Henry Owens is part of the Red Sox' lack of pitching depth in the organization. (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Red Sox minor league notebook: Despite addition of Jason Groome, organizational pitching depth still an issue

Ryan Hannable
July 21, 2016 - 3:00 am
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1. While the Red Sox added No. 12 overall pick, high school left-hander Jason Groome to their organization last week, it doesn't mean their overall pitching depth is where it needs to be. Keep in mind, the Red Sox traded away their best pitching prospect in Anderson Espinoza for Drew Pomeranz on the same day Groome agreed to sign. And while the trade likely wouldn't have happened without knowing Groome would sign, it doesn't mean the pitching depth improved because it wasn't very strong to begin with -- essentially, Groome just replaced Espinoza. With the loss of Espinoza, the Red Sox' top pitching prospect is now Michael Kopech, who is most recently known for recording a 105 mph fastball. The hard-throwing right-hander is currently with High-A Salem after being suspended for 50 games last season when he was with Single-A Greenville and then missing all of spring training with a broken hand after getting in a fight with a teammate. Kopech's stuff is impressive, but still has a lot to prove given his off-field issues. Groome likely slides in as the next best pitching prospect. This past spring with Barnegat High School in Barnegat, New Jersey, the 6-foot-6 lefty posted a 0.77 ERA with 90 strikeouts and 15 hits allowed in 39 2/3 innings. While he has high upside, as he once was considered to be the top overall pick, it's hard to rely on a 17-year-old and really project just how good he will be. Behind Kopech and Groome there is a huge drop off. Henry Owens is struggling in Triple-A and Brian Johnson is working his way back from a leave of absence because of anxiety. The No. 7 overall pick in the 2013 draft left-hander Trey Ball has been unimpressive to this point. Right-hander Travis Latkis, selected in the sixth-round last year, had a lot of promise, but has had his ups and downs this season. Besides that group there's lefty Jalen Beeks and Teddy Stankiewicz in Portland along with Justin Haley in Pawtucket, while Josh Pennington is working his way back from Tommy John surgery in Lowell, but still hasn't been on the mound enough to fully prove himself. Overall, behind Kopech and Groome, there aren't a lot of names who seem destined for the majors. Improving the pitching depth has been a major emphasis, especially this year. While they've made some strides, the organization knows it still can improve. "I think it's better and I feel better about it, but I am not by any means satisfied," Red Sox minor league pitching coordinator Ralph Treuel said. "I think there are some guys who can do a little bit better and become a little bit more consistent. Some guys have made strides. I think a lot of our converted relievers have made some really good strides." Relief pitchers aside, the Red Sox' minor league pitching depth is something to keep an eye on as it's clear developing homegrown talent is a much better approach than overspending on starters via free agency. 2. The Red Sox waited until last Thursday, the day before the July 15 deadline to sign three of their final first 10 picks, which were first rounder Jason Groome, fourth rounder Bobby Dalbec and fifth rounder Mike Shawaryn. While it seemed by the way the signings came down on social media the Red Sox waited until the last minute for these deals, the reality was it was just a matter of crossing T's and dotting I's as the Red Sox had these deals pretty much in place prior to Thursday. "It didn't kind of all transpire all at once like it may have seemed to," director of amateur scouting Mike Rikard said. "There were kind of baby steps along the way to put us in the position right at the end to make the bigger moves. Sometimes in certain cases one move is kind of dependent upon another. Sometimes the player or advisor chooses to wait a little bit and kind of be patient with things. There was kind of work and progress being made along the way to kind of position ourselves where we weren't trying to carry the green there at the end and we were in position to hit a nice pitching wedge into the green." Overall, the Red Sox signed all 10 of their first 10 picks and Rikard is pleased with his draft class as a whole. "I'm very excited," he said. "Aside from the level of talent that we're going to infuse into our farm system, I like the blend of players. I think we have a nice mix of big upside in several cases and we also got some maybe college guys that are a little bit safer and a little bit closer to the big leagues. The other thing on the whole that I am really excited about is we have some really good makeup and high character guys, especially with some of the older guys that have really strong character attributes and leadership skills and some of those things. I like the talent. We got some really good impact tools and I like the overall blend of the class all together." 3. Even though the Red Sox were able to sign all ten of their picks in the first 10 rounds, they weren't able to strike a deal with 11th-round pick infielder Nick Quintana. Quintana was the Nevada High School Player of the Year this past spring and is committed to the University of Arizona. Quintana visited Fenway a week prior to the July 15 deadline, but he didn't sign and will likely be a top pick when he re-enters the draft. The Red Sox had an idea all along they wouldn't land him. "We had him up, we kind of had a general idea of what his expectations were," Rikard said. "We decided to have him up really more than anything just kind of to be a safety valve, kind of fallback option in case some things fell apart with one of the big three guys. We kind of made sure we positioned ourselves in case something went awry so to speak. We didn't really get too close with Nick. We had a lot of good conversations with him and his advisor and I think we were both open and up front with each other as far as where we stood and unfortunately, we weren't able to get into the ballpark of what it was going to take." 4. The general feeling within the Red