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Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in just over a week. Besides Jon Lester, Koji Uehara, and other major league pitchers of the World Champion Red Sox team, top minor league prospects will join them on the field in Fort Myers, Florida. Top prospect pitchers that quite possibly could be at JetBlue Park include Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes and Henry Owens. Let’s take a look at these three players and see what they may add to the Red Sox major league bullpen.
Anthony Ranaudo was a Red Sox first round draft pick in 2010. In 2011, he pitched for the Single-A minor league teams Greenville Drive and Salem Red Sox. His numbers were those of a number 1 draft pick with an ERA in the low 3.00s. In 2012, he suffered a number of injuries, namely a shoulder injury and “dead arm,” sidelining him for the majority of that season. In 2013, he came back with a vengeance for the Double-A Portland Seadogs and then for triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox. He had eight big wins for Portland and three during his time with Pawtucket. Ranaudo had 17 strikeouts in one game for Portland, the only other Red Sox pitcher to achieve this feat was Jon Lester. His fastball speed was up in the mid 90s and his curve in the mid-80s, clocking as high as 87 MPH.
This season Ranaudo will most likely start at Pawtucket, but I could easily see him moving up to Boston when needed. While he may have to start in a middle reliever role in 2014, if he continues to pitch the way he did last season, it will not be long till he will be part of the starting-five rotation.
Barnes, too, was a first round draft pick. The Red Sox picked him in 2011. He has been on the fast track the moment he took the mound in 2012 in Single-A Greenville and Salem. He was promoted to Portland for the 2013 season where he maintained an ERA in the 4.00s. Later in the season he earned a spot in the five-man rotation in Pawtucket. He pitched one game late in the season and won. Barnes, too, most likely will remain in Pawtucket for 2014. I believe he will receive an invite to Spring Training. His progression has been steady, but not as meteoric as that of Ranaudo and Owens. In my opinion, Barnes needs to work on consistency of his pitch command, once he has that under control the sky is the limit.
Last, but certainly not least, Henry Owens burst onto the scene in Single-A during the 2013 season turning heads and striking out batters. Soxprospects.com ranks Owens in the number three spot in its top ten franchise prospects (three spots above Barnes number six). During his stint with Greenville and Salem he had a combined 2.67 ERA. He moved up to Portland at the end of July and won 3 of his four starts. The most accurate measure of a pitcher is the sabermetric statistic, WHIP, walks plus hits over innings pitched. The lower the better. Owens maintains a WHIP in the low 1.100s for the 2013 season. Overall, his WHIP is a 1.263. To put this in perspective, Ranaudo has a 1.274 over his three seasons he pitched for the Red Sox minor league teams. Not only is he effective, Owens is also a southpaw, while Barnes and Ranaudo throw right-handed. Left-handed pitchers are few and far between, so that makes Owens’ value and a bit more likely to appear on the mound at Fenway. He is a precious commodity and if he keeps going at this rate he will prove his teammate Deven Marrero right. Marrero told the Providence Journal on January 17, 2014 that he believes Owens “is the next [Clayton] Kershaw.”
As Spring Training begins, it will be interesting to see who keeps thriving in the new year. Will they continue to grow in 2014? How will John Farrell and Juan Nieves work these pitching prospects into the mix to keep the Red Sox competitive in the American League East?