In his first major league action last July, Drake Britton immediately endeared himself to Red Sox Nation by not allowing a run in his first nine appearances. While he faded down the stretch, Britton remained in Boston’s bullpen for the rest of the season and gave a glimpse of the pitcher that he could soon become. However, there are still plenty of unanswered questions about the 24-year old southpaw that could become clear in the upcoming season.
Three years ago, Britton was the top pitching prospect in the Red Sox farm system. He profiled as a hard-throwing lefty who had the potential to make it as a mid-rotation big league starter. However, Britton did not live up to expectations that season as he posted a horrific 6.91 ERA in his first taste of High-A Salem. Britton opened the 2012 season with more struggles in Salem, but after being largely forgotten by Red Sox fans and prospect analysts alike, he turned his season around, earning a promotion to Double-A Portland and posting a respectable 3.72 ERA there.
Britton’s 2013 season got off to a rocky start as he was arrested for a DUI in spring training. However, his performance put the critics to rest as he posted a 3.51 ERA in Portland before being promoted to Pawtucket and then to Boston in the span of a few weeks.
Britton began his MLB career in an unfamiliar role: the bullpen. Britton had only pitched four games in relief in his entire minor league career, but he got off to a quick start in Boston. He threw nine shutout appearances to open his career; however, he struggled once hitters got a better look at his stuff. Still, he showed a fair amount of promise as he posted a 3.86 ERA in 18 games (21 innings pitched) along with a 7.29 K/9 and 3.00 BB/9, suffering from a .339 BABIP that was a few notches over the league average.
If anything, Britton’s performance in his cup of coffee raises more questions about him in the long run. He had been a starting pitcher throughout his entire minor league career, but now appears to be destined for the bullpen. All things considered, however, Britton’s ceiling is not all that far below what it always has been.
If Britton focuses on relief and puts his off-the-field issues behind him, then he has the potential to turn into a dominant reliever. His mid-90’s fastball and solid slider should be a good tandem for him in the future as he strives to anchor a major league bullpen. Britton may never be an elite closer, but it is well within his reach to become an above-average middle reliever or even a setup man, and that has plenty of value in and of itself.