The MLB draft is set to take place tonight at 7 pm, and the Sox are in good position. Thanks to their wise decision not to bring back Jonathan Papelbon, Ben Cherington and co. have the 31st and 37th picks overall, in addition to their own number 24.
SoxProspects has put together a pretty comprehensive piece up on ESPN that I recommend you check out. They have a pretty good history of tabbing the types of players Boston will be interested in, although it's worth noting that the rules are different this year. Last week Alex Speier of WEEI.com spelled out all the new rules and penalties, but I'll sum it up for you: The Red Sox can't just throw around money anymore. They're limited to less than $7 million to spend, and can't overspend on certain slots with the same impunity they had in the past.
It'll be interesting to see how that affects their strategy. This spring we saw how changing draft rules can affect teams that have draft systems in place. The Patriots have long traded down in the draft, eschewing high-priced top picks for less guaranteed money in the 2nd round, spreading risk among several players. This year they traded up twice to get impact defensive players because the NFL changed its own draft system, resulting in less guaranteed money (and fewer guaranteed years) for high picks.
Will Cherington also undergo such a transformation? In recent, the Sox (granted, under Epstein, but let's be real, it's the same regime) have sought high-risk, high-reward types, aiming for toolsy athletes on offense and hard-throwing, young pitchers. With that thinking, a guy like Matt Smoral, a tall, hard-throwing high school lefty identified by SoxProspects as a contender for the Sox' top pick, would make a lot of sense. But he's committed to North Carolina, and with this year's rules, he can't be obscenely overpaid just cause the Sox want him. Might he spend a year or two in college trying to raise his stock rather than take home the slot money for pick 24?
As usual, the first pick has leaked out, with Houston already locked in on Mark Appel, the Stanford pitcher. Minnesota is reportedly ready to select Byron Buxton, a high school outfielder often projected as a better (if riskier) pick.
I hope the Sox lean heavy on pitching with their top picks. This draft is widely thought of as not being as strong as ones in recent years (I saw someone say on Twitter that Appel would have gone 8th overall last year), but it's nonetheless important to lock up young pitching. I'd like to see us spend at least two of the first three picks on high-ceiling starters and hope that the player development folks can do their job and the injury bug can stay away. We know all too well how painful it is to go into the free agent market (John Lackey, you are terrible) for pitching, while guys like Felix Doubront show how you can get quality innings out of young, cheap arms. Let's do a little more of that in 2012.