Can Prospects Save The Red Sox’ Pen?

Breaking down four prospects who could impact the Sox bullpen down the stretch.

Andrew Bailey, Andrew Miller, Joel Hanrahan, Franklin Morales and Alex Wilson are all on the DL. If the playoffs started today, here’s what we’d probably be left with for a bullpen.

RHP LHP
Koji Uehara Matt Thornton
Junichi Tazawa Craig Breslow
Pedro Beato Drake Britton
Jose De La Torre/Brandon Workman

Yikes.

The Red Sox are likely going to have to make a move for another reliever before we reach mid-August, but as we all know too well, such rentals do not come cheaply. We’re not going to give up Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley or Garin Cecchini for a reliever, but the names we could have to give up might not thrill you either.

With that in mind, if push truly does come to shove, the Red Sox may need to look internally to solve the brunt of their bullpen needs this season. While the pickings may initially seem slim, I’d argue there are actually some intriguing, albeit inexperienced, options rising through the system.

Let’s break down four choices right now.

Drake Britton

Called up to the Red Sox just a few days ago, Britton has built on a decent 2012 campaign and taken a small step forward this season in Double-A. He’s striking out fewer batters than before with a 7.40 BB/9, but he’s also controlling the ball batter, hasn’t given up many homeruns and he posted a solid 3.51 ERA with a matching 3.40 WHIP in 97.1 IP in Portland. After one start in Triple-A, Britton now finds himself as a reliever in the big leagues.

No one has ever doubted Britton’s fastball, and as with any arm who transitions to the bullpen, there’s a possibility that the velocity will play up if he’s throwing in shorter stints. That’s not necessary for him to have success but it’s a welcome bonus, especially given that neither his curveball nor changeup profiles as a true outpitch. I’ve been advocating for a move to the pen for Britton for a while, so I’m happy to see the aggressive assignment here.

I don’t think Britton is a future closer and he may even fall short of becoming a setup man, too. But his ceiling is definitely higher than Craig Breslow’s, and this is a move that could easily pay dividends for the Sox. He was never going to be Jon Lester 2.0.

Rubby De La Rosa

Rubby De La Rosa could give the Sox' bullpen the boost it needs in the second half. Photo by Kelly O'Connor, sittingstill.net.

Rubby De La Rosa could give the Sox’ bullpen the boost it needs in the second half. Photo by Kelly O’Connor, sittingstill.net.

De La Rosa is the man many considered to be the best player the Red Sox received in the Nick Punto deal, and it’s somewhat surprising we haven’t seen him throw an MLB inning this season. The Red Sox have taken an uber-conservative approach to his recovery from Tommy John surgery, and the talented right-hander has thrown just 67 innings in 18 Triple-A starts: that’s good for just a little over 3.7 innings per game.

Statically speaking, De La Rosa is very much similar to the man he was before his injury. He’s walking way too many batters with a 4.70 BB/9, but he’s striking out over a batter per inning at a K/9 of 9.13.

I think the Sox are wise to give De La Rosa extra time to see if he can start, but they are in playoff contention right now and badly need the type of late-inning reliever De La Rosa could prove to be in short order. While changing roles for a guy who’s coming off an arm injury may give some pause, I have no problem putting RDLR on a strict innings count or disallowing him to pitch back-to-back days. If he can give Boston 20 high-leverage innings out of the pen before the season is over, that could be huge.

Allen Webster

This isn’t an overreaction to Webster’s abysmal trial in the majors this season: I still think he can and should be a starter long-term. But let’s not forget that before the season many believed Webster’s ultimate role could come as a closer, and that he could be a damn good one at that.

Despite his ugly MLB stats, Webster has pitched very well overall in Triple-A, posting a 10.24 K/9, 3.57 BB/9 and 3.41 ERA through 58 innings. You’d like to see him demonstrate an ability to go a bit deeper into games, and the 0.93 homer rate isn’t outstanding. Overall, though, things are trending up for the 23-year-old who’s getting his first crack at Triple-A.

What we’ve seen Webster struggle with most at the majors is an inability to control his fastball, as well as some reluctance to use his excellent changeup and obvious issues with command. If you let Webster air it out for one-to-two inning stints in the mid-to-late innings, that fastball is probably going to play up, making the changeup that much more effective, too. Webster might not be ready to start in the majors, but that doesn’t mean he can’t pitch there this year.

Brandon Workman

Overshadowed by higher draft picks, flashy trade acquisitions and pitchers with higher upsides, Workman has long been the most underrated of the Red Sox’ pitching prospects. In 91 innings across Double-A and Triple-A this season, Workman has done nothing but produce, posting an ERA of around 3.00 while striking out around a batter per inning. Now temporarily serving as a starter in the big league rotation, there are many who feel that Workman’s true potential lies as a reliever, and possibly one who can throw multiple innings at a time.

Workman’s delivery requires significant effort and he lacks a plus offspeed pitch, but his fastball is above average and his cutter is plus, which is why some believe his future will come in the 7th or 8th inning. I’m actually a proponent of making Workman prove that he can’t develop into a No. 4 starter and innings eater in the long run, but right now, the Sox need help.

If they decide to go for upside in the rotation and move De La Rosa or Webster there in August, look for Workman to move to the pen. If the two former Dodgers stay in the minors or get a shot in the bullpen, Workman may remain in Boston’s rotation until (we hope) Clay Buchholz comes off the DL.

There are other intriguing options on the farm as well. If strike-throwing isn’t really your think, perhaps you want to see Daniel Bard of Chris Carpenter get a shot. Maybe you miss Clayton Mortensen. Maybe 2006 was a good year for you and you like the sound of Brandon Lyon or Jose Contreras coming into a game. But odds are if the Red Sox are going to get significant reliever help from inside the organization, it will come from one of the four names mentioned above.

Categories: Alex Wilson Allen Webster Andrew Miller Boston Red Sox Brandon Workman Chris Carpenter Clay Buchholz Daniel Bard Drake Britton Franklin Morales Garin Cecchini Jackie Bradley Jon Lester Jose De La Torre Junichi Tazawa Matt Thornton Pedro Beato Portland Sea Dogs Rubby de la Rosa Xander Bogaerts

Ben is a graduate of Boston University with a degree in journalism and a love of all things Red Sox and minor league baseball. He has experience writing for Baseball Prospectus, NESN, RotoExperts, BU Today and other sites, and typically serves as an in-house MiLB writer. An editor for a business website by day, Ben likes to grill, sample IPAs and re-read Faulkner novels by night. He is an unabashed J.D. Drew apologist with a deep-seated fear of middle relievers. Follow Ben on Twitter here.

One Response to “Can Prospects Save The Red Sox’ Pen?” Subscribe

  1. Mike July 22, 2013 at 11:20 AM #

    Great article that raises the question at a timely moment. Maybe you could write another article on the external options and the potential price we would have to pay. I personally think we should look at internal options – I’m not sure there are good enough external options at the right price, and sooner or later we need to know which of our plethora of pitching prospects will be able to help this ballclub in the future.