Red Sox's Rice Could Be Diamond In The Rough
BOSTON—When growing up in Southern California, Jason Rice loved watching Angels closer Troy Percival on the mound. Little did he know how good a role model he was selecting.
Percival, after all, emerged as a power closer only after he flopped at the start of his professional career as a catcher. Rice spent his amateur career as a catcher and moved to the mound after the White Sox drafted him in 2005.
At the recommendation of Red Sox professional scout (and former White Sox scout) Jaymie Bane, Boston grabbed Rice in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft after the 2008 season. He immediately opened eyes.
"Any time you get someone in the Double-A phase of the Rule 5 draft, you never necessarily know what you're getting," farm director Mike Hazen said. "He jumped off the page right away in spring training when we saw a guy throwing 94, 95."
In his two years with the Red Sox, Rice has emerged as an intriguing bullpen option. Despite a compact 5-foot-10 frame, he generates big velocity readings. In 2010, he typically sat in the mid-90s and topped out at 98 mph—as high a reading as the Sox had from any of their minor league pitchers last year—while going 3-2, 2.85 in 60 innings for Double-A Portland.
"I used to be a catcher. I think that's where my arm strength came from," Rice said. "Be short, quick and throw the ball as hard as you can down to second base. It ended up translating on the pitcher's mound."
Rice complements his fastball with a curveball that also generates swings and misses. That two-pitch arsenal has resulted in 165 strikeouts in 130 innings (11.4 strikeouts per nine innings) over the last two seasons at high Class A Salem and Portland.
The 24-year-old needs to refine his command (4.9 walks per nine innings since 2009) and get ahead more consistently so that he can use both of his pitches as weapons. If that happens, then the Sox can envision Rice becoming a contributor to their big league bullpen.
"He's got a big league arm and a big league secondary pitch," Hazen said.
• Junichi Tazawa, who had Tommy John surgery last April, threw bullpen sessions in November and was in Fort Myers, Fla., beginning a throwing program in January. Barring setbacks, he is likely to pitch in games (under strict innings limits) by April.
• Though neither Brandon Workman nor Anthony Ranaudo pitched after signing last summer, the Sox will have them on roughly the same innings limits as other advanced college pitchers in their first full pro seasons.