Over the course of March, we'll be examining the depth of the Red Sox minor league system on a position-by-position basis. We’ll kick it off with pitchers.
Boston has more pitching depth than it has had in recent memory, with a bevy of potential impact major league starters at the upper levels of the system, together with several intriguing young hurlers who could eventually contribute out of the bullpen.
POTENTIAL MAJOR LEAGUE STARTERS
LHP Henry Owens, 21, was a supplemental first-round pick in 2011. The 6-foot-7 left-hander spent a significant portion of the 2013 season in High-A Salem, posting a 2.92 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and striking out 123 batters over 20 starts in 104.2 innings. He was promoted to Double-A Portland on Aug. 1 and went on to start six games for the Sea Dogs. Owens posted a 1.78 ERA and struck out 46 batters over 30.1 innings in his brief Double-A stint. His arsenal includes an 89-92 mph fastball, an excellent mid-70s curveball, and an above-average low-80s changeup. Due to his height and arm action, his fastball appears to the hitter to come in faster than its actual velocity. Owens also should be able to add some additional sitting velocity over the next couple seasons as he adds strength. (Had he not signed with Boston, he would currently be a junior at the University of Miami.) He projects as a No. 3 starter, but still has some work to do to get there, particularly in improving his fastball command. However, Owens could also develop into a No. 2 starter if he adds velocity and refines his command.
RHP Matt Barnes, 23, is about to start his third full season in the Sox system. The 2011 first-round pick spent all but one start of the 2013 season with Portland, where he went 5-10 with a 4.33 ERA, 135 strikeouts, and 46 walks in 108 innings. He was promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket on Aug. 29 and is expected to break camp with the PawSox this season. Barnes projects as a middle-of-the-rotation starter. He features a fastball that sits in the 91-95 mph range and tops out around 98 mph, throwing the pitch with solid-average command. He also throws an average curveball with plus potential and an average-but-developing changeup. He still needs to work on durability and refining his secondary stuff, both of which were identified as development areas in 2013.
RHP Anthony Ranaudo, 24, followed up a poor 2012 season with an outstanding performance in 2013, going 11-5 with a 2.96 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 127 strikeouts, and 47 walks in 140 innings between stops in Portland and Pawtucket. However, not all scouts are sold on the 6-foot-7 right-hander as a top-end starter, especially given his lack of consistency dating back to 2010. Ranaudo's arsenal includes a 92-95 mph fastball with average-but-inconsistent command, a plus low-80s curveball, and a fringe-average changeup. He'll start 2014 with Pawtucket, and the keys to the final stages of his development are keeping his delivery (and command) consistent and refining his changeup. Right now he profiles as a No. 3 or No. 4 starter, but with continued development he has the stuff to be a No. 2 in his peak seasons.
RHP Allen Webster, 23, has some of the best pure stuff in the system but is held back by command and poise issues. His repertoire includes a plus 92-98 mph fastball, a plus 82-84 mph changeup, and an above-average-to-plus slider. He bounced between Pawtucket and Boston in 2013, going 8-4 with a 3.60 ERA and 9.94 K/9 with the PawSox but struggling mightily in eight major league appearances. He has the stuff to be a middle-to-top of the rotation starter, but his fringy command has held him back from taking the next step in the major league rotation. Webster has also had major struggles in the first inning, which raises the question as to his ability to be an effective bullpen arm. If he can keep his fastball down and get beyond his first-inning woes, he projects as a middle-of-the-rotation starter. If not, he might be better suited for a back-of-the-rotation slot for a second-division squad.
LHP Trey Ball, 19, was drafted seventh overall in the first round of the 2013 draft, at which time scouts tabbed him as "Henry Owens with a better fastball." The 6-foot-6 lefty weighed in at 185 upon signing with the Red Sox, leaving him a lot of room to fill out and add strength. His fastball currently sits in the 91-95 mph range, and is complemented by a plus-potential changeup and a work-in-progress curveball. He has smooth, low-effort pitching mechanics and repeats his delivery well for his age. He also doesn't have a lot of miles on his arm. A talented hitter and outfielder, Ball was among the top two-way players in the 2013 draft, and had been committed to the University of Texas prior to signing with Boston. He should begin the 2014 season with Low-A Greenville.
RHP Teddy Stankiewicz was Boston's second-round draft pick in 2013 (No. 45 overall), signing for a $1.1 million bonus. At 6-foot-4, 215, he has an ideal pitcher's frame with room for growth. Stankiewicz also has a loose, 3/4 delivery which doesn't need a whole lot of tweaking. His fastball presently sits at 89-94 mph with decent command, and he should be able to add 1-2 mph as he adds more size. The 20-year-old also mixes in a low-80s changeup and an 11-to-5 curveball, both of which have solid potential. Like Ball, he is expected to start the 2014 season with Greenville.
