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The ballad of Bobby Poyner

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He’s the team’s best lefty reliever and he’s stuck on the bus from Boston to Pawtucket and back.

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox
You my boy, Bobby.
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

I did a huge dynasty draft this offseason. It’s a 24-team league, and we had a separate a 30-round MLB draft and 20-round minor league affair. Toward the end of the latter, as you might expect, it was slim pickings, and I scoured the Red Sox minor league rosters for prospects outside the top 10 just to, you know, feel alive. This is when I discovered Bobby Poyner.

He was 25 years old, sure, but his AA numbers were good. Actually, they weren’t just good. They were excellent. Over 38.1 innings in Portland in 2017, Poyner had a 0.94 ERA, a 52:11 K:BB ratio and allowed a single home run. For all the talk this year about his “never having pitched above AA” -- I’ve heard it so many times I want to scream -- the numbers told a self-contained story: Dude could pitch against real competition. Plus, his name sounded like mine, so with the dead-last pick in the minor league draft my Hartford Yard Goats selected Poyner, Bobby, of West Palm Beach, Florida.

I expected nothing. Then spring training happened, and I looked like a genius, albeit only to me, and through this laughably narrow lens. Poyner carved up the Grapefruit League, effectively equaling his minor league numbers by posting a 0.87 ERA over 10.1 innings, with 10 K’s, 1 walk and 1 homer allowed. He grabbed the last spot on the 25-man roster for his efforts. Blake Swihart stans take note: This is how you force your way into a lineup.

Of course the minors are one thing, the Grapefruit League another and the Show something else entirely. Alex Cora went to Poyner early and often in the first couple weeks and Poyner delivered. The lefty had a 1.42 ERA through April 11, at which point he was called upon to relieve David Price (finger numbness) in the second inning of a game against the Yankees and got injured himself, tweaking a hamstring. The Cinderella story had hit a snag, and Poyner hit the DL.

Worse, he entered baseball purgatory. When Poyner emerged from the DL, there was no longer a spot on the major league roster for him, so he was sent to AAA for the first time. You will not be surprised that he sports a nice 1.69 ERA for the PawSox, because he clearly has big-league stuff right. The Red Sox know this and recalled him for a single day last week, on which Cora went to him with a four-run lead and Poyner shut the door hard. For his trouble, he was sent back to Pawtucket after the game.

Part of this is just the business of baseball, and it stinks for the team and the player. He’s the team’s best lefty reliever and he’s stuck on the Merloni Shuttle between Rhode Island and Fenway, and I can only groan. To that end, though, it was inevitable he’d be on the bus no matter how he pitched when early season DL’ed players like Eduardo Rodriguez, Drew Pomeranz and Steven Wright came back from injuries. There was just no space for him, and Cora was probably using Poyner early on not simply because he was good, but because he was trying to squeeze innings out of what could, and did, turn into a superfluous arm.

From the Poyner fan perspective, there’s nothing to do now but wait. I’d love him for the Yankees series, because I think he’s a better pitcher right now than Carson Smith, to pick a name at random, but I get why it isn’t happening. While that’s just about it on Poyner, I want to segue back to a fraught topic that I briefly touched on above. It’s Swihart, because of course it is.

All I want to say is this: I want Blake to have a good career, and I’d prefer it to be with the Red Sox. It’s the same thing I wish for Poyner. Swihart was once a blue-chip prospect, yes, but Poyner’s case lays waste to the idea that Swihart hasn’t had time to prove himself. Poyner, 14th round draft choice, has grabbed every opportunity like his career depends on it, because it does. That or he’s just really good. Either way, he’s not just a better story than Blake -- he’s a better player. If we’re making martyrs over young, capable players who haven’t gotten a fair shot, our Swihart obsession has us barking up the wrong tree.