Loss Of Jay Groome Highlights Lack Of Depth

The news that top prospect Jay Groome would require Tommy John surgery represented an anvil dropped atop a Red Sox organization that was already in an early-season free fall.

After years of feeding quality prospects to both the big league team and to other teams as parts of trades, the Red Sox already appeared thin on impact arms entering the season.

The loss of Groome would have represented a tough loss in its own right, but the fact that it came in mid-May, at a time when so many of the team’s other top pitching prospects were struggling, left the organization in a particularly depleted state.

The team’s top pitching prospects behind Groome all had suffered from major early season control difficulties at high Class A Salem. Righthander Bryan Mata had the highest walk rate in the Carolina League (19.5 percent) by a pitcher with at least 25 innings. Lefthander Darwinzon Hernandez had the second-highest walk rate (18.8 percent) and 2017 first-rounder Tanner Houck (15.1 percent) ranked eighth.

The organization can cite reasons for each of those pitchers’ difficulties. Houck is altering his arsenal in pro ball, figuring out the right balance between a four-seam fastball (a new pitch for him) and the two-seamer that carried him at Missouri. He also switched from a college slider to a curveball in pro ball.

“He’s taking steps forward,” farm director Ben Crockett said. “I think we’re seeing a lot of positives there. The stuff has been very good.”

At 19, Mata is the youngest pitcher in the Carolina League. Plunged into the deep end, he had been trying to re-establish himself with the same aggressive strike throwing that characterized his first two pro seasons.

“I think it’s a combination of repeating his delivery and also staying consistent and aggressive with his plan,” Crockett said. “. . . I think, ultimately, we’ll get him in the right place.”

The ability of the Salem rotation members to attack the strike zone will play a huge role in determining the state of the system going forward—at least until Groome returns to the mound some time in 2019. In the meantime, the Red Sox face a host of challenges to place several of their top pitching prospects on more stable developmental footing.

>> Thanks to the continued development of his cutter and his ability to locate his fastball, Triple-A Pawtucket lefthander Jalen Beeks had a 37.1 percent strikeout rate through eight starts that ranked first in the International League.

>> Righthander Kutter Crawford, a 16th-round pick last year, had a 1.70 ERA with a 31.4 percent strikeout rate and 6.7 percent walk rate on the strength of a four-pitch mix of a 91-93 mph fastball, cutter, curveball and changeup.

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