Anthony Ranaudo, RHP
Before there was Allen Webster, before there was even Matt Barnes, there was Anthony Ranaudo. Ranaudo was drafted back in 2010, and was, like so many of Boston's late first-round selections in recent drafts, a player whose stock had fallen a bit but still possessed potentially great talent. This strategy is what led them to Jackie Bradley Jr. a year later, and while it hasn't worked out to that degree with Ranaudo, it's still early in his career given the circumstances.
Ranaudo had a productive 2011 at Low-A Greenville, but the stiffer competition of High-A Salem hurt his numbers a bit. Then, in 2012, the Red Sox pushed him to Double-A Portland, but between injuries and mechanical inconsistencies -- a problem for him even back on draft day -- the season was a bust. Now, he's back at Portland for his second go of things at the level, and has pitched like the Red Sox hoped he would back when they signed him. In two starts, he's logged 10 innings, and put up 12 punch outs against a pair of free passes. He doesn't have to be quite that good going forward to announce he's back, but some more of it sure wouldn't hurt.
There's still a high possibility that, due to Ranaudo's inability to maintain his mechanics consistently, that he could wind up in relief. He'd likely be a pretty good reliever, and since the Red Sox do have prospects like Webster and Barnes, it's not as significant if he can't hack it as a starter as it was this time a year ago. However, more starting pitching prospects beats the alternative, and if Ranaudo can reenter that conversation, then the Red Sox are going to suddenly have an entire rotation worth of serious prospect arms in the upper levels.
One thing at a time, though. Let's see if Ranaudo can finish off April looking as good as he started it before we start slotting him into the 2015 rotation.
Daniel Bard, RHP
Speaking of relievers and mechanics, Bard is just not getting it done in the early going at Double-A. Considering he's a four-year major-league veteran that failed to regain his mechanics and job with his work at Triple-A Pawtucket last summer, this is something to be concerned about. Of course, it's just six innings, and he wouldn't be in Portland if he didn't need the time to work things out, so going too hard on him for what is essentially the reality of the situation is unnecessary. However, if he can't start to consistently string together performances where he misses bats -- both for the purpose of strikeouts and to avoid giving up hits -- then it's harder to pencil him in for bolstering the Red Sox bullpen mid-season.
Bard has allowed runs in three of his six appearances. He's walked as many batters as he's struck out, with too many of the former and not nearly enough of the latter. He has one perfect appearance to his credit, when he avoided allowing a baserunner and struck out one of his three opponents, back in his second relief spot of the year. He'll need more of that, and more strikeouts than walks, before the Red Sox are convinced he can contribute in the majors in a more meaningful way than mop-up artists like Clayton Mortensen.
Keith Couch, RHP
Couch has primarily started the last two years he's been in the Sox minor-league system, amassing 283 innings in his two full campaigns. With the shift to Double-A Portland, Couch has moved into a relief role, but not fully, as he's still coming in to toss multiple frames. Consider this the preamble to his eventual role as a reliever, though.
He's posted quality strikeout-to-walk ratios in the past, as you can see by his 4.4 career K/BB. He's not a huge strikeout guy, but instead gets things done with quality control. This becomes harder to do as you climb the ladder, and for a guy with Couch's good but not great stuff, success as a starter becomes that much more difficult to attain. He's still succeeding now, while at Double-A, and did a solid job of things last year at High-A Salem as well, and finished his time there with an excellent stretch where he allowed just one homer and 11 walks in his final 60 innings. Ground outs will help make up for the lack of strikeouts going forward, as they have already for him, but his command is going to need to stay extra sharp to stick as a starter in the long run.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with having someone like Couch, who can avoid handing out walks and keep the ball on the ground, in a bullpen. Guys like Couch -- and the Red Sox have quite a few of them -- could turn out to be the key to Boston's future relief corps once the more expensive and known quantities start to leave for free agency.
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