When a Major League Baseball team has a bad year - say, the Red Sox in 2014 (and unfortunately, by the looks of things so far, in 2015) - a silver lining follows in June of the next year. That's when the previous season's standings are flipped on their head and the bottom-feeders are awarded new life in the form of an early pick.
But for all their follies, the 2014 Red Sox were merely the seventh worst team last year - potentially pricing them out of the most coveted amateur prizes. So can they still strike gold?
The short answer: Definitely. In the last 10 drafts, some players to go seventh overall include Colorodo Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, New York Mets pitching wonderkind Matt Harvey and top Arizona Diamondbacks pitching prospect Archie Bradley, who had a breakout start to this year but has faltered a bit since taking a line drive to the head.
The current collective bargaining agreement also adds a relatively new wrinkle - each of the 30 teams can spend a finite amount of money on players, allotted primarily based on where in the draft they are picking. Some teams may choose not to pick a player widely considered to be the best available early in the draft so that they have more money to spend on better picks in later rounds. Given that, top players are more likely to slide a bit than in past years.
Because of the draft pool system, and because different teams naturally evaluate different players differently, I've compiled a list of all the players picked fifth through ninth overall in the last 10 drafts, as well as some notable later picks in those first rounds.
Names in bold have been named a league MVP. Pitchers with ^ have won the Cy Young Award. Players with + were named Rookie of the Year and those with * have been named to an All-Star team. Italics show players picked seventh overall.
Some notable picks later in the first round -- 10: Madison Bumgarner*, 14: Jason Heyward*, 15: Devin Mesoraco*, 27: Rick Porcello, 28: Ben Revere, 34: Todd Frazier*, 37: Travis D'Arnaud, 48: Josh Donaldson*
Some notable picks later in the first round -- 17: Brandon Finnegan, the first person ever to play in both the College World Series and the World Series in the same year
So what does this teach us? In the first-round and outside the top four, we have five MVPs, five Rookies of the Year, three Cy Young Award winners and 22 players named to at least one All-Star team - in the last decade alone. Countless others have appeared or currently appear near the tops of prospect ranking lists on Baseball America, MLB.com and/or Baseball Prospectus.
While guys like Finnegan and Sale have broken the mold and began their Major League careers in their draft years, most players are at least a few years away from the bigs when their names are called on draft night. Of athletes in the four major sports, baseball players are certainly the toughest to project as amateurs. Coupled with the 162-game season, it's why you don't see much tanking. When almost every team passes over MIKE TROUT, and when every team chooses about a dozen players over Albert Pujols, it absolutely proves there is value to be found.
What the Sox do with the No. 7 pick is up to them. Back in 1993, they found Trot Nixon in that position. In 2006, the Dodgers found a three-time Cy Young winner, four-time All-Star and MVP who is still just 27.