Red Sox Season Preview Part 2: Pitching

[Boston Globe]

Spring training is fast approaching which means the Red Sox will finally get to see their new and improved pitching staff in action. This off-season, pitching was their number one priority. In fact, of all the major league players they acquired, all but one are pitchers. However, they did not simply acquire just any pitchers, they made sure to get the best. David Price and Craig Kimbrel are among the best pitchers the world has to offer; what in 2015 was a weakness for the Red Sox may now be a strength. However, the Red Sox will use spring training to sort through their many pitchers and decide on the best possible combination for the 2016 roster.


Starting Rotation


1. David Price

Price’s resume speaks for itself. As this offseason’s headline addition, Price comes on board with a brand new contract that ranks as the most expensive deal for a pitcher in baseball history. With that in hand, he has a lot to prove. As fans, we know what he can do during the regular season. This past season alone he stood out and came in second for the AL Cy Young despite being traded in the middle of the season. However his numerous accolades are sometimes overshadowed by his lack of postseason success. The move to Boston, however, should help as he has had great success in his career when pitching at Fenway park. Expect a great regular season from Price with possible Cy Young contention.


[CBS Sports]

2. Clay Buchholz

Besides David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, Buchholz ranks as the longest tenured Red Sox player. In that time he’s had his fair share of high points and many low points. Every year the same story seems to take place: Buchholz starts the year pitching well, a month or two in he goes through a rough stretch, he gets injured, and pitches with mediocre stats the rest of the way. But he knows 2016 has to be different- or at least he needs it to be. The Red Sox have a $13M team option for Buchholz for 2017 that without solid production they may not pick up. Besides that, he is expected to fill the role of the solid #2 pitcher behind Price. Clay Buchholz is certaintly an interesting story as he has gone from the assumed next homegrown ace to 2015 opening day starter, to a point of question. Will he be with Boston past this year? It all rests in his performance this year.


[Boston Globe]

3. Eduardo Rodriguez

ERod will always be the prospect that the Red Sox stole from the Orioles. He had always been highly touted, but it wasn’t until he became a Red Sox player that he began to truly excel. At just 22 years old, he has a lot of baseball ahead of him and the potential to become a great player. But in 2016, we should expect an above average pitcher. I expect him to grow upon his great start in 2015 and start on the path to eventually take over the #1 spot from David Price. However, for now he should be a solid pitcher and a young star on the rise.



4. Rick Porcello

Rick Porcello will be listed anywhere from the #2 to the #4 depending on where you look. In my eyes he is best suited for the fourth spot, whether he pitches in the fourth game of the year or not. I think this is the most accurate ranking for purely one reason: he has a lot to prove. His current President of Baseball Operations traded him away a year ago. Dombrowski, as Detroit’s GM, was being opportunistic by turning the Tiger’s strength of pitching into adding an offensive ‘playmaker’ in Yoenis Cespedes. However, this doesn’t overshadow the fact that Porcello was already dropped by his current boss and I wouldn’t be surprised if Dombrowski considered doing so again should things not go well for the right-hander. The number one job for Rick Porcello is to get back on track. When former GM Ben Cherrington traded for Porcello he expected him to develop into an ace caliber pitcher. On the 2016 team he doesn’t need to aspire to such expectations. However, he does need to produce. He has been at best compared to a fellow righty, Adam Wainwright, a pitcher that has seasons where he struggled early on but found it and excelled. At just 26 he still has the potential to rebound from a poor season in 2015 and get back on track. We could very well see a revived Rick Porcello in 2016.



5. Joe Kelly

If a best-case-scenario Rick Porcello is Adam Wainwright, a best-case-scenario Joe Kelly is Jake Arrieta. The 2015 NL Cy Young winner struggled mightily early on in his career with the Orioles and once he moved to the Cubs he turned his career around. Kelly hasn’t made the same transition to the Red Sox but there is reason to think he still possesses a high ceiling. The main form of encouragement is his great fastball. In late 2015 he improved his command leading to more effective secondary pitches and a 7 game winning streak where he pitched among the best pitchers in baseball. This promise which he put on display leads me to believe that is why he was retained over the southpaw now of the Mariners, Wade Miley. I must add, however, expectations in 2016 for Kelly should be limited. He is not at this point boom or bust and may wind up being solely a mediocre pitcher. However, I do at worst expect him to be an above average #5 pitcher.



Robbie Ross, LHP, #28 []

Robbie Ross Jr., LHP

Ross originally came over last offseason in a trade with the Texas Rangers and since then he has in many ways dazzled the Boston organization. While he may not be a stud shutdown reliever, he has shown he is more than capable in any role he is given. After Uehara went down in 2015 and Tazawa and Jean Machi proved incapable of taking on the closer role, Ross stepped in and handled it admirably. While he will not be a primary option late in the game he will be asked to contribute regularly. He fits the standard role of a long reliever because of his starting experience. Expect Ross’s numbers to look similar to those from 2015.