LHP Brian Johnson, 23, posted a 2.54 ERA and 1.12 WHIP while striking out 84 batters in 85.0 innings between stops in Salem, Greenville, and two rehab starts in the Rookie-Level Gulf Coast League. A 2012 first-round pick out of Florida, the left-hander has an 89-93 mph fastball (which tops out at 94-95 mph in short bursts), an average curveball, and an average changeup. Johnson made only two appearances with Salem in 2013, but still might be a candidate to break camp with Portland this year. If he starts with Salem, he shouldn't be there for long. At this point, Johnson projects as a back-of-the-rotation starter or a setup man.
POTENTIAL MAJOR LEAGUE RELIEVERS
RHP Brandon Workman, 25, is on the bubble for a spot in the Boston bullpen or the PawSox starting rotation when camp breaks later this month, but he should end up pitching high-leverage relief innings with the big club as the season progresses. Unless, of course, he's called on for emergency starter duty due to injuries to the major league rotation. A 2012 second-round pick, Workman throws a 93-94 fastball with average command, a plus 87-90 mph cutter, as well as a curveball and a changeup, both of which are works in progress.
RHP Rubby De La Rosa, 25, is in a similar position to Workman, but probably a step behind him in the pecking order and thus likely will begin the season with Pawtucket. De La Rosa's repertoire is highlighted by a 94-97 mph fastball, which can be dialed up to 98-100 mph out of the bullpen. He throws the pitch with fringe-average command due to an inconsistent delivery. The 25-year-old Dominican also features a plus 84-87 mph changeup and a fringe-average slider that needs work. He worked on an innings limit in 2013 while still recovering from August 2011 Tommy John Surgery, but should be free to pitch without restriction in 2014. While De La Rosa could still develop as a solid starter if he improves his fastball command and refines his slider, at this stage he profiles better as a late-inning reliever.
LHP Drake Britton, 24, enters his seventh season in the Red Sox system in 2014. As Red Sox fans saw in 2013, his mechanics and delivery are quite reminiscent of Jon Lester. Britton's arsenal includes a 92-95 mph fastball, an inconsistent slider, and a developing changeup. He has had numerous bouts of control issues throughout his minor league career, and has tended to get rattled on the mound easily. However, that was not the case in 2013, as he was able to keep the ball down in the zone while cutting down on walks, both with Portland and Boston. He's expected to start the season with Pawtucket, but should get plenty of opportunities to contribute to the major league bullpen over the course of the season.
RHP Noe Ramirez, 24, was Boston's fourth-round pick in 2011, selected out of Cal State Fullerton. He worked as a starter this point last spring, when he tweaked his delivery to become a sidearmer and started working out of the bullpen. Between stops in Salem and Portland, Ramirez went 3-2 with 6 saves, a 2.38 ERA, a 1.06 WHIP, 75 strikeouts, and 17 walks in 55 innings. He throws an 89-93 mph fastball, a solid-average changeup, and a decent slider, all with very good command and deception. He may begin the 2014 season as Portland's closer, but should be in Pawtucket before the year is out.
RHP Simon Mercedes, 22, signed with Boston as an international amateur at the age of 20, after having his first pro contract with the Giants voided by Major League Baseball. A live arm with solid potential, the Dominican righty throws a 91-96 mph fastball, as well as a curveball and changeup -- both of which need a lot of work. His command is average at this point. Mercedes spent the 2013 season with Short-A Lowell, and should work as a piggyback starter in 2014, either in Greenville or Salem.
RHP Luis Diaz, 21, had a breakout year in 2013, posting a 1.96 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 101.0 innings as a starter with Greenville and Salem. The big Dominican right-hander throws an 89-92 mph fastball and a solid 82-84 mph changeup. His fastball will probably get up t the mid-90s if he's converted to the pen. He may end up as Salem's opening day starter this year, but his stuff is better suited for the bullpen over the long term.
LHP Cody Kukuk, 20, had a mediocre 2013 season with Greenville after missing most of the 2012 season due to a suspension for off-field issues. A tall lefty with a 91-93 mph fastball, a decent slider, and a developing changeup, Kukuk could be part of Salem's rotation with Diaz when April rolls around, but he's a candidate for an eventual move to the bullpen. In either situation, he needs to significantly improve his control this year -- he walked 81 batters in 107 innings in 2013.
Others to Watch: RHP Myles Smith, LHP Corey Littrell, RHP Keith Couch