Welcome to Over the Monster’s One Big Question series. For those unfamiliar, this is something of a season roster preview where over the next 40(ish) (week)days we’ll be taking a look at each player on the 40-man roster prior to the season. If changes are made to the roster between now and Opening Day, we’ll cover the newly added players. Rather than previewing what to expect in a general sense, the goal of this series is to find one singular question — sometimes specific, other times more general — for each player heading into the coming season. We’ll go alphabetically one by one straight down the roster, and you can catch up with the series here. Today, we cover Mike Shawaryn.
The Question: Is there a role for Mike Shawaryn?
The Red Sox, as you may have heard, are starved for pitching depth. They are going to start the year with Chris Sale on the shelf, and it is unclear when, if at all, he will make his return. They did sign Collin McHugh for some extra depth, but he too is going to miss the start of the year and his timetable is unclear. Throw in the fact that there is injury history littered throughout the rotation and the lack of track records among their depth options, and it’s clear the Red Sox are going to have to get creative this year. Chaim Bloom already held an info session helping solidify the idea and workings of an opener with the coaching staff, and it’s clear that there will be a lot of churn as well as atypical roles to cover all of the innings. The bottom of the 40-man is littered with what can best be described as “tweeners,” or pitchers that are neither a starter nor a reliever. Among them is Mike Shawaryn, who has become something of a forgotten man among all of the new additions.
Perhaps it’s just me, but it kind of feels like Shawaryn has been around forever. He really hasn’t been, though. The righty and former University of Maryland ace was taken in the same draft as Jay Groome, as Boston took him with their fifth round selection in that 2016 draft. He didn’t pitch at all in that first summer, but has progressed relatively quickly since then. Serving exclusively as a starter in his first two seasons (minus one relief outing in 2018) he put up solid numbers while quickly accelerating across four levels in the two seasons. Despite the results, though, there were always questions of whether or not he could actually stick as a starter at the highest level. That brought about a change in role last year, when he made 14 starts and 12 relief appearances in Pawtucket as well as 14 relief appearances in the majors as part of his major-league debut.
It’s no secret that the majority of great relievers start out as starters in the minors. The Red Sox even hope they have one of those in Darwinzon Hernandez, and their top two relievers at the moment — Matt Barnes and Brandon Workman — each came up as starters. Shawaryn doesn’t fit that profile, though. He is a good multi-inning option, but not a good starting option. He can come out of the bullpen, but he doesn’t really profile as a late-inning arm. And that leads to a fascinating question of what the plan will be with him in 2020.
Well, first thing’s first, and that’s that he will not start the year in the majors. This was never a real possibility, to be fair, but it was essentially made official on Sunday as he was one of
. So, he’ll start with Pawtucket, but even there we can get a hint for Boston’s plans for Shawaryn, as they’ll presumably want to get him settled in whatever role they think he could potentially play for the big-league club. So, let’s run through the options.
We’ll start with, well, starting. I already said I don’t think this is the right role, but I’ll quickly explain a little more. It mostly comes down to his repertoire. Shawaryn isn’t a two-pitch pitcher, but he also doesn’t really have a changeup. He does throw one, but it never really developed into a viable pitch. In his 14-appearance major-league stint last year, he threw a total of four changeups according to Baseball Savant. Granted, that was all out of the bullpen where a changeup is less necessary, but it does speak to the confidence (or lack thereof) he has in the pitch. This has led to some platoon split issues over his career. For similar reasons, I don’t seem him as a great candidate as a follower after an opener. To ideally fill that role you need to go through the order at least twice, and I don’t see Shawaryn being great with that.
Out of the bullpen, there is more hope. The righty’s best pitch is his slider, which got hit hard in the majors last year but also induced an impressive 40 percent whiff rate. This was his out pitch as a starter in the minors, and in shorter stints he has more of an ability to lean heavily on it. The issue is his fastball. The velocity can play up in shorter stints, but the command still has a ways to go to work against major-league bats. There’s a nonzero chance he can succeed in shorter stints, but I think he’s probably more like a Heath Hembree, which is serviceable but not impactful.
Ultimately, the answer to this question is almost certainly boring. Shawaryn’s most likely role is going to be in Pawtucket for most of the year, and it will be to get prepared to eat innings out of the bullpen. This is a thankless job, but it’s a necessary one, especially looking at the 2020 Red Sox roster. There are likely going to be a lot of short outings from this rotation, and that can lead to a tiring bullpen early on. In order to avoid taxing important relievers in blowout games, you need relievers who can pitch two or three innings when needed without blowing up. There’s a scenario Shawaryn ends up proving me wrong and being more than that in 2020, but given the lack of a changeup hindering his chances at a bigger role and the lack of fastball command holding him back in shorter stints, the mop-up long man is the likeliest job.