The 23-year-old has been lights out this spring, allowing just two earned runs in 11 innings while striking out 14 and walking only one in four Grapefruit League contests. The right-hander has also looked every bit as impressive as the stat line indicates, so there is reason to believe he could make an impact with the Red Sox as soon as this season.
The Red Sox’ Opening Day rotation appears set at this point — with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Ryan Dempster, John Lackey and Felix Doubront taking up the unit’s five spots — meaning Webster will likely head down to Triple-A Pawtucket before the games start counting for real on April 1. The young hurler has proved this spring, though, that if and when the injury bug bites the Sox, inefficiency proves detrimental to the rotation or the need for a change emerges, he’ll be standing by, ready to bring his talent to the big club.
The Sox knew they were getting a pair of impressive pitchers from the Dodgers in last August’s megadeal. Webster and Rubby De La Rosa were both highly touted prospects, so the deal was much more than just the salary dump it appeared to be on the surface. Now, given what’s transpired this spring, we’re seeing just how lopsided that deal has the potential to be.
De La Rosa has shown off his amazing stuff on multiple occasions, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that Webster will be minor league option No. 1 if and when the Red Sox are forced to turn to the farm for pitching help. De La Rosa could also find himself in Boston by year’s end, but given his 2011 Tommy John surgery and the limitations on the amount of innings the Sox would like to see him pitch, Webster seems like a more likely candidate to get the first call-up. And from what we’ve seen, that call-up could come sooner rather than later.
Webster was ranked as the No. 49 prospect in baseball by Baseball America this offseason, and his stock is undoubtedly rising, mainly because he’s showing improvements in what were once thought to be areas of concern.
“The strike-throwing ability, particularly early in the count … has maybe been somewhat better than anticipated,” Farrell told reporters in Fort Myers after Tuesday’s game. “The one thing that he’s grasping is that with his stuff and the action of his two-seamer, he doesn’t have to pitch to a third of the plate. He can be more aggressive on the white part of the plate, and it’s allowed him to pitch and at least execute strike one at a higher rate. It just opens up so many more options for him. In a nutshell, it’s his ability to attack the strike zone, strike one.”
Farrell’s excitement is understandable. Since taking over, he has consistently preached an aggressive approach, especially early on in counts. Webster’s aggressiveness, efficiency and control have all been encouraging not only because of his age, but also because his biggest vice entering this spring was thought to be his command. Now, the righty’s 4.2 walks per nine innings in 29 Double-A starts last season seem like a distant memory, and Webster is exhibiting the poise and confidence of a bona fide major leaguer.
When you add those elements to a mix that already includes some of the most electric stuff you’ll come across, it’s easy to see that Webster’s future is not only bright, but it’s also on the cusp of becoming the present.
The change in Webster’s control stems largely from a few tweaks in his mechanics, but it’s the building confidence that could prove to be the ultimate difference-maker in his game. The only thing better than a pitcher with great natural stuff is one who has confidence that he can get anyone out with that stuff.
“To have the kind of secondary weapons that he has, and what’s been impressive is young pitchers that are able to throw that changeup in a 3-2 count,” Farrell said. “He’s showing the ability to throw breaking ball to both sides of the plate in addition to a live fastball, heavy sink. He’s done a very good job.”
A “very good job” might not be enough to warrant a spot in the big league rotation out of camp, especially since Webster hasn’t pitched above the Double-A level. However, a few months from now, when the circumstances surrounding Boston’s rotation inevitably change, it might be difficult — or near impossible — to delay Webster’s big league debut any longer.
Webster has been that impressive. And that’s a “pretty damn good” thing for the Red Sox.
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