It was a rough summer for Red Sox pitching prospects. Look at the arms on BA's Top 10 Prospects list from last year: Anthony Ranaudo, an advanced college arm, was mediocre in Class A. Drake Britton's command went backward in his second full year after Tommy John surgery. Felix Doubront had elbow, groin and hamstring injuries. Stolmy Pimentel regressed. Are all these simultaneous problems a coincidence or an organization issue? What's Boston's future rotation going to look like?
Ranaudo, Britton, Doubront and Pimentel entered the 2011 season as the Red Sox's top minor league arms and exited it as question marks. Boston hoped Ranaudo would progress rapidly after signing him for $2.55 million as a supplemental first-round pick, but after a strong start in low Class A, he leveled off following a promotion. He showed a mid-90s fastball and hammer curveball at times, but more often sat around 90 mph with his fastball and lacked consistency with his secondary pitches.
Britton hit 95 mph on occasion and also flashed a hard breaking ball, but his command, consistency and mound presence left a lot to be desired. It's now a lot easier to project him as a hard-throwing lefty reliever than as a mid-rotation starter.
Another lefty, Doubront helped the Red Sox as both a starter and reliever in 2010. He had a lost year in 2011, working just 88 innings while battling a variety of ailments. I still think he has enough stuff to be a No. 3 or 4 starter if he can stay healthy, but he's also out of options and may have to serve a Boston apprenticeship in relief next year.
Pimentel was the biggest enigma. Double-A hitters destroyed him to the tune of a 9.12 ERA and .352 opponent average, and following a demotion to high Class A, he wasn't as good there as he had been in 2010. He ran his fastball up to 97 mph, displayed good life on his heater at other times, showed some signs of a solid changeup and flashed some effective breaking pitches—but he couldn't do any of those things with any degree of reliability. He'll try to pick up the pieces in Double-A next year.
Many of the arms on the Red Sox' next tier of pitching prospects had solid seasons (Brandon Workman, Alex Wilson, Kyle Weiland, Chris Balcolm-Miller), and they also found some promising reinforcements in the draft (Matt Barnes, Henry Owens, Noe Ramirez). But it was still a disappointing year for Boston's minor league pitchers, especially because they couldn't provide any help when the big league staff imploded. Britton, Doubront and Pimentel had developed nicely in the past, so there struggles and Ranaudo's appear to be more coincidence than evidence of a system problem in the way the Red Sox handle young arms.
Gazing into my crystal ball, I envision a 2015 Boston rotation of Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett, Barnes and Ranaudo. Lester and Beckett would have to be re-signed to new contracts, however, so stay tuned.