Trey Ball: a season of steady progress


Only one positive came from the Red Sox’ horrific 2012 season, in which they endured the Bobby Valentine debacle en route to a 69-93 season. The Red Sox received the seventh overall draft pick, the highest that Boston had picked since they selected Trot Nixon (also seventh overall) in 1993. That early pick allowed the Red Sox to have their choice of the elite talent that they have rarely had the opportunity to grab towards the end of the first round and, with that pick, the Red Sox selected Trey Ball.

Ball was a bit of a surprising choice for the Red Sox, but that has nothing to do with a lack of talent. With first-round picks, the Red Sox have traditionally made the safe pick, selecting the high-floor college player over the risky high schooler. Before Ball, Boston had taken a college player with their first pick in each of the past three seasons, making the selection of Ball a complete departure from the Red Sox norm.

Looking back to June of 2013, the Red Sox had a very strong farm system. Aside from Xander Bogaerts, though, that farm system was primarily strong because of the high quantity of players that were likely to become solid regulars, rather than being a system full of groundbreaking talent. The decision to select Ball could be attributed to a desire to add a bit of elite talent and risk to Boston’s high-floor group of prospects, and he has certainly fit that role since signing with the Red Sox.

Ball was always considered a project, featuring an incredible ceiling but also high risk and a low floor. At 6’6″ and 190 pounds, the Indiana-born lefty offered plenty of projection. At the time of the draft, Ball already displayed a low-90’s fastball and smooth mechanics, pointing to a likely increase in velocity once he filled out a bit. And while Ball had little experience with a breaking ball, his change was very advanced for his age and has the potential to become an excellent pitch for him.

Despite Ball’s undeniable talent, however, he is still very raw and it would have been unreasonable to expect him to excel right off the bat.

Ball has certainly gone through some growing pains during his first year-and-a-half with the Red Sox and, on the whole, his 2014 season doesn’t look too impressive. In 22 starts for the Single-A Greenville Drive, Ball posted a 4.68 ERA while punching out just 6.1 batters per nine innings and walking 3.5, also allowing a disappointing 10.0 hits per nine innings (though that can be partially attributed to the poor defense in the low minors).

That looks like a very unimpressive debut season for a first-round pick, but it’s quite a bit more encouraging if one splits it in half. Ball’s first half of the season was simply terrible as he scuffled to a 7.07 ERA, allowing a .353 opponents’ batting average, walking 3.8 batters per nine and striking out only 5.8 over 9 starts before the Single-A All-Star break.

However, Ball really turned his season around in 13 second half starts. Ball cut his ERA by more than half, lowering it to 3.36 and he improved all of his other statistics as well, striking out batters at a 6.3 clip while walking only 3.4 per nine and cutting his opponents’ batting average to a much-improved .234 mark.

Even in the second half, Ball wasn’t perfect. He still didn’t strike out many hitters and, while he did limit hits effectively, his ERA drop can be partially attributed to a ridiculously high number of unearned runs (he allowed 16 unearned runs in the second half versus just 1 in the first). However, his improvement was certainly encouraging and he’ll look to build upon it next season.

The Red Sox will likely place Ball in High-A Salem next season, where he’ll look to deliver on some of his potential in his age 20 season. Going forward, it would be nice to see a rise in his strikeout numbers and some dip in his walk rate, while maintaining the opponents’ batting average of his second half.

However, even if Ball doesn’t excel next year, it’s no cause for alarm. He is a phenomenal talent who will go through some rough patches, with 2014’s first half likely not the end of those struggles. Still, he has the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the Red Sox organization and, while he’s still very far from Boston, soon we should hopefully see him begin to develop into the ace that he is projected to be one day.