Who has the best shot at making the Red Sox pitching roster?
By Rick McNair
The Boston Red Sox may have just one opening available on their pitching staff for the start of the season. Just what does the pitching configuration look like?
The spring training stage show is in full swing and the presentation for this current edition is the thining of the herd or pick of the litter. They may seem mutually exclusive, but both apply to just what will be the last configuration of the Red Sox bullpen? A bullpen that has two spokes missing from 2018 with the departure of Joe Kelly and the rejection of Craig Kimbrel.
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The Red Sox pecking order – to return to that expression – is moderately established. The cast does have some headliners with possible closer Matt Barnes (6-4, 3.65), surprising Ryan Brasier (2-0, 1.60), Brandon Workman (6-1, 3.27), and Heath Hembree (4-1, 4.20) being the basic core, but changes in the fluid construction of a bullpen can happen such as Steven Wright being jettisoned for 80 games over a PED issue.
The remaining is certainly open to debate with Brian Johnson (4-5, 4.17) and Hector Velazquez (7-1, 3.18) both being potential holdovers thanks to versatility and flexibility both bring to the baseball table. A spot start, long relief, short relief is all part of their proven skill set. Dependable, but not flashy.
The injury parade has two of note who are both in what may be the last stages of attempting to resuscitate their careers. Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg have faced horrific injury circumstances and if patience is a management virtue it may be needed with both. Long shots at this juncture unless a visit to the healing waters of Lourdes has taken place and a miracle recovery saves both. But what about the rest?
If my calculator is performing as expected that means six pitchers for the long strut to the bullpen and five for the rotation. The Red Sox are certainly expected to go with a now almost standard 12 man staff and one position are up for the competition committee to make a decision. Handicapping this race I would say Smith and Thornburg are a scratch.
Bobby Poyner has a genetic advantage being left-handed, but genetics can be brutal since Poyner is one not noted for speed with just a lukewarm fastball. I will forgo the speed bias and simply state if you can get outs it’s the results that count and not the method. Poyner also had a reasonable amount of success last season despite allowing four home runs in 22.1 innings.
The Red Sox tryouts do not necessarily doom a player to a purgatory unless you consider – as I do – Pawtucket a purgatory. Lefty Josh Taylor could unseat Poyner with some positive appearances as could righty Colten Brewer. The Red Sox also have Jenrry Mejia is the mix and Mejia does have more career saves (28) than drug suspensions (3).
The rest is in a make a positive impression mode that worked rather well for Brasier last season. A trip to Pawtucket does not mean you are vanquished. Marcus Walden showed that. Maybe a Trevor Kelley a 36th round draft pick will show that. Or a real long shot in Daniel McGrath since he is from Australia and that is about as long as it gets from Boston.
There is also the trade option and at any moment a shift in roster can take place and the pecking order changes. Then there is the ill-fated otherwise known as an injury, but put both of those on hold and concentrate on the here and now. The Red Sox may have just a lone opening unless Brasier’s toe keeps him sidelined. That one place is where a bad day on the bump can consign a pitcher to that sent to minor league complex statement.