Allen Webster, RHP
The last time we checked in on Allen Webster, he was having trouble keeping the ball in the strike zone. In his last five starts and 29-2/3 innings, however, he's posted a 1.82 ERA, limiting opponents to a .245/.297/.318 line -- that in spite of a .314 batting average on balls in play allowed, even -- and struck out 24 batters against just eight walks. There is still work to be done -- Webster should be striking out more batters with his stuff, and his ground ball rates aren't where they should be given the sink on his two-seam fastball -- but this is a good start to what might be Webster's last best chance at the idea of him as a starting pitcher first.
Remember, it's his second go of things at Triple-A, and he's 24. His leash is a lot longer than say, Rubby De La Rosa's at this stage, but with the volume of pitching prospects in the upper minors, you could see Webster either diverted to relief or skipped over on the depth chart for other options who have moved ahead of him developmentally. If he's able to replicate his recent stretch going forward, that removes a lot of those concerns.
Matt Barnes, RHP
The strikeouts haven't come for Barnes just yet, but he's also five starts and 28 innings into his Triple-A career. Like Webster, though, he's also 24, so it's not as if he has forever to work things out before serious questions arise about his eventual future. At least with this being Barnes' first real go at the level, though -- he only made one start for Pawtucket to close out his 2013 -- we can save them for later on in the year.
What's been comforting is that Barnes has managed to succeed to begin the year even though he's not missing bats consistently. Part of the problem at the moment might be that he's working to avoid the lofty walk rates he had during the second half of last year with Double-A Portland prior to his promotion. If he can figure out that balance and recover most of his lost strikeout rate, then Barnes could be ready for the majors as soon as 2015.
Brandon Workman, RHP
Workman remains first in line to start should the Red Sox need to place a pitcher on the disabled list. That is, unless home runs do not stop being a problem for him. The major concern with Workman in terms of being both a major-league success and remaining a starter is his command. He needs to keep his pitches down in the zone where the long ball is less of a threat. Failure to do so -- and it's happened at times at almost every stop he's made up the ladder -- results in problem innings and jacked up pitches. Sure, Workman has 28 strikeouts against eight walks, but he's also given up six homers to Triple-A hitters in all of 32 innings. All told at the Triple-A level, Workman has allowed 12 dingers in 67-1/3 frames, or 1.6 per nine. That won't play.
Hope is not lost or anything, but this time in the minors which seemed so unnecessary to some given his successful relief work is actually a requirement if Workman is to stick in the majors as a starter. He could learn to refine his command in the majors, sure, but the Red Sox have games to win in the meantime, and unless someone hits the disabled list or proves that they themselves are not capable of a rotation spot any longer, Workman's where he belongs, at least for the time being.