PAWTUCKET – Alex Wilson is the latest starting pitching prospect to join the Pawtucket Red Sox. Time will tell if the parent club decides to curb his starting duties and relocate him to the bullpen.
For the past several seasons the Red Sox have openly explored the practice of turning starting pitchers into relievers, the switch in mound assignments more often than not taking place at the Triple-A level. In most instances, the reclassification of guys like Michael Bowden reflects the situation in Boston and whether the hole in the bullpen can be fixed by promoting from within.
Then there’s another theory, one that suggests Boston is open to turning starters into relievers based on the availability of spots in the starting rotation.
Baseball America, the official Bible of minor-league baseball, likes to predict what the future holds with one of the sections in the publication’s annual prospect handbook titled “projected lineup.”
Upon gazing into its crystal ball, Baseball America came out with who may comprise Boston’s rotation come 2014: Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett, Anthony Ranaudo and Drake Britton. Interestingly, Baseball America did not include John Lackey, who will be in the final year of his five-year, $82.5 million deal he signed two offseasons ago.
By looking at the contract situation of those presently in Boston and those in the lower levels who contain aspirations of someday becoming a rotation mainstay like a Lester or a Buchholz, it makes you realize just how difficult a spot in which guys like Wilson, Kyle Weiland, Junichi Tazawa and Felix Doubront find themselves.
In other words, if Wilson and Weiland are going to contribute in Boston, chances are they will be pitching out of the bullpen. With Lester likely to remain in Red Sox threads through 2014 – there’s a team option in place for that season after the five-year deal he signed in 2009 expires in 2013 – and Beckett in place through 2014, openings are at a premium over the next few seasons.
If Buchholz’ case, the lanky righthander is on the books through 2015 with team options in both 2016 and again in 2017.
That’s why if you’re Weiland or Wilson, the bullpen figures to be the best avenue to reach the majors. Neither pitcher has undergone the starter-to-reliever shuffle yet, but it won’t be totally surprising to see either one follow in the footsteps of Bowden, who underwent said metamorphosis last summer.
In Doubront’s case, the Venezuelan native has been mentioned as a viable lefthanded option out of the ‘pen for the BoSox in September. Such thinking may explain why
Boston is carefully monitoring his workload even though he continues to start games for Pawtucket. Clearly, though, the Red Sox believe Doubront can contribute despite the southpaw making two trips to the disabled list this season and posting a 6.75 ERA in three big-league appearances for the Sox in April.
The good news is that if Weiland and Wilson end up changing their mound duties, the pair won’t be embarking on unchartered waters. Weiland departed Notre Dame as the school’s all-time leader in saves while Wilson made 16 relief appearances at Texas
A&M in 2009, the same season the Red Sox selected him in the second round of the MLB Draft.
“That’s something that’s always flirted around my name, being a bullpen guy,” Wilson said, “but I’m starting until otherwise told. That’s kind of how I’ve looked at it and kind of just of focus on it like that.”
If anything, Weiland and Wilson, who Thursday made his 62nd minor-league appearance, all of which have been starts, are the victims of bad timing. Boston’s rotation is likely to remain the same over the next few seasons and by the time spots do open up, youngsters like Ranaudo, Britton and Matt Barnes, this year’s top pick out of the University of Connecticut, figure to be on the cusp of reaching the majors.
Such is life in the Red Sox organization, where the straightest path to the big leagues may not always present itself.