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Getting to know Kyle Hart

As a pitcher, at least.

Kyle Hart
Kelly O’Connor;

This season has been an absolute drag to watch for Red Sox fans. I’m not sure how anyone can deny that. It’s not just that they’ve been bad, but it’s been a boring, lifeless kind of bad. The pitching in particular has been brutal to watch. That’s not to say the offense hasn’t had its issues, because it certainly has, but there are at least recognizable faces for whom there is reason to hope a turnaround is coming. The pitching, meanwhile, has largely been a rotating cast of new faces who were acquired for basically nothing in the past few weeks or months, which is another way of saying they are fringe major leaguers who were cast aside by other teams. Occasionally a few of those can turn into diamonds in the rough and you have to sift through them to find the treasures, but the process can be very draining as a fan.

Fortunately, there is actually a little bit of reason for excitement on Thursday as another new face joins the fray. This, however, is not a recent waiver addition, but rather a call-up from the minors as the left-handed Kyle Hart is set to make his major-league debut for Thursday’s series finale against the Rays.

Now, I don’t necessarily want to be responsible for any sort of out-of-control excitement or anything like that. This is not some sort of major debut of a top prospect or anything like that. Hart is not a top 20 prospect in the system, nor is he someone that anyone would project to be a future ace. But it is a major-league debut for a minor leaguer who has performed well in the minors and provides a marginal amount of upside. Given what we’ve seen for so much of this season, that is thrilling.

On top of that, it is also a very cool story of a guy who has fought to come out of nowhere to even make it this far. It’s always fun to root for these kinds of stories. Hart was far from a top prospect coming out of the draft and was taken as a fifth-year senior — he missed a year after undergoing Tommy John surgery — from Indiana in the 19th round of the 2016 draft. The lefty was given a bonus of $5,000. He was never supposed to make it half as far as he’s gotten, but he did nothing but perform in the minors and this past offseason he was a semi-surprising addition to the 40-man roster to protect him from last winter’s Rule 5 Draft.

When I say he did nothing but perform in the minors, I really mean that. He put up solid numbers at every single level and seemed to get better with each promotion and each passing season. Of course, I should mention that he was a bit older than most other prospects at these levels each step of the way, and that sort of thing matters when evaluating minor-league performance. That said, he never had an ERA below 3.57 in any of his four minor-league seasons, and his last may have been his best. In 2019, splitting time between Portland and Pawtucket, Hart tossed a total of 156 innings and pitched to a 3.52 ERA with 140 strikeouts — by far the best strikeout rate of his professional career — and 53 walks.

As far as the scouting goes, the tall, lanky southpaw is pretty much your prototypical command-over-stuff, sum-of-the-parts lefty. None of his pitches are going to blow you away, both in terms of velocity and quality. Hart offers five different pitchers, but none of them are really considered above-average. He has a fastball that generally sits around 90 mph, though he’ll have a few in the 92-93 range from start to start. He also has a slider, which is his best secondary, along with a cutter, a curveball and a changeup. None of the pitches are great, but they’re all solid.

What really has allowed to get him this far is the fact that he knows how to pitch. This is generally one of my least favorite baseball-talk kind of sayings, but it’s true. Hart mixes his pitches extremely well, which is the number one way to pitch above your stuff. He also works the edges of the zone well and can often avoid making mistakes. If he does start missing over the plate, trouble won’t be far behind. But while that approach can lead to some walks — he was generally around three walks per nine innings in the high minors — he can avoid major trouble and crooked innings like that as well.

In some ways, Hart sounds a lot like the other guys we’ve seen from the Red Sox. Not big stuff and relying on hitting the edges. I will say that I think his stuff should play up a little bit more than some of the other options that have taken the mound, and he could have an advantage. In the short-term, pitchers like Hart can pitch above their talent level simply because they have a lot of pitches with a lot of movement and their opponents have never seen it. These are the kinds of pitchers that can be frustrating until you get a little more used to it.

Looking a little more in the future, he’s probably slated to be in a similar vein as someone like Brian Johnson, which doesn’t sound great but has value as a guy who can pitch bulk innings out of the bullpen and make starts when needed and keeping the team in the game. It’s not a future ace and it’s not electric stuff, but given what else we’ve been forced to watch this year I’m allowing myself to be excited for this Kyle Hart start.