Twice in his young career, Pawtucket Red Sox right-hander Allen Webster has been labeled a “steal.”
The first time was when the Dodgers made him their 18th round selection in the 2008 draft.
The second was last August 25 when Boston obtained him from the Dodgers in the mega-deal that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Becket and Nick Punto to Los Angeles.
Entering the 2013 season, Baseball America rated Webster as the No. 4 prospect in Boston’s farm system. Granted, Webster started two games for Portland after the trade. But might the pressure for him to succeed and live up to expectations be suffocating?
Not in Webster’s opinion.
“You try to put pressure on yourself,” said Webster who was recalled by Boston to replace the injured Clay Buchholz in Saturday night’s game at Detroit. “You have to go out there no matter what team you’re on. You have to perform. You have to get the job done and win.”
PawSox manager Gary DiScarcina feels Webster’s innate personality is a major reason why little fazes him on the mound.
“He’s got a laid-back personality,” said DiScarcina. “He participated in (Boston’s) rookie program and has been well-schooled in what to expect.”
“If he can’t handle five or six reporters down here – and we got booed the other night – if he can’t handle that in Pawtucket, he better learn how to because if you’re going to move up and be successful in that market, you have to deal with it. But on the field, he’s all business.”
Through Webster’s first 10 starts, his stats would seem to reflect DiScarcina’s opinion about the youngster being “all business.”
Besides compiling a 5-1 record with a 2.98 ERA, Webster also had 56 strikeouts in 51 1/3 innings. Despite those impressive stats, DiScarcina feels Webster’s best games are down the road.
“I thought he did a good job but there’s still room for improvement,” said DiScarcina. “With his fastball (it’s topped out at 96) in itself, he can still get out hitters as long as he commands it. But he still hasn’t put together the complete package.”
“We’ve yet to see him put all four pitches (fastball, curveball, slider and changeup) together in one game. One day he’ll have the changeup and the fastball going. The next day it’ll be the slider and the changeup. He just hasn’t had the complete mix.”
Not surprisingly, Webster agreed with his manager.
“It’s been true,” he said of DiScarcina’s assessment. “This year so far I really haven’t had every pitch work perfectly for me. We’re still working on it … tinkering with mechanics.”
Webster, a native of Madison, N.C., primarily played shortstop for McMichael High and only pitched on occasion. But even back then, he realized he wasn’t going to morph into the second coming of Rico Petrocelli.
“I knew I would never make it as a shortstop,” said a brutally honest Webster. “I couldn’t hit. I could field really well but hitting wasn’t my strong suit. But I threw hard so I knew that was the only way I could get drafted.”
As the story goes, one day when Webster was pitching a Dodgers scout was in attendance but to eye-ball another player. Webster, meanwhile, was clocked in the low 90s.
Presumably the scout’s report carried some weight when the June draft rolled around. Webster, who was a mere 17 years old when he signed, gradually worked his way up the minor league ladder and really blossomed during the second half of last season at Double-A Chattanooga in the Southern League.
While Webster only was 1-7 with a 5.24 ERA in his first 15 games with the Lookouts, he was 5-1 with a 2.08 ERA in his last 12. And at the time of the trade, he had allowed only one home run in 122 innings.
“When I was going bad, my body felt good,” said Webster. “But nothing went right for me. No matter what happened, something would go wrong. But once I got rolling, the wheels started going in the right direction.”
“You’re always making adjustments. They had me speed up my delivery a little bit. They had me going in one direction to the plate. I worked on stuff every day. Even when I was throwing well, I was still working on stuff.”
In essence, that second half was a reflection of Webster’s demeanor as well as his work ethic.
“One of my old pitching coaches with the Dodgers, Casey Deskins, really stressed that,” said Webster. “No matter what the outcome is on the mound, you should be able to look at the pitcher and not say if he’s pitching great or if he’s pitching awful.
“He told me no matter what happens, you have to pick up your teammates.”
As far as DiScarcina is concerned, Webster’s ability to “pick up” his teammates will improve as he gets older.
“I think probably the ultimate reason he can pitch better is he’s young (23),” said DiScarcina. “He needs to pitch. He needs to get repetitions. He needs to find ways to get out of innings when he doesn’t have his best stuff. I look at it as a positive that Allen hasn’t put the package together yet.”
“Down here, his two-seamer and his changeup are his bread and butter. He has a swing-and-miss changeup. He’s got a heavy sinker. But he’s going to need more than that. He’s trying to get more consistent with his slider and his curveball.”
“With the sinkerball he has,” continued DiScarcina, “if he throws you a four-seamer sometimes that’s a favor. You’re looking down so much and he throws you a four-seamer up, it’s playing into your strength. You try to get a sinkerballer up.”
Webster made two early-season starts- before his recent promotion – with Boston and returned to Pawtucket with a 0-1 record plus an 11.79 ERA over 7 2/3 innings. DiScarcina wasn’t the least bit discouraged by those stats.
“The steps he’s taken have been outstanding,” he said. “He’s been called up to the big leagues twice. That’s pretty darn good for a kid his age.
“I think he has to get to the point where he manages all four pitches and if he doesn’t have his best sinker, he can fall back on his curveball and slider. Right now, he’s in and out. He just needs to get repetitions out there.”