A version of this story appears in the October 3 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
When Theo Epstein took over as Red Sox general manager in the fall of 2002,
he pledged to turn Boston into a "player development machine." Well,
Between Jonathan Papelbon, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia, the Sox have drafted and developed a shutdown closer, an All-Star centerfielder and an MVP second baseman on Epstein's watch. That trio has formed a huge chunk of the best homegrown core in baseball.
"The currency of the draft is information," Epstein says. It starts with the area scout, whose job is to find all potential pro prospects in a specific region. "The area guy talks to family, coaches, teammates, opponents, friends, teachers -- anyone who could have insight into what makes the guy tick," says Epstein. If a player is a top prospect, he'll also be seen by another scout, called a cross-checker, as well as the scouting director and possibly Epstein. "No one opinion will carry the day," says Epstein. "You evaluate a player's physical tools, but the mystery is how he applies the tools going forward."
Why is the draft so crucial for sustained success? Economics. A player's salary is controlled for his first six MLB seasons -- he typically makes up to $500,000 in each of his first three years, and for the next three he goes through the arbitration process, which usually yields much less than what he would get on the open market. Ellsbury, who's in his fourth year, is hitting .319 with 28 homers and 37 steals, and he's making $2.4 million in what could be an MVP season. Bargains like this are a big reason why the Sox have manageed to hold off the hard-charging Rays for the AL wild-card lead despite free agent flops John Lackey and Carl Crawford.
To give The Mag a glimpse of what Boston saw in Papelbon, Pedroia and Ellsbury,
Epstein and his scouts shared the players' amateur scouting reports and reflected
on the process of evaluating these future stars. Think of it as a look at how the ballpark sausage is made.