Being a Red Sox fan this season has been frustrating to say the least. The team is loaded with young stars and their offense seems to score double digit runs every night. It is awesome to watch but at the same time, it is very painful due to their pitching. As of today, the Red Sox starters as a whole have a 4.52 ERA and right now cannot fill a 5 man rotation. They are currently going into the All-Star break with a 4 man rotation and one of those 4 starters is journeyman Sean O’Sullivan.
The struggling rotation and the lack of success from their young pitchers that have come up through the system got me thinking about how the organization’s top pitching prospects have performed over the past 10 years. The Red Sox have produced star position players like Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Travis Shaw. Right now, Clay Buchholz is the only starter in the rotation on the Red Sox that was developed in the Red Sox farm system and even he has been booted from the rotation twice this year. So let’s take a look.
- Clay Buchholz:
Buchholz debuted in 2007 and saw immediate success as he threw a no-hitter in his 2nd big league start. Buchholz has been a solid pitcher and had a nice season the year the Sox won the World Series in 2013. But injuries have always been a major concern and have limited his success. Career numbers: 76-60, 4.00 ERA
- Michael Bowden:
Remember this guy? He was one of Boston’s top pitching prospects for a few years and only made 2 starts in his entire career before getting moved to the pen. He only lasted a few seasons in the majors and he never threw over 40 innings in a season. Career numbers: 3-5, 4.51 ERA
- Justin Masterson:
Masterson had a good start to his MLB career as he was a nasty reliever for the Sox before getting traded to Cleveland in the Victor Martinez trade. Masterson became a starter for Cleveland but only have a sub 4.00 ERA twice with the Indians. His strange arm angle saw his velocity dip and injuries have always been a question for this guy. Career numbers: 64-74, 4.31 ERA
- Daniel Bard:
This guy was a stud for Boston. When he was used as a setup guy, he was looking like he was going to be one of the best bullpen arms in baseball for a long time. Boston saw him as a starter and tried to make him one but the experiment failed miserably. Bard forgot how to throw strikes and found himself out of baseball 2 years after being a dominate reliever. Career numbers: 10-19, 3.67 ERA
- Casey Kelly:
Kelly was a 1st round draft pick for the Red Sox in the 2008 draft and a top pitching prospect in their system that was viewed as a potential front of the rotation starter. He was traded from Boston to San Diego in the Adrian Gonzalez deal and never turned into anything. He has never thrown more than 30 innings. Career numbers: 2-8, 6.39 ERA
- Anthony Ranaudo:
This is a guy who I really liked but his stuff was just average. Boston gave him a shot but could not get big league hitters out consistently and eventually was traded to Texas. Like Kelly, he has never thrown more than 40 innings in a season. Career numbers: 5-4, 6.33 ERA.
- Brandon Workman:
Workman was an important bullpen piece when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2013 but then they tried to make him a starter. The following season, he went 1-10 as a starter before going down with TJ surgery. He just made his first appearance since surgery in the minors the other day. Career numbers: 7-13, 5.11 ERA.
- Felix Doubront:
I might have been Doubront’s biggest fan. I thought he had the stuff to be a good number 3 starter in the big leagues and in his first full season it looked like that could have been true as he had a sub 4.00 ERA and 10 wins before the All-Star break. Doubront had a decent year with the Sox the year they won the World Series but he seemed to struggle every year at the end of the year. Fatigue seemed to catch up with him. His velocity dropped significantly since his rookie year and he could no longer get hitters out and was traded to the Cubs for a bucket of balls. Career numbers: 31-26, 4.89 ERA.
- Allen Webster:
Webster was acquired in the deal that gave the Red Sox new life as they sent Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto to the Dodgers. Webster showed he had a great arm and good stuff but he struggled to control any of his pitches that led to a 4.9 BB/9 ratio for his career. Webster always seemed like he was overwhelmed on the mound and it looked like the bright lights where too much for him. Career numbers: 7-6, 6.13 ERA.
Now it is extremely difficult to draft and develop pitchers in professional baseball. There are so many uncertainties when it comes to starting pitchers. Health is by far the biggest question mark but it is almost impossible to predict how a high school pitcher who dominates at the high school level will match up against major league hitters. Now I want to look at some of the current arms in the organization and see if they could turn out to be something rather than nothing.
- Matt Barnes:
A first round draft pick out of Connecticut in the 2011 draft was thought of as a potential front end starter but early in his minor league career he struggled to get deep into games. Barnes really struggled to throw his off speed pitches consistently for strikes. The Red Sox told him what he needed to work on and that he would be a member of the bullpen rather than a rotation option. This season Barnes has been a valuable piece to the Sox bullpen and is now being considered for high leverage situations. This season: 3.07 ERA, 8.8 K/9.
- Henry Owens:
Owens is a frustrating pitcher to watch because he can get hitters out if he throws strikes. Owens cruised through rookie ball all the way up to AA before running into trouble with his control. This season, his 9.5 BB/9 ratio does not even give him a chance in games to succeed. Unless Owens is able to correct his mechanics to throw more strikes, he looks like a left-handed specialist rather than a number 3 or 4 in the rotation.
- Trey Ball:
Ball was a first round pick out of high school in the 2013 draft and at the time the Red Sox could have made him a position player or pitcher. They elected to make him a pitcher and the results early were rough. He could not throw strikes for the first few years of his minor league career but this season is having a breakout year in A+ with a 3.36 ERA. The concern with Ball is while his ERA is more than a run less than last year, his WHIP is exactly the same at 1.403. That is a number that will have to come down if he plans to move up in the minors and be taken seriously in the future. The jury is still out on this guy.
- Eduardo Rodriguez:
Rodriguez was a steal in a deal that sent Andrew Miller to the Orioles. E-Rod has a great arm but is learning how to pitch at the big league level. Not an easy thing to do. He saw success in his rookie season going 10-6 with a 3.85 ERA but he did not show signs of a third pitch at all and there were issues with tipping pitches. He ran into some bad luck in Spring Training as he injured his knee in PFP’s and missed the first 5 weeks of the season. This year, Rodriguez still has no third pitch and is getting smoked. He is 1-3 with an 8.59 ERA. He has a lot of work to do in the minors to be relied on for the next few years as a stable piece of the Red Sox rotation. But I like this kid a lot.
- Anderson Espinoza:
Espinoza is the kid I am looking forward to the most in the next few years if he is still a part of the organization. He is only 18 years out of Venezuela but has a terrific arm. He is consistently in the mid to upper 90’s and has a really good curveball. Some scouts are projected him to be a front end starter and that is why he has earned the honor of being the Red Sox second ranked prospect according to baseball prospectus. A lot to like about this kid.
I do believe that the current pitching prospects in the system have the opportunity to turn into good starting pitchers but the track record is not promising. Young prospects are always a gamble. Only time will tell if these players become what some scouts predict them to be.