Editor’s note: The Red Sox will hold their first full-squad spring training workout Friday. NESN.com will analyze Boston’s roster in five installments (outfield, infield, catchers, bullpen, starting rotation) in the days leading up to that workout.
A lot can change in two years.
At this time in 2015, pundits were debating whether the Boston Red Sox could succeed without a clear-cut ace. Now, they have three.
Newly acquired left-hander Chris Sale joins Rick Porcello and David Price to form what might be the best trio of starting pitchers in baseball entering the 2017 season. Sale and Price are well-established studs with 10 All-Star appearances between them, and Porcello, the “least” accomplished of that group, just won the American League Cy Young award.
But it’s not all sunshine and flowers for Boston’s starting rotation. The Red Sox have three pitchers competing for the final two slots: Eduardo Rodriguez, Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz. All three suffered from inconsistency in 2016, and Wright and Pomeranz have injury concerns heading into spring training.
So, what can fans expect from this unit in 2017? Let’s have a look.
The Aces: Sale, Porcello, Price
Sale was the biggest acquisition in baseball this offseason, and he’ll immediately become Boston’s No. 1 starter. The 27-year-old left-hander boasts a mid-90s fastball and a devastating slider that have helped him record 200 or more strikeouts in four consecutive seasons. In a roster with three aces, he’s expected to be the top dog.
Porcello likely will slot into the No. 2 role to break up the lefty duo of Sale and Price. It will be tough for the right-hander to top his incredible 2016 campaign, but Porcello seemingly has found his groove in Boston and his rocky 2015 season apparently is a thing of the past.
Price faces the most pressure of this group after his unusually inconsistent 2016 season that ended in yet another postseason failure. Price admittedly puts a lot of that pressure on himself and he must block out the noise and prove he’s worth the lucrative contract Boston gave him.
The Red Sox have strength in numbers here: All three pitchers don’t have to be dominant all year for this team to succeed, as they can compliment one another and pick up each other over the course of the season. But the team has a lot of money invested in its top three starters, and expectations will be high.
The Bubble Guys: Rodriguez, Wright, Pomeranz
The fourth and fifth spots are up for grabs, and so far, no one has claimed it. Rodriguez should have the inside track on one of those slots, as he went on a solid run after last year’s All-Star break. But the 23-year-old left-hander still has issues with consistency and he doesn’t have much room for error in this crowded rotation.
Wright, like many knuckleballers, is a bit of an enigma: He earned his first All-Star nod after a dominant start to 2016, but ineffectiveness and injury plagued him so much that he didn’t even make the team’s postseason roster. If the Wright we saw for the first three months of last season shows up, he’ll be in this rotation — possibly as a No. 4 starter to provide better lefty-righty balance.
That leaves Pomeranz, who made his first All-Star team with the San Diego Padres before joining Boston at last season’s trade deadline. The 28-year-old left-hander showed flashes of promise in 2016 but was mostly underwhelming, finishing the season in the bullpen. If Rodriguez and Wright have strong springs and Pomeranz doesn’t stand out, he could begin 2017 in the bullpen, as well.
Injuries also could play a role in how this rotation shakes out: Wright and Pomeranz both aren’t expected throw off the mound this week as they deal with arm soreness, manager John Farrell announced Monday.
The Outsiders/Prospects: Henry Owens, Brian Johnson, Jason Groome, Luis Ysla, Kyle Martin
Owens is the only one here with significant major league experience, and it isn’t stellar (16 starts with a career 5.19 ERA). If injuries take their toll, though, the 24-year-old lefty figures to be the next in line to provide depth.
Johnson also could factor into Boston’s 2017 plans as a depth option; he took time off last season to seek treatment for anxiety but returned to pitch well for Triple-A Pawtucket down the stretch.
Groome, the Red Sox’s first-round pick in the 2016 MLB Entry Draft, is the team’s new top pitching prospect following Michael Kopech’s and Anderson Espinoza’s departures. But at 18 years old, it likely will be a while until he makes his mark in the bigs.
Ysla and Martin also are prospects to watch. Ysla, a 24-year-old left-hander, came over from the San Francisco Giants’ system in 2015, while Martin, a 26-year-old right-hander, made the jump to Triple-A Pawtucket last season.
Here’s our projection of Boston’s Opening Day rotation:
LHP Chris Sale
RHP Rick Porcello
LHP David Price
RHP Steven Wright
LHP Eduardo Rodriguez
This leaves Pomeranz out of the mix, but if Wright or Rodriguez start slowly, he could take either of their spots.
Simply put, the Red Sox should have one of the best rotations in the American League this season. Yes, there’s uncertainty on the back end, but having three Cy Young winners on your staff means you’re expected to be the cream of the crop. Boston will count on Sale, Porcello and Price to set the tone and come up big in must-win games. Wright, Rodriguez and Pomeranz will be expected to give the Red Sox just enough to get them back to the top of their rotation.
Thumbnail photo via Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports Images
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