The Pipeline: Looking Back At A Decade Of Solid Player Development


When the current ownership took over the reigns for the Red Sox following the 2001 season, they promised to turn the franchise as a player development machine. Fast forward twelve years later, it’s safe to say they’ve delivered on that promise. This stretch of turning out actually began in the unforgettable 2004 season. Despite that club being mostly remembered for featuring seasoned veterans, both homegrown and imported, a certain “Greek God Of Walks” arrived for several cameos that season.

Oct 30, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia (15) throws out St. Louis Cardinals right fielder Carlos Beltran (not pictured) during the first inning of game six of the MLB baseball World Series at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s a list of the most notable prospects the Sox turned out from 2004 to 2013. (Side note: The list excludes Anibal Sanchez and Anthony Rizzo. Though it should be noted that both players spent the bulk of their minor league development in the Boston farm system.)

2004: Kevin Youkilis

Drafted in the eighth round of the 2001 draft, the final one of the Dan Duquette Administration. Youkilis would debut in 2004 and shuttled back and forth between Boston and Pawtucket for 2004 and 2005. In 2006, he became the Red Sox primary first baseman. In nine seasons in Boston, Youk would put up an .875 OPS, two top six MVP finishes, three All Star Game appearances, and one Gold Glove. After 2008, the injuries began to take toll. Youkilis was dealt to the Chicago White Sox in June of 2012 and signed with the Yankees for 2013. He would only play 28 games for New York (and earned $12 million in the process) thanks to a back injury. Youk is currently a free agent and hoping to land a job somewhere for 2014, his age 35 season. His best days are now behind him, but the best days he did have were with the Red Sox.

2005: Jonathan Papelbon, Hanley Ramirez, Kelly Shoppach

Jonathan Papelbon: A fourth round pick in 2003 (the first pick of the current ownership to make it to the big leagues), Papelbon debuted in late 2005 and pitched primarily in relief with a few spot starts. He would spend the next six seasons as the Red Sox closer, which included recording the final out in the 2007 World Series. He would depart Boston after 2011 as the Red Sox all time leader in saves (219) and a four time All Star. Pap would sign a four year $50 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Hanley Ramirez: An international signing by Duquette in 2000, Ramirez would debut in late 2005. He would strike out twice in two at-bats. That following offseason, he was dealt to the Marlins as the centerpiece in the deal that brought Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Boston. Ramirez has since put up a .879 OPS in nine seasons as one of the game’s best offensive shortstops, though he does come with his share of baggage as well.

Kelly Shoppach: Drafted in the second round of the 2001 draft, Shoppach debuted in late 2005. In nine games he put up a .063 OPS thanks to one HBP. Shoppach was dealt to the Indians in the same trade that brought Coco Crisp to Boston. Though he’s mostly served as a backup catcher in his career, Shoppach did enjoy a very nice 2008 season, hitting 21 homers with an .865 OPS in 112 games. He would reunite with the Red Sox for the first half of 2012. Since then Shoppach has bounced around several teams and is currently a free agent.

2006: Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, David Murphy

Jon Lester: Drafted in the second round of the 2002 draft (the top overall pick for the Red Sox that year due to losing their first rounder with the signing of Johnny Damon in the offseason), Lester was the first player drafted under the current ownership. Lester would debut in the middle of the 2006 season, going 7-2 before being shut down due to a career and life-threatening diagnosis of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Lester would beat cancer and was back in less than a year after the diagnosis. In eight seasons, Lester is 100-56 with a 3.76 ERA, 1.304 WHIP, and 1,237 strikeouts. Now entering his contract year, the Sox are hopeful to extend Lester beyond next season. If they do agree to an extension, Lester is on track to become one of the greatest starting pitchers in franchise history.

Dustin Pedroia: Drafted in the second round of the 2004 draft (also the top pick that year for the Red Sox due to the signing of Keith Foulke), Pedroia debuted in late 2006. After such a fast ascension through the minors, Pedroia struggled in late 2006 and the first few weeks of 2007. But Pedroia would turn the corner in May of 2007, and hasn’t stopped hitting since. To date, Pedroia has a career line of .302/.370/.454/.823 with 1,218 hits. He’s won two World Series Titles, the 2007 Rookie of the Year, the 2008 Most Valuable Player Award, three Gold Gloves, and is a four time All Star. Pedroia signed an extension in 2013 that ends after the 2021 season. Hopefully by the end of that contract, Pedroia will have more hardware added to his collection as well as 3,000 hits.

David Murphy: Drafted in the first round (17th overall pick) in the 2003 draft, Murphy would spend parts of two seasons with Boston and put up an .857 OPS in 23 games. He was dealt at the deadline in 2007 in the infamous Eric Gagne trade. He proved to be the most productive piece that Texas received in the deal, reaching double digits in home runs in each of the past six seasons. Murphy was granted free agency after the 2013 season and signed a two year $12 million deal with the Cleveland Indians.

