Digging for Diamonds: Red Sox Pitching Prospects
Ah, the trade deadline. Usually one of the more disappointing days of the year in terms of media-investment-to-things-that-actually-happen ratio, this year’s deadline was bursting at its jolly seams with big, dramatic moves right up ‘til the clock struck 4:00 EST yesterday. And right at the center of the frenzy was my favorite team, the Boston Red Sox. The Sox traded off a staggering four-fifths of their Opening Day rotation before this year’s deadline, leaving open the question of just who will pitch in Fenway going forward. So let’s revisit some of the top names on Boston’s depth chart (and welcome a new name to the list) to check in on what value – if any – fantasy owners should be placing on the queue of potential future Sox rotation candidates. The player’s pre-season rank on our Top 500 list is in parenthesis.
Anthony Ranaudo, RHP (NR) – 21 GS, 119 1/3 IP, 88 H, 99 K (7.5/9), 49 BB (3.7/9) at AAA Pawtucket
Ranaudo has been recalled to make his Major League debut tonight against the Yankees, but unfortunately for our purposes he’s one of the less interesting dynasty league names in the system. After struggling through an (non-arm-related) injury-plagued 2012 campaign the former supplemental first rounder saw a significant hit to his prospect status. He rebounded nicely in production terms across AA and AAA in 2013, and has again posted solid results at the level this season. A highly impressive hits-per-inning ratio stands out in particular, but the walk rate is troublesome and speaks to both an inconsistent delivery and lack of a true put-away pitch. He profiles as a valuable real-life commodity as a more contact-oriented back-end type if he can take another step or two forward with his control, but for dynasty league purposes he’s not really worth more than streaming consideration in even very deep leagues. Verdict: Not worth rostering in leagues with less than 200 prospects.
Henry Owens, LHP (304) – 20 GS, 121 IP, 89 H, 126 K (9.4/9), 47 BB (3.5/9) at AA Portland
Owens has solidified his standing as Boston’s best pitching prospect this season, cracking Bret’s mid-season Top 50 list over at Baseball Prospectus on the strength of an impressive campaign at AA Portland. Owens possesses one of the best left-handed change-ups in the minor leagues, and the pitch helped him generate a significant reverse-split in his minor league career that’s only now starting to even out. The worry with Owens is fastball command, as the pitch lacks the kind of life typically associated with a frontline arm. The combination of arm angle deception and the play of the pitch off his change-up has allowed him to thrive despite lacking a quality number one. It’s unclear how much of that will translate against big league hitters, however, and that question will play a most important role in determining whether Owens evolves into a low #2/high #3 fantasy starter or whether he tops out as a bat-missing WHIP threat back-end type. Verdict: Upside is there, will be a likely top-40 overall and top-20 pitching prospect candidate in the off-season. Should be rostered in all but the shallowest formats.
Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP (371) – 16 GS, 82 2/3 IP, 90 H, 69 K (7.5/9), 29 BB (3.2/9) at AA Bowie (Baltimore)
Welcome to the Red Sox, Eduardo. You’ve got designs on becoming a mid-to-back-of-the-rotation starter, eh? Cool, grab a seat and take number. The return for Boston shipping Andrew Miller to Baltimore, Rodriguez brings a ho-hum arsenal and the kind of “pitchability” profile real baseball teams trip over themselves to acquire for organizational depth on the cheap. He lacks a true plus pitch, and recent reports indicate that the overall stuff may have taken a bit of a step back from where it was when he first arrived at AA last summer. Still, he profiles as a plus makeup guy with a feel for his craft and an understanding of how to execute his pitches, and that kind of southpaw profile will earn a guy ten figures over his career. Lefties tend to get longer developmental ropes, and Rodriguez has the kind of profile that’s more likely to ease into a mid-rotation role down the line than explode onto the scene. As such owners may be well-served in attempting to capitalize on the hype of the trade and move him as a component piece of something larger in their own leagues. Verdict: He probably ranks somewhere in the 125-150 range of dynasty league prospects based on his floor and proximity to being Major League ready, but it’s not a sexy profile and in that range you’d probably be better served shooting for an upside flyer.
Matt Barnes, RHP (441) – 16 GS (17 G), 86 IP, 95 H, 65 K (6.8/9), 36 BB (3.8/9) at AAA Pawtucket
Barnes entered 2014 as an intriguing member of the Sox farm system. He put together an inconsistent season in AA, where he struck out more than 11 batter per nine but also managed to yield more than a hit an inning and walk almost four-per-nine. His command rated as below-average, however, and the combination of walks and too many balls left in the wrong part of the zone led to a 1.46 WHIP despite a plus fastball sitting in the mid-90’s and workable secondary stuff. The warm glowing warming glow of front-of-the-rotation projection was gone, but Barnes remained highly touted and interesting all the same.
Well, 2014 has not gone well as a next developmental step. His work at AAA Pawtucket has been at times ugly, with a notable dive in his component ratios and greater hittability. He started the season on the shelf with a shoulder issue, and by some recent reports it may be affecting his fastball command. While his velocity has been generally in line with earlier incarnations he’s had to muscle up to get it there, and the added effort in his delivery has led to a straighter, less accurate pitch. And as the fastball has gone, so has Barnes. The 2011 draftee will need to be added to the 40-man roster this off-season, and given the lack of development of his secondaries and fringy command profile the bullpen looks an increasingly likely destination. Verdict: Very deep league flyer, not worth rostering in leagues with less than 150 prospects.
Allen Webster, RHP (454) – 20 GS (21 G), 122 IP, 107 H, 100 K (7.4/9), 44 BB (3.2/9) at AAA Pawtucket
I find Webster to be one of the most frustrating prospects around, as the stuff he possesses suggests frontline potential. But the ability to consistently execute with his arsenal just hasn’t developed, and while the fastball flashes as a 70 grade pitch based on its premium velocity and solid-average movement he often loses it up and out of the strikezone. When the fastball command goes things can get ugly really quickly, as his secondaries aren’t developed enough to overcome bouts of wildness with the fastball when they occur. Whether due to a lack of…eh-em, fortitude, as some reports suggest, or just poor in-game management of his mechanics, Webster allows the wheels to fall off far too often. When he’s able to pitch off his fastball and get ahead of hitters he can look utterly dominant, and his best hope for fantasy relevance at this point probably lies in the late innings as a high-strikeout bullpen arm. Verdict: the fastball velocity and movement is high-end enough to where he retains impact strikeout potential even if he transitions to the bullpen, and there’s at least enough of a foundation in his secondaries to let you squint and see a potential #2 fantasy starter, and he’s MLB-ready now. Fringe Top-100 fantasy prospect.