round money—the MLB slots for the club's picks ranged from $730,000 to $800,000—then the Red Sox would have pulled the trigger. But Alvarez asked for $850,000 and Smoak sought $1 million, so like the other 29 teams, Boston let them slide.

The Red Sox decided to take a flier on Alvarez in the 14th round. They monitored him closely all summer and were willing to make him a serious offer, but by that point he was set on attending Vanderbilt.

The Athletics, who floated $950,000 at Smoak if he'd sign in the sandwich round, took him in the 16th and didn't sign him.

Havens put out the highest price tag before the draft, seeking $1.75 million. The slot for the Red Sox' top pick at No. 23 was $1.4 million, and they offered that amount. When Havens turned it down, they selected Ellsbury. Dykstra, a 34th-rounder, and Castro, a 43rd-rounder, weren't looking for seven figures, but they were strongly committed to college. Boston made a run at Dykstra but came up short.

For roughly $4.5 million, the Red Sox could have had all five players. Now they'll likely get three times that amount in bonuses and guarantees, and Alvarez will blow away that figure by himself with a big league contract.

"Believe me, it's frustrating," McLeod says. "Would we rather have those guys? It's obvious. But it also laid the groundwork for what we did in the future. That started the trend for us."

Alvarez and Smoak quickly established themselves as two of the elite prospects in their college class. Rather than cry over spilled prospects, the Red Sox decided it would be silly to not make the best use of their scouting judgments and financial resources. Boston has been one of the most aggressive slot-busting teams in the 2006 and 2007 drafts, resulting in the acquisition of quality prospects such as first baseman Lars Anderson, outfielder Ryan Kalish and shortstop Will Middlebrooks.

No one is shedding any tears for the Red Sox, who have won two of the last four World Series and have a productive farm system, thanks in part to the 2005 draft. But if they knew then what they know now, they might have had one of the best drafts ever (see Pages 8-10 for more on that subject).

Angels Lost On Matusz, Posey

Boston isn't the only club that can look back at 2005 with regret.

The Angels thought they had parameters in place to sign fourth-round lefthander Brian Matusz, but his price soared to $1.475 million and he headed to San Diego. Now he's the consensus top pitching prospect in the 2008 draft. Los Angeles also failed to sign then-pitcher Buster Posey (50th round), who could be the No. 1 overall pick as a catcher; third baseman Chris Davis (35th), who hit 36 homers last year and has reached Triple-A with the Rangers in his second full season; and then-outfielder Tim Murphy (11th), who should go in the top three rounds as a lefthander.

The (Devil) Rays missed out on as many as five first- or sandwich-round picks. Righthander Bryan Morris (third) became a first-rounder in 2006; righties Tommy Hunter (18th round) and Clayton Mortensen (25th) went in the supplemental first round last June; and first baseman/outfielder Ike Davis (19th) and lefty Wade Miley (20th) should fit in the same range this year.

The Indians could have had current Giants ace Tim Lincecum (42nd round) as well as Desmond Jennings (18th), who's now one of the game's best center-field prospects. Cleveland also let righthanders Aaron Shafer (16th) and Cody Satterwhite (37th) get away, and both could go in the top three rounds.