Sox organization following Espinoza being dealt was you need to give up something good to get something good in return. Although the trade blindsided some in the organization because of the timing, taking a step back revealed it was a trade to improve the major league ballclub now and needed to be done. "It's always tough to lose a guy like Anderson and one of your top pitching prospects," Treuel said. "We got an All-Star in return. You have to look at it like that. I think we have to do what is best for the organization and if it means trading an Espinoza, you have to do what you have to do. I was in an organization that traded John Smoltz for a guy. I think again, you have to give up something good to get something good in return. Anderson is pretty darn good and we got an All-Star in return." Espinoza struggled in his first outing with his new organization Wednesday night. With Fort Wayne in the Midwest League, the 18-year-old went three innings and allowed four runs on seven hits, while walking two and striking out one. 5. While Kopech got a ton of national attention for his fastball last week, the Red Sox staff needed to remind him that it just isn't about throwing hard, it's about getting people out. "Again, it's an impressive number, but that's what it is," Treuel said. "It's just a number. We had to remind him that he does throw hard, but it's not about throwing to the gun, it's about getting people out and learning how to be a pitcher. There's a lot of guys in the big leagues that don't throw 105 mph, obviously. You have to learn how to pitch and that is the big thing that (Salem pitching coach) Paul Abbott and I were trying to talk to him about because he was pretty pumped up about it, obviously. I mean I think anyone would be if they threw 105 mph. It's still about developing your fastball command and making sure your breaking ball gets better and try to develop the changeup if you want to be a major league pitcher." The 20-year-old allowed his first run of the season July 18 in his fourth start. Overall, in four starts this season (three in Salem, one in Lowell) he is 0-1 with a 0.49 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 18 1/3 innings. 6. All eyes will be on Groome as he begins his professional career. He will report to Fort Myers, but don't expect him to get into games right away. "As I mentioned on the conference call the other day, we're going to certainly be extremely conservative with him," Rikard said. "He's obviously very young and he hasn't thrown competitively in a little while. There's going to be a slow pace of build up. We do a lot of other things that we feel are very beneficial for young pitchers as far as arm path and strength and conditioning programs that will be monitored to make sure he's in the best position possible to get out on the mound and start moving towards extending himself through a professional start." Like the Red Sox have done with many of their draftees in past years, it's likely they will try and get him to pitch in at least a few games in Lowell to experience a crowd and stadium atmosphere before the year is over. 7. Johnson is back on the mound and pitching well after taking a leave of absence with anxiety. He's progressed each time he's taken the mound as he went three innings during his first outing July 4 in the Florida Gulf Coast League and then went four innings in his next outing before being promoted to short season, Single-A Lowell. With the Spinners, he's made two starts going five and six innings respectively, while not allowing a run and striking out 11 over those 11 innings. "That's a big plus for us," Treuel said. "[Tuesday night], the reports I got from (Spinners pitching coach) Lance [Carter] was he was really good. Just talking to him in Lowell, he's really excited. For me, he's in a really good place right now." Given his progression each time he takes to the mound, he could be ready to rejoin Triple-A for his next start, but nothing is official. 8. The news isn't as good for Ball, who after a terrific start to his year has struggled of late. Since a seven-inning shutout on June 26, the tall left-hander has an ERA of 10.20 over his last four starts. His control hasn't been there either as in the 15 innings, he's walked 19 batters. "I was at Salem three weeks ago almost to the day and I saw him go seven innings where he didn't walk a guy and he was really good," Treuel said. "I think he's just had a couple of outings where the walks have spiked up. He's trying to over-throw. He's actually throwing the ball harder than he ever has so he's another guy we have to let him know it's about pitching, not about throwing to the gun. The stuff is fine, he's just hit a bump right now." The Red Sox are hopeful he can bounce back and pitch like he was at the beginning of the season. "Just talking to him, I don't think he's really that frustrated," Treuel said. "Of course he's (a little) frustrated, but he's had a nice run and now we're going to find out how he deals with this little bit of a bump and how quickly he comes out of it." 9. Dalbec was a star on the mound for the University of Arizona in the College World Series as they fell in the finals to Coastal Carolina. This past year, he went 11-5 with a 2.65 ERA in 28 games (seven starts), but he won't be a pitcher for the Red Sox, he will be a third baseman. He spent most of his time as a Wildcat playing third base where he hit .260 with seven home runs, but hit 15 last year. The Red Sox are hopeful he can turn into a power-hitting third baseman. "We drafted him as a third baseman and in our conversations that we've had in kind of getting to know him along the way, he's very convicted that he's a hitter and he wants to hit," Rikard said. "We do consider him to be a hitter and we're excited about his future as a power-hitting third baseman." 10. Both Shawaryn and third-round pick Shaun Anderson are currently with Lowell. Since both were college pitchers (Shawaryn out of the University of Maryland and Anderson the University of Florida) they will be on a faster track than Groome, but still they will be monitored closely. Anderson was Florida's closer this past year and Shawgryn logged a lot of innings with the Terrapins. Both could get into games fairly soon.