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How Red Sox went from barren farm system to three All-Stars

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How Red Sox went from barren farm system to three All-Stars


With hindsight, it appears the next two scouting cycles represented a significant step in doing just that. The All-Star selections on Sunday of three homegrown players — Devers, Tanner Houck, and Jarren Duran — drove home the point.

“It’s a testament to the organization,” Sox manager Alex Cora said. “Sometimes we get caught up in trying to be somebody else or trying to emulate other organizations. [The All-Star selections are] a reminder that the Red Sox have done it the right way for a while.”

Houck was taken in the first round of the 2017 draft; the Sox also nabbed Kutter Crawford in the 16th round that year. Duran was a seventh-round selection in 2018, a draft that also yielded first-rounder Triston Casas and 23rd-rounder Ryan Fernandez — a righthander excelling in the Cardinals bullpen.

Between those two events, the team’s international amateur scouting department signed both Ceddanne Rafaela and Brayan Bello.

To this point, there have been 12 players from the 2017 and 2018 drafts named big-league All-Stars. The Sox are the only team to have drafted and signed multiple — a particularly impressive yield given both the modest talent to come out of that two-year stretch, and they also got Crawford and Casas in it.

“If you get two above-average regulars — position players or pitchers — in one year, that puts you in elite company, comparatively speaking, [to other teams] in the draft,” said Sox VP of scouting Mike Rikard, who was the team’s amateur scouting director from 2015-19. “And that’s what we were able to do.”

Tops among pitchers, the only position player drafted in 2017 with a higher career WAR than Tanner Houck is outfielder Daulton Varsho.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

The Sox had Houck high on their board in 2017, yet were convinced they stood a great chance of landing him with the No. 24 pick. Many teams viewed him as a future reliever given a lack of a third pitch beyond his standout sinker/slider combination. The Sox, in a scouting process led by area scout Todd Gold, believed he had upside well beyond that, even if it would take time to achieve it.

“In retrospect, we felt pretty confident that he was going to get to our pick,” said Rikard. “We had such strong convictions. Our [projected scouting] grades were extremely aggressive relative to industry consensus on Tanner.”

Houck, based on Wins Above Replacement as calculated by Baseball-Reference.com, leads all pitchers from the 2017 draft class in career value with 8.4 WAR. Crawford (4.5) ranks sixth, his emergence out of Florida Gulf Coast University as a day-three pick fulfilling the pound-the-table advocacy of area scout Willie Romay.

“These are the parts of the draft process that make or break a draft,” said Rikard. “When you can sign a guy like [Crawford] in the 16th round, the credit goes to the area scout. Willie projected him out to be a major league starter from the moment that he saw him.”

Both pitchers debuted in July 2017, days after Rafaela signed as a strikingly undersized ball of energy out of Curaçao for $10,000, and Bello accepted a $28,000 bonus out of the Dominican.

“It’s awesome to be here today and to see where we started,” said Rafaela. “People that sign for that amount of money don’t have time for failure. You always have to be improving.”

In 2018, the Sox wrestled with whether to use their first-round pick on Casas, a high school first baseman with immense offensive potential, or Clemson outfielder Seth Beer, one of the top college bats.

“The first pick is really more of a staff or an organizational type pick,” said Rikard. “You try as a scouting director to be cognizant of all the information. You’re an orchestra conductor, a maestro, trying to balance out all these different rhythms and opinions and information.

“I was kind of going through this conundrum of trying to make sure we weren’t being averse to risk with the high school first baseman, and balancing that against what we assumed to be the safety or the probability of a college hitter that had produced at that rate to that point.

“So there were some sleepless nights leading up to the draft, but my gut down inside kept kind of pushing me back towards Triston.”

While the Casas conundrum confronted the Sox with their first pick (No. 26) because of the team’s certainty it would have only one shot at him, Duran was less obvious.

His college performance didn’t match his tools. Southern California area scout Justin Horowitz saw a player who hit for average at Long Beach State but, despite significant physical strength, didn’t hit the ball hard. He saw a player with elite speed whose unrefined technique still led to surprising modest numbers as a base stealer, and whose role as a second baseman failed to take advantage of the way he could run.

“[Duran] certainly really stood out throughout our process as far as just, the athleticism and the tools and the makeup information that Justin was providing,” said Rikard. “We weren’t quite sure where we had to take him, but we were pretty sure that we did not want to lose him.”

The Sox remained patient and grabbed Duran in the seventh round, hopeful that his unrefined tools eventually could be sharpened in a way — particularly given his roaring on-field motor — that would yield a player with game-changing traits.

Fast forward six years for Duran and Casas, and seven for Houck, Crawford, Rafaela, and Bello. That timetable is a reminder of the long path to rebuilding a farm system — an effort that requires the combined efforts of scouting staffs, player development, and most importantly, the commitments of the players themselves — while also offering evidence that a single moment in time during that arc doesn’t necessarily reveal the true state of a prospect pool.

The wave that has emerged from that seemingly dry period appears likely to collide with one that is becoming visible on the upper-levels horizon, featuring Marcelo Mayer, Roman Anthony, and Kyle Teel. A core has not merely formed, but is growing.

Sunday’s All-Star selections signal the promise of what the Sox hope is a continuing pattern.

“It’s a very, very exciting time,” said Rikard. “We knew that [the rebuild of the farm system] wasn’t going to happen overnight, and we know we still have a ton of work left to do. Next week [when the 2024 draft occurs] will be another layer to that, and we hope to continue to influx the farm system with more talent.”

Peter Abraham and Julian McWilliams of Globe Staff contributed to this report.


Alex Speier can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him @alexspeier.





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