2007: Clay Buchholz, Brandon Moss, Jacoby Ellsbury

Clay Buchholz: Drafted with the 42nd overall pick (compensation for losing Pedro Martinez), Buchholz debuted in late 2007. In his second start, he pitched a no-hitter against the Baltimore Orioles. To date, Buchholz is a career 58-33 with 3.60 ERA and 1.293 WHIP and is a two time All Star. When healthy, he’s dominant. But it’s been a struggle for Buchholz to stay healthy in his career. The frailty could be due for not carrying enough weight on his 6’3″ frame. He’ll make $19.7 million the next two seasons with a $13 million option for 2016 and $13.5 million option for 2017. If Buchholz can finally become a 30 start/200+ IP starter, those options could be bargains. If not, the Sox will have to decide whether or not to retain his services.

Brandon Moss
: Drafted in the eighth round of the 2002 draft, Moss debuted in 2008. Moss would put up an .804 in 49 in parts of 2007 and 2008. He was part of the Manny Ramirez/Jason Bay three team deal in 2008. Moss put up a .668 OPS for Pittsburgh in 2009. He struggled to hold down a big league job between Pittsburgh in Philadelphia the following two seasons. That all changed in 2012.

Moss was signed by the Oakland Athletics prior to the 2012 season. In two seasons with the A’s, Moss has an .894 OPS with 51 home runs.

Jacoby Ellsbury: Drafted with the 23rd overall pick in 2005 (compensation for losing Orlando Cabrera), Ellsbury debuted in late 2007 and put up a .902 OPS in 33 games. He had a memorable World Series that year, putting up a 1.188 OPS and winning everybody a free taco.

When healthy, Ellsbury was either a dynamic base stealer (50 in 2008, 70 in 2009, and 52 in 2013) or having an out of nowhere power surge (32 of his 65 career homers came in 2011 where he finished second in the MVP race). He suffered two brutal injuries in 2010 (Beltre‘d in the ribs) and 2012 (Brignac‘d on the shoulder) where he was basically lost for the season.

Ellsbury capped his Boston tenure with another World Series Title. Last week he agreed to a seven year $148 million deal with the New York Yankees which features a $21 million option for 2021 or a $5 million buyout. In seven season, the Red Sox paid Ellsbury $20,802,000. His average annual salary for New York will exceed that. New York’s taking a huge gamble on Ellsbury. Time will tell how that deal will work out. But it’s safe to say he was a bargain for the Red Sox.

2008: Jed Lowrie, Justin Masterson

Jed Lowrie: Drafted with the 45th overall pick in 2005, Lowrie debuted in 2008, putting up a .739 OPS in 81 games. The rest of his Boston tenure was a mixture of showing great offensive potential or occupying a spot on the DL. Boston traded Lowrie to Houston for Mark Melancon after 2011. 2012 was another injury-riddled season for Lowrie as he only played in 97 games. The Astros traded Lowrie to Oakland the following offseason. In 2013, Lowrie finally enjoyed a season of good health. His stat line showed it as well: .290/.344/.446/.791 with 15 home runs and 75 RBI. Lowrie has emerged as one of the games best offensive shortstops.

Justin Masterson: Drafted in the second round of the 2006 draft, Masterson debuted in 2008. That season, Masterson served as reliable reliever and spot starter. He would be dealt in the middle of the 2009 season as part of the Victor Martinez trade. In each of the past four seasons, Masterson has pitched at least 180 innings and made at least 29 starts. A solid top to middle of the rotation arm, Masterson is due to be a free agent following the 2014 season.

2009: Josh Reddick, Daniel Bard

Josh Reddick: A 17th round pick by Boston in 2006, Reddick debuted in 2009. His first two seasons of cameos in Boston were uneventful, as he put up a .539 OPS in 56 games. In 2011, Reddick enjoyed an extended stay due to an injury to Carl Crawford. He put up a .784 OPS in 87 games with seven home runs.

Despite having above average power potential and a great throwing arm in the outfield, Reddick’s impatient plate approach was seen as a red flag. The Red Sox opted to deal him to Oakland as part of the deal that netted them Andrew Bailey. Reddick would hit 32 home runs in 156 games in 2012 (but only a .305 OBP). Reddick would hit double digit home runs again in 2013 (12). Though he’ll likely never develop a patient plate approach, Reddick remains a serviceable major league outfielder.

