Having right-handed starter Jake Peavy under control through 2014 was important to Boston Red Sox GM Ben Cherington for several obvious reasons and one not-so-obvious reason when he executed the trade.
That not-so-obvious one: By Peavy being in the starting rotation next year, Cherington sees the added depth as a terrific opportunity for some of the organization’s talented young starting pitchers to remain in the minor leagues for some additional time — whether that be a part of a season or even a full year.
Cherington mentioned the Tampa Bay Rays have given that extra year of minor league development to certain starters with successful outcomes.
A perfect example from Tampa is 24-year-old rookie right-hander Chris Archer, who began this season in the minors but has a 2.65 ERA in 12 starts for the Rays since his promotion June 1.
Archer, who pitched in six major league games (29.1 innings) out of necessity last year, was drafted out of high school in 2006 and logged a hefty 769.2 innings in the minors.
The Rays’ starting depth helped keep Archer down for most of last year.
“The progression through the system is generally consistent,” Tampa pitching coach Jim Hickey recently told The Eagle-Tribune, sister paper of The Daily News. “A guy like David Price is certainly an exception to the rule. Most guys — Wade Davis, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore — have logged 750 innings or so in the minor leagues.”
Davis, like Archer, pitched more than 765.0 minor league innings. Hellickson pitched 580.1. Moore hurled 497.1.
The Red Sox certainly have some exciting young pitchers, including 23-year-old right-hander Anthony Ranaudo, who made his Triple-A debut with Pawtucket over the weekend, and 21-year-old left-hander Henry Owens, who made his Double-A debut with Portland on Saturday.
Both Owens and Ranaudo threw 6.0 scoreless innings in their debuts.
For understandable reasons, Red Sox fans are excited to see what these two pitchers among others can do in the majors and they would prefer to see them here in Boston sooner rather than later. But Cherington and the Red Sox prefer to give their pitchers more minor league time to mature.
“I’ve always called it ‘time in the seat,’” Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves said. “The more time (in the minors), the more comfortable you are going to be to make adjustments in the big leagues. You often see guys who come to the big leagues who haven’t spent two years in the minor leagues and when they struggle, they don’t know how to get out of it.”
That seemed to be the case earlier this season with 23-year-old Red Sox highly-touted prospect Allen Webster, who was promoted to Boston too early out of necessity when Clay Buchholz was injured.
Webster obviously needed to improve his fastball command and mentality when he found himself in jams.
Nieves said pitchers promoted too early also might struggle to cope with the long major league season.
“I’m a firm believer that the longer (in the minors) the better,” Nieves added. “It also gives them a sense of security when they come here.”
Yet there is always an exception to the rule such as Tampa’s Price who pitched just 151.1 minor league innings. The first overall pick in 2007, Price pitched in the postseason in 2008 and was Tampa’s ace by 2010.
Likewise, 24-year-old right-hander Brandon Workman has been very impressive for Boston this year after starting the season in Double-A Portland and he will pitch important innings during the final two months. He has proved to be ready despite almost 200 fewer minor league innings than Webster, although Webster was drafted out of high school and Workman pitched in college.
Each pitcher’s readiness always will be judged on a case-by-case bases. But Cherington and the Red Sox are operating under the philosophy that it never hurts to give the younger guys a little extra time whether necessary or not. Also, injuries obviously to the major league starting depth could alter Boston’s plan for its young prospects. Then, certain young pitchers will be counted on like Webster was this year.
Nieves — who recorded a career 4.71 ERA in three major league seasons — made his big league debut at just 21 years old. He said he’s a perfect example of someone who was rushed to the majors.
“I didn’t have secondary pitches,” Nieves said. “So I had to learn them in the big leagues. I had never thrown over 200 innings and they expected me to throw over 200 innings. I blew out. It’s so important to get that time.”
Nieves stressed the important to build a pitcher’s innings in the minor leagues so he is prepared for the full season. He equated the wear and tear of 100-110 major league innings to 180 minor league innings.
“Just because of the stress of the lineups, the competition,” Nieves said about the big leagues. “When guys get here, you want to have them at least get 150 in the minors (in one season) to experience that — the whole season.”
Tampa’s Archer threw more than 140 innings in two different minor league seasons and also logged 157.1 last season between the minors and his brief big league experience.
“The general rule of thumb is that you would increase a workload by 20 percent (a season),” Tampa’s Hickey said. “If you threw 150 innings the year before, you’d go 30 more within our comfort zone. That’s one of the reasons David Price went back after having a very successful end to 2008. He went back to start in the minors in 2009 so we could manage his innings. And when he did come up, that we’d be able to use him as we saw fit.”
Arizona pitching coach Charles Nagy added: “The young guys ... if they throw 100 (innings), the next year you kind of add like 25 to that.”
The most innings Red Sox starter Felix Doubront, who finally is coming into his own this season, had logged in one season before starting for Boston in 2012 was 129.1 innings. He had pitched just 87.2 innings in 2011 because of injuries.
So it is not surprising then that Doubront struggled during the final two months last year and didn’t reach his potential until this year. It was clear he could have used an additional year in the minors, but he was out of options entering ‘12 anyway so that extra year in the minors wasn’t possible. The Red Sox also didn’t have the additional depth back then and Doubront, therefore, was needed in the rotation.
With Peavy comes additional depth to help mature guys like Webster and Ranaudo that much more.