So, the last seven days have been a week to forget to say the least. The Red Sox have looked bad, and one of those games involved Clay Buchholz back in the rotation. To be honest, he wasn’t terrible in the outing, and even flashed a pretty strong changeup for certain portions of the outing. Of course, he also gave up more than his fair share of hard contact, and no part of his start eased anyone’s concerns about him being a starter for a potential playoff team. He earned himself another start, but that clearly says more about the other options than it does about his skill level at this moment. There is just an utter and complete lack of depth after both Henry Owens and Roenis Elias miserably failed their tests.
The obvious assumption, and one that has plenty of merit, is that the front office will eventually fill this hole with an arm from outside of the organization. It won’t solve all of the problems that have emerged during this recent stretch, but it will rightfully make us feel at least a little better about the construction of this roster.
Unfortunately, this hypothetical deal likely isn’t coming in the immediate future. Sure, James Shields was already dealt out of San Diego, but that’s an outlier. The reality is that Buchholz is probably lined up for another handful of starts, or at least that spot is. If he continues to look like he has all season, they’re going to need to find another starter to keep that spot warm. If it comes do this, Aaron Wilkerson could be that guy.
It’s impossible to write about Wilkerson without starting with his story. You know how unlikely his rise has been? I had to use Clay Buchholz’s picture on this post because when I searched "Aaron Wilkerson" a bunch of pictures from a dog show came up. His is not the traditional prospect tale, as one can probably tell just by looking at the fact that he’s in the midst of his age-27 season. The righty was undrafted out of Cumberland University in Tennessee — not exactly a baseball powerhouse — and spent the following season in Independent League ball. He would start the 2014 season there as well, before being noticed by the Red Sox and signing mid-year. If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because it sounds somewhat similar to the road taken by Daniel Nava.
Now, that’s not to say he’s guaranteed for the success that Nava had in his time in Boston, but there is reason to believe that he can at least help out a team with no palatable candidates for the fifth rotation spot. Beyond the great story, Wilkerson has also pitched extremely well since joining the Red Sox organization. After striking out nearly ten batters per nine innings in Lowell, he spent last year rocketing through three levels of the system. That journey through Greenville, Salem and Portland spanned 136-2/3 innings and ended with a 3.10 ERA to go with exactly 9 K/9 and just 2.6 BB/9. The incredible story has continued into this season, in which he has split time between Portland and Pawtucket. All he’s done over the first 14 starts and 78-1/3 innings of his season is put up a 2.18 ERA with 10.2 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9. Those numbers aren’t skewed by repeating Double-A, either. He’s been better since joining Pawtucket’s rotation, striking out just under 11 batters per nine innings at the level. To put it simply, he’s dominating in a rotation that was never supposed to include him.
We know that we’re not supposed to scout the stat line, though, and the scouting reports are understandably a little more cautious about Wilkerson’s future. Or, more accurately, the scouting report. We’re talking about such a fringe prospect that Sox Prospects has the only report I could find on a cursory search, unless we count Carson Cistulli’s Fringe Five series on Fangraphs. Though the strikeout numbers suggest a flamethrower, Wilkerson really only throws in the low-90’s. The best pitch, per the Sox Prospects scouting report, is the curveball. You can read the entire report for yourself, but it clearly doesn’t pain Wilkerson as anything more than an organizational arm.
These are the most interesting prospects in this writer’s opinion, the ones whose numbers tell a much different story than the scouting reports. Often times, the latter is the correct part, and they just have a skill set that is particularly useful against inexperienced and underwhelming talent. Sometimes, though, they surprise everyone and really make something of themselves. For example, Corey Kluber was another frequent member of Cistulli’s Fringe Five, as was this guy named Mookie Betts. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. Given the way this rotation has looked to this point, Wilkerson will probably get his chance to add his name to the list. He certainly deserves a shot before Owens and/or Elias get another one for themselves. And given the way Wilkerson’s story has progressed to this point, why can’t be become the next out-of-nowhere Independent League veteran making an impact in Boston.