When Drew Pomeranz was placed on the disabled list prior to Tuesday’s game, there were some mild ripple effects felt throughout the roster. Steven Wright joined the rotation on a semi-permanent basis (though if his start on Tuesday was any indication, you can erase the “semi” part of that) instead of just making the spot start as was the original plan. Brandon Workman, who has been pitching well for the last month after a rough start to his year, finally got another chance in the majors and is part of the big-league bullpen. The most interesting side effect, however, was the least important part of all of this. Who was going to get the start on Thursday.
Well, we found out after the game that it was indeed going to be prospect Jalen Beeks coming up for his first taste of major-league competition. As we all know, it’s been a down year throughout the system, but Beeks has been one of the few positives and arguably the brightest star from the first two months of the minor-league season. After being added to the 40-man roster this past winter to prevent him from being selected in the Rule 5 Draft, it was only a matter of time until the southpaw got the call to the bigs. That being said, it wasn’t a slam dunk he’d get it this time and it says something about how impressed they’ve been by him that he got the call.
It’s interesting that a team with so many long relievers that have a background in starting — and have started this year! — is keeping those arms in their current role and going with the young lefty that has no experience. There are a couple possible reasons for this, the first of which being that Hector Velazquez and Brian Johnson no longer being stretched out. I’m not entirely sure I buy this, and even if they aren’t one could reasonably see them working in a piggyback effort if the team wanted to and that would serve as at least the same as a normal start. If the Red Sox believed in Velazquez and Johnson as much as we think they did to start the year, I think they could make it work.
The more important reasoning is that this is the time for the Red Sox to start figuring out what they have in Beeks. One performance on the mound is not going to tell anyone all they needed to know about any pitcher, particularly when it comes against a rebuilding team like the Tigers. That being said, there’s only so much they can learn about the southpaw as he dominates Triple-A lineup, and this was a clear chance to get him an audition in the majors without the pressure of having to pitch for a permanent spot. Beeks is important to the team’s future — both short-term and long-term — and the team needs to figure out how much they can trust him.
As far as the short-term goes, the Red Sox need to decide how much starting pitching depth they have and whether or not they need to acquire more. I wouldn’t expect them to go out at any point this year and make a big splash in trading for a starting pitcher, but with Pomeranz struggling and now hurt they could see a need to add more depth to the organization. If Beeks becomes someone they can trust, however, that is just as good if not better than a low-level acquisition. In the longer term, Pomeranz is a free agent at the end of the year and the Red Sox will need to decide whether or not to keep him, and if they don’t they’ll need to figure out how to replace him. Beeks emerging as a legitimate option will save them some money to address other issues this offseason. Like I said, we won’t know much of anything just from a single start, but it’s time for the Red Sox to gather all of the information they can.
In terms of what we can expect from Beeks as a major-league pitcher, that is an interesting question to which I don’t have a great answer. I was as high as anyone on the lefty coming into the year. Between 2016 and 2017 he cleaned up his delivery to ensure he can remain a starter, and he didn’t lose any of his stuff in the process. If anything, his stuff got better because of it. Those are the kind of adjustments that can make or break a pitcher, and when they work so seamlessly it certainly piques my interest. That being said, his Triple-A performance — 2.56 ERA and over 12 strikeouts per nine innings — may have the expectations too high. I truly believe he’s a long-term starter, but it’s more of a number four or five than a legitimate top prospect. Maybe he’ll surprise us, but people shouldn’t be looking for a potential ace here despite the start to his season.
Wet blanketing aside, people should absolutely be excited about this. The Red Sox have had so much trouble developing pitching lately, and it’s been forever since a homegrown pitcher has come up with even a modicum of hype, particularly if you don’t count Eduardo Rodriguez. Beeks is going to play a role on this team both down the road this year and in the long-term, and we can start to get an idea of what he’ll provide on Thursday night. Make sure you don’t miss it.