Tommy Layne, LHP

Layne has been a very reliable member of the Red Sox bullpen since he came up in 2014. He in best used in the role of a left specialist and will retain that role going forward. There was talk this offseason about potentially upgrading from Layne, but the Red Sox decided to stick with him. I feel that they made the right decision. After letting Craig Breslow leave this offseason, they will put more faith in Layne as one of the few lefties in the pen.



Steven Wright, RHP

The major roster battle to watch this spring training is Steven Wright versus Matt Barnes for a spot in the bullpen. This competition represents the only on the Sox’ current roster without a clear current favorite. However, there is reason to believe that with equal production, Wright has the advantage over Barnes. The first reason is contract status. Because of Barne’s contract he may be optioned to AAA Pawtucket and be recalled later on as both starting and relief pitching depth or should an injury occur. Wright, on the other hand, has exhausted his options and will either make the roster or be designated for assignment. The Sox have worked hard to develop Wright into a solid pitcher and would rather not lose him. The other reason is about the progress that Wright has made. As one of only a few Knuckle-ball pitchers in the majors right now, Wright represents a great weapon for the Sox out of the bullpen. Also with starting experience, he can make spot starts or go long distance should the Sox need it. Barnes also has this capability but Wright simply makes more sense for the Red Sox right now.



Junichi Tazawa, RHP 

Tazawa has been a very important piece of the Red Sox bullpen for a while now. As a set up man on the 2013 Championship team, he was used in many important situations and as the Miguel Cabrera antidote late in games. But he has been overused the last two years and needs his work to be spread out and conserved with hopes of good production in the playoffs once again. Tazawa should play a large role for the Red Sox, but hopefully slightly less often than he has had to in recent years.


Carson Smith, RHP

Carson Smith is perhaps the most underrated addition in baseball this year. As a member of Bleacher Reports midyear 20 for 20 all-MLB team, Smith has always been looked at as a potentially great reliever. He has also proved it in past seasons by putting up solid strikeout numbers while serving as a main bullpen options for the Mariners. In my eyes, Smith was a steal for the Red Sox as they only gave up Wade Miley in return. Smith should continue to produce as a member of the Red Sox and will hopefully reach his height as a once highly touted prospect.



Koji Uehara, SU

As fans we hate to admit it, but athletes all eventually get old. It’s never easy to see but it is by all means inevitable. Some of Boston’s favorite athletes are old: David Ortiz and Tom Brady. But that doesn’t stop them from playing at a high level. Uehara ranks among the oldest players in the MLB with other long time favorites like Bartolo Colon and Ichiro Suzuki. As the closer for the last 3 years and a former all-star with the Red Sox, Uehara has had a great run as closer but as he gets older his work load and pressure needs to decrease. That is why it is best that he move to the eighth inning this season. His pitching in the eighth should make the back end of the Sox bullpen scary alone.

[Boston Herald]

Craig Kimbrel, CL

This is the big catch of the offseason. Everyone knows to contend you need a workhorse leading your rotation. But you also need a strong power arm in the back of your bullpen. It’s been the common trend by the most successful teams recently. The Royals have found success with it from a bullpen featuring Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Kelvin Herrera. And most recently the rival Yankees have copied this strategy with a back-end featuring Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Dellin Betances. But with Junichi Tazawa, Carson Smith, Koji Uehara, and Craig Kimbrel, the Red Sox have quietly built one of the best bullpens in the league. Kimbrel has thoughout his career been a fantastic closer for both the Braves and Padres consistently posting ERAs of less than 2 and high strikeout numbers. He alone makes this bullpen prolific, but along with high level proformance from everyone else, it could be great.



There are a few players that have a shot at making the roster and should contribute for the Red Sox this season but will most likely not make the opening day roster. However, keep in mind that the opening day roster may not be representative of the entire season’s roster. In 2014 Grady Sizemore was the starting centerfielder to give some perspective. Henry Owens is a guy who was once and still is a well regarded prospect. However, the left did not have the smoothest of runs in the majors last year, it did not go poorly. He appears to be the odd man out at this point but is most likely the first alternate should there be any injury or lack of production. Brian Johnson faces a similar situation with less MLB experience. Johnson got injured shortly after coming up at the end of last season and has recovered. While he has a very small chance of making the opening day roster, if he shows he has mastered triple-A pitching, he will get an opportunity in the majors soon enough. Roneis Elias is a lefty acquired in the deal that brought Carson Smith back from the Mariners. He has experience both starting and relieving and has been effective in both roles. He should find his way onto the roster at some point, in what role I am not sure. Matt Barnes is competing with Steven Wright for a spot in the bullpen but also has starting experience. While he will likely begin the year in Pawtucket as a starter, he will also make an appearance on the Sox roster at some point.


This concludes our first Red Sox roster prediction of 2016. Check back throughout spring training for more Red Sox updates and future roster predictions.



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