Early Sunday morning, Ryan Dempster announced he will not be playing baseball in 2014 do to physical reasons and the desire to spend more time with his family. The Boston Red Sox will likely place Dempster on the restricted list, which will save the team $13.25 million this season. While many will speculate whether or not this money saved will allow the financial freedom for the Red Sox to sign Stephen Drew, that is not the type narrative one would turn to Grading on the Curve for, but instead, the question becomes what young pitchers will this create opportunities for?
In the immediate, it will appear the starting rotation is set to feature Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholtz, Jake Peavy, and Felix Doubront, but now the depth will come from rookies. Pawtucket is expected to have the best rotation in all of minor league baseball, but just one injury on the big league club and those arms in Pawtucket may be making the trip to Boston.
Let me start with the two starting options that probably fit better in the bullpen than the starting rotation, Drake Britton and Rubby De La Rosa. Britton will remind many of Lester when watching him, as he has a very similar pitching motion, is left-handed, and even has the slightly crooked hat. While Britton may have the stuff to eventually become a number four or five starter, his mid-90s fastball, good change, and decent slurve can make him an effective arm out of the bullpen, and not just as a LOOGY. Meanwhile, De La Rosa is a prototypical late-inning reliever profile. The Red Sox don’t seem to be done experimenting with him as a starter, but they should be. He has received at least a taste of big league ball each of the past three seasons, but was limited to just one appearance in 2012 as he worked his way back from an August 2011 Tommy John Surgery. His fastball can touch triple digits with movement and can really pull the string on a change. His slider would likely be scratched in a relief role as it is average at best.
In terms of guys ready to jump into the rotation, Brandon Workman got the most work in 2013, although just three of his 20 appearances came as a starter. He proved to be effective in relief in October, but a future in the rotation is still the hope for Workman. His mid-90′s fastball and solid cutter carried him through those relief outings, but he can spin a decent curve, and has a change he can throw at times, but it still needs work. Due to his success in October, Workman would likely be the first man up from Triple-A, assuming he doesn’t make the squad out of camp.
The other starter that got time in the big leagues last year is Allen Webster. The key prospect in the blockbuster trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012, Webster really struggled at the highest level in 2013. He allowed nearly a run an inning, and surrendered seven home runs in eight appearances. Despite his 2013 struggles, there is plenty of upside left in Webster’s arm, with a fastball that can regularly touch 97 MPH and a sinker that can induce ground balls all day long, he just needs to trust it. His struggles began as he tried to get accustomed to multiple call-ups followed by quick trips back to Triple-A. He also tried to become a strike out pitcher rather than trusting the stuff that got him to the big leagues. He has the upside of a number two starter, but could easily fit into the middle of a rotation.
Anthony Ranaudo is the last prospect arm on the 40-man roster, and has not yet made his big league debut, which he shouldn’t until late 2014. He had an excellent season in 2013, but I have been on record doubting he is an impact arm. Don’t get me wrong, he will be a valuable starter in time, but he has the lowest ceiling of any of the highly touted Red Sox pitching prospects. I would give him a ceiling of a number four starter, but I would also give him a floor of a number five starter that throws 200 innings. Ranaudo is not the type of guy that will change the fortunes of a team heading down the stretch, but when he reaches the big leagues for good, he will put up numbers very similar to a guy like Bronson Arroyo. He won’t wow anyone, but can go out there every fifth day, eat innings, and give a powerful Red Sox lineup a chance to win.
The final starting prospect that is liklely to get a shot this season (I don’t see Henry Owens being in the mix until mid-2015 at the earliest) is Matt Barnes. When the Red Sox drafted Barnes in the first round of the 2011 draft, 19th overall, it was not because of his upside, but instead because he would be a quick mover through the minors. That has proven prophetic, as in his second season in the minors, he reached Triple-A. He is not yet on the 40-man roster, but that is merely because there wasn’t anyone the Red Sox wanted to designate for assignment this off-season, and Barnes was not Rule 5 eligible. Barnes is another mid-to-back of the rotation guy, but he has more impact potential than a guy like Ranaudo.
The Red Sox have a solid five-man rotation, and with all the arms sitting in the high minors, they are also as well equipped as any team in baseball to fill in should there be any injuries in that starting rotation.