The Red Sox are fragile, or at least their starting pitchers are. From Clay Bucholz to John Lackey to Jake Peavey, the Boston hurlers have missed more than their fair share of time with neck, elbow, shoulder and bicep injuries over the last few years. And of their healthy starters, only John Lester offers a dependable performance, with Felix Doubront and Ryan Dempster each sporting career American League ERA’s of over 4.60. Yet while a lack of durability could a glaring weakness and a potential fatal flaw on most teams, there is a silver lining to the injuries that could plague the Red Sox in 2014 as it could Boston’s wealth of young starters a chance to showcase their talents on the Fenway Park mound.
There are several teams with more upside in their minor league rotations than Boston – the Royals have Kyle Zimmer and Yordano Ventura, the Astros have Lance McCullers and Mark Appel, the Pirates have Jameson Taillon, and the Diamondbacks have Archie Bradley – but no team has as many talented starters tottering on the threshold to the major leagues.
23 year old Allen Webster, the 46th overall prospect in baseball according to MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, struck out over a batter per inning in Triple-A Pawtucket last year and actually saw limited major league action. Although he did struggle in those few big league starts, he was the central prospect in the deal that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Carl Crawford to Los Angeles. and its impossible to write off a pitcher with his stuff and pedigree after just 30.1 innnings.
Henry Owens, the 52nd overall prospect, pitched to a 1.78 ERA over six Double-A Portland starts last season after successfully tearing through High-A Salem. Baseball America was even higher on Owens, ranking him as the second best prospect in the Red Sox System, ahead of Webster and outfielder Jackie Bradley, whom Mayo listed as the BoSox second best prospect. Only 21, he is unlikely to see much action this year, but considering how fast he’s risen thus far, a late season call up is not out of the question.
Matt Barnes, the 54th overall prospect, had a 3.41 FIP at Portland last year before getting in one scoreless outing in Pawtucket to close out his season. His 4.13 ERA from last season is somewhat disconcerting, but his strong peripherals should translate into better greater statistical success next season. This is a kid who was considered by some, including ESPN’s Keith Law, to be a possible top ten pick in the 2011 draft. That inflated ERA is the main reason he is not higher on most prospect lists.
Anthony Ranaudo, the 80th overall prospect, had a 2.96 ERA between Pawtucket and Portland last season, striking out 8.2 batters per nine. Polished out of LSU, Ranaudo was supposed to reach Fenway quickly, and with his elbow troubles seemingly behind him, he should see major league action in 2014.
These starters make Boston uniquely equipped to weather any potential – and probable – injury to their rotation. All four of them, with the possible exception of Owens, will be major league ready by next summer at the latest. Remember, injuries prompted Jon Lester‘s promotion in 2006, and a last minute back injury to Tim Wakefield led to a rookie Clay Bucholz receiving a start on September 1, 2007, the day of his miraculous no hitter. Rookie Shortstop Xander Bogaerts and rookie centerfielder Jackie Bradley may get all the attention out of spring training this year, but Barnes, Ranaudo, and Webster could have just as big an impact.