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Why the 2011 draft may represent an opportunity the Sox never have again

06.02.11 at 1:35 am ET
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The Major League Baseball amateur draft always represents a pivotal moment. The early-June process is always treated as a potentially franchise-changing moment, when teams lay the foundation of their future — for better or for worse.

That being the case, the 2011 draft could be particularly important for the Red Sox. The team has four of the first 40 picks in the draft — the first time the franchise has had four picks that high since 1982 — thanks to the departures of free agents Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre.

The Sox got the Tigers’ No. 19 overall pick as well as a sandwich pick (No. 36 overall) when Martinez signed with Detroit. Beltre’s signing, meanwhile, netted the Sox the No. 26 overall pick in the first round that had belonged to the Rangers, along with the No. 40 overall pick in the 2011 draft.

“It’s always a great feeling to have extra picks,” Epstein said. “I think it energizes the scouting staff the whole year because they know going in and seeing players, there’s a much better chance you can actually get a guy. They see someone they like, and realize he’s going to go before we pick or if we only have one pick before we get to the second round, we’re unlikely to get that guy.

“It energizes the whole staff and when you get in the room and put them all together, it’s exciting. You know when you rank the first 40 guys, you know you’re getting four of them. That’s a nice feeling. We just have to do our job and get them in the right order and see how things break.”

This could be the last draft where the Sox, or any team, has this many picks. A new compensation system for the departure of free agents could be put in place with the negotiation of a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). That being the case, the Sox know they have to make the most of the opportunity.

“There might be a day we wake up and we’re talking fondly about bygone days when we had four of the first 40 picks in the draft and no team will ever have that again,” Epstein said. “Who knows what the next system will be. We have to take advantage of this one.”

Since the Sox have so many picks, it could permit them to be flexible and take risks on some players. That was the prevailing philosophy of the club in the 2005 draft, when it started making the transition from low-risk college picks from prominent programs to players with less certainty but higher upside. The team took college stars Jacoby Ellsbury, Craig Hansen and Jed Lowrie, while also plucking junior college standout Clay Buchholz and high schooler Michael Bowden when they had five of the first 47 selections.

“You want to get good players,” Epstein said. “You want to combine upside and probability but when you don’t have extra picks, it’s sometimes hard to take that extra risk with the very high upside. You can diversify your portfolio a little more when you have more picks and take that chance.”

Epstein is quick to point out that the organization does not want to focus solely on the first four picks, as there is much more to the draft.

“This year we are spending a lot of time on players 10-40 on the list because we will probably end up getting four of those players,” he said. “At the same time, you don’t want to ignore the rest of the draft just because you are picking so often in the first round. You often make or break your draft later on.”

According to Sawdaye, who is heading his second draft after replacing Jason McLeod, this year’s draft class is pretty solid, especially with an impressive crop of college pitching.

“It’s a pretty talented class … Nothing historically great, but a good draft,” he said. “You see most of the depth probably in college pitching … there’s a good group of high school pitching. I’d say the top five to 10 picks in the draft [will be pitchers], guys that we probably aren’t going to get.”

The importance of the draft is well known to Epstein and he enjoys being involved in the draft process.

“It’s one of my favorite aspects of the job and it is one of the most important things we do as an organization. I am here with [amateur scouting director] Amiel [Sawdaye] and supporting him any way that I can,” said Epstein.

“I have seen a lot of the players for the first four picks, so I will give my input over the week to 10 days leading up to the draft,” he added. “I think our process is for everyone to speak their mind, have an opinion about the player and develop a consensus as we rank the players on the board and make sure we stay true to our principals in what we believe in a player.”

“It’s been probably the biggest factor of this organization from a baseball operations standpoint over the past 10 years. We’ve built much of this team through the draft and also used the draft for prospects to trade for other important members of this team,” Epstein added.

How a team drafts one year can have a major affect on the organization four or five years down the road.

“If you have bad drafts two out of three, three out of four years, that is going to be reflected in a downturn of the success overall of the organization four or five years down the line so the work that our scouts are doing now will play an important role in how we feel about the Red Sox four or five years from now,” Epstein said. “It is really hard, pretty fascinating and really important.”

Read More: 2011 MLB Draft, amiel sawdaye, Theo Epstein,
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