FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Takeaways from the Fort, where the Red Sox bid adieu -- for now -- to two young pitchers who came to camp with the advance billing of future big leaguers, and a young catcher who showed up unheralded but is leaving as a bona fide eye-opener.
Pitchers Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa, the young right-handers who came from the Dodgers in last August's transformative megadeal, and catcher Christian Vazquez, who showed off a throwing arm as impressive as those of the two pitchers, were all sent down to the minor leagues Friday. The Sox trimmed their spring roll call to 48 players, including 34 players on the 40-man roster and 13 non-roster invitees. Also included in that number is Ryan Kalish, who is on the 60-day disabled list after undergoing surgery on his right shoulder.
Webster and De La Rosa were both optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket, while Vazquez was optioned to Double-A Portland.
While De La Rosa came advertised as the pitcher with a 100 mph fastball and a changeup he learned from Pedro Martinez, it was Webster who made the biggest impression, stamping himself as the pitcher most likely to be summoned first from the minors should the Sox need another starting pitcher.
Webster made four exhibition appearances, the last three going three innings apiece, pitching a total of 11 innings and allowing two earned runs for a 1.64 ERA. He struck out 14 and walked just one, offering an affirmative answer to those who had questioned his control coming into camp while exhibiting a sinking fastball that sat in the 94-97 mph range, an outstanding changeup and an effective slider and curveball.
After watching the 23-year-old right-hander, an 18th-round draft choice signed for a paltry $20,000 out of high school in North Carolina, one major league scout said that he had the best stuff of any pitcher in camp. Webster should headline the rotation in Pawtucket, as the Sox remain committed to beginning the season with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Ryan Dempster, Felix Doubront and John Lackey. No need to rush Webster. By having him begin in the minors, the Sox can delay starting his service-time clock, which impacts when he becomes eligible for arbitration and ultimately free agency.
De La Rosa, meanwhile, was pitching with inning restrictions imposed by the club, which is proceeding cautiously after the 24-year-old Dominican pitched just 12 innings last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2011. De La Rosa impressed early, but was rocked for 7 earned runs in 2⅔ innings, with manager John Farrell suggesting he was overthrowing. He left with a 9.45 ERA, and figures to be brought along slowly. The Sox still see him as a starter, although there are scouts who believe his future may be as a late-inning reliever.
Meanwhile, the 22-year-old Vazquez, drafted out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy in the ninth round in 2008, threw out all four baserunners who attempted to steal off him and picked off another runner, showing off one of the best throwing arms by a Sox catcher in years. With Ryan Lavarnway and Daniel Butler expected to catch in Pawtucket, Vazquez will return to Portland, where he finished last season after beginning the year in Class A Salem. He batted .188 while here, but there is no question he can catch and throw on the big league level.
In the nightcap of split-squad action, the Red Sox shut out the Twins 5-0, with Doubront allowing just two hits, both doubles, in four innings. He struck out four while throwing 68 pitches, and with each outing is allaying concerns about the shoulder discomfort [and subpar conditioning] he exhibited when he arrived in camp.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit a home run -- his first of the spring -- with a man on base, and is now batting .417 this spring. He also has five doubles. Saltalamacchia, who is in his free agent year, hit 25 home runs last season, but got off to a slow start, going 3-for-29 (.103) before busting out with a four-hit game against the Yankees. He also tailed off badly at the end, going 4-for-35 (.114) with 15 strikeouts, and finished with a .222 average. With David Ortiz out indefinitely, the Sox could use some early production from Saltalamacchia.
Injury update: Pedro Ciriaco was scratched from Friday night's game with back spasms. He was replaced at shortstop by Deven Marrero, last year's No. 1 draft pick who also played a few innings in the split-squad game in Sarasota on Friday afternoon.
And one red, white and very blue Hawaiian will be returning to the Sox earlier than he hoped. Shane Victorino served as DH in Team USA's 4-3 loss to Puerto Rico in an elimination game Friday night, going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, including a called third strike in the ninth on a dubious call. Victorino had just 1 hit in 11 at-bats for Team USA; he was 0-for-11 in early exhibition action for the Sox.