Sylver: Jalen Beeks Looks to Change Narrative Over Homegrown Red Sox Pitchers
By Sean Sylver, 98.5 The Sports Hub
Jalen Beeks makes his Major League debut on Thursday for the Boston Red Sox – the first time since 2015 that a starting pitcher, drafted and developed by the team, has done so. Three years ago, the last place Sox trotted out two such pitchers in Henry Owens and Brian Johnson.
While Johnson hasn’t broken through as a member of the rotation, he remains with the team in a bullpen role. Owens – well, that’s perhaps the most vivid recent example of the Red Sox pitching prospect hype train going off the rails.
The 6-foot-6 lefty, a former supplemental first-round draft pick, presided over no-hitters at two different levels of the minor leagues. And in three year’s time, he went from the top-50 on the Baseball America prospect list to 25 years old and designated for assignment.
Beeks’ backstory is admittedly different from that of Owens. Seven inches shorter, drafted in the 12th round the same year Owens was riding a rocket ship from Portland to Pawtucket, the Arkansas product is making his first big league start at the ripe old age of 24. And while many young pitchers receive promotions based on potential, Beeks has done so on performance, collecting the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year honor for 2017 and following that up with jaw-dropping 2018 numbers: a 2.56 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 56.1 innings.
It’s the best strikeout rate in the International League, even better than flamethrower Michael Kopech, the 2014 first-rounder the Sox jettisoned in the Chris Sale deal.
Beeks may or may not dominate the feeble Detroit lineup, and the hope is that he doesn’t have to be much of a factor in 2018 at all. Will he be a staple of the Boston rotation in years to come? Who knows. But the Red Sox have invested a lot more and gotten a lot less out of other starting pitching prospects in recent years.
In fact, it’s been over a decade since the team developed a serviceable major league starter, and they traded him, too. Justin Masterson was a spot-starter in Boston, but he fit right into Cleveland’s plans, even making the All-Star team in 2013 before injuries derailed his career.
You have to go all the way back to Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz in 2006 and 2007, respectively, to find impact starters that came out of the system and stuck with the team.
At the time, Mike Port-era holdover Lester (second round, 2002), combined with the stringy Buchholz (supplemental first rounder, 2005) and ascendant closer Jonathan Papelbon (fourth round, 2003) seemed like an embarrassment of riches for a team that already employed ace-in-waiting Josh Beckett. In 2007, all three pitchers saw success on a World Series-winning roster.
Since then? Nothing.
Former first-rounder Michael Bowden fell well short of the hoopla. Casey Kelly (first round, 2008) exited in the Adrian Gonzalez trade and has spent most of the decade on the disabled list. Anthony Ranaudo, a 2010 supplemental pick, was a Cape League stud for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox but didn’t pan out in Boston. Remember Kyle Weiland (third round, 2008)?
At least Matt Barnes (a first-rounder in 2011) and Brandon Workman (second round, 2010) have made some contributions in relief over the years. Alex Wilson (second round, 2009) was drafted as a starter and also pitches out of the bullpen for the Tigers.
But go look up Trey Ball’s (first round, 2013) stats. Not pretty. Other than Barnes, Workman (just called up) and Wilson, none of the aforementioned players are currently pitching in the major leagues.
This seems to apply to relievers, as well. There’s the sad case of Daniel Bard (first round, 2006). Craig Hansen (first round, 2005), ruined. Noe Ramirez (fourth round, 2011) has a job with the Angels, but he’s been a fringe major leaguer.
And that’s just the guys who have major league service time. There’s a slew of others who never even sniffed The Show.
We heard so much about Anderson Espinoza, a top-20 Baseball America guy spun off in the Drew Pomeranz deal. He hasn’t pitched since 2016 due to injury. 2016 first rounder Jay Groome just went under the knife. And to hear Matt McCarthy, host of the Sports Hub’s Hardcore Baseball podcast, tell it, the organization appears to have messed up last year’s first rounder, Tanner Houck, for good measure.
“They are lucky they’re the Red Sox and have the resources they do, because most teams would be basement dwellers with this track record,” McCarthy mused in a recent text message.
Hop in the Way Back Machine to the 1990’s, when Aaron Sele and Jeff Suppan were the very best of the bunch and we waited, seemingly for years, for the ascent of Carl Pavano and Brian Rose. It was maddening. A few years later, the Sox won the 2004 World Series after sending a homegrown starter (Abe Alvarez) to the bump in just a single regular season game. Maybe that’s the blueprint Dave Dombrowski is looking to follow.
I understand the MLB draft is perhaps the biggest crapshoot out the the four major sports. And this isn’t all Dombrowski’s fault. The dearth of organizational starting pitching stretches across Ben Cherington’s tenure, all the way back to Theo Epstein’s heyday. But in 2018, ten years after the debut of Justin Masterson, 12th round pick Jalen Beeks is the Obi-Wan Kenobi of Boston’s pitching prospects.
We can only hope this changes in the future.
Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. You can follow him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.