Red Sox Rotation Preview 2015: Can Boston Win Without Clear-Cut Ace?


Feb 19, 2015

[protected-iframe id=”2ce15b2f7bedf25b3dbc9ac6364ee49f-38215605-37431026″ info=”” width=”640″ height=”360″]
Editor’s note: Red Sox pitchers and catchers report to spring training Friday. will analyze Boston’s roster in four installments (outfield, infield, bullpen, starting rotation) in the days leading up to the players’ arrival.

Most of the talk surrounding Boston’s rotation isn’t about what the Red Sox have. It’s about what they don’t have.

The Red Sox are primed to enter the 2015 season without a clear-cut No. 1 starter. It’s a troublesome reality for a team that failed to re-sign Jon Lester this offseason, and it’s a big reason why some outside the organization are skeptical of Boston’s chances to contend on the heels of a 71-91 campaign.

There’s certainly a chance the Red Sox could make a splash with regard to their rotation, but the more likely scenario is that they’ve done their heavy lifting and will enter the season with the unit as comprised. If the Sox add an “ace,” the safe bet is that they’ll do so during the season after gaining a better sense of what they have internally.

Whose jobs to lose?
Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Joe Kelly, Justin Masterson

Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly are the only two holdovers. Buchholz is the third-longest tenured Red Sox behind David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, and Kelly was acquired at last season’s non-waiver trade deadline in the deal that sent John Lackey to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Buchholz is coming off a disappointing season, though he improved down the stretch. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly the 30-year-old will provide in 2015, but his ceiling is the highest of any pitcher on Boston’s staff. Who could forget 2013, when Buchholz was the American League’s best pitcher for the better part of two months?

Kelly also is a bit of a wild card in the sense he’s never topped 17 starts or 124 innings at the big league level. The 26-year-old also has a knack for falling into trouble because of his high walk rate, so he’ll need to limit the free passes to take the next step, which is entirely possible based on his electric stuff.

Rick Porcello (acquired from the Detroit Tigers), Wade Miley (acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks) and Justin Masterson (signed as a free agent) all were obtained at the Major League Baseball winter meetings. All are expected to fill a spot in Boston’s rotation, though the exact order is undetermined.

Porcello has the highest ceiling of the newcomers, as he just turned 26 and is coming off his best season to date. The right-hander pitched in the shadows of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, David Price, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez in Detroit, so his arrival in Boston marks an opportunity for him to assert himself like never before. He’s also entering a contract year, which gives him more incentive to thrive.

Miley’s career numbers don’t jump off the page, but he’s been very durable over the last three seasons. He also pitched in a hitter-friendly environment in Arizona, so it’s reasonable to expect better numbers in Boston. The 28-year-old left-hander was a first-round pick in 2008 and an All-Star in 2012. Don’t be surprised if he’s eventually considered one of baseball’s most underrated offseason pickups.

Masterson, making his second go-round in Boston, is looking to rebound from an abysmal season with the Cardinals and the Cleveland Indians. There are red flags, like his diminished velocity last season, but Masterson insists he’s fully healthy.

Masterson, who turns 30 next month, was an All-Star in 2013. Perhaps a rebound is in the cards, in which case he’ll remain in the rotation rather than shift to the bullpen, which currently seems like a possibility if the right-hander starts off slow.

The Red Sox, in the process of making their offseason transactions, moved on from prospects Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster and Anthony Ranaudo. A new wave officially is on the cusp of the majors, but the group will wait as the aforementioned starting five look to silence their skeptics.

In the mix
Henry Owens, Brian Johnson, Eduardo Rodriguez, Steven Wright, Matt Barnes, Edwin Escobar

This spring training is all about impressions. The information gathered over the next month-plus could dictate which pitcher(s) is first to receive a call-up if/when something goes awry in the major league rotation. Of course, each pitcher’s continued minor league success also will be vital.

