Finding the next homegrown regulars in the Red Sox starting rotation

On Tuesday, Matt took a look at the immediate future for the Boston Red Sox in terms of the starting rotation. For a group that has had more than its fair share of struggles this season, putting together that puzzle may take some extra brain power, especially with injuries surfacing.

If we look past 2019, we have an idea of who will continue to contribute in the rotation. Chris Sale, David Price and Nathan Eovaldi are all signed to extended deals that will pay them a fair share of money and Eduardo Rodriguez will be eligible for arbitration in 2020. Rick Porcello’s deal ends this season and despite his 2016 Cy Young award, there’s no guarantee that he will stick around for next year. Even if he does, the Red Sox are still going to need to find some new players to fill starting roles not just in the next month or two, but in the year’s ahead.

For the most part, the franchise has opted to stock its rotation via trades and free agent signings. Sale and Porcello were both part of trades and Price was the team’s big free agent acquisition after the 2015 season. Eovaldi was both traded for and then signed as a free agent and guys like Andrew Cashner and Drew Pomeranz, who have all been integrated into the rotation at some point in the last few years, were brought in via trade.

Along the way, Rodriguez has stood out as the lone starter whom the Red Sox actually developed and has stuck around. Spot starts from guys like Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez as well as the brief rise of Steven Wright have stood out as the highlights of starting development for the Red Sox, who are churning out star position players at an accelerated pace but have struggled to do the same in the rotation since the days of Jon Lester and (early) Clay Buchholz. That’s not to say that the Red Sox have had zero touted prospects in that regard, but most of have been used as part of trades rather than as actual starters in Fenway Park.

Expecting the next wave of homegrown starters to become aces might be a tall order, but the Red Sox have plenty of promising pitchers in their minor league system to anticipate a new group of regular starters. Let’s take a look at some of the players likely to get a shot at doing so in the next few years and how they’ve been doing this season. For this exercise, we’ll be highlighting one player from each level of the system, not counting rookie ball.

Darwinzon Hernandez – Already on the roster

Aside from a difficult first career start, Hernandez has been limited to bullpen work for the most part during his opportunity at the major league level. That could certainly change before the season is out and it will definitely change in the years to come. The No. 6 prospect in the Red Sox’s system, according to MLB.com, Hernandez has some impressive strikeout stuff (34 in 17 23 innings) and although he has fluctuated between the bullpen and the rotation during his minor and major league career, the 22-year-old could easily bring that strikeout power to a starting role.

Honorable Mention: Hector Velazquez, Brian Johnson

Mike Shawaryn – Pawtucket Red Sox

This may seem like cheating since Shawaryn already made his MLB debut earlier this season, but MLB.com’s No. 22 Red Sox prospect has progressed quickly through the ranks since being drafted in 2016 and has largely impressed at each stop along the way. His work in Pawtucket has been less solid than usual (4.83 ERA across 72 23 innings) and he appeared to be in over his head in eight appearances at the MLB level, but with a 3.82 ERA and 391 strikeouts across 372 13 innings in the minors, the 24-year-old right-hander should still get a chance in the future.

Honorable Mention: Tanner Houck

Houck is the more highly touted recruit and thus deserves a mention. He’s spent time in Pawtucket and Portland this season and at the former stop has been pitching mainly as a reliever. He has taken to the job in a small sample, with a 2.92 ERA in 12 1/3 innings, but as MLB.com’s fifth-ranked prospect in the Red Sox system, Houck should be pegged for a larger role in the future and that includes when he gets a chance in Boston.

Denyi Reyes – Portland Sea Dogs

The Sea Dogs’ staff has been a veritable who’s who of the Red Sox’s top pitching prospects. Houck spent most of the season with the team before being promoted and earning bullpen work in Pawtucket. Meanwhile, Bryan Mata and Kutter Crawford have both made a collection of starts in Portland. However, the pitcher who has impressed the most on the rotation has to be Reyes. As MLB.com’s No. 27 prospect in the system, Reyes has been an anchor for the Sea Dogs, throwing a team-high 130 innings across 22 starts. He has produced a 3.74 ERA and walked only 35 batters in that time while striking out 97. Reyes may take a bit longer to get to Boston, but with a 2.58 career ERA in the minors and at just 22-years-old, he’s got time.

Honorable Mention: Bryan Mata, Kutter Crawford

Mata and Crawford both dominated in Salem before being called up, so they really deserve to be included in this conversation. Mata is the team’s highest rated pitching prospect, according to MLB.com, which also has Crawford as the No. 29 prospect. This season in Salem, Mata had a 1.75 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 52 strikeouts across 51 13 innings in 10 starts. At 20-years-old, he has a bright future, as does Crawford, who gave up a few more runs in Salem this season (3.39 ERA) but struck out 77 batters in 69 innings. Both are still finding their footing in Portland but the potential is certainly there for them to eventually earn significant starting roles.

Thad Ward – Salem Red Sox

With Mata and Crawford both in Portland now, Ward is easily the team’s top pitching prospect in Salem. He’s already listed among the top 10 for the Red Sox by MLB.com and considering the absolute clinic he’s put on with Salem, its easy to see why. The fifth-round draft pick out of UCF has a 2.28 ERA and 55 strikeouts in nine starts in Salem, which is just building on what he did in Greenville when he had 87 punchouts in 72 13 innings and a sub-2.00 ERA. Ward already seems on the fast track to the majors and if he keeps pitching like this, the Red Sox won’t mind speeding things up even more.

Honorable Mention: Jhonathan Diaz

Chase Shugart – Greenville Drive

Ward left the Greenville rotation in good hands with highly regarded prospects (at least in the Red Sox system) like Shugart and Brayan Bello around to hold things down. Shugart has had the better season of the two, with a 2.40 ERA across 78 23 innings of starting work.

Honorable Mention: Brayan Bello

Yusniel Padron-Artilles – Lowell Spinners

Padron-Artilles is not counted among the top propsects for the Red Sox but he has pitched like a future star in Lowell this year. He has thrown a team-high 58 innings and packed in 74 strikeouts along with a 2.17 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in that time. At 21-years-old, he still has room to improve especially after struggling in Greenville to start the year and he may have to wait behind some of the bigger names in the system, but he has flashed promise and that shouldn’t be ignored.

Honorable Mention: Aldo Ramirez, Noah Song

Jay Groome – TBD

We would be remiss to discuss the future of the Red Sox’s starting rotation without mentioning Groome. He hasn’t pitched since 2017 due to injuries but is still listed among the top 10 prospects in the Red Sox’s system by MLB.com. Once he’s healthy, he will get plenty of chances to prove himself and eventually make an impact at the major league level.

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Phil Neuffer
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