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One Big Question: Can Jalen Beeks prove he’s truly a long-term starter?

Questions still loom about the southpaw’s future.

MLB: MAR 01 Spring Training - Red Sox at Orioles Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Welcome back to the One Big Question series here at Over The Monster. For those who weren’t around for last year’s series or simply forgot what it entails — there’s a lot going on in the world today, so don’t be ashamed! — here’s a brief reminder. Every day, Monday through Friday, for the next eight weeks we’ll profile a new member of Red Sox 40-man roster. Rather than simply going through a simple profile of their overall game and what they offer the team, we’ll focus on the one question that could very well dictate how their season will go in 2018. In order to keep the order objective and avoid side conversations like ranking the players on the roster, we’ll go straight down the roster in alphabetical order by position. In other words, we’ll go by how things are ordered here. If you miss any editions or would like to look back on some of last year’s, you can see all of them here. Today, we’re looking at Jalen Beeks.

The Question: Can Jalen Beeks prove that he can stick as a starter?

We’ve talked a lot here about the Red Sox starting pitching depth, because A) there’s very little happening this winter so we’ve talked about roughly every corner of the Red Sox roster and B) starting pitching depth is a key part for any team in any season. While teams obviously have their projected starting five plus a depth starter or two they really like, the reality is that they end up going at least nine or ten deep on their depth chart in just about every season. Pitchers get hurt all the time, and there is always a need for someone else to step into the role. As such, there will always be a handful of games from a starter many didn’t expect to see when previewing the year back in February and March. This year, that person could very well be Jalen Beeks. He’s not quite as unheralded as other deep depth options in years past, but he’s certainly far from a household name. As it turns out, whether he gets the major-league call or not, this is a big season for Beeks as he looks to put to rest the longtime questions about whether or not he could stick long-term as a major-league starter.

Sea Dogs Baseball Photo by Carl D. Walsh/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Before we get into that, it’s worth looking at a bit of background of the Red Sox lefty, since chances are we won’t be talking about him again for at least a few months. Beeks is about to enter his age-24 season and was the team’s 12th round pick in 2014. The University of Arkansas product — and Andrew Benintendi’s former college teammate — has been a starter throughout his minor-league career despite those questions about his ultimate future. Of course, we’ve seen plenty of relievers spend their minor-league careers in the rotation before converting to shorter and later stints. Beeks is coming off the best season of his career and finished 2017 in Pawtucket. Earlier this winter, Boston placed him on the 40-man roster to protect the southpaw from the Rule 5 Draft.

Okay, so now you know everything you’ll ever need to know about Jalen Beeks. Or, at least, the most basic information possible regarding his professional baseball career. Now, let’s get on to the big question that’s been surrounding him over the last couple of years. Despite consistently solid, if unspectacular, stuff, solid performances through the minors and at least mildly intriguing scouting reports, there has always been a belief that Beeks would have to eventually convert to the rotation. The reasons are not uncommon for any pitcher for whom a move to the bullpen is predicted. For one thing, Beeks’ stature is expected to hold him back. The lefty is listed at 5’11” and 195 pounds, and even that may be a little generous. We’ve obviously seen small pitchers succeed as starters before, but it’s fair to ask about durability over a 30-start season for someone of this size. The other issue has been with Beeks’ delivery, which I wouldn’t have necessarily described as violent, but it’s fair to have called it “high-effort.” With the combination of that delivery and his size, durability both throughout the season and deep into any given start is a fair question.

Despite all of that, I still see him a starter long-term and am likely among those highest on Beeks’ future. The size is something that will always be with him, because I’m guessing he’s not about to hit a growth spurt in his mid-20s. The delivery, though, can change. In fact, it has! He spent parts of 2016 and 2017 in Portland, and I was fortunate enough to see him in both years. The difference in his delivery was immediately noticeable to me, a person who is notably Not A Scout. It’s a lot cleaner now along with being a lot easier to repeat, and it showed in his numbers. He posted the best season as a pro in 2017, and I can see that continuing as he gets older. Beeks also boasts a deep repertoire with a fastball, cutter, changeup and curveball, with each pitch having the potential to be at least average. This is front-line starter stuff, of course, but it’s more than enough to make it work as a starter.

Of course, with all of that being said, people smarter than myself still have questions about his long-term future, so this is a big year for Beeks. He needs to show that his new delivery that he showed off in 2017 is here to stay, and he needs to show that he can consistently perform against more advanced hitters. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him out of the bullpen at some point for the Red Sox this year given their lack of great left-handed relief depth, but Beeks’ most important work for his career will almost certainly come in Triple-A. The question of his ability to stick as a starter has followed him since being drafted, and 2018 is his big chance to prove that he does have what it takes.