In the coming 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: Jay Groome, drafted 12th overall by Boston in 2016.
Aside from Noah Song, whose military commitment casts uncertainty over his long-term future in Major League Baseball, there’s perhaps no pitcher in the Boston Red Sox system with a wider range of possible outcomes than Jay Groome.
The Red Sox drafted Groom with the 12th overall pick in 2016, obviously with the hope that he’d someday become a rotation mainstay. The last four-plus years haven’t exactly gone according to plan, however, and it’s now difficult to pinpoint what’s in the cards for Groome moving forward.
That said, here’s everything you need to know about the 22-year-old left-hander ahead of the 2021 season.
MLB Pipeline had Groome as its No. 1 prospect in the 2016 draft, suggesting the high school hurler had “everything to be a top-of-the-rotation left-handed starting pitcher.” He wound up slipping to the Red Sox at No. 12 overall, however, thanks in large to signability and makeup concerns.
There’s always risk associated with drafting high school pitchers, and Groome, who returned to Barnegat High School in New Jersey for his senior season after transferring to IMG Academy in Florida for his junior season, was a particularly precarious pick. Not only were there character questions surrounding Groome, who had been suspended for what was deemed an improper transfer and who had changed his commitment from Vanderbilt to Chipola College. There also were pre-draft reports linking Groome to the San Diego Padres, who owned the 24th and 25th picks.
Nevertheless, the Red Sox rolled the dice, for Groome’s upside at age 17 was too tantalizing to pass up. They reportedly awarded him a $3.65 million bonus, $457,000 above the value assigned to that slot in the draft.
Groome has avoided any off-field issues since joining the Red Sox organization. Instead, injuries have held him back. Most notably, he missed the entire 2018 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He’s totaled just 66 innings in the minors and has yet to pitch above Single-A.
“I think he wants to get out of the world of just being in Fort Myers,” Greenville Drive manager Iggy Suarez told NESN.com last summer. “I think that’s all he’s ever known. First signing, he goes to the Gulf Coast League and then he’s there in Fort Myers. Then he’s hurt, then he’s rehabbing in Fort Myers. It’s almost like you wanna break from the shackles of the spring training facility, just from the medical side of it. I can only imagine what kind of toll that would take on you mentally.”
Groome made just three starts (two in the Gulf Coast League and one in the New York-Pennsylvania League) in 2019. He spent 2020 at the Red Sox’s alternate training site after the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the minor league season and was added to Boston’s 40-man roster last November to protect him from the ensuing Rule 5 Draft.
“You’ve seen him mature,” Suarez said last August. “He has a few years under his belt.”
Groome, who turns 23 in August, is listed at 6-foot-6 and 262 pounds. It’s a physically imposing frame — another facet of his profile to dream on — but combined with his injury woes, there are concerns about his overall conditioning and ability to stay healthy.
“It’s a really high-maintenance body — 6-6, 260ish pounds — (and) he just has not shown an ability to stay on the field at all. His career high in innings is 55 in a season,” Ian Cundall, director of scouting for SoxProspects.com, recently told NESN.com. “They say, ‘the best tool is availability,’ or something. He just hasn’t been able to stay on the field. Until I see that for a full season, where he goes out there and takes his turn every fifth, sixth day … Until he shows me he can do that for a full season, I just can’t be comfortable projecting him as a potential major league starter.”
When healthy, Groome has the potential to be the real deal. He’s entering somewhat of a make-or-break season, though, as he’ll be two years removed from Tommy John surgery and therefore must show his stuff is back to being where it was before he went under the knife.
“He’s got a nice mix of pitches,” Ben Crockett, vice president of player development for the Red Sox, told NESN.com last summer ” … He’s got a good fastball, quality velocity from the left side. Curveball always has been a strength of his. … And I think during (the Tommy John recovery process), when he got back onto the mound, he was really able to focus on his changeup, and I think that’s something that projects as a positive for him.”
According to Cundall, scouts weren’t overly impressed with what they saw from Groome during the Fall Instructional League in 2020, pointing to diminished fastball velocity, a less daunting curveball and a changeup that’s still very much a work in progress.
But it’s entirely possible Groome’s surgery, and the lengthy rehab that comes with the procedure, played a role in his recent regression. Again, 2021 will be huge for his development and in determining his trajectory.
“He’s got a nice mix of pitches.”Ben Crockett, Red Sox vice president of player development, on Jay Groome
“I just want to see him not go on the injured list, is the first thing,” Cundall said. “And then the second thing is … I want to see him go out there every fifth, sixth day. I think he has to make it up to Double-A this year.”
Groome is expected to start the season at High-A.
Most-likely outcome: Back-end starter.
This seems like a reasonable middle ground between his high ceiling and his low floor. The Red Sox probably envisioned more of a mid-rotation starter, or even an ace, upon drafting him in 2016, but expectations need to be tempered until Groome regains his footing.
Getting his fastball velocity back up into the 92-94-mph range consistently, with the ability to touch 95-96 mph, is important. So, too, is reestablishing his curveball — once considered arguably the best in the 2016 draft class — and developing a useful third pitch, whether it be an effective changeup or slider.
Best-case scenario: Mid-rotation starter with All-Star potential.
It’ll take a lot for Groome to reach this point. And the chances of him doing so decrease with each passing year. But there’s a reason the big southpaw was a top-50 prospect on most national rankings prior to the 2017 season. Good conditioning and good health could yield good results.
“Groome did look great at Boston’s alternate site last year, sitting 92 mph and missing bats with it again, although his curveball isn’t back to the plus-plus pitch it was before Tommy John surgery,” The Athletic’s Keith Law recently wrote about Groome, whom he tabbed as the Red Sox’s top pitching prospect and their No. 4 prospect overall. “He’s healthy and has worked to improve his changeup as well; if he’s even working with a grade 60 curveball (rather than the 70 it was in high school), he’s at least a fourth starter, with a lot of upside beyond that if the curve returns and/or his velocity ticks up.”
SoxProspects ranking: No. 12
Here’s their summation:
“Potential fringe back-end starter, but injury risk and copious missed development time complicate that projection significantly. Ceiling is higher, closer to a mid-rotation type. Has a wide range of outcomes, with a significant gap between his floor and ceiling. On raw talent and the arsenal he showed prior to surgery, he could be one of the top prospects in the system. However, is well behind the development curve due to his lengthy injury history. Also, stuff has yet to return to pre-surgery levels. Re-discovering his velocity and the bite and consistency on his curveball are key for him to retain his prospect value, as will staying healthy, both to make up for lost development time and to simply prove he can do so.”
The Red Sox really need to push Groome this year to avoid him falling further behind in his development. That doesn’t mean he’ll debut in Boston, though. A 2022 or 2023 major league arrival is far more likely, with an advancement to Double-A or perhaps Triple-A being a realistic goal for 2021.
“I think he just needs to show that mound presence and strike-throwing ability to the point where they’re comfortable pushing him up to the high minors and being tested by the more advanced hitters,” Cundall said.