Within the Boston Red Sox pitching prospects is a warning flag and that is walks. Control is notorious for impeded pitching development.
There is a disease in the Red Sox system, but other teams in baseball also have similar issues with this disease that is concentrated on pitchers. I speak of walks and not the occasional walk you may get from a Chris Sale, David Price, or even newcomer Ryan Brasier. For the Red Sox, the main infection is the bullpen where supposed stalwarts Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree, Joe Kelly, and closer Craig Kimbrel all are in excess of 4.0 BB/9.
Walks are a poison and especially when they lead off an inning. Much of the noted bullpen misery has circulated around the “free pass” or “Gimmie” that re-enforces the old adage a walk is as good as a hit. But what about the minors?
The Red Sox top ten prospects list starts with the second-ranked prospect and first-round draft pick (2016) and that means 20-year-old lefty, Jay Groome. Groome suffered the usual arm disaster so prevalent among pitchers – Tommy John Surgery – and will be out until sometime in 2019, but the BB/9? In 62 innings Groome has a 4.9 BB/9 and I don’t want to say Henry Owens just yet.
The fourth-ranked prospect is a 19-year-old right-hander Bryan Mata. Mata has quite an upside, but also a potential downside – a 7.3 BB/9 in 72 innings at Salem (A+). There is a bit of hope since Mata posted a 3.0 BB/9 in 2017 with Greeneville (A) in 77 innings.
Another first round pick (2017) is a 22-year-old righty, Tanner Houck. Has Houck caught the disease? Houck made 23 starts in 2018 for Salem and tossed 119 innings. Houck also issued an alarming number of walks that translated to a 4.5 BB/9. Up from 3.2 BB/9 in 2017. A 1.43 WHIP for Houck. Houck is ranked fifth according to MLB Pipeline.
Is there anyone who can throw a strike? Let’s look at the seventh prospect and that is 22-year-old lefty Darwinzon Hernandez who made 23 starts for Salem and had a 5.3 BB/9. Hernandez moved on to Portland (AA) and worked out of the bullpen for five games and gave into hitters six times in six innings.
How about Pawtucket (AAA)? Can anybody throw a strike among our top ten prospects? Sequestered at Pawtucket is a 24-year-old right-hander Mike Shawaryn who split his season between Portland and the soon to be WooSox. The combined 2.3 BB/9 in 149.1 innings is impressive among the top ten.
There is one potential gem as you dig a bit deeper into the prospect list and go beyond the top ten and come upon a 21-year-old righty Durbin Feltman. Feltman is a third-round pick (2018) who advanced rapidly in the system with three teams on his stat sheet. Feltman got some notoriety in 2018 with his name being mentioned as a future closer.
Feltman throws hard and Feltman throws with accuracy. Granted that the 23.1 innings is a relatively small sample, but a 1.9 BB/9 and 13.9 K/9 shows some real potential. Expect Feltman to start with Portland in 2019 and if he continues on the fast track Feltman may surface in Boston.
I have no idea on the walk issue within the system. Is it experimental with pitchers attempting to refine certain pitches? Is it just a maturity issue especially for those coming out of high school? I will dismiss the idea of coaching since there are some with excellent BB/9 stats and others that are putrid.
The idea is to get to the major leagues since that is where the real money potential is. But if a pitcher cannot consistently locate the impact will eventually surface as you move up the baseball ladder. Fall behind and hitters will take advantage and invariably pitchers who walk a lot of batters also pitch from behind.