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SoxProspects: Pitching a work in progress

4/2/2012

While pitching in the Red Sox system is thin in terms of elite arms, there are several pitchers in the organization that could develop into major league contributors. Nearly all of the best pitching prospects in the system right now are minor league starters, but many of those starters project as bullpen arms over the long term. And while the major league club has a handful of arms locked up to long-term deals, there is plenty of room for these prospects to crack the big-league rotation or bullpen in the foreseeable future.

Here’s a breakdown of the top pitching prospects in the Red Sox minor league system, separated as projected starters and projected relievers.

PROJECTED STARTERS

Anthony Ranaudo (Age: 22)

How acquired: Drafted in the supplemental 1st round in 2010 ($2,550,000 signing bonus)

2011 stats: 9-6, 3.97 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 117 strikeouts/46 walks in 127 innings with High-A Salem and Low-A Greenville

2012 status: Minor league camp. Headed to Double-A Portland, possibly as the opening day starter.

Scouting report: Ranaudo was considered the top pitcher in his draft class and the second-best overall draft prospect heading into the 2010 season after going 12-3 with a 3.04 ERA and striking out 159 batters in 124.1 innings in 2009, on the way to leading LSU to a national championship. He fell to the Red Sox in the draft after a poor 2010 season, which was hampered by confidence issues and arm problems. He has a highly-projectable arm with the frame to withstand the rigors of starting at the major league level. Throwing from a high 3/4 arm slot, his fastball currently sits at 91-93 mph and tops out at 95 mph. He should add more sitting velocity as he fills out his frame. He has average-to-better command, but he can tire early in outings, leading his shoulder to fly open and resulting in reduced command in spells. Ranaudo also mixes in a plus high-70s curveball that has the potential to be a future knee buckler at the major league level. His third pitch, a low-80s changeup, is a work in progress but has the potential to develop into an average major league pitch. In 2012, he should focus on honing his changeup, incorporating his lower body into his mechanics more, and building stamina deeper into games.

Projection: Third starter

Ceiling: Ace starter

Floor: Sixth starter/swingman

Matt Barnes (21)

How acquired: Drafted in the 1st round in 2011 ($1,500,000 signing bonus)

2011 stats: 11-4, 1.62, 0.87, 111/31 in 116.2 innings with UConn. Did not debut professionally.

2012 status: Minor league camp. He’s likely to start 2012 in Greenville.

Scouting report: A tall righty with a projectable body and a fluid delivery, Barnes’ fastball sits at 93-95 mph and tops out at 96 with average command. His fastball shows excellent downward finish in the lower tier of the strike zone, but it tends to flatten out when elevated. In terms of secondary pitches, Barnes has a plus high-70s curveball with tight rotation and deep break, and a fringe-average 85-86 mph changeup. He needs to refine the deception, consistency, and command of both of his secondary offerings. He also can stand to improve the balance of his mechanics.

Projection: Third starter

Ceiling: Ace starter

Floor: Set-up man

Henry Owens (19)

How acquired: Drafted in the supplemental 1st round in 2011 ($1,550,000 signing bonus)

2011 stats: 11-0, 1.10, 0.86, 114/25 in 77 innings with Edison (CA) High School. Did not debut professionally.

2012 status: Minor league camp. Projects to start the season in extended spring training and then Lowell.

Scouting report: Owens is a projectable lefty with an excellent frame, but he needs to add some bulk and correspondingly some strength. A loose thrower with an easy and deceptive delivery, his fastball presently sits at 89-92 mph with some late tail, and tops out around 93 mph. He has the potential to add sitting velocity with physical development. His command is average and will need to be an area of development as he climbs the organizational ladder. Owens’ arsenal also includes a 74-76 mph curveball with plus potential and an average low-90s changeup. He has a mature presence on the mound for his age, but he’s yet to be tested by professional hitters in official games.

Projection: Fifth starter

Ceiling: Second starter

Floor: Double-A pitcher

Major league insurance: Vicente Padilla (could be slated for Boston’s bullpen), Aaron Cook (may not crack Red Sox rotation in April, but should be with the big club by May), Ross Ohlendorf (should open season in Pawtucket rotation), Doug Mathis (impressed in major league camp, could see time with big club later in the season)

Other prospects to watch: Cody Kukuk (2011 seventh-round pick signed for $800,000 bonus), Noe Ramirez (2011 fourth-round pick signed to $625,000 bonus), Chris Hernandez (10-7, 3.18 ERA with Salem in 2011), Chris Balcom-Miller (trade return for Manny Delcarmen, struggled upon promotion to Portland in 2011, still just 23)

PROJECTED RELIEVERS

Alex Wilson (25)

How acquired: Drafted in the 2nd round in 2009 ($470,700 signing bonus)

2011 stats: 10-4, 3.11, 1.25, 123/44 in 133 innings for Portland and Pawtucket. Red Sox Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

2012 status: Re-assigned to minor league camp on March 16. Will open season in Pawtucket rotation.

