In a vacuum, the Red Sox probably would have given 24-year-old righthander Travis Lakins more time to develop as a starter given his ability to work with four pitches anchored by a low-to-mid-90s fastball.
But with Lakins seeing each of his first two pro seasons in 2016 and 2017 come to an end because of a stress fracture on the tip of his right elbow, the team sought to control his workload in 2018 by exploring new roles.
Lakins spent the first month of 2018 at Double-A Portland making starts of no more than three innings. He gradually shifted to a more traditional bullpen role and thrived. He made his final nine appearances at Triple-A Pawtucket, allowing one earned run in 14.2 innings while striking out 14 and limiting batters to a .157 average.
Lakins, a 2015 sixth-rounder from Ohio State, made 30 relief appearances of one to two innings. He proved dominant in doing so. He recorded a 1.21 ERA while striking out 8.9 per nine innings.
Lakins has a relatively true fastball that registered in the mid-90s early in the year but dipped to the lower 90s late in the year. Yet the pitch didn’t get barreled frequently because Lakins has a high effective velocity and because the pitch is difficult to distinguishing from his strong cutter.
“There’s some deception there,” Pawtucket manager Kevin Boles said. “There’s some late swings. They’re not picking up the ball out of the hand.”
Adding to the difficulty of facing Lakins was the fact that he continued to employ, at times, a starter’s mix, sprinkling in enough changeups and curveballs to unbalance opposing hitters. The Red Sox were satisfied to let Lakins head home after a healthy season rather than call him up in September, though they added him to the 40-man roster in the offseason to shield him from the Rule 5 draft.
The Red Sox expect Lakins to serve as bullpen depth out of the gate in 2019. Evaluators believe his mix should translate to at least an effective middle relief role, with a chance that health and clarity about his role could give him a shot at higher-leverage bullpen responsibilities down the road.
—The Red Sox extended their Player Development Contract with Double-A Portland through 2022.
—Paddy Steinfort, the director of performance and leadership development for the Philadelphia 76ers, was hired as a mental skills coach to work with Double-A and Triple-A players.