The Red Sox have loads of bullpen help on the way, in the form of full seasons from pitchers like Junichi Tazawa, Andrew Bailey, and Clayton Mortensen, as well as prospects like Chris Carpenter, Alex Wilson, and eventually, Aaron Kurcz. We've taken those players into account as part of the future, though, and praised the organization for bringing them all aboard to create an inexpensive and productive reliever core.
They aren't the only arms that might end up in Boston's bullpen. Thanks to trades over the last two years, the Red Sox have acquired a few pitchers that had fallen under the radar, or were never on it to begin with. In 2011, there was Josh Fields, who came back to the Red Sox in the Erik Bedard trade. This season, in two separate deals, Jose De La Torre was sent to Boston from the Indians in exchange for Brent Lillibridge, while Steven Wright came over from Cleveland for Lars Anderson.
Fields was a first-round pick of the Mariners back in 2008. He struggled with control the entire time he was in the organization, and because of this, he had just reached Triple-A when Boston acquired him, as an afterthought out of Seattle, last summer. He threw just 17 innings with Portland, once again struggling with walks, but in 2012, it looks as if there has been progress.
Fields posted a 2.62 ERA with Double-A Portland over 44-2/3 innings of relief, courtesy of nearly 12 strikeouts per nine innings, and a career-best 3.2 per nine walk rate as well as 3.7 K/BB. He was promoted to Pawtucket in August, and threw another 13 frames in relief. The results were even better, with the right-handed Fields striking out 19 batters against just two walks, without allowing a run to score.
This doesn't guarantee that he's going to be a dominant bullpen presence, but Fields has gone from being someone the Red Sox acquired in the hopes of discovering the talent that had him drafted into something potentially useful. It's essentially Andrew Miller all over again in a way, with the Red Sox trying to turn turn a pitcher with stuff but serious control issues into a workable piece for their bullpen.
Fields could very well be invited to spring training as a non-roster player in 2013, and if he doesn't win himself a gig for the Opening Day roster, could still show Boston he should be in the discussion for a call-up during the year. That's a huge improvement from where he was last time he was in Triple-A, when he walked as many as he struck out.
De La Torre doesn't have Fields' prospect background, but unlike Fields, he did have results prior to 2012. Here's what we said about him at the time of his acquisition:
De La Torre is kind of interesting in the sense that some of his numbers pop -- the strikeouts, the grounder rates, and only 13 long balls allowed in 321 innings, for instance -- but at the same time, it's clear he has some inconsistency in his control. He's a bullpen guy, if he's anything. It might be worth seeing what he can do eventually, but for now, he's likely just organizational depth that Boston now gets a closer look at. In a way, though, with the Red Sox current bench situation, there's probably more need for a guy like that in the system than there is for Lillibridge.
The Red Sox received basically what De La Torre has been in the past: he struck out 16 batters in 18 innings with Pawtucket, and posted a 2.45 ERA in the process. Oddly, he gave up two homers, but also kept walks to just 1.5 per nine. Like Fields, De La Torre hasn't won any kind of job on the 2013 Red Sox, but as an NRI this spring, he might pitch himself into the conversation, at least eventually. Like Fields as well, he's no prospect at this point, but non-prospects occasionally can turn into valuable -- or at least inexpensive and available -- bullpen pieces.
Last, there's Wright, who is more likely to start than relieve. There's potential value in him either way, though, as a knuckler. Wright gave Pawtucket 20 innings over four starts after he was acquired by the Red Sox. He impressed with control of the knuckleball, walking 2.2 per nine, while also missing bats with the pitch, striking out 16 in those 20 frames. In the International League playoffs, Wright threw one game, going seven innings against Charlotte, striking out six against two walks with two runs allowed.
He's a minor-league free agent, but it would make sense for Boston to bring him back and use him as starting depth on the 40-man roster at some point in 2013. Like with the others, there's no guarantee he'll be productive in the majors. But the organization, for all the pitching depth it suddenly has in Double-A and below, is light at Triple-A. Stewart could help fill that gap, and might even surprise by producing.
These three are a reminder that it's not just the obvious names that end up in a position to help major-league clubs. Depth has to be built, even outside of the 40-man roster. The Red Sox have done a solid job of that over the last few seasons, and that could pay off for them in 2013, in the same way previous acquisitions in the same vein have.