Scouting report: Wilson throws from a high 3/4 arm slot with clean but arduous mechanics. His fastball sits at 92-93 mph and tops out at 94-95 mph. He likely can sit in the mid-90s in short bursts out of the bullpen. His four-seamer is on the straight side and hittable when elevated, while his two-seamer has nice arm side run. Wilson also utilizes an excellent 81-84 mph slider with tight rotation as his out pitch. His third pitch, a mid-80s changeup, is below average right now. He also occasionally mixes in a 76-78 mph curveball as a look pitch. The right-hander has very good control and command, but will need to keep his fastball down in the zone more consistently to reduce solid contact or else he’ll give up too many home runs. Ultimately, Wilson has back-end-of-the-rotation potential, but he’s more likely to make a solid impact as a set-up man with a club like Boston.

Projection: 7th inning set-up man

Ceiling: Fourth Starter

Floor: Back-of-the-rotation reliever

Drake Britton (22)

How acquired: Drafted in the 23rd round in 2007 ($700,000 signing bonus)

2011 stats: 1-13, 6.91, 1.70, 89/55 in 97.2 innings with Salem.

2012 status: On the 40-man roster, 3 options left. Optioned to Portland on March 16, but will actually start the season back with Salem.

Scouting report: Britton throws from a 3/4 arm slot with a delivery similar to that of Jon Lester. His four-seam fastball sits at 92-93 mph and tops out in the mid-90s with good downward life. He has really struggled to maintain a consistent release point and balance, causing subpar fastball command. Britton also features a mid-70s curveball that has potential to be an elite major league pitch. He presently has good feel for it but struggles with command. His low-80s changeup and mid-80s slider are both works in progress. The lefty had some serious confidence issues in 2011, with a tendency to get rattled early in outings and completely lose his stuff. He’s focused on fixing those issues in 2012. If he can regain his confidence and add a reliable third pitch, he could work himself into the starting-rotation discussion in a few years. However, another season like 2011 could derail his career. Presently, he projects as a left-handed setup man in a low-pressure environment, but the range between floor and ceiling is very wide.

Projection: Set-up man for second-division club

Ceiling: Third starter

Floor: A-Ball pitcher

Stolmy Pimentel (22)

How acquired: International free agent, July 2006 ($25,000 signing bonus)

2011 stats: 6-13, 6.79, 1.61, 65/39 in 102 innings with Portland and Salem.

2012 status: On the 40-man roster, 2 options left. Optioned to Portland on March 18, where he will start the season.

Scouting report: Pimentel has a strong pitcher's frame that has developed well since he signed as a 16-year-old. He features a 92-95 mph fastball, a solid-average 78-82 mph changeup, and an average 74-79 mph curveball. All three have potential to be major league pitches, but his command is fringy and he struggles repeating his arm slot and finding a consistent landing spot. In 2011, Pimentel was unable to throw strikes early in the count and couldn’t work well from behind. If he’s unable to make developmental strides in those areas, he may be better suited for the bullpen. But with the right advancements, he still has a high ceiling as a potential major league starter.

Projection: Middle reliever

Ceiling: Third starter

Floor: Triple-A reliever

Junichi Tazawa (25)

How acquired: International free agent, Dec. 2008 ($1,800,000 signing bonus)

2011 stats: 4-4, 4.61, 1.24, 59/16 in 56.2 innings with Pawtucket, Portland, and Salem (rehab assignment). 0-0, 6.00, 1.33, 4/1 in 3 innings with Boston.

2012 status: On the 40-man roster, 2 options left. Optioned to Pawtucket on March 23, where he will start the season in the bullpen.

Scouting report: Tazawa is back to full health after April 2010 Tommy John surgery. A small-framed pitcher with an unconventional delivery, his arsenal includes a decent 88-93 mph fastball, a solid-average high-70s curveball, a very good low-80s split-fingered changeup, and a 78-82 mph backdoor slider. He has above-average control and mixes his pitches well. He projects as a sixth-inning reliever or long-man on a contending team, but could develop into a back-end starter, particularly for a second-division club.

Projection: Middle reliever

Ceiling: Fifth starter

Floor: Up-and-down occasional MLB contributor

Major League insurance: Scott Atchison (made solid contributions with Boston in 2010 and 2011), Justin Germano (79 games of major league experience over six seasons), Doug Mathis (impressed front office this spring), Jesse Carlson (showed flashes of dominance with Toronto in the past)

Other prospects to watch: Brandon Workman (2010 second-round pick), Frank Montas (19-year-old Dominican with high-90s fastball), Madison Younginer (21-year-old righty with high ceiling, but considerable refinements needed), Miguel Celestino (22-year-old Dominican with mid-90s fastball)