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Release of Kris Johnson highlights strange case of 2006 draft for Red Sox

05.17.11 at 12:02 pm ET
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In some respects, the 2006 draft was a major success for the Red Sox. At the time, it was considered a thin talent class. In retrospect, it has largely borne out that projection.

There have been a few superstars who were taken with early picks — Evan Longoria (No. 3 overall, Rays), Clayton Kershaw (No. 7, Dodgers) and Tim Lincecum (No. 10, Giants) stand out most prominently — yet even a number of the top 10 picks in that draft (No. 1 overall pick Luke Hochevar, Royals; No. 2 pick Greg Reynolds of the Rockies, No. 4 pick Brad Lincoln of the Pirates, No. 6 selection Andrew Miller with the Tigers, No. 9 pick Billy Rowell of the Orioles) have done little in the five years since they were picked.

As such, the Red Sox have been, by and large, quite pleased with the returns they had from that year’s class of draftees. They acquired several players who have already either become major league contributors — first-rounder Daniel Bard, second-rounder Justin Masterson — or who still have a chance to carve out such roles — ninth-rounder Ryan Kalish, 17th-round pick Josh Reddick, 18th-round selection Lars Anderson.

‘€œI know a lot of us who were involved with it will always be proud of that ‘€™06 draft,’€ former Sox director of amateur scouting Jason McLeod (now the Padres Assistant GM) said last year.

But it was a draft that was also filled with several notable misses for the Sox. In spring training, the team released first-rounder Jason Place, a player who could not translate his considerable tools into performance, (or more on him, click here) and third-rounders Bryce Cox, whom the team once imagined as a closer-in-the-making but who never passed Double-A and Aaron Bates, a first baseman who got a five-game taste of the majors in 2009 but who never showed enough of a bat to establish himself as a big league contributor at a position that demands offense.

And on Tuesday, the strange case of the 2006 draft continued with the news (via the Triple-A PawSox) that left-hander Kris Johnson had been released. Johnson was a sandwich-round pick whom the Sox took in ’06 as the No. 40 overall selection. For a time, the pick was subject to particular scrutiny, since the Sox took Johnson one pick in front of Joba Chamberlain (whom the Sox had removed from their draft board due to medical concerns).

Johnson dominated as a freshman at Wichita State, with an impressive fastball and a hammer-curve that rated as plus. Though he required Tommy John surgery the following season, the 6-foot-4 left-hander showed enough in his return to the mound in 2006 ‘€” a fastball that was again touching 91, athleticism, a fluid delivery, etc. ‘€” that the Red Sox felt comfortable taking him.

His curveball never returned after Tommy John, but he developed a solid changeup, and the left-hander showed flashes in his minor league career with the Sox. Most notably, in 2008, Johnson had a 3.63 ERA and struck out 7.1 batters per nine innings with Double-A Portland resulting in an invite to big league camp the following year, where he put himself on the Sox’ radar as a potential big league contributor. But after coming so close to the majors, he experienced a dramatic fall. Over the past three years in Pawtucket, he had an 11-28 record and 6.09 ERA, including marks of 2-2 with a 12.63 ERA this year.

And so, it seemed a matter of if, not when, he would be released, making it easy to suggest that the Sox missed on Johnson, and of course, there is some truth to that. At the same time, his release is also a reminder of how few impact players there are in a draft.

There were certainly notable players who emerged as huge talents from that class after being taken after Johnson. While Chamberlain (taken No. 45) has seen his star dim, second rounders Brett Anderson (selected by the Diamondbacks), Trevor Cahill (A’s) and now Masterson (Red Sox) have shown considerable potential as starters. The third round saw Zach Britton go to the Orioles, the A’s landed two-time All-Star closer Andrew Bailey in the sixth round, highly regarded Rays outfield prospect Desmond Jennings went in the 10th round and Mat Latos was there for the taking in the 11th round due to makeup questions.

There were certainly some diamonds to be mined when the Sox selected Johnson — but not many. As such, his release is perhaps as much a reminder of the imperfect science of the draft as it is a missed pick.

Read More: 2006 draft, Daniel Bard, joba chamberlain, justin masterson
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