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2017 Red Sox position preview: The starting pitchers

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Looking at the organization’s starting pitcher outlook heading into the season.

MLB: Boston Red Sox- Workouts Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

In this final week before the regular season finally begins, we’ll be taking a look at the organization as a whole by position groups. This will include the starters, the bench players, the immediate depth, the high-level prospects and the low-level prospects. By my arbitrary definition, the high-level prospects include those in Double- or Triple-A, and low-level prospects including everyone else. Today, we’ll look at the starting pitchers.

The Starters

Rick Porcello, Chris Sale, Eduardo Rodriguez, Steven Wright, Drew Pomeranz

After years of having at least a few question marks in the rotation heading into the season, this was expected to be one of the biggest strengths on the roster for 2017. Despite the recent injury/underperformance concerns, that is still mostly the case. Rick Porcello is coming off a Cy Young season and will get the Opening Day start. While there is some regression coming for the righty, his control still gives him an extremely high floor. As long as he stays healthy (seriously, knock on wood please) there’s no reason to believe he should be anything besides a productive pitcher.

Although Porcello will get the Opening Day nod, Chris Sale is the best pitcher on this team. In fact, he’s been one of the five best pitchers in the league over the last few years. It remains to be seen how he’ll adjust to pitching in Fenway on a regular basis — as we know, many pitchers have struggled with that adjustment — he’s a magician in terms of racking up strikeouts and limiting walks and he’s still in his prime. There’s nothing in his game to suggest he’s going to be anything less than spectacular this season.

Eduardo Rodriguez has the prospect pedigree, but because of injuries and other reasons he hasn’t put it all together just yet. This could be the year. He was outstanding to finish the season last year, and looks like a legitimately effective major-league pitcher when he has all three offerings going well. There will be some low points, but I’m fairly confident in this being something of a breakout year for the young lefty.

It’s hard to ever be fully confident in a knuckleballer, but Steven Wright really showed something last year. No, he won’t be as good as he was in the first half of 2016 when he was among the best arms in the American League. However, his knuckleball is ridiculous when he’s going well and he’s been solid this spring. The ceiling isn’t as high as the other names in this rotation, but he’s still quite exciting.

Drew Pomeranz, of course, is the biggest wildcard of the group. He broke out early last year with the Padres and had the addition of his cutter and an improved curveball to back it up. Then, he was traded to Boston and it all went downhill. The lefty was hurt all winter, got off to a slow start this spring and hasn’t looked good since. The talent is still there, but it’s anyone guess if it’ll come out this year.

MLB: Spring Training-Toronto Blue Jays at Boston Red Sox Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Injured

David Price

There isn’t really a bench on the pitching staff, so instead of that we’ll go with the injured here. For the rotation, that of course means it’s time to talk about David Price. After last year’s disappointing-but-not-really-bad season, this was supposed to be the bounce-back for last winter’s biggest acquisition. Then, disaster struck when he started feeling forearm pain. He got relatively good news from Dr. James Andrews when he learned he wouldn’t have to undergo Tommy John surgery, but we quickly learned just how much he wasn’t out of the woods. He’s yet to really ramp things back up and is expected to be out until at least May. If he’s healthy, there’s every reason to believe he can be the second best pitcher on this staff, but whether or not he’ll be healthy is arguably the biggest question facing this team right now.

The Immediate Depth

Kyle Kendrick, Brian Johnson, Henry Owens, Roenis Elias, Hector Velazquez

As we’ve been hearing/talking about all spring, the Red Sox don’t have many awe-inspiring options in their immediate depth. Of course, who does. Because of his strong spring performance and the lack of strong performances from his competition, Kyle Kendrick is the de facto seventh starter for this team. Personally, I’m not at all sold. His track record is too long and too mediocre at the major-league level for me to be confident in Kendrick in 2017. It’s worth mentioning that I also felt this way about Rich Hill, so. Kendrick has certainly earned this spot over the other names on the list at the very least.

The next spot is still sort of up for grabs between Brian Johnson and Henry Owens. I’m giving the edge to Johnson here because he seems like a safer pick. While he’s never had a monstrous ceiling, that aspect of his prospect career was overplayed in my opinion. When he’s on, he can flash mid-rotation potential and can easily settle in as a number four option on a good team. Of course, he hasn’t been that guy since 2015. Last year was marred by injuries and personal issues, and this was supposed to be the comeback year. There’s still a long way to go, but he was far from impressive this spring.

Speaking of far from impressive this spring, Owens continued to show his fatal flaw in the form of a seemingly infinite number of walks. If he can ever get the control in check, he can be a real mid-rotation arm. So far, that doesn’t appear so likely. He’s still young enough to dream on to a certain extent, but he’s going to have to show something against Triple-A hitters before getting a shot against major-league hitters.

Then, we get to Roenis Elias and Hector Velazquez, both of whom I believe could surprise to some extent this year. The former is hurt right now, but he was a solid major-league starter as recently as 2015. He admitted to having some trouble transitioning to a new organization in 2016, but if he’s healthy he could return to that league-average this year. Velazquez, of course, is a former Mexican League star who could use some time off but has the talent to be a sleeper later in the year.

The High-Level Prospects

Teddy Stankiewicz, Jalen Beeks, Trey Ball

If you were hoping that there was an arm at Double-A that would be able to hopefully make the jump to Triple-A this year and potentially earn a late-season call-up if needed, I’m sorry to disappoint. Portland’s rotation isn’t very impressive. Teddy Stankiewicz is their top arm, and while the former second round pick has shown flashes there’s nothing special here. He does have a decent four-pitch mix, but there’s no standout offering and needs to improve his command. A spot starter role could be in his future if he doesn’t eventually transition to a relief role.

Jalen Beeks made headlines this spring when he shut down Team U.S.A.’s lineup prior to the World Baseball Classic. Unfortunately, the lefty likely has a bullpen role in his future. In fact, he’d probably already be there if there was more starting pitching depth in the high minors.

Finally, there’s Trey Ball. There’s not much more to say about the former top-ten pick, as he’s one of the most disappointing Red Sox prospects in recent years. There’s still a tiny amount of hope that this is the year he puts it together, but no one should hold their breath.

Low-Level Pitching Prospects

Jason Groome, Roniel Raudes, Travis Lakins, Shaun Anderson, Mike Shawaryn, Bryan Mata

While there isn’t much high-level talent, there are some exciting names to watch in the lower levels this season. Jason Groome tops the list as last year’s first round pick who had number one overall talent. He has virtually no professional track record, so this is the first real look we’ll get at him. Roniel Raudes is a fascinating young pitcher, as his stuff doesn’t scream top prospect but he has pitchability far beyond his years. Travis Lakins had some breakout potential last year, but injuries prevented that. He’ll try to get back on that track in 2016. Shaun Anderson and Mike Shawaryn were both drafted last year along with Groome. The former has a better shot at sticking in the rotation, but the latter has a higher ceiling. Speaking of high ceilings, Bryan Mata doesn’t turn 18 until May but he’s already got three solid pitches. He won’t play full-season ball this year, but keep this name in mind for the second half.