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Where did this Bobby Poyner guy come from?

Rob Bradford
April 06, 2018 - 11:18 am

The Red Sox have started their season at 6-1, with the starting rotation turning in a historic performance through their first seven chances. Hanley Ramirez has seemingly been revitalized, and Alex Cora's managerial stylings are starting to bubble up to the surface.

But the story of the young season might actually be the newest Red Sox reliever.

Bobby Poyner is the kind of out-of-nowhere narrative that makes us all wonder how this sort of guy goes under the radar for so long.

"You draft all these guys, you have high hopes for all of them. That's why you select them. They don't always turn out," said Red Sox director of amateur scouting Mike Rikard. "What he's always done is be very successful at a high level. It doesn't surprise me he's done what he's done, but I can't tell you I saw this path coming and having immediate success in the major leagues and a lot of those things."

Poyner has been a revelation for the Red Sox, a notion most recently highlighted in his two innings of high-leverage, shutout relief during Thursday afternoon's win over the Rays. The 25-year-old has been exactly what Cora saw in spring training -- a fearless lefty who can get out hitters from both sides of the plate.

Poyner pitched as a reliever for four years at the University of Florida, then throughout a minor-league stint with the Red Sox that culminated in a 0.94 ERA in 27 outings with Double-A Portland last season. And now this.

What the southpaw represents is a reminder that when it comes to projections, none of us truly has it figured out.

"It's kind of one of the things we do as an industry, is that we look for these certain types of pitchers. As I've grown, and as we've grown as a staff, one of the big lessons that we've learned is that they all come in different shapes and sizes, and different deliveries and arm actions," Rikard said. "You just have to be smart enough to look around the big leagues now and see there are so many different types of pitchers. He kind of falls into that group of non-cosmetic-type guys. A guy who is a good pitcher but doesn't necessarily have big velocity or some of the things we tend to look for as scouts."

Here's how much baseball initially thought of Poyner, his 6-foot frame and 88 mph fastball: He was drafted with the 411th pick in the 14th round of the 2015 amateur draft. 

Here's what Poyner has shown baseball: There have been 157 players taken before the southpaw who hasn't sniffed the big leagues, with Washington's Koda Glover (8th round) the latest pick in that draft prior to Poyner to reach the majors.

But Red Sox North Florida-area scout Stephen Hargett saw enough of Poyner to convince the Red Sox that this was a guy worth investing in (even if the investment was just a $10,000 signing bonus).

"I do remember that it was a real breath of fresh air with him," Rikard said. "Even so many seniors have agents and talk about money, but in his case, it was just a situation where he said, 'Take me and I'm going to be a big leaguer.' He was even that bold with Stephen in telling him, 'I don't have an agent. I don't really care about what my bonus is. Just take me and I'll make my money in the big leagues.' That's so refreshing to hear because so many times it is all about those things. He just wanted a chance to be a Red Sox and a chance to be in the big leagues and he has.

"Obviously Bobby is a little bit unique in that he doesn't have big velocity. He's not the most physical type of pitcher, but they did a great job of recognizing his unique talents and really kind of fell in love with him as a kid. His toughness. His determination. His resiliency as a pitcher. Those qualities have always kind of been consistent with him and they recognized those things with him as a kid. Then as a pitcher, the deception is the big thing. He's got a real sneaky fastball. I think you saw that [Thursday]. When he's throwing 88 to 90 [mph] he can still induce late swings and bad hacks and that type of things. They recognize that early. Even as an amateur it was the same thing, throwing 88 and still getting swings and misses. Essentially they did a real good job of recognizing those things."

The intrigue when it comes to Poyner is not only how he slipped through the cracks, but how he continues to do what he does.

The lefty has thrown the exact same number of pitches as Craig Kimbrel thus far, eliciting only two fewer swinging strikes, doing it with a fastball that clocks in a good 8 mph slower than the Sox' closer.

"It starts with his delivery," Rikard noted. "He hides the ball. He's tough to pick up. Those are the unique attributes that are a credit to the scout for recognizing those things because those are not easy. A lot of times I tell our guys to watch the hitters rather than the radar gun, so that is a really good indicator of how tough he is to see. And I know the scouts did that in this case. A lot like what we saw [Thursday]. Late swings. If you watch the hitters it will tell you, yeah, it's 88 on the radar gun but he's tough to pick up and I think that starts with the delivery."

And then there is the demeanor.

While Poyner did admit on the Bradfo Sho podcast that he was a bit awestruck when facing Minnesota's Joe Mauer in spring training, there has been no signs of intimidation throughout his first four big league outings. 

"That's one of the big things that we ask of our scouts that we really get to know their players. Obviously, not just being in Boston but getting to the big leagues, make-up, your character and determination and all those things are a huge part of it," Rikard said. "The credit goes to our scout who recognized what a tough, determined and resilient kid he was. That's certainly a big part of it. We call it make-up, but it's a big piece of the puzzle."

It's a puzzle we're all just starting to figure out.