Justin Slaten already is making an impression at Red Sox spring training.

Could he be Boston’s next Rule 5 Draft success story?

“Slate, today, the stuff was really good. He threw cutters and the breaking ball and the fastball. It was fun to watch,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters Thursday in Fort Myers after Slaten threw live batting practice at JetBlue Park. “He was somebody who is opening eyes right away. If we can harness the stuff in the zone, then great things are going to happen.”

The Red Sox acquired Slaten in a trade with the Mets this offseason after New York plucked him from the Texas Rangers in the Rule 5 Draft. The 26-year-old posted a 2.87 ERA and 1.073 WHIP in 40 appearances (59 2/3 innings) last season split between Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock. He struck out 13 batters per nine innings, demonstrating a knack for missing bats.

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Obviously, it’s difficult to project how he’ll perform at the major-league level, where he’ll need to remain on the Red Sox’s 26-man active roster all season or else be offered back to his original club (per Rule 5 Draft rules). He’s never thrown a pitch in The Show, and the 2019 third-round pick struggled at times prior to his 2023 breakout.

But Red Sox chief baseball officer Craig Breslow was optimistic after adding Slaten in a deal that sent minor-league left-hander Ryan Ammons and cash considerations to the Mets. The right-hander has a real opportunity to carve out a role in Boston’s bullpen, much like Garrett Whitlock did after being selected by the Red Sox in the Rule 5 Draft before the 2021 season.

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“It was kind of the marriage of the data, the raw pitch characteristics, the performance, the scouting group, everyone kind of aligned,” Breslow told reporters back in December of acquiring Slaten. “This budding pitching infrastructure, we were able to get additional perspectives, and when there’s alignment across all of those groups, it makes for a fairly easy decision. He’s a guy with huge swing-and-miss stuff, profiles as a back-of-the-bullpen type arm, so we’re really excited to get him here and see what he can do.”

Of course, it’s oftentimes tough to roster a Rule 5 pick for an entire season. And that could be especially true for the Red Sox, who also have to figure out what to do with right-hander Bryan Mata, a touted pitching prospect who battled injuries in recent years and now is out of minor-league options.

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“You know the challenges. I think, roster-wise, the flexibility of making moves, but at the end of the day, if you’ve got good stuff and you throw strikes, you have a chance, obviously,” Cora said Thursday of both Slaten and Mata potentially cracking Boston’s Opening Day roster. “That’s a decision we have to make toward the end (of spring training), but they’re very talented.”

“So, I think, obviously, the next five, six weeks are going to dictate what we do, but I think the only challenge is roster flexibility,” the skipper added. “If we have to carry two, we will (and) it’s because they earned it; not because we gave it to them.”

All of this is to say Slaten, like Mata, is an intriguing arm to watch as the Red Sox finalize their 2024 bullpen. Expecting a Whitlock-esque breakout might be unfair, but it sure would be an early feather in Breslow’s cap if Slaten has a solid spring and breaks camp with Boston at the end of March.

Featured image via Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox