The 2010 Draft had concluded just a few days before, but area scout Danny Watkins had already moved on to finding players for the following year. Watkins -- who covered Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee for the Red Sox and still does -- made his annual trip to the Tennessee Baseball
The 2010 Draft had concluded just a few days before, but area scout Danny Watkins had already moved on to finding players for the following year. Watkins -- who covered Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee for the Red Sox and still does -- made his annual trip to the Tennessee Baseball Coaches Association's showcase for rising high school seniors in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
"There are 100-120 kids there from all across the state, and after a while, you get kind of numb, because you're watching the same thing over and over," Watkins said. "I always tell the kids, 'Do something to make me remember you.'"
This time around, an infielder did just that for Watkins.
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"He was playing shortstop, and he went behind the bag, extended his glove and then flipped the ball behind his back and made a perfect feed to second base. At that point, I said to myself, 'OK, let's see what else you can do.'"
"He" was an unheralded 5-foot-10, 160-pound shortstop from Overton High School in Nashville, Tenn., who could do a lot of things, including winning district MVP honors as a point guard in basketball and recognition as the Tennessee state boys bowler of the year. His name was Mookie Betts.
The Red Sox had maybe the best Draft of the decade in 2011, in large part -- but not solely -- because of Betts. They found four members of their current World Series roster, used another prospect to trade for a fifth and would have been reunited with another of their draftees had the Brewers advanced to the Fall Classic.
No one, not even the Red Sox, envisioned that Betts would develop into a power-hitting outfielder, one of the best all-around players in baseball and the presumptive American League MVP Award winner this year. Most of the industry viewed him as a good athlete but undersized and possessing solid but not standout tools. There wasn't a lot of heat on him -- the Royals may have been the biggest threat -- so Boston waited until its eighth choice to take Betts, in the fifth round at No. 172 overall.
"Honestly, I found myself that spring looking for reasons to go see him," Watkins said. "I was drawn to him. I turned him in as a future shortstop who would hit .270 with 12 home runs. To say I saw 30 home runs and a Gold Glove right fielder, I wish I could tell you that, but I did not."
Looking back, then-Red Sox scouting director Amiel Sawdaye can't defend waiting until the fifth round to grab Betts. His signability was a bit of a question, but Boston was more aggressive in the Draft than any contender in the years before bonus pools and would lure him away from a Tennessee commitment for $750,000. Though Betts wasn't in the running for the Red Sox's two first-round picks or two supplemental first-rounders, they rated him as a second-round talent yet still opted for New York high school outfielder Williams Jerez (second round), Georgia prep catcher Jordan Weems (third) and Cal State Fullerton right-hander Noe Ramirez (fourth) before taking him.
"Mookie was a lesson," said Sawdaye, now senior vice president and assistant GM for the Diamondbacks. "We got him, but we waited until the fifth round on a guy that everyone graded as an excellent athlete, excellent instincts, plus hitter, plus runner. The only thing lacking in our reports was power.
"But if you're telling me we're getting a plus defender in the middle of the field, shortstop or second base, who's a plus hitter, plus approach, plus runner with excellent instincts, how did we wait that long? If we lose that player with those reports and that much conviction on him, that's a huge mistake."
Fortunately for the Red Sox, they didn't make a mistake on Betts, who made their 2011 Draft a terrific one. Without him, it still would have been a good Draft, as three of their top four picks are contributors to varying degrees on their World Series club, and it also produced a slugger who blossomed after a trade.
Heading into 2011, Boston didn't think Jackie Bradley Jr. would even last until its first pick at No. 19 overall. He was the reigning College World Series MVP, and the scouting reports on him still ring true today: outstanding defensive center fielder, productive if streaky hitter. Up-the-middle players who have starred at college baseball's highest level usually are top-10 selections.
But Bradley missed half of the regular season with a left wrist injury, tried to do too much when he returned and had trouble adjusting to the new college bats, which had been toned down severely after NCAA rule changes. Though the Gamecocks repeated as national champions, he hit just .247 with six homers and slid all the way out of the first round to the Red Sox at No. 40. They pounced and signed the future All-Star and 2018 AL Championship Series MVP for an over-slot $1.1 million.
"When we put together our list at the beginning of the year, he was in our top five," said Mike Rikard, then Boston's national crosschecker and now its scouting director. "When the Draft came, he had struggled and gotten banged up, and people pumped the brakes a little.
"When a guy gets hurt, it's always tough, but a few of our scouts still saw an All-Star-caliber player. The majority of our room saw a solid-type player. His defensive grades were through the roof and we knew he was a good hitter, but no one was quite sure how much power he'd have. He's probably the one who ended up closer to his projections as any of them."
Both of the Red Sox's 2011 first-round picks haven't quite matched their Draft-day expectations, but they still found roles on their big league team. Right-hander Matt Barnes, who signed for $1.5 million as the 19th overall choice after starring at Connecticut as well as in the Cape Cod League and Team USA, projected as a mid-rotation starter at the time, but lacked consistency with his secondary pitches in the upper Minors. His curveball became a weapon once he became a full-time reliever, however, and he has delivered a 1.23 ERA in seven postseason appearances and a win in Game 1 of the World Series this fall.
Injuries and a shortage of opportunities have limited Blake Swihart's ability to show what he can do in the Majors, but scouts inside and outside the organization still think he can be a quality player if he stays healthy and gets at-bats. When the Red Sox signed him for $2.5 million as the No. 26 overall pick, the New Mexico high school catcher had tools reminiscent of a young Buster Posey. Swihart has started at six positions and played seven this year.
Interestingly, there was a time when the fourth player that Boston selected before the second round rated as the best prospect of the bunch and one of the top lefty pitching prospects in baseball. California high schooler Henry Owens signed for $1.55 million at No. 36 and cruised all the way through Triple-A thanks to a tantalizing changeup and deceptive fastball. But his lack of a reliable curveball or command prevented him from gaining a foothold during four stints with the Red Sox, and his control totally fell apart in 2017 before they waived him that December.
Jerez, who converted to pitching in 2014, and Ramirez also have made the Majors. Boston lost Ramirez on waivers to the Angels in August 2017 and traded Jerez to them this July as part of a package for Ian Kinsler, a fifth member of the World Series roster.
Two players in the Draft got away from the Red Sox. Eighth-rounder Senquez Golson, a tooled-up prep outfielder from Mississippi, turned down $1 million to play football and baseball at Mississippi and eventually became a second-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers (though he has yet to play in an NFL game). Boston did land Kent State third baseman Travis Shaw for $110,000 in the ninth round, and while never considered a top prospect, he did hit 29 homers and provided better defense than expected in 2015-16 for the Sox. But the Red Sox shipped him to the Brewers in an ill-fated deal for Tyler Thornburg, and he has since slammed 63 homers over the past two years and even played a credible second base.
Despite missing out on an athlete it coveted and giving away Shaw too early, Boston still had a memorable Draft. It still has a ways to go to become the franchise's most productive ever, because the Red Sox had two of the best in baseball history in 1983 (Roger Clemens, Ellis Burks) and '76 (Wade Boggs, Bruce Hurst, John Tudor). But the 2011 crop is on the verge of delivering something those two couldn't -- a World Series championship.
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.