Alex Wilson was called up to the majors for the first time in 2013, but it wasn't necessarily due to his performance. The Red Sox had placed John Lackey on the disabled list, removed Alfredo Aceves from the bullpen to fill in for him, and were sitting Joel Hanrahan for a few days in order to rest up his troublesome hamstring. It fell to Wilson, as a reliever on the 40-man roster, to come to the bigs to plug one of the holes created by this series of moves.
He's thrown 6-2/3 frames in seven games since his first appearance on April 11, with that workload putting him fifth among Sox relievers this year in innings (for whatever little that means this early in the year). He's struck out six batters and walked four, while allowing just one run to score. He's also allowed one of his three inherited runners to score, though, neither of those figures is high enough to even comment on beyond stating them.
In short, Wilson has done his job well enough since being promoted out of necessity, and, as he has options, will likely find his way back to Pawtucket when the Red Sox see the likes of Craig Breslow and Franklin Morales return from injury. There is a legitimate question to ask, though, about whether it's worth sending him down in order to retain the rights to Andrew Miller and Clayton Mortensen, who are both out of options and have to be designated for assignment to be removed from the roster, or if keeping Wilson around would be in the best interest of the 2013 club.
It's not a cut-and-dry thing from either side. Wilson has struggled with his control, both in the minors and in his brief time in the majors. You can't draw much from the numbers at this point, given how few of them there are to go on, but he has the kind of stuff that makes him believable as a big-league reliever. He was a successful starter in the high minors, but as he's fastball/slider primarily, his repertoire works best in short bursts where he can lean on his low-90s four-seamer, sinker, and slider as needed over the course of an inning or two.
There are concerns about how well he would do were he to remain in the majors before he's finished his seasoning in the minors, but at the same time, Mortensen and Miller have plenty of their own problems. Miller is a lefty specialist who is useful when he can find the strike zone, but when he cannot, is just using up a roster spot as someone who is limited to opponents of a single handedness. When he's on, he's great, as 2012 showed us. But again, even when he's working out well, he's so limited in what he can be used for, and when Breslow and Morales remain, he would be the third lefty of three in the bullpen.
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Then there is Mortensen, who was useful in 2012 when he had an option remaining and could be bounced back-and-forth between Triple-A and the majors. He lacks that option now, and also seems to be lacking the performance of his early arrival in Boston, too. Since August of 2012, a stretch of 30 innings and 25 games, Mortensen owns a 5.23 ERA with 1.7 homers allowed per nine innings. Just under 40 percent of his inherited runners scored in 2012, taking some of the shine off of his 3.21 ERA, and his .238 batting average on balls in play suggested this pretend ceiling was going to come crashing down on him eventually.
Mortensen is useful as a long reliever who can soak up innings in a blowout, but there's little reason Wilson can't do the same thing as a learning experience for bigger and better things in the future. Even if the Red Sox prefer to keep Mortensen around knowing they have someone to use in situations when they would rather save their better relievers, it's hard to construct an argument where Miller is a better use of a roster spot than Wilson once the other southpaws return.
With that being said, Boston doesn't need to keep Wilson in the majors. They can wait it out a little longer, send him back to Pawtucket with the experience he's gained in the majors, and give him another chance when it pops up down the line. This will also give them a bit more time to see whether Mortensen is just a mop-up guy or someone they can use for more -- Miller is likely to be designated or dealt when the second of two lefties return from the DL, with Mortensen more likely to stick around in the meantime given his use as a long man, a role no one else is filling now that Alfredo Aceves has been sent to Pawtucket.
There's no real wrong answer here. Wilson might make them a better team today, but in a month or two, if they are suddenly lacking in relief options due to injury catastrophe -- and we know those are a thing after the last few years -- then we'll be wondering where all the depth went. Sure, they could start adding more options to the 40-man roster, but that would require pushing other assets out, and speeding up the timetables for minor-league arms that they don't need to be promoting just yet, arms that might not be as productive out of the gate as Mortensen, for all of his faults, already is. Remember how that whole Kyle Weiland thing went down in 2011? Triple-A success doesn't necessarily translate to the majors immediately.
Boston tends to be cautious with questions like these in order to protect their depth and anyone who might be of use, so we'll probably see Wilson sent down when the next reliever returns from the disabled list. Like with his call-up, though, it won't necessarily be because of anything he's done: that's just part of being depth for a big-league roster.
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