Over the next week, we are going to take a journey around the diamond and examine where the Red Sox stand at catcher, in the infield and outfield, and with starters and relievers throughout their organization. For each positional group, we’ll break things down by starter, depth, top prospect, sleeper and other notable prospects. Today, we’re looking at the starting pitchers up and down the organization.
Chris Sale, David Price, Drew Pomeranz, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez, Steven Wright
When everyone is healthy and ready to throw, the Red Sox have six quality pitchers to fill out their rotation who have at least some track record of success in the majors. It’s a major luxury in this league and one of the reasons big things are expected from this team in 2018. At the top, they have one of the truly elite pitchers in the game in Chris Sale, from whom we should expect nothing but elite production because that’s what he’s put up in every year of his career. David Price is a potential game-changer with ace-like potential and an ace-like track record. If he can remain healthy, all signs are pointing towards him being a force in 2018. Drew Pomeranz has quietly been one of the more consistently solid pitchers in the league over the last two years, though he’s dealing with a minor injury at the moment. If he can continue doing what he’s done over the last two years he’ll be one of the best number three starters in baseball. Rick Porcello is a major wildcard whose Red Sox career has been a wild rollercoaster ride. Hopefully the 2018 season is on the way back up, but at the very least we can be confident that Porcello will eat innings. Eduardo Rodriguez has the most upside that we haven’t seen in action to this point in his career. He’s shown big flashes over his short career and if he can produce to his potential on a consistent basis he’ll be a massive weapon for this roster. Steven Wright was an All-Star two years ago but was awful in 2017 before missing most of the season with injury. It’s impossible to predict how the knuckleball will perform day-in and day-out, but if everyone’s healthy one would assume Wright will be the odd man out at this point.
Brian Johnson, Hector Velazquez, Jalen Beeks, Roenis Elias, Justin Haley, Chandler Shepherd
In addition to a really strong base among their “starting” starters, Boston has some solid depth even if there isn’t a ton of upside here. Brian Johnson is certain to start the year in the major-league rotation and is coming off a strong spring while also showing he’s still a major-league quality talent in 2017. He’s out of options this year, so expect him to shift between Boston’s rotation and bullpen for most of this season. Hector Velazquez could also start the year in the rotation depending on the health of Rodriguez and Wright, and while there isn’t a high ceiling with the righty Velazquez showed last year that he can hold his own and keep his team in games at the highest level. Johnson’s spring has been more impressive between these two, for whatever that’s worth. Jalen Beeks may be the most exciting of this group, but he still has some work to do in his development and is probably better of if he doesn’t have to start in the majors until the second half. Roenis Elias has been a slightly-below-average starter in the majors in the past and will likely get another chance at some point in 2018. Justin Haley is slept on as rotation depth but the former Rule 5 pick who stayed with the Twins for half of 2017 can pitch like a solid back-end arm and has looked largely impressive this spring. Chandler Shepherd has been a reliever for most of his career and I still view him more as a relief depth than rotation depth, though he’s going to start for Pawtucket to begin the season.
The Top Prospect
Three of Boston’s top four prospects before a steep drop in their farm system are starting pitchers, but there’s little doubt that Jason Groome is the most exciting of the bunch. The former first round pick, who was seen as being someone with enough talent to justify the top overall pick at the time, hasn’t hit the ground running as a professional but there’s still plenty to like. This is a big year for the southpaw after his first pro season in 2017 was marred by injury and underperformance. There were some family issues off the field that likely had an effect on his performance as well. Groome worked out with Sale this winter and still has the stuff that has made him one of the most intriguing starting pitching prospects in baseball. If he can show that off on a consistent basis this season, expect him to easily get back in the top-50 on national lists with some probable appearances in the top-25.
In last summer’s draft, the Red Sox took a pair of high school arms with big upside that some believed would forgo the start of their professional career to go to college. Alex Scherff has gotten the bulk of the attention from this group, and it’s well deserved. They took another righty in the 14th round, though, in Aaron Perry, who was the top prospect from West Virginia last summer. He ended up signing for an above-slot deal rather than going to the University of Kentucky. He suffered an elbow injury at the end of his high school season, but he should be healthy this year and has the potential to jump onto the map once the short-season schedules begin. Perry has a big fastball that can get up to 95 to go with an impressive breaking ball. He’ll need to develop a changeup to take that next step, but there is a nice baseline here for a riser up the rankings if we’re willing to be patient.
- Mike Shawaryn is likely going to be the most exciting part of the Double-A rotation. The 2016 draft pick has shown legitimate strikeout stuff in the lower levels and if he can continue that in Portland and show some improved command he can be a solid back-end starter in short order.
- Travis Lakins has been hard to figure out as a pro, as he’s looked like a top-ten organizational prospect at times and he’s looked like a total disaster at other times, while also spending some time on the disabled list. This is a big year upcoming for the righty who could really use a consistent season.
- Trey Ball is still in the organization, and while Sox Prospects projects him to be a reliever this year — which would be a smart move in my opinion — I can’t find any confirmation on that from the team. The former top ten pick is going to be in the conversation as long as he’s still with the organization.
- Teddy Stankiewicz is another 2015 draft pick who should be transferring to the bullpen in short order. He didn’t have the expectations of Ball, but his development has also been a little disappointing.
- Dedgar Jimenez does not stand out at all from a scouting perspective, but he’s coming off a year in which he posted a 3.07 ERA in High-A and a 2.91 ERA in Double-A, so he’s at least worth keeping an eye on.
- Roniel Raudes is likely to repeat High-A this year, at least to start, and he’s a good bounce-back candidate who relies more on strong command than overpowering stuff.
- Darwinzon Hernandez is, in my opinion, the most exciting pitching prospect not among the top four overall prospects in the system. The lefty reportedly showed off a new slider at the end of 2017 that could take his game to the next level.
- Bryan Mata is among that top four in the organization, and he was wildly impressive as an 18-year-old in Greenville last season. The righty doesn’t have ace upside, but he pitches well beyond his years and could be a strong midrotation arm by the time he’s in his early 20’s.
- Tanner Houck will join Groome atop the Greenville rotation to start the year, and last year’s first round pick could be a fast riser relative to your typical pitching prospect. Some still believe he’s a future reliever, and this year will be a big test for what his future role will be.
- Jake Thompson was another 2017 draft pick who doesn’t have Houck’s upside but could be another fast riser as he’s already 23 years old.
- Alex Scherff was arguably the most exciting non-Houck draftee from last year. The high schooler is not nearly as far along his developmental path as Hocuk or Thompson, but he has arguably as much upside. Expect him to start the year in short-season ball and for the Red Sox to take their time with the righty.