While the Boston Red Sox currently have the second best pitching (according to ERA) in the American League, beyond Chris Sale, the starters have been uneven. While there is certainly hope that the other Red Sox starters will start to catch fire – Eduardo Rodriguez has been stout in his last two starts and Drew Pomeranz has been a steady, if unspectacular, presence in four of his five starts – the starters on the farm have already started to light a flame signaling their intent for the majors.
Pawtucket Red Sox
While Kyle Kendrick has gotten the first bite of the apple to replace knuckleballer Steven Wright, Kendrick has been the worst of the PawSox starters, serving up a 6.00 ERA over his four starts. Kendrick has been better lately – with a one-hit shutout over seven innings against Gwinnett in his last start for Pawtucket – his largest contribution has been as an innings eater, going seven full thrice and six full in his first game (where he allowed ten runs).
Brian Johnson, who got the first call-up to the majors this season, has put up a 2.28 ERA over his four minor league starts. Journeyman Shawn Haviland has contributed a 3.16 ERA in his four mound visits. And, the enigma, Henry Owens has somehow allowed only four earned runs in his five starts despite walking more men (18) then he has served up hits to (17).
However, the leader of the pitching pack in Rhode Island has been Mexican right-hander Hector Velazquez. While his American debut was a little rough, allowing four runs in 4 ⅔ innings against the Syracuse Chiefs on April 11; his last two starts have been nothing short of brilliant. On April 19, the 28-year-old shut down the Charlotte Knights on 59 pitches over five innings of work. Then, on April 30 – the PawSox struggled with postponements due to weather – not a single Gwinnett runner got on base during his six-inning start, a stint that was interrupted by a 21-minute rain delay. Most impressively, Hector tossed only 55 pitches in the six frames.
The right-hander appears to be entering his prime if his last season in Mexico is any indication. Velazquez was 18-4 with 246 ⅔ innings pitched between Monclava of the Mexican League and Navojoa of the Mexican Winter League, putting up a combined ERA of 2.37 and a WHIP of 1.050. With Wright needing to undergo knee surgery and if David Price does not come back quickly, it would not be a surprise if Velazquez is the next man up to the Boston rotation.
Portland Sea Dogs
While the PawSox have a veteran starting staff, the Sea Dogs have busted out of the gate with a quartet of 23-year-olds. All four have had their moments, but only one is making a real bid for promotion to Pawtucket.
Kevin McAvoy’s second chance in Portland started out poorly, giving up ten earned runs in his first three starts, largely due to his inability to control the strike zone, handing out a dozen walks. However, in his last start on Wednesday, McAvoy only gifted one free pass over six innings of one-run ball. Trey Ball has been his usual enigmatic self in his first AA season, alternating poor performances with starts that show his potential. Like McAvoy, his last start was a six-inning affair, shutting out Hartford on four hits and two walks. Right-hander Teddy Stankiewicz started the season with a trio of stout starts, surrendering four earned runs with only three walks over 19 innings. However, he was slapped around in his fourth start, giving up five earned runs and three homers over six innings against Reading.
But, it is southpaw Jalen Beeks who has been the most consistent of the youngsters thus far. In his first full season in AA, Beeks has put up one stinker (surrendering five runs in 3 ⅔ innings against the Trenton Thunder on April 13) and three brilliant starts – giving up no runs over three games and 19 innings against the Thunder and the Fightin’ Phils of Reading. In his last two starts, he has thrown seven shutout innings in both, tossing 94 pitches in the first and only 85 in the second. While walks are still a continuing issue, with ten issued thus far, Beeks has only allowed 14 hits total in his 22 ⅔ innings this season.
Salem Red Sox
The High-A team of the Red Sox have been escape artists, picking up 16 wins entering Thursday on the back of their offense and their bullpen. With one glorious exception, the starters have been mediocre at best.
