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The Red Sox are trying to rebuild their farm system, which means we'll have one eye on Pawtucket, Portland, and points south this season.
Spring training has provided an early peek at a number of prospects, however, giving us an idea of what kind of talent chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom has either inherited or imported, and there's been a lot to like.
Yesterday we ran through the position players who have opened eyes, and today we'll examine the pitchers.
1. Garrett Whitlock, RHP
Whitlock is one of the best stories of camp. A rule 5 pick from the Yankees who's coming off Tommy John surgery, Whitlock has dominated, striking out 12 in nine innings while allowing one run and no walks.
He possesses a hard sinking fastball that ties up right-handers, and a two-seamer that he can throw inside to lefties, operating consistently in the 95-96 mph range.
He was a lock to make the roster with even a half-decent spring, since the Red Sox wouldn't want to offer him back to the Yankees if they could help it, but he has erased any doubt with his performance in the Fort.
"He's been great for us, the way he's throwing the ball," manager Alex Cora said. "The way he's getting better, his changeup, his slider, breaking ball, holding runners. He's been solid. As a citizen in the clubhouse, he's been great, following the leaders. He goes to every bullpen that he can, he goes to B games and sim games, he's just enjoying the experience, which is awesome. He's grown as a baseball player in the last few weeks. He's a guy who's opening some eyes."
2. Tanner Houck, RHP
Houck's brilliant 2020 debut (3-0, 0.53) masked some issues he had battled in the minors, chief among them struggles against left-handed hitters. He arrived in camp knowing he had only an outside shot of cracking the rotation, but he pitched like someone putting pressure on himself to make the team, with ugly results.
Though his velocity ticked up to 98 mph, he couldn't find the strike zone, walking 10 in 6.1 innings and posting an 8.53 ERA in three games before being optioned back to the alternate site. The Red Sox still view him as a starter, but they need him to pound the strike zone.
"His velocity is up," Cora said. "And sometimes it's like, 'OK, I can do this, but I need to do things delivery-wise to be consistent.' And that's where he's at. He understands and he knows that at one point during the season he's going to be here and he's going to contribute."
3. Connor Seabold, RHP
Acquired with Nick Pivetta in the deal that sent closer Brandon Workman to the Phillies, Seabold was supposed to be a finesse guy who understood the craft of pitching without necessarily featuring any dominant offerings.
He has come out throwing 96-97 mph, however, altering the perception of what he could ultimately be.
"Velocity-wise, that was good to see," Cora said. "His changeup is a good pitch. This is a guy we like as a starter. We're going to keep stretching him out, and when he gets to the big leagues, that's where he's going to contribute."
4. Bryan Mata, RHP
The news hasn't all been good. Mata felt soreness in his forearm early in camp and was shut down before being diagnosed with a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament. The Red Sox are taking the rest and rehab approach for now, but it wouldn't be a surprise if there's Tommy John surgery in his future.
"Obviously we have to be patient and see how he reacts," Cora said. "When you start talking about the UCL, obviously it's something that we don't feel comfortable, of course, because it's the UCL. We've just got to be patient. And he has to be patient."
5. Thaddeus Ward, RHP
A Fort Myers native taken in the fifth round of the 2018 draft, Ward broke out in 2019, going 8-5 with a 2.14 ERA between Low and High A. The Red Sox summoned him to big league camp for three appearances that saw him strike out two, including former All-Star Ozzie Albies of the Braves.
With a fastball that hit 97 mph two years ago and a solid cutter, Ward could be this season's Houck, the starting prospect who arrives and provides a spark.
"He slows down the game," Cora said. "We love his tempo on the mound."
6. Josh Winckowski, RHP
Another Fort Myers native, Winckowski arrived from the Royals in the Andrew Benintendi trade and has impressed with a mid-90s fastball that teammate Matt Barnes described as "heavy."
Winckowski has allowed just two hits in four appearances, but both have been solo homers. Still, Cora likes his stuff and demeanor, and puts him in the class of pitching prospects who could make an impact.
"You can see the stuff," he said. "I know Chaim has talked about it, that we're not where he really wants us to be, we've made some strides in certain areas. Some of the kids that were here before he took over, but throughout the process, he has added some very talented players, and now you can see that we can be good in the present and we can be actually better in the future."
7. Eduard Bazardo, RHP
The Red Sox protected Bazardo in the rule 5 draft based on the progress he made at fall instructional league, where his velocity jumped to 97 mph. Before being sent back down this spring, he impressed at big league camp, allowing one run in five innings and striking out four.
It's all part of the 25-year-old's maturation process. Once listed at a skinny 6-feet and 150 pounds, he's now up to 165. He may lack the bulk to start, but the combination of his fastball with a plus-curveball could earn him a home in a big-league bullpen.
"He gained some weight," Cora said. "He got stronger and the fastball is better now. The velocity's up. Everybody knows about the breaking ball, but I do believe the fastball is going to make a difference. Very likable guy. For how young he is or whatever, he's always walking with a smile, feels comfortable within the group. He's one of those guys that just watching the video, especially (from) instructional league, you're like, 'Wow. This is impressive.'"
8. Jay Groome, LHP
It has been a long road for the former 12th overall pick, Dave Dombrowski's first selection as Red Sox president of baseball operations back in 2016. Groome missed the entire 2018 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, returning in 2019 to throw four innings.
He spent 2020 at the alternate site, and made his first spring training appearance last week against the Braves, striking out one in a scoreless inning while hitting 97 mph with his fastball.
"There's a lot of work with him but you saw it today, stuff-wise — the slow breaking ball, the changeup, the fastball — that was a good one," Cora said after his spring debut. "We've been patient and we'll keep being patient with him. We've got to keep working with him and if he keeps throwing the ball like he threw it today, the future is bright."