As the Red Sox continue to search for capable relievers to make up their bullpen, Marcus Walden has consistently proven that he’s the right man for the job.
Most of the Boston Red Sox roster is set in stone for Opening Day. The reigning world champs are lucky enough to bring back most of the players from last year, aside from a couple of high-profile relievers. It’s highly unlikely that there will be any changes to the infield, outfield or rotation. The bullpen, however, seems to have a few holes that are waiting to be filled.
Even the most optimistic Red Sox fan knows that this core of relievers isn’t exactly awe-inspiring. Losing big names like Joe Kelly and presumably Craig Kimbrel is worrisome. The organization will now instead have to put a lot of its faith in lesser-known pitchers in big spots and late in games.
Upon closer look, however, there are a few potential diamonds in the rough that could step up and play crucial roles for the Red Sox in 2019. Among the disappointments like Tyler Thornburg and Carson Smith, there are also under-the-radar relievers who are still vying for roster spots.
One of them is Marcus Walden. The name may sound somewhat familiar to die-hard fans considering his eight appearances last year, but it’s likely that most won’t recognize him.
There isn’t a lot of chatter surrounding the 30-year-old reliever. He isn’t a top prospect and his stuff isn’t mind-blowing. Still, the reliable right-hander has earned himself an opportunity on this team that desperately needs reliability out of the bullpen.
Coming off of a superb spring training in 2018, Alex Cora decided that Walden earned a spot on the Opening Day roster. He pitched well in his few appearances, managing a 3.48 ERA without ever blowing a game.
After being sent down to the minors for the second time in May, he remained there for the rest of the season. Much like Bobby Poyner, Walden wasn’t banished to Pawtucket because of his performance, but because the team needed to make room for a fresh arm and both guys just happened to still have minor league options.
As the Red Sox really started rolling, both Poyner and Walden were essentially forgotten by fans and left off the playoff roster. Now that the team is short on talented relievers, it’s time for at least one of these pitchers to once again be given a chance.
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Unlike Poyner, Walden has put together yet another impressive spring training. Thus far, he boasts a 1.13 ERA with eight strikeouts and only two walks. It’s foolish to put too much stock into these numbers, but they are certainly worth discussing given the free agent departures, Steven Wright’s unexpected suspension, Ryan Brasier’s nagging toe injury and the lack of production from most other relievers this spring.
Compared to the ghastly ERAs of Thornburg (15.75 ERA) and Poyner (8.22), it’s hard to argue that Walden doesn’t deserve a spot over them. It’s also worth mentioning that Thornburg hasn’t really been effective since 2015 and doesn’t have a guaranteed contract, while Poyner still has a few minor league options left.
Some fans will clamor for exciting phenom Darwinzon Hernandez over Walden, but it’s easy to poke holes in that plan. The 22-year-old only has six innings of experience above Single-A so promoting him to the bigs could easily spell disaster. The same goes for fellow prospect Durbin Feltman, who has yet to ever pitch above Single-A. Both pitchers need at least a little more time to work their way through the system before getting to the bigs.
Hernandez is also talented enough to thrive as a starter one day. Converting him to the bullpen now would be an extremely short-sighted move that could handicap his vast potential later on. Instead of risking that, the Red Sox are much more inclined to go with a safe choice.
Walden may not be the most exciting name in the competition, but he does seem to be the most logical. No one is expecting this guy to become the next Kimbrel or even the next Brasier but if he can maintain his consistency and hold opposing offenses at bay when needed, then he will be a more than ideal solution to the ongoing bullpen conundrum,