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Minor-league Depth Check: Left-handed pitchers

We end our look at the system with the southpaws.

Jay Groome
Kelly O’Connor;

Among the weirdest parts of the 2020 season was that we didn’t get any minor-league season, and thus an entire season of development was lost for a whole lot of prospects. A few were able to participate in Pawtucket, but for the most part they were left on their own with just Zoom calls with coaches in the organization. Along with the lost development, players down on the farm have also fallen out of consciousness for some fans. That brings us to this series. Over the next two weeks, as we head into an offseason where the Red Sox may be looking to boost their farm system in some areas and trade out of it in others, we’re going to go position-by-position to reacclimate ourselves with the minor-leaguers all across the organization. Today, we finish up with a look at the crop of left-handed pitchers.

Top Prospect

Jay Groome

Groome has been, in a way, a very frustrating prospect for Red Sox fans in recent years. Not all that long before the 2016 draft, he was seen as a legitimate potential number one overall pick in that class as a high-ceiling lefty from the high school ranks. A few different issues caused him to drop down boards as the draft got closer, but the talent was still there. Boston picked 12th in that year’s draft, and it’s very rare that they get the opportunity to take someone with his talent, even with the other potential issues. So, they altered their strategy as he fell and grabbed him with that number 12 overall pick.

Since he’s been drafted, we’ve seen some flashes of his potential, but for the most part we just haven’t seen him. Groome has been battling injury concerns throughout his professional career, having not thrown more than 55 13 innings in any season since being drafted and he’s thrown only four since the start of the 2018 season. And when he has pitched, he hasn’t been able to get in any sort of rhythm on the mound and the results have been subpar, to say the least.

And despite all of that, I’m as optimistic about Groome long-term as I’ve been probably since 2017. For one thing, even with all of that missed time, which obviously includes a partially lost 2020 that was no fault of his, the 2021 season will still be his age-22 campaign. For the sake of comparison, Bryan Mata will also be in his age-22 season, and Noah Song, if he pitches in 2021, will be in his age-24 season. So, Groome’s not exactly a grizzled vet just yet.

And on top of that, by all accounts he still looks extremely talented. I wrote above that it was a partially lost 2020 season. The word partially is in there because, well, he still pitched. Groome was invited to spend the summer in Pawtucket to face off against fellow organizational members at the Alternate Site. It’s not the same when you’re facing the same competition in every start, but Groome looked good. The stuff was still there. The lefty still features the impressive three-pitch arsenal that made him so intriguing in the first place. I still can’t bring myself to fully buy-in until I see him actually do it consistently against non-scrimmage competition while staying healthy, but dating back to March I haven’t heard much in the way of negativity about his future. I’m buying low on the Groome stock, and there’s really no doubt he’s the top southpaw in the organization.

Jorge Rodriguez
Kelly O’Connor;

Sleeper Prospect

Jorge Rodriguez

Generally speaking, pitchers from Latin American signing classes seem to be less heralded than their offensive counterparts, and indeed Rodriguez was not a top prospect when he signed with Boston out of Mexico in 2017, receiving just $37,500. He opened some eyes with a solid debut in the DSL in 2018, though, and then pitched even better in 2019 after coming to the States. The lefty spent most of that year in the GCL, racking up 58 strikeouts compared to just eight walks over 47 innings while pitching to a 1.91 ERA. That earned him a bump up to Lowell for the end of that season as well as the postseason.

Rodriguez was certainly on the rise heading into last winter, but as was the case for a whole lot of prospects, a lot of that narrative-based momentum was halted by the pandemic. He had a chance to be a big breakout a la Bryan Mata a few years ago if he could have pitched. Instead, he sort of fell off the radar without pitching. Rodriguez could make his way back into the conversation in 2021. He is a bit of a prototypical lefty in that he doesn’t come at you with big-time stuff, but he can get strikeouts thanks to control beyond his years and an ability to have his pitches play above their individual grades with spin and sequencing. There’s a long way to go and Rodriguez just turned 20 in August, but there’s a potential major-league starter in this profile.

Others of Note

  • Kyle Hart is still included here, but his stock is certainly down. The lefty had looked like a potential viable depth option in the high minors, but struggled mightily (to put it lightly) in his taste of major-league ball this summer. He ended the year on the IL, and could very well lose his 40-man spot this winter.
  • Chris Murphy is the number two southpaw in the organization and, like Rodriguez, lost some of that narrative momentum this summer. A 2019 draftee, he had a huge pro debut and while he needs to work on his control the stuff is there for him to at least be able to transition to the bullpen if the control never fully comes around.
  • Shane Drohan was the team’s fifth round selection in this past summer’s draft. We obviously haven’t seen him in action as a pro yet, but there are reasons to be excited about the former Florida State Seminole. As a football prospect as well in high school, Drohan just recently started concentrating fully on baseball, which gives him a bit more room for growth than your typical college draftee.
  • Nixson Muñoz certainly on the small side, but you wouldn’t know it looking at his 2019 DSL stat line where he pitched to a 2.40 ERA with 62 strikeouts and only five walks over 60 innings of work.
  • Yoan Aybar got the short end of the stick this year. He’s on the 40-man, but there wasn’t room for him in Pawtucket since he wasn’t really an option at the major-league level quite yet (he was added to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft). Since he’s on the 40-man, though, he also can’t participate in Instructs. The former outfielder has intriguing stuff as a pure reliever, but with the coming roster crunch it remains to be seen if he’ll be able to hold onto this 40-man spot.
  • Logan Browning might be the most extreme of My Guys™ in the organization. He’s done nothing but perform as a pro, but his stuff is lacking and pretty everyone agrees the upper minors are going to be a struggle for him. I include him here mostly out of personal obligation.
  • Jeremy Wu-Yelland was the fourth round pick for the Red Sox this past summer, and while he’s not as exciting as even a Shane Drohan, there’s some potential here. He’ll likely get a starter’s workload to start, but I’d expect him to eventually shift to the bullpen where his stuff could play up into a major-league future.
  • Brendan Cellucci was drafted as a pure reliever and doesn’t quite have a closer ceiling unless he sees a big jump with his breaking ball, but he has a good fastball and the curveball is good enough to potentially have him rise through the minor-league ranks.