Red Sox Take Chance On Mitchell Boggs

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The Boston Red Sox have made many signings and trades in the offseason, including bullpen acquisitions. However, there is the possibility that one relief pitcher, in particular, may make the most significant impact for Boston, and he isn’t even on the 40-man roster, yet.

Mitchell Boggs signed a minor league deal with the Red Sox, this January, after being granted free agency from the San Francisco Giants’ organization. If you are wondering how a 31-year-old pitcher, recently allowed to just sign anywhere, will be a big asset, you don’t have to look too hard to find out why. WEEI.com‘s Rob Bradford stated yesterday that “since participating in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, Boggs had been pitching with a hernia that progressively got worse all the way up until the decision to undergo surgery last October.”

Having a hernia is bad enough, but combine that with a 6’3″, 235-pound frame compounds the problem. All the big muscles and elongated movements from pitching, especially on a mound where you step down to project the ball, can throw the body out of alignment. The hernia would make each movement even worse, throwing off the proper mechanics:

"“€œIt wasn’€™t anything that was debilitating. I could still go out there and pitch. It just took its toll on me. I compromised a lot of things and I paid the price for it.” – Mitchell Boggs"

At the time of the initial pain, Boggs was playing for the St. Louis Cardinals, whom made him their closer in 2013. The native of Dalton, Georgia struck out an average of 51 opposing batters in roughly 66 innings a season, between 2009 and 2012. Boggs had “a 2.21 ERA in 78 appearances with the Cardinals, leading the National League in holds.

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His numbers, along with the fact that he had eight types of pitches in his arsenal, six of which he used with regularity, earned him the job to close out games (

FanGraphs.com

). Both his four-seam fastball and two-seamer ranged around 95 mph, his cutter and sinker moved at 94 mph, his slider was filthy at just under 88 mph, matched by a speedy changeup. Boggs’ splitter and curveball were rarely used after 2008, suggesting speed was the way he wanted to go in relief innings. So, Boggs just tried to push past the pain, as his dream was materializing.

Yet, judging by his pitch selection, there was not much room for error. Throwing that hard each time would add damage to his condition, with no slower pitch to, at least, take a break from the pain. Boggs never lost velocity throughout 2013, which suggests that his inevitable breakdown in his game came from questionable control. In just under 15 innings, Boggs allowed 18 runs, including three homers, on 21 hits. He walked 15 batters, while only striking out 11 hitters. Boggs finished with a ballooning 11.05 ERA, before the Colorado Rockies purchased his contract in July of that year. He didn’t fair much better, and was granted free agency.

In 2014, Boggs was signed in February by the Chicago White Sox, then released in the beginning of March, before being re-signed by the same Sox on March 30th. Clearly, there was a question of whether Boggs could regain his form. He was released once again in July, before being picked up by the Giants. Neither with the White Sox or Giants did Boggs see any major league work, as his minors experience saw him carry an 8.29 ERA in 37 games.

What got the Red Sox interested was his velocity and the surgery. If the only thing keeping him from locating his pitches was the hernia, then corrective surgery was exactly what should have been done before, in St. Louis. It just took Boggs this long to figure it out. What sold him on the Red Sox was the chance to compete for a major league position in the bullpen, something Boston has struggled with, recently. Other than 40-year-old closer Koji Uehara, the Red Sox have been desperate with trades and signings to fix the relief issue. Boggs stated, “€œIt wasn’€™t depth for the entire year. It was a situation where they wanted me to come in and compete and try to make this team. That’€™s what I care about.”

If Boggs returns to form, he could serve as a good replacement for Uehara, whenever he decides to leave the game or if the game leaves him. That is, if he makes it to the 40-man active roster. Boggs can opt out of his contract if he does not make the big club by April 4th, but he has much to prove before then. That option should put more pressure on Boggs, not Boston, as many other acquired relievers will be fighting for the same spot. How many more teams will offer him a chance at the majors if he doesn’t shape up? If the surgery does not completely solve the location issues, Boggs may find himself located in the minors for the rest of his career, if he’s lucky.

He’s got explosiveness in his pitches. Let’s just see if those are controlled explosions.