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 Williams Jerez.
The Question: Is Williams Jerez legitimate, reliable left-handed depth for the bullpen?
As both we, as fans, and the team have waited for some sort of resolution to their pursuit of J.D. Martinez, the Red Sox have seemingly put everything else on hold this winter. Perhaps that’s because they feel the only hole on the roster lies in the middle of the lineup, and there’s an argument for that. I, however, would argue that they could use some help from the left side in the bullpen. I’ve been low on their left-handed relief depth for a few years now, and it’s clear that the team doesn’t agree with my line of thinking. They are certainly higher on Robby Scott (who I think is fine, but better suited as a number two lefty) and probably have higher hopes for Brian Johnson as a reliever. They likely think the fact that they have four southpaws in their ideal rotation lessens the need for an impact lefty out of the bullpen, and it’s another fair argument. It’s also possible that they have higher hopes for the left-handed depth in the minors, a group that includes a whole host of solid but uninspiring players. The one we’re going to focus on today is Williams Jerez.
It’s going to become clear relatively soon that I’m not super high on Jerez, but that’s not to take anything away from him. He’s a really fun story and has had a pretty wild professional career. He was originally signed out of the Dominican Republic by the organization way back in the summer of 2011 as an outfielder. After three unimpressive years as a position player in which he couldn’t make it out of Lowell, the team and Jerez decided to give it a go as a reliever. This time, he started to fly through the system and made it to Portland just halfway through his second season as a pitcher. He was added to the 40-man after that 2015 season to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, but he struggled in Double-A in 2016 and was eventually designated for assignment to make room for Mitch Moreland. Jerez then came back strong in 2017, and in a surprise move he was added back to the 40-man roster at the onset of the offseason along with Bryce Brentz. This time, it was not to protect him from being selected in the Rule 5 draft, but rather to prevent him from becoming a minor-league free agent.
So, it’s been a true roller coaster ride for Jerez over his career and it’s hard not to be psyched for him to get another chance at making it to the highest level and contributing in the majors. Unfortunately, I’m not so sure that’s in the cards. Looking at the scouting reports for Jerez, there isn’t a ton that stands out. On its best days, his fastball is impressive as it can hit the mid-90s with legitimate movement. Unfortunately, the offering still isn’t consistent enough to be a true above-average pitch. Beyond that, he has a solid slider and a changeup that needs a ton of work if it’s going to stay in his repertoire. There’s a way to make that profile work — there’s likely no more popular reliever profile in the game right now than fastball/slider — but nothing stands out right now. As Sox Prospects says in their profile of Jerez, his ceiling is that of a middle reliever, which is not a high ceiling.
Furthermore, while Jerez certainly showed a ton of improvement in 2017 it’s not like he posted lights out numbers this past season. He spent the majority of the year in Portland, throwing 51 1⁄3 innings over 29 appearances. In that time, he pitched to a 3.16 ERA with a 3.21 FIP that included just over eight strikeouts per nine innings and just under three walks per nine. The big savior for him was a lack of home runs, something that has more or less been a strength for him over his career. Those numbers will certainly do, of course, but neither the strikeout stuff nor the control was close to elite, and one has to wonder how much that home run suppression can carry into the majors.
Heading into the 2018 season, there aren’t many players I’m going to be rooting for more than Jerez. His career has been a wild ride and he’s been battling in the minors for so long that he really deserves a shot at the majors. Unfortunately, I’m not so sure it’s the best move for the team. It was a bit of a surprise when he was added to the 40-man roster in the first place, and now he could be the first on the chopping block if they make a signing and need to create room for the new addition. That being said, there’s something here if he does stick around. Although I wouldn’t bet on it, Jerez could prove himself to be legitimate major-league depth with a little more consistency with his fastball and a continued ability to keep balls in the yard.