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 relief pitchers up and down the organization.
Craig Kimbrel, Carson Smith, Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes, Tyler Thornburg
I wasn’t really sure how I wanted to define “starters” in this context, because I didn’t think it would be fair to simply predict the Opening Day bullpen. A few of those guys will be expendable and be sent up and down all year. Instead, I chose the guys who should be on the roster all year as long as they’re healthy. Craig Kimbrel is obviously the best of this group, and a year away from free agency there’s little reason to expect anything besides elite production. Carson Smith has that potential as well, but this is also his first full season since 2015. He looked solid at the end of 2017 and has looked good this spring, but it’s still too early to call him a sure thing. Joe Kelly probably has the lowest ceiling of this group and it’s frustrating that he doesn’t do more with his fastball, but he is still really solid in his role, gets a ton of ground balls and most of the time won’t kill you. Matt Barnes is the least proven of this group, but he showed legitimate back-end arm flashes last year and if he can reign in the walks just a little bit we could see a breakout from him in 2018. Tyler Thornburg is a total question mark because of health, but he has the talent to be up there with Kimbrel and Smith at the end of games.
Heath Hembree, Brandon Workman, Austin Maddox, Chandler Shepherd, Ty Buttrey, Robby Scott, Roenis Elias, Bobby Poyner, Williams Jerez
As with every team in the league, the Red Sox have a lot of guys they will rely on in the middle innings out of the bullpen, and the list is going to be even deeper than what I have above. Heath Hembree is the biggest lock of the Opening Day roster here as he is without options, and while you don’t want him in a high-leverage role he can be useful as one of the last arms in the ‘pen. Brandon Workman has World Series pedigree and looked good in 2017. Austin Maddox was really impressive in a small sample to end last season and even earned a postseason roster spot, but he’s been out all spring with injury and it’s not clear when he’ll be returning. Chandler Shepherd will be stretched out as a starter, but as I said in yesterday’s starting pitcher breakdown I expect he’ll ultimately be deployed as a reliever at the highest level. Ty Buttrey has some things to work out in the minors before he gets a chance in the majors, but that could come this year as he was added to the 40-man this past winter. Robby Scott is the incumbent as the team’s left-handed specialist, and while he’ll get another shot at that role it’s not as if he’s been elite enough to have a super long leash. Roenis Elias, like Shepherd, will work as a starter but probably has more value in a relief role. Bobby Poyner has the highest upside among the lefties and while he’ll almost certainly start the year in the minors he is the favorite of this entire group to make the biggest impact. Williams Jerez was also added to the 40-man this winter and has big stuff but needs to find a way to harness it.
The Top Prospect
If we’re being honest, there is really no such thing as a top relief prospect, and if we’re being really honest the right choice if we had to make one would be in the above group. That’s boring, though. Let’s have some fun with some upside and look at Joan Martinez who has had a ton of helium since the end of last year. The righty turned 20 towards the end of last season and split time between Lowell in Greenville. He only threw 32 innings all year, but he struck out 31 batters with only six walks and impressed scouts with his a big fastball and a slider with real potential. There are some kinks to be worked out, but Martinez will probably start back in Greenville and if he pitches as well as he did last year he could be a relatively quick riser despite his young age.
If there’s really no such thing a top relief prospect, there’s certainly no such thing as a sleeper relief prospect, but I’m going to pick one anyway. Daniel Gonzalez is not really all that exciting and he hasn’t progressed very quickly through the system, but that’s despite putting up solid numbers at whatever level in whatever role he’s assigned. Last season the righty spent most of his time in Greenville where he posted a 3.39 ERA with almost a strikeout per inning across 23 outings, six of which were starts. He also got six starts in High-A with no relief appearances and he posted a 1.31 ERA there. Gonzalez needs to find a way to get some more velocity behind his fastball and he might be able to do that if they commit to him in relief on a full-time basis, but he hasn’t really had the chance to stick to that role yet.
- Jake Cosart is probably the most exciting reliever we haven’t mentioned yet. The righty has huge stuff including a massive fastball, but he also has no idea where the ball is going too often. He needs to take a step forward with his command in 2018.
- Trevor Kelley attacks hitter with a low arm slot that helps make up for his lack of velocity and he’s impressed some scouts with his slider. There’s not a huge ceiling here, but he’s an interesting name to watch in the high minors.
- Zach Schellinger was the team’s sixth round pick last year and when everything’s going right he has a strong fastball/slider mix. He’s had injury problems, but if he’s healthy in 2018 he could end up as the best young reliever in the organization.