Teenager Roniel Raudes has struggled with his consistency in the Carolina League, but may have started to turn a corner. In his last three starts, Raudes has gone at least five innings. In his last two starts, he has only allowed a pair of runs in each. And, after getting a trio of Ks in each of his first three starts, he has struck out twelve in his next two combined. 21-year-old Dedgar Jimenez, however, gave his best performance in his season debut, allowing no runs over six innings against Lynchburg. While his next two starts resulted in a W for the portly portsider (listed at 6’3”/240), his last two games have been abominable. Over eight innings, Jimenez relinquished a baker’s dozen runs and 17 hits.
22-year-old Australian lefty Daniel McGrath has also been struck by inconsistency, failing to get to the five inning mark in three of his five starts. Although still young, McGrath is in his third trip at the High-A level, with his 5.09 ERA and 1.739 WHIP currently being the worst of his American career. Matt Kent’s inconsistency has been frustrating as well. In the first and last of his five starts, the southpaw gave up 12 earned on 15 hits in two five inning stints. However, in his middle three starts, Kent only allowed four earned runs over 16 frames. Unlike many of the lefties in the system, Kent does not have a problem with the walks – where he averages one a game – but with contact, allowing 34 hits and 13 extra-base hits thus far this season.
However, Salem does have one pitcher primed to jump to the Eastern League. Travis Lakins has gone at least five frames in each of his six starts, and in only one has he allowed more than two runs – giving up five to the Frederick Keys on April 21. While Lakins’s 2.87 ERA and 1.245 WHIP are the best of the starters in Salem, he has struggled with inflated pitch counts. In every game this season, Lakins has tossed between 84 and 89 pitches. However, in his last four games, those pitches have only carried him to the five inning mark. Even though Lakins has struck out 35 this year and walked only nine, he has clearly not developed a put-away pitch to avoid extended at-bats.
For prospect hounds, the Drive were going to be the team to watch as 18-year-old Jason Groome made his full-season debut. Unfortunately, four outs was all he would get in April before landing on the disabled list. However, the Drive rotation has a potent trio that has pushed the team to the top of the South Atlantic League standings.
The eldest of the trio of stalwarts is 23-year-old southpaw Logan Boyd, who had a frightful opening game (four earned in four innings), but has righted the ship with four consecutive fine outings. In each of the four games, he has gone at least 5 ⅓ innings (the last two going six full) and given up, at most, one run. Over the 23-inning stretch, Boyd has given up 13 hits, six walks, and three runs while whiffing 16. Perhaps more impressively, Boyd has allowed only four extra base hits this year. As Boyd was a 14-game winner with the Drive last season, it is likely he would be the first starter to move to Salem when the time arrives.
Twenty-two-year-old righty Shaun Anderson has been, arguably, even better than Boyd. In his first foray in full season ball, Anderson has allowed a total of four runs in his five starts for the Drive. He has gone six full innings three times, allowed zero walks in two of his games, and has allowed a total of 18 hits (four for extra bases) and seven walks in his 27 ⅔ innings. If there is anything to note as a negative, his strikeouts have dwindled from seven in the opening game to only one his last time out. That being said, in the seven K game, he only lasted 4 ⅔ innings as he threw 83 pitches. Dialing back may be keeping his pitch count lower – he has not gone above 77 in his four later starts.
Twenty-year-old lefty Darwinzon Hernandez has had an interesting six starts in his first taste of full-season ball. Like many of the portsiders in the system, Hernandez has a bit of trouble with controlling the strike zone, giving up 14 walks and hitting seven batters in his 27 ⅓ innings. His inability to control the strike zone has only allowed him to go more than five innings once, in his start on Wednesday. But, he too has been hard to hit, surrendering only 17 (four for extras). Hernandez is also becoming a bit of a strikeout artist, with 35 thus far this season. He has also been bit by bad defense, with only seven earned runs allowed (none in his last three games) but 13 total runs given up.
Rounding out the rotation in Greenville are Robby Sexton and Mike Shawaryn. Shawaryn had a forgettable first start – nine earned in two innings – but has righted the ship with only four runs allowed in 21 ⅓ innings over four starts. Sexton, whose first appearance of the season was in relief of Groome, has been steady, if completely unspectacular. Only once has he gone fewer than five innings but only once has he given up fewer than three runs – a six-inning, one-hit, no-run start against Greensboro on April 26.