When one tends to think of a true enigma pitching prospect, one who has a sky-high ceiling but also a cavernous floor, there are really three traits that come to mind: great stuff, mediocre control, and generally inconsistent results. When one tends to think of Rubby De La Rosa, the 24-year old Red Sox farmhand with a sky-high ceiling but also a cavernous floor, there are really three traits that come to mind: great stuff, mediocre control, and generally inconsistent results. See the comparison? Good. Now, let’s break De La Rosa down and see just what type of pitcher he could become and what type of pitcher he likely will become in a few years’ time.
Let me emphasize again: great stuff, mediocre control, and generally inconsistent results. In 2011, De La Rosa was widely considered a Top 100 prospect in all of baseball and made an impressive debut as a rookie with the Los Angeles Dodgers, going 4-5 with a 3.71 ERA and relatively strong peripherals anchored by his 8.9 K/9 rate.
Unfortunately, De La Rosa’s rookie campaign was cut short as the young right-hander went under the knife for Tommy John Surgery. De La Rosa only made one appearance with the Dodgers in 2012 after recuperating for much of the year, and then being included as the “player to be named later” in a trade Red Sox nearly as soon as he was healthy.
Ready to go in 2013, but still not fully healthy, the Red Sox were cautious regarding De La Rosa in the early going. He got off to a quick start for the PawSox, but began to falter after a superb June, perhaps due to fatigue coming off two short seasons. De La Rosa finished 2013 with a 4.26 ERA in Pawtucket, with both his impressive strikeout rate (8.5 K/9) and lackluster walk rate (5.4 BB/9) firmly on display.
In 2014, however, De La Rosa should be in good form. He will be multiple seasons removed from Tommy John Surgery and should be ready to augment his innings count and hopefully improve his performance. The only question remaining is in what capacity he will accomplish this task.
At this stage in his career, De La Rosa still has the potential to be anything. He was used primarily as a starter last season, except for his 11 relief appearances in Boston, and ought to be able to up his innings and really take the next step towards being a Major League starting pitcher. However, with such a high walk rate, one has to wonder if he would be better in a relief role where he could truly tap into his great velocity, as De La Rosa has touched 100 mph on numerous occasions.
Personally, I fully expect that the Red Sox will follow their normal progression and utilize pitchers as starters for as long as possible. If De La Rosa can become an above-average starting pitcher, he will be more valuable than he would be as an excellent reliever, so it is best to try and fulfill that potential. If the Red Sox have injuries in the starting rotation or bullpen next year, then De La Rosa will be one of the first ones to be promoted and I expect that that is when we will truly get a sense of who will be going forward.