September 30, 2012

On Baseball: Red Sox ponder future of pitching prospects

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

In this season of attrition and poor performances, the Boston Red Sox used 25 pitchers.

From his locker in the Pawtucket clubhouse, right-hander Alex Wilson watched a lot of teammates pack up for Boston.

"I got used to it," said Wilson, who never received the call himself.

"They don't have to make a decision about me until November. I understand it."

Soon, there will be decisions about the pitching staff on several levels.

In terms of the major league roster, many are still under Boston's control for 2013, including starters Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey and Felix Doubront, and at least 10 relievers, headlined by closer Andrew Bailey.

But there is another group of pitchers, including Wilson, whom the Red Sox could lose if the team does not add them to the 40-man roster.

Several of those pitchers will be minor league free agents, while four could be taken in the major league Rule 5 draft.

The Rule 5 draft is conducted in December. Players not on a team's 40-man roster who have been with their organization four or five years, depending on their age when they signed a pro contract, are eligible for the Rule 5 draft.

Wilson, for example, signed out of college and is in his fourth year with the Red Sox.

Pitcher Brock Huntzinger signed out of high school and has been with the Red Sox six years. He was Rule 5 eligible last year but was not taken. He has a better chance of being drafted this year if Boston does not protect him.

If another team takes a player in the Rule 5 draft, that player must stay on the 25-man major league roster all season or be returned to the original team.

Infielder/outfielder Ryan Flaherty of Portland was not protected on the 40-man roster by the Cubs last year. The Orioles drafted him, and he has been on Baltimore's major league roster all season.

Two other Red Sox minor league pitchers who could be picked in the Rule 5 draft are Josh Fields and Allen Webster.

Wilson, 25, was a second-round draft pick in 2009. He was moved to the bullpen this year and had a 3.72 ERA.

Fields, 27, was obtained in the Erik Bedard deal with Seattle last year. He was lights out in Portland (2.62) and even better in Pawtucket, not allowing an earned run in 10 outings.

Webster, 22, was one of the prizes in the Dodgers trade. Considered Los Angeles' No. 2 prospect, he is still raw but has a great arm.

Huntzinger, 24, moved to the Sea Dogs bullpen after four starts and went 4-1 with a 2.44 ERA as a reliever. He joined Pawtucket at the end of the season.

AT LEAST EIGHT other pitchers will be minor league free agents, meaning they have spent seven years with one team or have played for multiple teams. Most of them will not make the 40-man roster.

But three among that class stick out -- Steven Wright, Jose De La Torre and Michael Olmsted.

Olmsted, 25, had scouts buzzing this year as he seemed to come out of nowhere, with a 2.29 ERA in Class A and a 0.00 ERA in 14 innings with Portland. With a 97 mph fastball and effective slider, he quickly became valuable.

De La Torre, 26, seems like a long shot. He was acquired in July from Cleveland for utility player Brent Lillibridge. De La Torre puts up solid numbers everywhere he goes, including a 2.45 ERA in 12 Pawtucket outings.

Wright, 28, is a knuckleballer who was obtained from the Indians for Lars Anderson. Wright had a 3.15 ERA for Pawtucket and looks to be really developing his elusive pitch. Is he a career minor leaguer or the next R.A. Dickey?

Two other Pawtucket pitchers have a chance with Boston -- Will Inman and Billy Buckner.

Inman, 25, was in his eighth pro year with his third organization. The right-hander quietly put up excellent numbers, with a 2.23 ERA in 35 outings.

Buckner, 29, has pitched parts of four seasons in the majors (2007-10). He signed as a minor league free agent this year, and pitched in Portland (3.20 ERA) and Pawtucket (3.91).

The other three free agents are Nelson Figueroa and Tony Pena of Pawtucket and Portland's Caleb Clay.

It is a large group of pitchers the Red Sox have to consider.

"There's definitely no shortage (of arms)," Huntzinger said. "It's very competitive. You have to find a way to separate yourself."

Two dates to remember: The sixth day after the World Series concludes (major and minor league free agents can sign with other clubs), and Dec. 6 (the Rule 5 draft).

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at:

kthomas@pressherald.com

Twitter: ClearTheBases

 

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