Who is he and where did he come from?
He’s Justin Slaten, and he was New York Mets-bound for about three hours after being selected in the Rule 5 Draft from the Texas Rangers organization, before the Red Sox, who lost a few pitching prospects themselves in the Rule 5 draft, got him from the Mets for newly drafted pitching prospect Ryan Ammons. Slaten pitched for the New Mexico Lobos in college, where he showed propensity to strike people out as a starter. Per Rule 5 guidelines, Slaten needs to remain on Boston’s Major League roster for the entirety of the 2024 season or be traded. Any demotion from the Majors means Slaten returns to the Rangers organization.
What position does he play?
Outside of being a shoe-in for Lil Dicky lookalike of the year, he is — surprise! — a right handed pitching prospect who has spent the majority of his time as a reliever, though the Hickory Crawdads (Rangers High-A) did try him in the rotation in 2021, his first season as a professional after being drafted in the third round of the 2019 Amateur Draft. At 26, he has started 36 of his 92 career appearances, though he’s almost exclusively relieved for the past two seasons.
Is he any good?
Now for the real answer:
You’ve heard Dan Secatore say this before — or, rather, seen him type it. There’s no way to know if he’s any good! But, the word any is relative. In the minors, you’re facing developing talent, which is a far cry from facing, oh, I don’t know, Aaron Judge, Juan Soto, Adley Ruschmann, Vlad Guerrero Jr., or Randy Arozarena, just to name a few threats in Boston’s division. Given that Slaten has pitched all of 8.1 innings at Triple-A, my answer to the “is he any good” question would be a “no” or at the very least, “not yet.” But I could be surprised. At the very least, he’s shown he can eat innings at the bottom of the bullpen, which may be the most likely scenario for a guy just making his debut.
As another facet to this inquiry, though, he can certainly strike some guys out. He has never struck out less than one batter an inning in his career, and last season, he notched 86 strikeouts against just 20 walks in 59 2⁄3 innings of action, primarily in Double-A. That, along with keeping the ball in the park more than usual, was good enough for Slaten to put up a 2.87 ERA in 2023, which is about half of his career ERA of 5.31 in the minors. I get very nervous about an ERA surpassing 5 in the minors for a guy who is guaranteed a Major League spot, but those strikeout numbers and improved run prevention are making me willing to at least give him a chance, seeing as all we gave up was a recent 10th round draft pick... even if that draft pick was a Clemson Tiger.
Show me a cool highlight.
I mean... he did a song with the guy from Panic at the Disco and it reached the charts... so that’s pretty cool!
All jokes about doppelgängers aside, we’ve talked about Slaten’s ability to sit batters down on strikes. The fact that he’s 6’4”, 222, and that his fastball sits in the mid 90’s and has flirted with 98 miles per hour is exciting for a developing pitcher. His slider is also expected to miss bats at the Major League level. As far as highlights, all I could stumble across was this pre-COVID video of him as a Lobo. Hopefully Craig Breslow has seen more than this... but this is nothing to sneeze at!
Again, big difference between this and pitching in the bullpen against the toughest division in baseball, though.
What’s he doing in his picture up there?
Reaching the mid 90’s, probably, not on some coming of age film stuff, though.
What’s his role on the 2024 Red Sox?
He’ll be in the bullpen, which already feels pretty crowded if the Red Sox plan on, oh, I don’t know, grabbing some starting pitching (hint, again!) this offseason. His lack of experience makes him a probable low-leverage guy who can work on that developing that fastball even further. If he doesn’t pan out, he’ll head back to Texas.
Maybe next week there will be a Meet The New Guy article in which someone answers the “is he any good?” question with an unequivocal “yes.” Until then, here’s hoping that, in 12 months time, we have a “show me a cool highlight” of Justin Slaten in a Red Sox uniform.