Boston Red Sox prospect watch: Chandler Shepherd


The Boston Red Sox have had a Black Friday sale with prospects as the ranking has had considerable shifting. Chandler Shepherd may be a bullpen name you hear in 2018.

The Red Sox farm system has certainly taken a hit in recent weeks as Dave Dombrowski has used prized prospects as bait to get established talent. The result is a shift in rankings within the system where formerly lower ranked prospects suddenly find themselves elevated. That, quite naturally, is a bit misleading.

I saw Chandler Shepherd for one game in the Cape Cod League in 2013 and in one game last season with Pawtucket. Not much to base an opinion on, but there are certainly other sources such as Baseball America and Major League Prospect Watch where Shepherd is now ranked 13th in the system.

What Shepherd does have is a relatively nice fastball that will occasionally top out at 95 MPH in his three-quarter arm slot positioning. The plus pitch is his slider and I saw that at Pawtucket – terrific drop or as scouts would say “bite” to it. The righty also has a changeup that he is – as with his other offerings – able to spot with a degree of consistency to increase his effectiveness.

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Shepherd was drafted by Boston in the 13th round in 2014 after three seasons at the University of Kentucky. At Kentucky, Shepherd drifted between relief and starter, but his most effective stretch was out of the bullpen as a sophomore posting a 5-0 record. In the Cape League Shepherd was ranked the 46th prospect in the league.

Shepherd has advanced rapidly within the Red Sox system, starting out in Lowell and moving up the organizational ladder to Pawtucket for half the 2016 season. At Pawtucket Shepherd made one of his only two starts in his brief minor league career, but worked his other 17 games out of the bullpen getting one save.

What sets Shepherd apart is his control – a topic of considerable concern among other Red Sox pitchers. In 164.1 minor league innings, Shepherd has a BB/9 of 2.0. As Shepherd has progressed within the system strikeouts have decreased and contact is up – an expected consequence when advancing to a higher classification. At Pawtucket Shepherd posted a K/9 6.1 and in the first half while at Double-A Portland the K/9 was 11.7. At Pawtucket the Triple-A hit .230 off Shepherd and his GO/A was 0.92.

Shepherd is currently finishing off the Dominican Winter League season where he pitches for Escogido. In 6.1 innings over six games, Shepherd has issued no walks, allowed four hits, two runs and fanned six. The Dominican League usually has rosters that take on the size of the Boston telephone directory – at least when we had them – so extensive work is not expected.

What happens next for Shepherd?

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He reminded me of another Red Sox pitcher who did a respectable job out of the bullpen – I thought of Shepherd as a young version of Scott Atchison. Very similar “stuff,” physical appearance and pitching style. No gray hair on Shepherd.

Shepherd will be in the Pawtucket bullpen and with the depth in Boston any Shepherd appearance will mean disaster has struck or a late season beckoning for a look as the Red Sox prepare for the playoffs. The long-term projections for Shepherd is a middle inning go to pitcher, but that may not happen until 2018 or 2019.

This is the type of minor league talent that rarely gets the up in lights attention of higher ranked prospects, but sometimes those are the exact players that will – like Atchison – did fill an important role.

Why Shepherd?

Shepherd may just become a Red Sox code word for developing serviceable pitching talent that can function out of the bullpen. The convincing point for me was the recent contract for two Boston relievers – Junichi Tazawa and Brad Ziegler.

The two contracts they signed brought a new perspective for me. Is this what the market will be like in the future for bullpen arms? Tazawa is receiving $6,000,000 for 2017 and 2018 and based on 2016 innings pitched that is $120,000 per inning. That is more per inning than Rick Porcello.

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Anything Boston can squeeze out of their farm system that can provide competent relief will simply save a boatload of dough.