The Red Sox' 2015 is over, at least in the sense of competing. They still have two months worth of games to go, though, and can use those to figure out what's needed for 2016. According to manager John Farrell himself, part of that process will involve giving pitching prospects Brian Johnson -- and maybe Henry Owens, too -- spots in the big-league rotation.
Johnson has already debuted in the majors, throwing 4-1/3 innings against the Astros on July 21. He allowed four earned runs while walking four and striking out three, but more is expected of him in the future. Johnson has mid-rotation potential, and while he could just end up as a back-end arm instead, it's worth it to the Sox to see how close to the former he can get.
As for Owens, his year began poorly at Triple-A as he learned to work his curveball into his repertoire more often, in situations where his plus change-up normally would have been thrown. He's adjusted of late, with a 3.44 ERA and over six innings per start to go with eight strikeouts per nine against 2.8 walks per nine over his last 11 starts. Both pitchers are considered top-50 prospects at this point, with Johnson owning the lower ceiling and Owens the lower floor.
Johnson would likely replace Steven Wright in the rotation, as he's the up-and-down guy in all of these scenarios -- a stint in the bullpen could be possible for Wright at that juncture, but he would for sure be exiting the rotation. That leaves Joe Kelly in Owens' way. Kelly has only been up lately due to Clay Buchholz's stint on the disabled list. Farrell says that Kelly will remain in the rotation "for now", but the manager has been open to moving him to the bullpen in the recent past, so when it's Owens' time, that's going to be it for the Kelly-as-starter experiment.
It's not as if it was a brief thing, either: Boston gave Kelly 26 starts and 144 innings, in which the right-hander produced a 5.16 ERA. There is talent there, but it just might not be a fit for an AL rotation.
Plus, it has to be Kelly who is bumped, as there is no one else. Wade Miley, Tuesday night aside, has been their most consistent starter after Buchholz since his early season issues. Rick Porcello needs these two months to work things out as much if not more than the prospects. Eduardo Rodriguez is the most important of these three young arms to the Sox, so he's not going anywhere, either. So, it's Wright, then Kelly, if the Sox plan on auditioning their other two young lefties in the time 2015 has remaining.
It's taking some time for everything to come together in this way, but it is happening. Maybe by the end of the year we'll all have a good sense of what Johnson and Owens are capable of in a rotation, and what Kelly can do out of a bullpen where he can let that fastball fly for an inning at a time.