The MLB draft is this Sunday night and the Red Sox have the 12th overall pick. That selection falls in that tricky sweet spot where there’s a lot of value to be had if they do well, but it’s still low enough that it’s nearly impossible to predict who they’ll get, or if they’ll be any good.

For example, the Red Sox used the same 12th overall pick in 1994 to draft Nomar Garciaparra. The most recent time they picked there, in 2016, they got a guy who never made it to the Major Leagues (more on him in a moment). This sort of thing is about as unpredictable as lottery numbers.

MLB Pipeline’s Jonathan Mayo did a league-wide first-round mock draft last week and had the Sox selecting Christian Moore, a second baseman out of Tennessee, but everything about the draft is wildly unpredictable. Add to that the fact that the major league team is coming off one of its most compelling baseball games in years, and this potentially juicy addition to the franchise is a story that will largely fly under the radar.

But it’s also part of a larger, ongoing story that’s already starting to unfold. In other words, what’s about to happen could be even more interesting when you look back at it through the lens of what’s already happened and how it all fits together. So with Sunday’s selection as the sixth first-round pick a byproduct of finishing last for the past 12 years, this is actually a good time to look back at the process and where it’s going.

Breaking down the last six places further, they came in pairs. First, the Sox finished in last place three times in four years from 2012 to 2015, and then they did it again from 2020 to 2023. Each case also had a “magic carpet” season mixed in, with the 2013 version producing a World Series title and the 2021 run falling short in the ALCS.

But that’s where the similarities end. Boston’s first string of last-round picks yielded the seventh overall pick in 2013, the seventh overall pick in 2015, and the aforementioned 12th overall pick in 2016. With those selections, the Red Sox added Trey Ball, Andrew Benintendi, and Jay Groome. In other words, they failed to acquire a group of building blocks, which is one reason the team has been so bad in recent years.

Sea Dogs vs. Harrisburg Senators

Staff photo by Joel Page/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Trey Ball was the highest pick in the 2013 draft who never reached the major leagues, and Jay Groome was the highest pick in the 2016 draft who never reached the major leagues. (As it turned out, Groome bet on more MLB games than he played.) So while Andrew Benintendi was undoubtedly a hit here, it was more of a single than a home run, and with whiffs on the other two, the Red Sox got relatively little production for several years of meaningless baseball.

That colossal failure helped launch them into the sea of ​​despair they’ve been mired in for much of the first half of this decade. Even the joyous 2021 season, while an escape from the monotony, was no escape from the root cause. Virtually all of that team’s production had to come from sources other than June’s MLB draft.

For more details, here are the top ten players from that team from 2021 by rWAR (Baseball Reference WAR) and how they were acquired:

Xander Bogaerts (International signature: since 2009)

Kiké Hernández (free transfer: February 2021)

Nathan Eovaldi (Free Transfer: December 2018)

Rafael Devers (international signing: since 2013)

JD Martinez (Free Agency: February 2018)

Garrett Whitlock (Rule 5 Selection: From the Yankees in December 2020)

Nick Pivetta (trade: 2020 from the Phillies)

Hunter Renfroe (Free Transfer: December 2020)

Alex Verdugo (trade: 2020 from Dodgers)

Eduardo Rodríguez (trade: 2014 from the Orioles)

None of them are guys they originally drafted. You can even take this a step further by noting that Kyle Schwarber was one of the biggest contributors to the September-October portion of the run, and he was brought in midway through that summer.

This kind of grille is incredibly difficult to maintain! There are so many moving parts and holes to fill. You can do it if your owner is willing to blow through fancy tax stop signs to keep up with maintenance, but if not… well, look at the 2022 and 2023 seasons.

You can even see the basis of this problem begin to develop if we go back and do the same exercise for the 2018 World Series roster (the most recent playoff team before 2021).

We take another look at the top ten players from the 2018 team based on rWAR (Baseball Reference WAR) and how they were acquired:

Mookie Betts (Draft: 5th round pick in 2011)

Chris Sale (trade: 2016 from the White Sox)

JD Martinez (Free Agency: February 2018)

Xander Bogaerts (International signature: since 2009)

Andrew Benintendi (Draft: First round pick in 2015)

David Price (Free Agency: December 2015)

Rick Porcello (trade: 2014 from the Tigers)

Jackie Bradley Jr. (Draft: First round pick 2011)

Eduardo Rodríguez (trade: 2014 from the Orioles)

Craig Kimbrel (Trade: 2015 from the Padres)

Here, the Sox originally drafted three players, but two of them (Betts and Bradley Jr.) were already selected in 2011 and neither signed long-term contracts. So we reached a point where the Sox had to pay up or have more prospects ready, and as it turned out, neither happened. We all know the result. Total disaster!


Fast forward to today, and things appear to be about to evolve in a radically different way. So far, the Red Sox have selected Marcelo Mayer (2021) and Kyle Teel (2023) with first-round picks in their recent run of last-place finishes, and they’ll of course add a third name to that list on Sunday.

But it goes even deeper than that, because if we string together the last few drafts, including two that occurred while the Sox were winning at the major league level, the hit rate is about to increase dramatically. Their first-round pick in 2017 was Tanner Houck, and he’s really blossomed this year. Their first-round pick in 2018 was Triston Casas, and he’s blossomed into a productive major leaguer over the past 12 months.

The Sox went without a first-round pick in 2019 after exceeding the luxury player tax in 2018, but thanks to solid late-round picks Jarren Duran (7th-round pick in 2018 and the top-ranked Sox player according to Baseball Reference WAR this year) and Kutter Crawford (16th-round pick in 2017 and the fourth-ranked Sox player according to Baseball Reference WAR this year), the system has been steadily leeching talent.

Those four draft picks are a big reason the Sox are having such a productive 2024 year. Their top four guys in rWAR right now are Jarren Duran (4.7), Rafael Devers (3.2), Tanner Houck (2.5), and Kutter Crawford (2.2). (And Triston Casas would likely be in the top five as well if not for his injury.) In other words, we’ve been waiting for recent last-place draft picks to show big-league production in order to open up the next window of contention, but that production has come both early and from unexpected places; from other guys who were taken earlier and took longer to develop.

Now, as Alex Cora would say, it’s time to get greedy! The Sox are in a position where if they take these high first round picks and throw them on top of what they already have in the making, they could have something very, very special. A long-term, highly productive, homegrown core.

As it stands, the Red Sox have finished last six times in the last 12 years, and only one guy (Andrew Benintendi) has ever played in a major league game for them after being a first-round draft pick in the aftermath of that series of disasters. But what if they land all three of those high first-round, last-place finish picks this time around? If that’s the case, over 90 percent of the production they’re going to recoup from all those lost seasons is up to them.

Add in Roman Anthony, who feels like a first-round pick and was selected in 2022 (the year between Mayer and Teel), and if all goes perfectly (nothing ever goes perfectly) you could have four straight years of striking gold! I’m not here to tell you that’s likely to happen (it’s not), but I am here to point out that it’s July 2024 and it hasn’t been removed from the list of reasonable possible outcomes.

We don’t yet know what the Red Sox’ 2024 first-round pick will be called. But when you combine everything that’s happened at the highest level with Houck, Duran, Casas and Crawford, plus what Mayer, Anthony and Teel are doing in Portland, whoever it is has the potential to put an exclamation point on whatever you want to call it.

I don’t know exactly where the ceiling is here, but I do know that if the Red Sox get anywhere near it, they won’t be picking as high as they plan to on Sunday for a long, long time. That makes me more excited about this team than I’ve been in years.