Which pitching prospect gets first call for Red Sox?
Many a baseball pundit has criticized the somewhat ragged collection of starting pitchers that the Red Sox assembled during the offseason. The Red Sox lack a true frontline starter and will be counting on a number of bounce-back years from their starters to contend this season. However, even if the rotation doesn’t work out perfectly for the Red Sox, they’ll have relief in their three high-ranking pitching prospects currently languishing in Triple-A Pawtucket. As injuries begin to affect Boston’s pitching staff, the Red Sox will have to dip into their promising trio of Brian Johnson, Henry Owens, and Eduardo Rodriguez. The only question is who will get the call first.
One’s first reaction might be to say Owens would be first. Owens is the highest ranking prospect of the bunch and, despite being just 22 years of age, Owens has the most experience at Triple-A among the three as he received seven starts with the PawSox last season.
However, though Owens is an incredibly promising pitcher and could very well anchor Red Sox rotations for years, his development has lagged behind the other two. Owens has succeeded in the minors largely due to deception rather than elite stuff or command. He has struggled with walks throughout his minor league career (even walking 4 batters in 6.1 innings in his first start this season) and has not yet developed a reliable third pitch.
Similar concerns exist with Rodriguez. Though the prospect dubbed “E-Rod” has thrived in the minors largely due to an excellent fastball. While his change has the potential to be a plus pitch going forward, it doesn’t compare to Owens’ change that is described as one of the best pitches in the minor leagues. In addition, Rodriguez has had some trouble with walks throughout his minor league career and he’ll need to prove that is behind him before seeing major league time.
The first pitching prospect who receives a call to Boston this season will likely be neither of those names. If the Red Sox are forced to dip into their reserves soon, the best-prepared prospect may be unheralded lefty Brian Johnson.
The Red Sox made those feelings very clear in spring training this year, when they gave Johnson a long look even towards the end of the spring season. Johnson made seven appearances this spring (including three starts) and posted a 4.50 ERA with a 10.4 K/9 and 4.1 BB/9. Those walk numbers would be concerning, but they can likely be chalked up to small sample size as Johnson has walked 2.9 batters per nine in his minor league career and only had a 2.4 BB/9 in 143.2 innings last season.
While Johnson will probably never be a star for the Red Sox, and he might never even see the first half of the team’s rotation, he has the potential to be a solid back-end starter for years to come and he isn’t far from reaching that ceiling. Of these three prospects, Johnson is the farthest along in his development as he already sports above-average command and four average-to-better pitches. He’s not the sexiest name on this list by any means, but if you’re betting on which one gets the first call, the smart money is on Johnson.