Down on the Farm
Posted on: May 12, 2009 8:36 pm
Edited on: May 13, 2009 2:02 pm
With the recent promotion of closer-of-the-future Daniel Bard, the natural question for many Red Sox fans is, who's next? While Bard's incredible start was beyond even the expectations created by his outstanding spring training, there are several Red Sox minor league pitchers putting up head turning-numbers down on the farm.
While different pitchers in both style and temperament, it is hard to discuss Clay Buchholz without mentioning Michael Bowden, or visa versa. Both have thoroughly dominated the competition at the AAA level through their first several starts. Buchholz has compiled a 1.33 ERA in 27 innings through 5 starts. He has allowed 12 hits in 27 innings while striking out 26 and walking only 10. He's only getting stronger, too, as in his last two starts he has completed 12.1 innings, giving up 3 hits and ZERO runs while picking up wins in both outings.
Bowden, meanwhile, has been just as impressive, if not more so. Through 6 starts he has compiled a 1.06 ERA while allowing International League batters to hit a paltry .135 against him thus far. In his last two outings, totalling 14 innings, Bowden has allowed only 5 hits and ONE run while carrying a no-hitter into the seventh on May 6th.
Its realistic to believe that both of these young studs will contribute at the major league level before the year is done. Bowden has already made an appearance with the big club, throwing 2 impressive innings in relief against the Yankees in a big Red Sox victory. If something happens to a member of the Sox relief corps, Bowden would probably be the one to get the call as he has displayed more versatility in his ability to move from the rotation to the pen, much like Justin Masterson.
Buchholz will probably be the one to get the call if an opening appears in the Sox rotation. He has shown, periodically, that he has the ability to get big league hitters out and to go deep into games. One has to believe the Red Sox are regretting trying to change Buchholz's throwing motion last year as, since he has been allowed to go back to his natural motion, he has reverted back to the dominating pitcher of two years ago.
Bard, Buchholz, and Bowden haven't been the only pitchers to dominate in the Sox minor league system this year. Junichi Tazawa, the Sox prize signing this winter from the Japanese corporate leagues, has gotten off to an outstanding start with the AA Portland affiliate. While his overall numbers don't rival those of Buchholz and Bowden, in 6 starts he has compiled a 3-2 record with a 3.34 ERA over 32.1 innings. Save for a 6 run in 5.2 inning outing versus Connecticut, these overall numbers would be much improved. It is hard to believe that Tazawa will be a contributor this season, since this is his first exposure to professional baseball, but it shouldn't surprise anyone if he is a significant member of the Sox bullpen next season.
Further down in the system, last year's number one draft pick, Casey Kelly is lighting it up with Single-A Greenville in the South Atlantic League. Kelly is a two position player, having big league potential at both shortstop and on the mound. The Sox have been in love with him as a pitcher since they scouted him in high school, but Kelly fancies himself as a shortstop. The two sides have worked out an agreement where Kelly will start the year as a pitcher and throw 100 innings and then play out the rest of the season at shortstop. Based on his start on the mound, the Sox may have to rethink this arrangement. All Kelly has done through 6 starts is post a 4-0 record with a 1.15 ERA over 31.1 inning. He has allowed fewer hits than innings pitched in all but one of his starts while striking out 30 and walking only 5. The Sox would be crazy to allow this young man to take a chance on injuring himself while playing the field the latter part of the season.
One of Theo Epstein's goals when he took over control of the Sox was to rebuild the farm system that had been decimated and/or ignored the previous 10 years. He focused on the pitching aspect of development, for the most part, and that is truly paying off now. In a couple of years, it isn't out of the realm of possibility that Red Sox will be able to put a totally homegrown starting staff out there with the likes of Masterson, Buchholz, Bowden, Tazawa, and Lester potentially manning the 5 spots. Of course, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Josh Beckett are both under 30 as we speak, so they won't be giving up their spots without a fight either.
The bullpen with Manny Delcarman, Jonathan Papelbon, and now Daniel Bard also has a homegrown flavor to it. One can easily envision when Papelbon becomes a free agent in 2 years, Bard being elevated to the closer role as Pap is allowed to move on to higher bidders. This is a luxury very few teams have.
All of this and another prize prospect, Nick Hagadone, has yet to throw a pitch in anger this year as he is in extended spring training recovering from Tommy John surgery. He is expected to fully recover by June and then continue his accent up the ladder in the Sox system.
Next week, a look at the positional prospects and their start to the 2009 season.