Anthony Ranaudo has been flat out dominant through 21 2/3 innings pitched at Double-A this season, and this is a good thing.
“But, small sample size!” you exclaim. “And age relative to league,” you caution. And you have good reason to bring such caveats up.
Yet Ranaudo’s start to the season is exciting not because of the gaudy numbers he’s posting or the narrative we can create about his roller coaster-ride as a prospect. Instead, let’s just appreciate the simple fact that Ranaudo is once again a guy worth paying the price of admission to watch play. A year ago, it didn’t seem like that would ever be the case again.
First, let’s get the numbers out of the way. Here’s what Ranaudo has done through four starts in Double-A so far this year.
This is, of course, very good. It’s not a reliable indicator of what’s to come for Ranaudo, but it’s tough to argue with those results.
What I’m more excited about, though, are the scouting reports that we’re seeing pour out of everyone who’s seen the big righty throw this season. Let’s take a look at some of the most promising clips:
Spring training was when he first noticed his fastball start to catch the radar gun’s attention again. And over his first three outings, he has flirted with 96-97 miles per hour.
“It’s crazy to think that in less than a year my velocity’s up 10 miles an hour,” he said. “I’m healthy. I feel like a totally different pitcher.” – Boston Globe
Anthony Ranaudo was dominant in his six innings of work, in what was arguably the best game for any Red Sox pitching prospect this season. After entering last season as the second-ranked prospect in the system, Ranaudo dropped all the way down to 15 after a season that was derailed by injuries and poor performance. He is climbing back up the rankings after every start, and he has statistically been one of the best pitchers in the minors this season. – SoxProspects.com
“It was a huge learning experience for me,” Ranaudo said of 2012. “I learned some things about my body, learned some things about myself. I worked really hard this offseason, came into spring training in really good shape, and I have to credit the Red Sox staff and everybody that’s working with me. It’s been nice to see the hard work pay off. I want to stay healthy and hopefully keep that going for the whole year.” – Portland Press Herald
That last quote is especially telling, as the real key to Ranaudo’s success so far this season seems to be a pretty simple one: health. The Globe piece in particular dives into detail about Ranaudo’s strength program, claiming that he’s added about 20 pounds of muscle since last season and that he worked extensively on flexibility, hoping to rid himself of the groin issues that plagued him in 2012.
I want to be clear here: if you’re reading this and expecting Ranaudo to sit atop the Red Sox rotation some day, you’re going to be disappointed. Ranaudo has a plus fastball and flashes a plus-plus curve, but he’s too inconsistent to be viewed as a real top-of-the-rotation threat. His injury history is also quite extensive, and he’s surely not a safe bet to stay on the mound for 200-plus innings a season.
Yet with reports that his velocity is back and that his command has improved and that he’s stronger and more flexible coming from all sources, it’s hard not to regain at least a little optimism. Ranaudo did not make my Top 150 prospects list, did not make my Top 15 Red Sox prospects list and was not particularly close in either case. Perhaps he would’ve made the lists had I stretched them to Top 300 and Top 20, respectively, but that’s not really much of a compliment.
But now Ranaudo becomes a must-see player for me this year: someone I will make the trip to Portland to see, just to watch with my own eyes and see what remains of a man who was once considered the best college pitcher in the nation. I’m not expecting greatness, but if I can see enough for a mid-rotation starter – hell, even for a late-inning bullpen arm – I’ll view it as a huge step forward.
“The Red Sox can dream on him as a No. 2 or 3 starter, but it’s hard to ignore the reality that he had dealt with injury problems in three of the previous five seasons,” Baseball America wrote before the season began.
A few months ago, I did not agree with the first part of that sentence. Now, I’m at least willing to listen.