Henry Owens is the most hyped of the bunch, as he’s considered the organization’s second-best prospect behind catcher Blake Swihart. The lanky lefty doesn’t project as an ace, but he’s dominated at times in the minors and could develop into a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter. The 22-year-old isn’t yet on the Red Sox’s 40-man roster, but he’ll likely make his major league debut at some point in 2015.

Eduardo Rodriguez, acquired from the Baltimore Orioles in the Andrew Miller trade, has the highest ceiling of any Red Sox pitching prospect. The Red Sox added Rodriguez to the 40-man roster this offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, but they probably would like for him to gain additional seasoning at Triple-A Pawtucket after spending last season at Double-A. Rodriguez, who turns 22 in April, could soon enter the major league discussion with continued success.

Brian Johnson, like Owens, isn’t yet on the Red Sox’s 40-man roster but will become a legitimate option if injuries and/or inconsistency plague Boston’s rotation. The 24-year-old left-hander doesn’t have the upside of the other southpaws mentioned. However, he might be the most polished of the trio.

Edwin Escobar, another left-hander, was acquired from the San Francisco Giants in last season’s Jake Peavy trade. He debuted out of Boston’s bullpen in 2014, so it’ll be interesting to see whether he’s groomed as a starter or a reliever moving forward. Either way, the soon-to-be 23-year-old is an option.

Steven Wright has made 10 appearances (two starts) with Boston over the last two seasons. The 30-year-old knuckleballer is a viable swingman whose role will be predicated on whatever else develops organizationally.

Matt Barnes debuted in 2014 and was rather impressive in a relief role, albeit in a small sample. The 24-year-old former first-round pick likely will begin the season in Pawtucket’s rotation. He might be the first starter called upon if a need arises in Boston’s rotation.

Prospects to watch
Owens, Johnson, Rodriguez, Barnes, Escobar, Trey Ball, Teddy Stankiewicz, Michael Kopech

See above with regard to Owens, Johnson, Rodriguez, Barnes and Escobar. They’re all on the major league doorstep yet obviously still developing.

Another trio to keep an eye on, even though none will debut with Boston in 2015, is Trey Ball, Teddy Stankiewicz and Michael Kopech.

Ball, drafted seventh overall in 2013 (Boston’s highest pick since Trot Nixon in 1993), struggled during his first season in the organization. The 20-year-old left-hander turned things around in the second half, though, and this season could go a long way toward determining the former two-way player’s true potential as a pitcher.

Stankiewicz was a second-round pick behind Ball in 2013. The 21-year-old right-hander is the organization’s 19th-ranked prospect, according to, and he’ll look to build on what was a mostly impressive 2014 season at Single-A Greenville.

Kopech, a first-round pick in 2014, is the Red Sox’s highest-ranked pitching prospect beyond Owens, Johnson, Rodriguez and Barnes, according to, even though he doesn’t figure to sniff the majors until 2017-18. One should monitor Kopech, who turns 19 in April, because he’s a power pitcher who could emerge as one of the organization’s top prospects overall with a good season.

Other names to keep in mind: Simon Mercedes, Jake Cosart, Luis Diaz, Keith Couch, Karsten Whitson.

2015 expectations
While it’s reasonable to be concerned about the Red Sox’s rotation given the number of question marks, it’s also important to assess the unit based on its context. No team in the American League East has a dominant starting five, the Red Sox’s offense figures to be much better and Boston’s ground ball tendencies are a good fit for Fenway Park.

It’s also important to keep in mind that the Red Sox have several up-and-coming prospects nipping at the veterans’ heels and that Boston has the flexibility to make a midseason splash if the organization determines it truly needs an “ace.”

Would Boston be better off with a legitimate No. 1 starter? Absolutely. Any team would be.

But can the Red Sox win with the current group? Sure they can.

Click for a Red Sox outfield preview >>

Click for a Red Sox infield preview >>

Click for a Red Sox bullpen preview >>

Thumbnail photo via Bill Boyce/The Associated Press

Previous Article

New England Patriots Helmet Makeover Among NFL Design Concepts (Photos)

Next Article

Struggling BC Eagles, Boston Bruins Both Seeking Weekend Wins

Picked For You