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Red Sox have Triple-A rotation decisions to make

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Even after dealing Anthony Ranaudo to the Rangers, Boston's Triple-A team has too many options for its rotation.

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The Red Sox began the offseason with a bunch of young pitchers who had the same general problems: they struggled with their command and didn't have the three pitches necessary to be relied upon as a big-league starting pitcher. Trades that sent Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa to the Diamondbacks and Anthony Ranaudo to the Rangers helped thin those numbers, and guaranteed there would be room for the next, more talented wave of pitching prospects in the system. Boston still might have too many potential starters and not enough places to start them, though, so at some point before the season starts, they'll have to make a decision about who is pitching where, and in what role.

Four rotation spots are basically set in stone, unless the Sox get ideas about moving one of these pitchers straight to the majors instead. That's an unlikely event, even if there is a pre-season injury, so it's safe to assume that Matt Barnes will be returning to Triple-A along with Henry Owens, while newcomers Eduardo Rodriguez and Brian Johnson make their late-season promotions official. That leaves one rotation spot open, but three pitchers who could fill it: Edwin Escobar, Brandon Workman, or Steven Wright.

Wright is probably the odd man out, if only because the Red Sox rarely give the knuckleballer opportunities to show what he can do. It might not even be anything against Wright or his potential, really, but they spent the second half of 2014 trying to find out what pitchers like De La Rosa, Ranaudo, Webster, and Workman could do in the majors instead -- remember, the Red Sox were going nowhere at that point, and that was the time to play around with Wright. Now the rotation is full up once more, and Pawtucket's could be as well. Wright is down to his last option, and could be stuck in relief, but that's fine: it's not like knucklers have the same weird stresses on their arms that a normal pitcher would, so Wright could start or relieve or whatever the Sox need with more ease than the rest of their options.

Workman
Photo credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

That leaves the fifth spot down to Escobar or Workman, and which the Red Sox choose will tell us a whole lot about the long-term plans for the two pitchers. Workman has been a starter first during his entire professional career, but the Sox have used him in relief on occasion. If he's not starting for Pawtucket, it's because he's in either Boston's or Pawtucket's bullpen. If the Sox don't acquire another right-handed reliever, and they don't feel the need to protect Drake Britton from waivers, then Workman will probably pitch for the Red Sox out of their pen. If Boston goes out and signs Alexi Ogando, re-signs Burke Badenhop, or makes another trade for another relief arm, then Workman is going to be in Pawtucket's pen instead. Either way, Workman ends up with his first full-time relief role.

If Workman starts for Pawtucket, then Escobar is in basically the same boat. He could switch to relief full-time at the Triple-A level or become the third lefty in the Red Sox bullpen immediately, which would end the search for another reliever in the same way committing Workman to Boston would. The chances of that happening seem slimmer for Escobar than for Workman, however: Workman is 26 years old already, and has made 18 big-league starts totaling 99 innings in his short career. It's possible they haven't told us the whole story of his career potential, but his minor-league numbers suggested the problems he's encountered in the majors were a possibility, too, so his struggles have not come out of nowhere. Escobar, on the other hand, won't turn 23 until after Opening Day, and has yet to make a big-league start. He didn't have a great first time at Triple-A, but most of that came in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, and it was his first time at the level.

Escobar is a better prospect than Workman was back when the righty had that designation still, and while his rotation ceiling is as a fifth starter, that's a valuable piece to have waiting in the wings, since it can keep a team from having a hole on the roster or from giving up assets to acquire a comparable piece. At this stage, with Workman's command and lack of a third pitch still problems, converting him to relief full-time makes the most sense, whether it's in Boston or Pawtucket. Give Escobar the chance to prove he should still be starting that the pitchers he's replacing just had, and give Workman the best chance he has to succeed as a big-league arm.