Daniel Bard
: (I considered not including Bard on this list since his career is in serious doubt at this point. But since his stay did last a couple seasons, I chose not to include him as a disregard like Lars Anderson or Ryan Kalish). Drafted with the 28th overall pick in 2006, Bard struggled in his first minor league season. In 2008, Bard made the transition from starting pitcher to reliever and that’s when he hit the fast track to the majors. Bard debuted in 2009 and quickly emerged as one of the best setup man in the game, and was regarded as the heir apparent to Jonathan Papelbon. From 2009-2011, Bard would put up a 1.056 WHIP with 213 strikeouts in 197 innings.

In September of 2011, Bard struggled mightily. The struggles were enough to convince the front office that Bard was probably not the answer to take over as closer. They instead tried to convert him back to a starter. But instead of sending him back down to the minors, Bard began the year in the Boston rotation. After ten control-plagued starts, the starting experiment was scrapped. Bard was sent back down to the minors and has never recovered. He was designated for assignment and claimed off waivers by the Cubs in September of 2013.

The Cubs have since non-tendered Bard. But popular belief assumes he’ll either re-sign at a lower cost deal or maybe even a minor league deal. Either way, time’s running out for Bard to reclaim his baseball life. If he doesn’t, he’ll just go down as another guy who was struck with “Steve Blass Syndrome”.

2010: Daniel Nava, Felix Doubront

Daniel Nava
: Purchased from an independent club for $1 in 2008. Very few believed Nava would ever be more than just organizational depth. He proved many wrong when he debuted in 2010. In his first at-bat, Nava would hit a home run off Joe Blanton. That would be the only home run he would hit that season however. Nava would play 60 games that season and would hit .242, but he also had a .351 OBP.

Nava would spend 2011 in AAA. He was actually outrighted off the roster that season and exposed to the Rule 5 draft in the 2011-2012 offseason.

Due to countless injuries in 2012, Nava made it back to the majors, and has been there ever since. Nava played 88 games in 2012 putting up a line of .243/.352/.390/.742. He would dedicate himself to improving both offensively and defensively last offseason. Nava would be one of the bigger surprises in 2013. In 134 games, Nava put up a .303/.385/.445/.830 line with 12 home runs. He split time between left field, right field, and first base.

For $1, the Sox acquired a versatile count bleeder who’s under club control for four more seasons. Solid investment.

Felix Doubront: Signed by Boston as an international free agent in 2005, Doubront debuted in 2010. He spent the next two seasons shuttling back and forth between Boston and Pawtucket to help in relief or to make a spot start. The cameos had little success. Due to being out of minor league options (as well as little financial flexibility at the time), the Sox had little choice but to roll the dice on Doubront. The past two seasons, Doubront is 22-16 with a 4.59 ERA and 1.438 WHIP and 306 strikeouts in 321.1 innings pitched.

This past October, Doubront played an important part in helping the Red Sox win the World Series. He pitched two scoreless innings in relief of Jake Peavy in an eventual loss in game three. The next night, Doubront would pitch two and two-thirds innings in relief of Clay Buchholz. He struck out three and only allowed a single hit (which was later charged as his lone earned run on the night) in what eventually was a Boston win in game four.

Right now, Doubront is a solid third or fourth starter. But he does have the stuff to be more than that. Having just missed out on arbitration eligibility, the Sox have a cost-effective lefty on their hands for the next four seasons.

2011: Jose Iglesias

Signed as an amateur free agent in 2009 ($8+ million over four seasons), Iglesias made his debut in 2011. He spent the next season shuttling between Boston and Pawtucket.

In 2013, he was originally slated to begin the season in Pawtucket. But a concussion to Stephen Drew gave Iglesias the starting shortstop job to begin the season. Iglesias got off to a scorching hot start, and was hitting .330/.376/.409/.785 by the trade deadline.

Though he was regarded as an outstanding defensive shortstop, there had long been doubts about what Iglesias could do with the bat. Offensively, he had been regarded as inconsistent and impatient with very little power. And even his excellent start had been somewhat of a fluke (many of those hits were infield singles). Given those doubts, as well as the emergence of another SS prospect in the system, the Sox opted to sell high on Iglesias. He was dealt to Detroit as a centerpiece of a three team deal that brought Jake Peavy to Boston.

Iglesias is currently on track to be the opening day shortstop for the Tigers in 2014. He won’t be arbitration eligible until after 2015 and will be under club control until the end of 2018. He finished second in the 2013 Rookie of the Year voting and should be a perennial Gold Glover. If he can consistently hit .250, it should justify him holding down a big league job.

Oct 28, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; Boston Red Sox third baseman Xander Bogaerts (72) reacts as he runs home on a catcher David Ross (3) ground rule double against the St. Louis Cardinals during the seventh inning of game five of the MLB baseball World Series at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

2012: Will Middlebrooks

A fifth round pick in 2007, Middlebrooks arrived in May of 2012. His hot start in the majors coincided with the decline of Kevin Youkilis, inevitably leading to the incumbent’s departure from Boston in June. Unfortunately for Middlebrooks, his season would be cut short in August of that season. In a series against the Cleveland Indians, Middlebrooks would suffer a broken bone in his hand thanks to being hit by a pitch. His final line in 2012: .288/.325/.509/.834 with 15 home runs in 75 games.

