A Look Back: The Red Sox 2003 Draft


With the June draft quickly approaching, we here at BSI have been ramping up our coverage regarding the Sox’s anticipated top ten selection and subsequent picks. Conor has done a great job with his Amateur Hour series, and Harry has had some good thoughts as well. Today, I’m going to depart from what the Sox should do this year by reviewing their draft from a decade ago.

Contrary to the drafts in basketball and football, players lucky enough to be selected in the Rule 4 Draft (official term for the baseball amateur draft) rarely, if ever, have immediate impacts. It often takes years and years of toiling in the minors before these stars of tomorrow become stars of today. Even looking back five years usually isn’t enough time to adequately analyze that year’s draft class. For instance, the Sox’s 2008 1st round pick, Casey Kelly, is still just 23 and has less than 30 career innings to his name (albeit part of that is due to Kelly’s extensive injury history). So for the sake of allowing players sufficient time to develop (as well as my affinity for good round numbers like 10), I figured now would be as good a time as any to examine at the Sox’s draft from a decade past.

Mar 28, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers left fielder David Murphy (7) hits a single against the Mexico City Red Devils in the first inning during the exhibition baseball game at the Rangers Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

2003 marked the first draft under Theo Epstein, who became the youngest GM in baseball after being hired in November of the previous year. Epstein, a Yale graduate and proponent of sabermetrics, drafted similarly to how one would expect from analytical front office. Eighteen of the Sox’s first twenty selections were college players, the safer and more polished choices in what is essentially a crapshoot to begin with. Unsurprisingly, their first overall selection (18th overall) was also a college product in Baylor outfielder, David Murphy.

Murphy’s time in Boston was short-lived, as he played in only 23 games before being shipped to Texas for the disaster that was Eric Gagne. Murphy has since developed into a solid major leaguer, racking up nearly 10 career Wins Above Replacement and batted .304/.380/.479 last year. Unfortunately and incredibly enough, Murphy would turn out being the second best player for the Sox in this draft class, even with just 23 games played in a Sox uniform.

The clear-cut best selection for the Sox that year would be a skinny reliever out of Mississippi State by the name of Jonathan Papelbon. Papelbon, a fourth round selection, would only go on to become the most celebrated closer in Red Sox history and major contributor to the ’07 WS team. Of course, Papelbon is no longer with Boston, but his impact still resonates from this otherwise pathetic draft class.

May 14, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Jonathan Papelbon (58) delivers to the plate during the ninth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies defeated the Indians 6-2. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Other than Papelbon and Murphy, this draft class produced just two other major leaguers, and barely at that. Matt Murton, a supplemental 1st round outfielder (and future Japanese league hit champion), and Abe Alvarez, a left hander out of the second round, both saw marginal time in the bigs without much contribution at all. The rest of the class doesn’t even deserve mention as 48 of the 52 picks flamed out and did not reach the majors.  Clearly, a failure rate like this serves as a cruel reminder to the near-impossible gauntlet players must go through before reachind their boyhood dreams.

As a whole, the ’03 class was pretty weak, with even a lack of solid major leaguers. The fact that the Sox acquired two of the top 20 players in the draft is pretty impressive, even if one of them didn’t produce in a Boston uniform (also, the fact that David Murphy is one of the top 20 players in the draft should be a pretty good indicator of how weak this draft was). Other notable draftees include Matt Kemp (6th Rd), Ian Kinsler (17th Rd), Nick Markakis (1st Rd), Adam Jones (1st Rd Supplemental), Michael Bourn (4th Rd), Andre Ethier (2nd Rd), and Matt Harrison (3rd Rd).

Would it have been nice to have stolen some of the above guys in the late rounds? Sure, and even Kinsler, Markakis, Ethier, and Bourn would have fit the college player profile. However, the fact that the Sox got Papelbon still made this a decent draft in my opinion. When considering this and taking into account how weak a class this truly was, I would probably drop a C grade on Epstein’s inaugural draft. More importantly, I think this draft served as an important learning tool for Epstein and his brain trust, which would prove invaluable towards Epstein’s historic ’05 draft just two years later.