We've reviewed the Red Sox farm system, level-by-level, position-by-position, and now it's time to finish up our look at individual positions with looks at relievers. Not everyone who is a reliever in the minors is a prospect -- in fact, few of them are, given that many starters in the minors are future bullpen pieces. But, these relievers are potential future major-league hurlers just the same.
Michael Olmsted, RP
Olmsted split time between Salem and Portland, but you're busy looking at the fact that he was 25 years old and in High-A, aren't you? Olmsted was a ninth-round pick of the Mets back in 2007, and even though he pitched well over the next two seasons, there were interruptions. Olmsted underwent Tommy John surgery, was released, and even pitched in the Japanese minors. The Red Sox scouted the 6-foot-7 hurler and signed him to a minor-league deal in 2011,, and now, in 2012, his velocity is suddenly back -- actually a little higher -- than it was when he was first drafted and signed. Olmsted hits the mid-to-high 90s with his heater, and looks the part of a big-league pitcher.
He might have to be sooner than later, too, as he needs to be added to the 40-man roster to avoid becoming a free agent -- if he's simply signed to another minor-league deal, he'll be Rule 5 eligible. Did we mention he can throw 95-97 and looks like a future big-league reliever? Because arms like that are devoured in the Rule 5. Boston could have the 40-man room, and Olmsted might even be in the majors in 2013 if he pitches as well at Pawtucket as he has in his limited time in Portland. This might be a situation where it makes sense for the Red Sox to hold on to this piece of depth, especially given how volatile bullpens tend to be.
Chris Balcom-Miller, RP
Chris Balcom-Miller was a starter, but his performance at Portland seemed to suffer the more he pitched there, so the move to the bullpen finally occurred. As a starter, Balcom-Miller posted a 4.92 ERA in 53-1/3 innings, throwing over 16 pitches per inning. He struck out 31 batters in those 52 frames, but walked 38 -- command and control were a serious issue for him. It's not a shock -- his secondary stuff has shown promise at times, but has never caught up to his fastball, which has heavy sink and has been considered plus at times.
In relief, though, his repertoire worked in the way it should: he posted a 3.64 ERA in the pen, with 30 punch outs in 32 innings, and against just 11 walks. The amount of pitches per inning he tossed didn't change all that much -- round up to 16 instead of rounding down -- but it appears as if he is throwing pitchers of a higher quality. It'll take more than 30 innings to know that for sure, of course, but this is a good start, and the first optimism for Balcom-Miller's career in the better part of a year.
Aaron Kurcz, RP
Kurcz was one of the more impressive relievers in the Red Sox' system in 2012. He's new to the organization, as he was part of the compensation that came to Boston in exchange for Theo Epstein's departure to the Cubs. While the walk rate was far too high, he still struck out 2.7 times as many batters as he handed free passes to, thanks to nearly 13 strikeouts per nine. There's work to be done here, in reducing those walks, but it's hard to not be excited about 13 strikeouts per nine from a 21-year-old at Double-A.
Kurcz will likely head to Pawtucket for 2013, giving him a chance to face the most experienced hitters he can before actually going to the majors. That will be a good test for him, to see if he can reduce his walk rate (or at least keep it static), and to see if he can continue to avoid giving up hits. Hit rate for relievers bounces around, but it's not out of the realm of possibility for someone with this kind of strikeout stuff to be able to limit hits. We'll see, though, as 50 innings at Double-A isn't enough to say that's definitely the case with Kurcz.