Brandon Workman has succeeded as a starter in the minors since he was drafted in 2010, and even reached Triple-A before the more highly-touted Anthony Ranaudo -- drafted the same year -- was able to. Workman's rise through the farm didn't bring him into a role as a starter with the Red Sox at a time they could use one, though: instead, Workman, the first 2010 draftee of the Sox to make the show, is in the majors as a reliever, and potentially on a permanent basis.
This isn't a negative, though, even if you had higher hopes for Workman's future role with the Sox. Realistically, he sits behind not just Ranaudo, but also Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa on the starting pitcher depth chart. That would be fine if it were 2015, but it's 2013, and both now and next year, the Red Sox have somewhere between zero and one rotation slots to promote a prospect to, all depending on what happens with Jon Lester's option. With that in mind, heading to the bullpen was basically the way to make sure Workman isn't just sitting in Triple-A throwing innings in games that don't count, preparing for a role he might never actually have with the Red Sox -- and at a time when Boston's bullpen is in dire need of a fresh face and quality arm to help prop them up.
Is Workman that arm? That's to be seen, but the ingredients are certainly there for him to help bring the Boston bullpen to where it was supposed to be, prior to the injuries that derailed such a promising group from the path they should have been on. It's worth remembering, too, that even though this is his first taste of relieving in the pros, he split his time between starting and relieving for much of his three years at Texas. And, if the Red Sox want to switch him back to starting, as the Indians did with Justin Masterson after the Sox had utilized him as a reliever in the same way they plan to with Workman, they'll be doing that with a pitcher who has experience against big-league hitters instead of Triple-A ones.
First, an introduction to Workman and his stuff, courtesy Bullpen Banter's Al Skorupa. "Workman is a big, well-built righty, a bulldog type who attacks the zone with a fastball that sits low 90s. His size (6'4") and high arm slot create good downward plane. He keeps the ball down well, too, though his fastball command isn't exceptional. His secondaries are a power slider with good tilt, a slower true curve he mixes in and a change-up that was too firm most of the time in my looks." In addition, Workman reintroduced his cutter in 2012, a pitch that sits in the high-80s and low-90s, and grades as a future plus offering via Sox Prospects.
Mark Anderson, a prospect analyst and scout for Baseball Prospectus, has confidence in Workman in either role, and sees little issue in converting him now during a time of need. "I always liked him in the rotation. I thought he could profile as a solid #4 starter that could eat innings, with a backup in the bullpen. It's hard to say they're cutting his development short: he was succeeding in Triple-A. Teams need change and you've got to make moves necessary to win at the big-league level; this move is necessary to meet that end."
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As Skorupa noted, one of Workman's weaknesses at the moment is that his secondary stuff, while holding potential, tends to be inconsistent. A shift to relief should help with that, though, as he can focus more on his plus fastball, and sweep the rest under the rug as necessary, as Anderson reminds. "His fastball should play up a bit in terms of velocity; we'll have to see how the movement reacts to that." Not every pitcher has control or command of their higher-velocity offerings once they head to the pen, so while it's not necessarily a concern, it is something to watch out for as he's making the transition. Since Workman tops out at 95 miles per hour as a starter and sits a couple ticks below that, he should, in theory, be bringing serious heat in a relief role where he can expend himself in a much shorter time frame.
Sox Prospects' scouting report on Workman suggests that the effort in his mechanics means he struggles multiple times through a lineup -- that's a sign he was slated for relief work down the road, and Sox Prospects holds with that idea, projecting his ceiling to be that of a high-leverage reliever on a contending team in the majors. Granted, this report came out before the season began, before Workman flashed a much more consistent array of secondary offerings and dominated the Eastern League.
Concerns do remain that, in the majors against more advanced hitters, he wouldn't be able to pitch nearly as well, as Skorupa details. "Workman has some effort in his delivery and he doesn't repeat his timing particularly well. Both these things hurt his command and control profile. Combine that with his good-but-not-great stuff and I see a guy whose best role is probably the 6th or 7th inning. Ultimately, he does a lot of things well as a pitcher, but I don't know that he's going to miss all that many bats at the major-league level. I haven't seen it, but I've been told he can reach back and throw harder, so it's possible his velocity and stuff will play up in short bursts out of the pen."
So, Workman is an arm that, after six starts and 35 innings at Triple-A, probably isn't ready to step into a big-league rotation. However, 101 innings of ball in the high minors this year suggests he can make the leap in a relief role -- he's struck out 9.6 per nine, 3.6 times as many as he's walked, and done it with a 3.21 ERA. The Red Sox certainly agree, given they've set him up for that very thing. He might not be at his ceiling as a reliever out of the gate, as he still has developing to do, but Workman could very well help to replace some of the production Boston's bullpen expected to have, and that's no small thing for a team trying to stay atop one of the league's most difficult divisions.
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