Who is he and where did he come from?
He’s Richard Fitts, and he comes from the funniest set of parents in all of Jefferson County, Alabama. Though in a baseball sense, he comes from . . . the New York Yankees. The Red Sox sent Alex Verdugo to the Bronx for Fitts and two other young arms in an extremely rare trade between the two biggest rivals in North American sports.
Since divisional play began in 1969, this is just the ninth trade conducted between the Sox and Yankees. The very first of these deals explains why they are so rare: the Sox traded away Sparky Lyle for two guys named Danny Cater and Mario Guerrero in 1972. Cater and Guerrero would go on to produce just 2.4 total bWAR over five seasons for the Sox, while Lyle would go on to make three All-Star teams and win the Cy Young Award in seven seasons with the Yankees. That was not a good trade! You don’t want to be on the wrong end of a bad trade with your blood rivals!
What position does he play?
He’s a pitcher, which isn’t surprising given Craig Breslow’s background and the lack of pitching talent throughout the organization. Whether he sticks as a starter or gets moved to the bullpen is still an open question.
Is he any good?
He was the AA Eastern League Pitcher of the Year in 2023! That must mean he’s good, right?!? Well, not so fast. Minor league awards can be a funny thing, because the truly elite talents usually don’t stick around long enough at any one level to win them.
Fitts came to professional baseball via Auburn University, a powerhouse baseball program in the powerhouse SEC. He showed so much promise early in his junior year that he was discussed as a potential first round pick. But he struggled with some nagging injuries that year and ended up with an ugly 5.88 ERA over 13 appearances, leading him to fall to the Yankees in the sixth round. Then, he got off to a poor start in the Yankees system in 2022, looking extremely mediocre in low-A, a level that he probably should have been too advanced for given his SEC pedigree.
But things got interesting last season.
After making some adjustments to his delivery towards the end of 2022, Fitts began 2023 at AA, and once again struggled out of the gate. But then, for exactly three months from May 24 to August 24 of last season, he went completely nuts. Fitts threw 97.2 innings over 16 starts during that stretch, struck out 103 batters while walking just 24 and allowing only 72 hits, and held opposing batters to just a .591 OPS while he maintained an ERA of 2.12. He finished the year as the Eastern League’s leader in strikeouts, WHIP, wins, innings pitched, and quality starts, while finishing second in K/BB ratio and BB/9, and sixth in K/9. Again: most prospects don’t really want to lead their league in anything, because it means they’re not moving up the ladder, but it’s better than the alternative.
He’s a big strong dude (6-3, 230) with excellent control and good command of his fastball. But his stuff is not considered anything special, which could cause issues as he advances. His fastball sits in the mid-to-low nineties and he complements it with a slider and changeup, neither of which have impressed scouts all that much. This leads to the one statistical area in which he did not perform well at AA: giving up homers. He surrendered 22 of them in 152.2 total innings, which doesn’t bode well for success against more advanced hitters.
So. . . is he any good? It’s hard to say for sure. He’s now one of the Red Sox’ best pitching prospects in the upper minors, but that says more about the poor state of the organization’s pitching than it does about Fitts. Ultimately, he’s someone who could end up anywhere from the middle of the bullpen to the middle of a big league rotation. It’s up to Craig Breslow’s revamped pitching program to steer him toward the latter.
Show me a cool highlight.
Might as well see what he can do against the guys we know best, right? Here he is against the Portland Sea Dogs last season, striking out Ceddanne Rafaela to start the highlight reel. He ended up striking out eight hitters over six innings that night, though he also struggled to miss bats and allowed eight hits.
What’s he doing in his picture up there?
Flirting with a baseball, because not even inanimate objects are immune to those giant-ass dimples.
What’s his role on the 2024 Red Sox?
He’s going to start the year in the rotation in Worcester, where he’ll probably be considered Boston’s best AAA pitching prospect (though that depends on what you think about Wikelman Gonzalez and where he starts the year). This likely means that he’ll fall somewhere between seven and ten on the overall starting pitcher depth chart (what happens with Tanner Houck, Garrett Whitlock, Kutter Crawford, and Josh Winckowski will determine exactly where he lands), and he’ll probably make at least a spot start or two for the big league club at some point next season.