A few years removed from bottoming out, the Boston Red Sox farm system is rebounding. No, Boston’s prospect pool isn’t the embarrassment of riches it once was, but there are plenty of players whom fans should be excited about.
Over the next few weeks, NESN.com will profile some of the more noteworthy prospects in the Red Sox system, utilizing insight and analysis from industry experts who know the players best. Next up: 2020 fourth-round draft pick Jeremy Wu-Yelland.
The Red Sox prioritized offensive upside with their first two picks in the 2020 Major League Baseball Draft, first selecting infielder Nick Yorke at No. 17 overall in the first round and then choosing prodigious power prospect Blaze Jordan at No. 89 overall in the third round.
Boston finally turned its attention to the mound with the 118th overall pick in the fourth round, nabbing Jeremy Wu-Yelland, a 20-year-old left-handed pitcher out of Hawaii.
This is significant, as it marks the first pitcher drafted by the Red Sox with Chaim Bloom serving as the club’s chief baseball officer. And Bloom came to Boston after 15 years with the Tampa Bay Rays, who’ve had a knack for drafting and developing impactful pitching prospects.
So, who exactly is Wu-Yelland? Well, here’s everything you need to know.
Wu-Yelland, a junior from Spokane, Wash., didn’t come with a lot of pre-draft buzz, but the 6-foot-2, 210-pound southpaw played in the Cape Cod Baseball League last summer, posting a 3.15 ERA with 26 strikeouts and 15 walks across 25 2/3 innings. He built on that performance upon returning to Hawaii, producing a 0.69 ERA with 16 strikeouts and five walks across 13 frames before the 2020 college season was interrupted by COVID-19.
Wu-Yelland, a 2017 graduate of Central Valley High School, is the first player from the University of Hawaii selected in the first five rounds of the MLB draft since 2011, when Kolten Wong (first round) and Lenny Linsky (second round) were drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals and Rays, respectively.
“Kids at Hawaii are pretty tough to scout. And they are especially tough to scout when you only get three or four weekends in the spring,” Red Sox director of amateur scouting Paul Toboni told reporters after the draft, per MassLive.com. “But the communication right from the get-go was on point in terms of this kid’s talent. We had seen him pitch in the Cape where he threw great.”
— Hawaii Baseball (@HawaiiBaseball) January 23, 2019
The Red Sox undoubtedly are getting a smart kid, assuming he signs with the Red Sox. Wu-Yelland earned the UH Scholar-Athlete Award for 2020 and was named academic All-Big West in 2019.
Wu-Yelland, who wasn’t ranked among MLB.com’s top 200 prospects ahead of the draft, will need to improve his command in order to reach his ceiling. He walked 55 batters in 75 2/3 innings between 2018 and 2019.
Fortunately for the Red Sox, he’s already begun to show drastic improvement in that area, to the point where Boston listed him as a starter despite Wu-Yelland making all seven of his appearances out of the bullpen this season.
“It’s a real impressive example of what high school kids go through from the outlook of how the maturation process takes place,” Hawaii coach Mike Trapasso recently said, per MLB.com. “He was an 88 to 90 mph lefty. The old saying of ‘you can’t hit the broadside of the barn.’ He couldn’t hit the barn in high school.”
Even if he doesn’t become a fixture in Boston’s rotation, Wu-Yelland has the potential to become a very useful piece in the major league bullpen. It’ll be interesting to see how his role evolves throughout his development.
“Wu-Yelland pitched out of the bullpen this year, but will be developed as a starter initially,” Ian Cundall, director of scouting for SoxProspects.com, recently told NESN.com. “He has three pitches: a fastball that he can run up to 97 mph, a slider and a changeup. He gets a lot of movement on his pitches, and if he can tighten up his command and refine his secondaries, he could develop into a starter. But if not, as a left-hander who can throw into the high-90s, the bullpen is a solid backup plan.”
Why did the Red Sox draft him?
Teams typically don’t draft based on need, largely because many players selected are years away from sniffing the majors and there are so many variables involved in the developmental process. The strengths and weaknesses of the major league roster can fluctuate year to year, and the continuous progression and regression of prospects already in the system can affect organizational depth, either positively or negatively.
That said, the Red Sox need pitching, particularly power arms. They lag behind most MLB farm systems in this area thanks to both trades and an inability to develop impact pitching prospects over the years. Wu-Yelland represents an intriguing wild card based on his upside and proximity to the majors by virtue of being drafted out of college.
Where he fits
As noted, the Red Sox will give Wu-Yelland an opportunity to prove himself as a starter. But don’t expect the leash to be too long. The most likely scenario involves him transitioning to the bullpen, where he eventually could make his way to the majors as a reliever who shuttles back and forth between Boston and Pawtucket before ultimately settling into a sixth- or seventh-inning role.
While that might sound somewhat underwhelming, especially after a 2019 season in which Boston’s bullpen was a revolving door of redundant relievers, roster construction continues to evolve across the league. Bloom was innovative in his handling of the Rays’ pitching staff, making the most of limited resources, and it’s quite possible Wu-Yelland will be among a new wave of Red Sox pitching prospects who find niches that maximize their strengths while minimizing their weaknesses.