Theo Epstein’s stated goal when he took over as General Manager of the Red Sox was to turn the Sox into a “player development machine”. He envisioned a pipeline of minor league talent that would replenish the major league roster whenever needed. So how successful was he in implementing this vision?

The quick answer is that while the Sox developed several homegrown players under Theo, they weren’t able to consistently stock the major league team with talent. This led to some disastrous free agent signings (I’m looking at you John Lackey), and major league rosters with a lack of depth.

The Sox best draft pick under Theo. Photo by Kelly O'Connor

The Sox best draft pick under Theo. Photo by Kelly O’Connor

The Red Sox under Theo had the greatest success in developing players drafted out of college. These players have formed the core of the teams for the last five to ten years. Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury have been the biggest successes for position players, and Jonathan Papelbon, Clay Buchholz,Daniel Bard and Justin Masterson were all college pitchers drafted by the Sox.

Even taking a look at the top Sox prospects currently in the minors (courtesy of Soxprospects.com), three of the top five are college players, all drafted by Theo.

 

While the Sox had success with college players under Epstein, they unfortunately had much less success in three other key areas of player development.

The first is developing high school players. The best high school pitcher the Sox have turned out is Jon Lester, who was picked before Theo took over as GM. The biggest success for a high school position player is Will Middlebrooks. Several players have been derailed by injury (Ryan Kalish, Ryan Westmoreland), but the fact remains that this has been area where the Sox have failed to make an impact.

What’s concerning is that they have had many high school players given high bonuses who have failed to develop.  Jason Place is the biggest example, the Sox first round pick from 2006, given a 1.3$ million signing bonus. Place was unable to make adjustments and develop, and was released by the Sox in 2011 having only reached Double A. Lars Anderson ($825,000 bonus), David Mailman (550,000 bonus), Derrik Gibson ($600,000 bonus), and Pete Hissey (1$ million bonus) are all examples of high school players taken by the Sox under Epstein who have failed to reach their potential in the Sox system.

The second area where the Sox have been weak is developing starting pitching. The Sox developed only two starting pitchers over ten years of Theo Epstein as General Manager (Lester and Buchholz). One explanation for this is that many of their high draft picks have been converted to relievers (Papelbon, Bard, and Masterson).  This has helped the major league team, but relievers in general have far less value than starting pitchers.

Another explanation is that they have traded many of their pitchers in an attempt to impact the major league roster. By my count the Sox under Epstein traded seven different pitching prospects (Craig Hansen, Michael Bowden, Justin Masterson, Nick Hagadone, Casey Kelly, Bryan Price and Stephen Fife) all of whom were drafted in the 3rd round or higher. This certainly has impacted the pitching depth in the Sox system, a problem that has only recently been addressed.

The final area where Theo failed to bring and develop major league talent was in the international market. Daisuke Matsuzaka deserves his own section here, as the $105 million plus they spent on him netted the Sox only netted the Sox a cumulative 8.3 wins above replacement in six seasons. That’s right, Dice-K cost the Red Sox around $13 million for every win above replacement he provided. Theo and the Sox ownership took a huge gamble on Dice-K, and it was a spectacular failure.

Theo in happier days. Photo by Kelly O'Connor

Theo in happier days. Photo by Kelly O’Connor

Even if we were to overlook the massive money pit that was Dice-K, the Sox have still done poorly in the international market. They spent around $20 million (that’s a rough estimate that is on the low side) in signing bonuses with Epstein as GM, and have managed little in return. Felix Doubront, Jose Iglesias and Junichi Tazawa are the only international signings so far who have developed in the minors and have a chance to help the Red Sox.

This isn’t meant as an attack piece on Theo Epstein. The Red Sox won two World Series titles under his tenure, and he did far more good things than bad in his time with the club. The irony of player development is the time it takes prospects to reach the major leagues. Theo’s drafts in 2011 and 2012 may be two of his strongest. If Xander Bogaerts is as good as Sox fans hope, his value will dwarf the $20 million spent on international signing bonuses.

The point is that for all the high expectations Theo brought for the Sox farm system, the end product at the major league level hasn’t matched the hype. Here’s hoping that the renewed emphasis placed on the minor league system under Ben Cherington will produce better results.

Categories: Ben Cherington Boston Red Sox Brian Price Casey Kelly Clay Buchholz Craig Hansen Daisuke Matsuzaka Daniel Bard David Mailman Felix Doubront Jacoby Ellsbury John Lackey Jon Lester Jonathan Papelbon Jose Iglesias Junichi Tazawa Lars Anderson Michael Bowden Pete Hissey Ryan Kalish Ryan Westmoreland Will Middlebrooks Xander Bogearts

I've been a Red Sox fan since before birth, as my mom was watching the '75 World Series while pregnant with me. 1986 was a major life trauma, but I have always been a fan who believed that "next year" was the year. That faith was finally rewarded in 2004, and again in 2007, coincidentally the last 2 years that I have seen games in Fenway Park. I now follow the Sox from Texas, and love that I will see them in person in Houston this season. Follow Josh on Twitter here

3 Responses to “Player Development: How Did Theo Do?” Subscribe

  1. Gerry February 5, 2013 at 6:19 PM #

    I would love to see how many players from various markets the Sox signed which developed and failed to develop. For example, the Sox signed a few major leaguers from Japan like Daisuke and Oki, but who besides Tazawa did they actually develop. I think also,acknowledging the overall negative of Matsuzaka, if properly parsed he doesn't come out as bad as some insist. Despite his nibbling and luck (which all pitchers get now and again) he had two decent years and in 2007 actually helped win the WS and was well worth the c. $8M he received as salary. Two years were Impacted by TJS and other injuries, so he was only blatantly bad for a small portion of that contract. Further, the ridiculous $51M blind-bid posting fee must be considered as part of the cold war strategy vs the MFY, which energized team and fan base to the point of actually taking down the evil empire a second time this century. Talk about confidence … or was it hubris of some sort? Finally, Oki and Juni both verbalized the wish to be on Matsuzaka's team, which further aided the Sox. Finally, the Red Sox went from unknown in Japan and Asia to major player, enhancing that fanbase, selling ads and tickets to the point of coming out ahead financially vis a vis the signing. So DiceK was at minimum a wash. I know, parsing in the past perfect tense is dicey, but factual.

    Also, in terms of international prospects, I wonder if Pedro and Rubby, Doubront, Morales, Acevas and Margot will give the Sox a leg up with future signings of import?

  2. Dave February 6, 2013 at 9:47 AM #

    Theo wasn't in charge for last year's draft

    • Josh February 6, 2013 at 11:05 AM #

      Typo… meant the 2010 draft (Brentz and Ranaudo) and 2011 draft (Barnes, Bradley, Owens, Swihart).