BOSTON — There’s a rivalry brewing in the Boston Red Sox farm system.
Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo and Henry Owens were among 10 up-and-coming minor leaguers who participated in the 2014 Red Sox Rookie Program this week. Each pitcher is looking to blaze his own trail in an organization loaded with young pitching, and the friendly competition is serving as additional fuel.
“We all have a great relationship with each other. We’re all really good friends,” said Barnes, a first-round pick in 2011. “But at the same time, we’re all competing to get to the big leagues to fulfill our dreams, so we keep that healthy, loose, ‘He has a good out outing, I want to go out and have a good outing,’ and it works out really well for us. We push each other in the weight room, out in the field and when it counts the most, in game situations.”
Barnes, Ranuado and Owens all are on the fast track to the majors, although their arrival might be delayed by the Red Sox’ current starting pitching depth. Boston is set to enter spring training with six legitimate major league starters — Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy, Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront — in addition to a host of other young pitchers — Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Brandon Workman, Drake Britton and Steven Wright — who are capable of filling in on a moment’s notice. Opportunities to start at the major league level will be at a premium in 2014, and the most likely scenario is that Barnes, Ranaudo and Owens all will spend the duration of the upcoming season — or most of it, at least — fine-tuning their skills at the upper levels of the minors, where the friendly competition will heat up as each hurler looks to impress the higher-ups.
“I’d say there’s definitely a competitive flow with each level. … It’s all fun,” Owens, the 36th overall pick in 2011, said Friday after a workout at Harvard University. “It’s all in good fun, and I think it actually brings out the best and you can perform better that way.”
Barnes and Ranaudo (39th overall in 2010) finished the 2013 season at Triple-A Pawtucket, while Owens, who began 2013 with High-A Salem, finished the year at Double-A Portland. It’s reasonable to think that each pitcher will return his respective minor league club once the 2014 season begins, although there’s clearly a bond developing between the three in-house rivals.
“I hung out with [Barnes and Ranaudo] a lot. Just watching them pitch, you can tell that they have a competitive fire that lots of us have throughout the game of baseball,” Owens said. “But I think seeing them in the weight room was big for me, because I got drafted out of high school and they were in college on a lifting program. In high school, it was almost like I’d lift to look good, not lift to play good. Beach muscles. But seeing them in the weight room really focus on attacking their legs and getting their core strong, stuff like that, I think it’s all benefited me in some way.”
Barnes, Ranaudo and Owens all are at different stages in their development. Barnes and Ranaudo are hanging around on the outskirts of the majors, while Owens, who is the top-ranked prospect of the bunch, is a little further away from The Show. But each pitcher was able to get acquainted with the Red Sox’ major league staff this week — an experience that should serve them well in their progression.
“Some of it is individual. A lot of it is either fundamental work or the refinement of their pitches [and] the refinement of their command,” Red Sox Director of Player Development Ben Crockett said Friday regarding the pitchers who participated in this year’s Rookie Program. “I think more from a structural standpoint, it’s introducing new, advanced reports, more scouting reports, building a rapport with the catchers that they hopefully will be moving up with, and just getting them to think about the game in a little bit more analytical fashion to prepare for the way they’re going to do it in the major leagues.”
Barnes, 23, went 6-10 with a 4.13 ERA in 25 starts split between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket in 2013. Ranaudo, 24, went 11-5 with a 2.96 ERA in 25 appearances (24 starts) between Portland and Pawtucket. Owens, 21, went 11-6 with a 2.67 ERA in 26 starts between Salem and Portland. Each will look to improve upon those numbers in 2014, when the internal competition between Red Sox prospects should be as fierce — yet friendly — as ever.