The Red Sox surprised exactly no one when they optioned Allen Webster to the minor leagues before last Monday’s game. Put simply, Webster has been a mixed bag this spring, allowing seven runs and seven walks in 12 innings pitched, while occasionally flashing his top notch potential.
Webster was one of the big names, along with Rubby De La Rosa, acquired in the ‘mega-deal’ with the Dodgers in August of 2012. Primarily a shortstop in high school, the Dodgers turned him into a top-flight pitching prospect. Webster might possess the best arsenal of any Boston prospect. He throws a plus fastball and a plus changeup as well as an above-average, mid-80′s slider. Webster pitched decently in Triple-A last season, though he did surrender 43 walks and 16 hit-by-pitches, only to get shelled upon being recalled to the Majors. Despite Webster’s shortcomings, he hasn’t lost the faith of the Boston front office and is likely the first in line to get a call up to Boston in the event of an injury.
Most of Webster’s problems can be largely attributed to poor command, especially of his fastball, as he becomes prone to hard contact and home runs when that pitch suffers. Webster’s future in the Major Leagues appears to be tied to his ability to consistently command his offerings and build on his mechanics. It was Webster’s inability to control his pitches that led to a rocky major league debut last April. Ultimately he needs to learn to consistently harness his pitches to succeed as a Major League starter
After getting rocked in his Grapefruit league debut against the Twins (three earned runs, one hit-batsmen, and one walk in only 1.2 innings pitched), Webster received some help from Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Clay Buchholz regarding his delivery. After taking their advice, and exaggerating his motions in a bullpen session, Webster came out guns blazing in his next start against the Marlins. The 24-year-old only needed 30 pitches to waltz through three innings of one-hit baseball.
It is possible that Webster can be converted into a dominating reliever at the highest level, if he can’t consistently reign in his fastball. While this might be perceived as a waste of Webster’s immense talents, a 1-2 punch of Webster and likely future-closer Rubby De La Rosa is nothing to sneeze at.
That said, Webster’s poise this spring isn’t reminiscent in the slightest of the shaky, nervous pitcher who started seven games for Boston last summer. After dominating the Marlins, Webster struggled against the Orioles, but bounced back with an impressive showing against the Rays. While the box score wasn’t favourable, Webster worked around three walks and managed to hold himself together as his defence unravelled around him.
The outing against the Rays marked a step forward for Webster, as he was able to locate his fastball and keep his pitches down in the zone. His two-seamer has the potential to be an absolutely devastating pitch, provided he can continue to employ it like he did against the Marlins and Rays.
Obviously, assuming Webster can get it together, his future as a starting pitcher is blindingly bright. Wielding three pitches with plus potential, there probably isn’t anyone in Boston’s system that can rival his pure stuff. But prospects aren’t perfect, and its a miracle that guys pan out the way they do. I’m not saying Allen Webster will for sure be ‘the next big thing’ but he will be a Major Leaguer. His ability to bring his pitches, notably his fastball, under control will dictate his future in the Bigs, whether as a starter, a reliever, or a flash-in-the-pan, flame out prospect