2013 would be a disappointing sophomore campaign for Middlebrooks. A miserable start led to a midseason demotion to Pawtucket. He was recalled in August and actually hit much better until cooling off down the stretch. He would finish with a .227/.271/.425/.696 with 17 home runs in 94 games.

Aside from being part of the winning team, it was a forgettable October for Middlebrooks as well. He hit .160/.250/..240/.490 with 10 strikeouts. He was called for obstruction that would cost the Red Sox game three of the World Series (though that was a terrible throw by Jarrod Saltalamacchia).

Middlebrooks is currently slated to be Boston’s opening day third baseman. He has legit power and profiles as an average defender with a strong arm. That being said, he isn’t a patient hitter. But if he can play decent defense and put up solid power, his impatient approach should be tolerable.

2013: Jackie Bradley, Brandon Workman, Drake Britton,  Allen Webster, Xander Bogaerts

Jackie Bradley: Drafted 40th overall in 2011, Bradley had a quick ascension through the Red Sox farm system. A hot spring training earned him a spot on the Red Sox opening day roster. He was sent down a couple weeks into a season after a slow start and the need for more pitching (the club had been carrying 14 position players and just 11 pitchers at the time. They normally carry 13 position players and 12 pitchers.) He hit better in his final cameo in September and finished with a line of .189/.280/.337/.617.

He’s currently projected to be the starting center fielder for Boston in 2014. Offensively, he will never be the basestealer Ellsbury was. But he should be much better at bleeding the count. Defensively, he’s considered an immediate improvement over Ellsbury thanks to taking better routes and having a stronger arm. Here’s hoping his 2014 will be like Dustin Pedroia’s 2007.

Brandon Workman: A second round pick in 2010, Workman played a similar role in 2010 as Justin Masterson did back in 2008. He appeared in 20 games (three starts), going 6-3 with a 4.97 ERA and 1.416 WHIP with 47 strikeouts in 41.2 innings pitched.

In October, Workman got some big outs. In seven games, Workman worked 8.2 innings and allowed only ten baserunners and no earned runs (one unearned run led to him taking the loss in game three of the World Series).

Going forward, Workman can either be a reliable setup man/spot starter or a regular at the back end of the Boston rotation. Either way, he’s a power arm under club control for six more seasons.

Drake Britton
: Drafted in the 23rd round in 2007, Britton made his debut this past July. In 18 games he logged 21 innings with a 1-1 record 3.86 ERA 1.333 WHIP and 17 strikeouts.

Though he’s capable of starting, Britton will likely be a reliever going forward in the Red Sox organization. With one option remaining, he’ll likely open 2014 in the Pawtucket bullpen.

Allen Webster: Drafted by the Dodgers in the 18th round in the 2008 draft, Webster was acquired in the Gonzalez/Crawford/Beckett trade in August of 2012. He made his big league debut in April. He earned his first big league win in July. Overall it was a rough first go round in the majors for Webster (1-2 8.60 ERA 1.813 WHIP).

Webster is likely to begin 2013 in the Pawtucket rotation with two options remaining. There’s still time for Webster to hone his craft and prove he belongs in a MLB rotation whether it be in Boston or somewhere else.

Xander Bogaerts: Signed as an international free agent in 2009, Bogaerts debuted in late August. He played sparingly down the stretch. In 20 games he put up only a .684 OPS, but it was good enough to earn him a spot on the postseason roster.

With subpar offense on the left side of the Red Sox infield, Bogaerts was inserted as the Red Sox third baseman in game five of the ALCS. His final postseason line was .296/.412/.481/.893 in 12 games.

Bogaerts is currently projected to be the Red Sox opening day shortstop. He could move to third base or maybe left field down the road. He projects as an elite talent. He’ll occupy a spot in the Boston lineup for at least the next six seasons.

Going Forward

It’s been a very successful decade for the organization as a whole, as they have turned out at least one new player in each of the past ten seasons. That trend appears to continue in the coming seasons. 2014 could feature the debuts of the likes of Anthony Ranaudo, Bryce Brentz, Garin Cecchini, Dan Butler, and Christian Vazquez. Not far behind are prospects Matt Barnes, Blake Swihart, Henry Owens, and Mookie Betts.

Young, cost-effective talent is essential to success in this era (no matter how much the Yankees and many of their fans deny it). The Red Sox will be infused with plenty of youth in the coming seasons which will lead to even more success.