Red Sox pitching prospects could have a trial by fire in 2020

CLEARWATER, FLORIDA - MARCH 07: Tanner Houck #89 of the Boston Red Sox delivers a pitch against the Philadelphia Phillies in the second inning of a Grapefruit League spring training game on March 07, 2020 in Clearwater, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
CLEARWATER, FLORIDA - MARCH 07: Tanner Houck #89 of the Boston Red Sox delivers a pitch against the Philadelphia Phillies in the second inning of a Grapefruit League spring training game on March 07, 2020 in Clearwater, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The Boston Red Sox rotation is a wreck and that was before Chris Sale took a ten count. This presents both risks and opportunities for prospects.

If you are an agent with an unsigned client who happens to pitch then the world is a wee bit brighter for you and your client. The Boston Red Sox now have an abundance of opportunities for the unsigned and signed. Examining the list of free agents remaining unsigned does not elicit any great surge of confidence that a gem is somehow to be mined. What remains looks like the leftovers of a garage sale and that usually ends up in a dumpster.

In the category clearly defined as desperation, there have surfaced suggests that a visit be paid to Clay Buchholz. This to any reasonable Red Sox fan is most certainly evidence of the possible status of the rotation and that was before Chris Sale had the inevitable. If the sorting through the landfill is important I’d go with Andrew Cashner who was respectable out of the bullpen and a total meltdown in the rotation.

If pitching is (choose a percentage) part of the game and a starter gets you off on a positive trajectory then the Red Sox are coming out of the starting gate with not Eddie Arcaro but Fatty Arbuckle in the saddle. The race will be lost as soon as the smoke from the starting gun drifts away. But buried within the morass is an opportunity.

In 2019 the Toronto Blue Jays collectively decided that the race was over sometime before Canada Day. What it did was give the Jays what amounted to a trial run of pitchers. Youth must be served and often it is served on a platter that hitters love. With the pain hopefully becomes progress and reward. Ryan Borucki, T.J. Zeuch, and Elvis Luciano all got some mound time in.

What the Jays did was not usually as many other teams will raise the surrender flag and bring in the prospects for a short or long look. With failure comes opportunity be it on the mound or for position players. Boston will now have that potential with their small reservoir of prospect arms. Just what may happen?

Boston has already sifted through the free agent detritus and signed Collin McHugh and Martin Perez. Perez is a semi-established lefty who could match his ten wins with the Twins. McHugh – once a 19 game-winner – has done little in the last three seasons gathering in 15 total wins while confronting arm miseries. A typical high reward and low-risk acquisition.

The rest of the candidates for the Red Sox rotation or at least the notable front-runners are baseball fodder. Ryan Weber, Marcus Walden, Mike Shawaryn, and Chris Mazza are reclamation projects – the proverbial toss it against the wall and one may stick. Add Brian Johnson to the list since he has more stating time in the bigs than the previous three, but the ones that have promise or that great term – “potential” are the ones to watch. Lambs to slaughter? Maybe.

The most notable is Tanner Houck – a first-round pick (2017) – who was being groomed for bullpen duty at Pawtucket (AAA) but now might be in the mix for a rotation shot. Righty Houck has the scouting credentials and does have middle of the rotation potential.

Next up on the wish list is the left side and Darwinzon Hernandez who has already shown the dual faces of youth with either dynamic stuff or a walking marathon. This could be a “take the ball and good luck, kid” for see what flies.

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Deeper into the system is Bryan Mata another righty who made 21 starts last season between A+ and AA. Mata has the vigor and confidence of youth and the lack of pitching experience that comes with it. A very long shot to start the season in “The Show” but if Mata puts his skills together he may surprise.

Right-hander Noah Song may have as much raw ability as any Red Sox pitching prospect, but Song is a graduate of the Naval Academy and owes our uncle some service time. Then there is Jay Groome another number one pick (2016) who has made his life’s mission service time on the IL. Groome – a lanky lefty – is coming off “The Big One” for arm surgeries and could make rapid advancement if his skills are there.

Thad Ward is a righty who made 25 starts in the low bushes last season, but the righty kept the ball in the yard (0.4 HR/9) and posted a nice 2.14 ERA. Portland (AA) is Ward’s expected stop to start the season and where he finishes the season depends on Ward and the Red Sox pitching woes.

The Red Sox youth could be subjected to the lousy condition of minor league ball to start the season, but that “O” word (opportunity) is hovering. The Red Sox are certainly not shy about giving an arm a shot of one or two starts as schedule filler – just hope it doesn’t turn out like Charlie Zink.

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The youth is – at least for me – the way to go if it all starts to break down especially in the rotation. The results may not be pretty but the long-term could be quite positive providing the usual fragile psyche of pitching does not take an emotional toll.