The Boston Red Sox made an interesting decision leading up to Thanksgiving by adding left-handed pitcher Josh Taylor to the 40-man roster. Taylor was acquired last off-season in the Deven Marrero trade and wasn’t expected to compete for a major league spot in 2019. However, the club clearly sees something in the unranked prospect. What is it that the Red Sox organization sees in Taylor to prioritize protecting him over a guy like Josh Ockimey?
Red Sox Prospects: Josh Taylor
Despite being a minor leaguer, Taylor projects solely as a reliever. The 25-year old lefty started for the Arizona Diamondbacks organization as recently as 2017 but was used exclusively as a reliever with Boston. Taylor never made it above Single-A with the Diamondbacks but started his Red Sox career with the Portland Sea Dogs.
In 33 appearances (35.2 innings), Taylor pitched to the tune of a 3.79 ERA and a 3.55 FIP while striking out an above-average 9.34 batters per nine innings. Additionally, when Taylor wasn’t striking guys out, he was inducing ground balls at a fantastic 51.9% rate. He impressed the Red Sox enough to earn a late-season call-up to the Pawtucket Red Sox. While he only made one appearance there, the fact that he earned the honor at all shows what the Sox think of his potential.
Taylor profiles as a fastball-cutter-curveball guy, similar to a lot of the Red Sox current bullpen arms. His fastball has average velocity for a reliever, resting in the mid-90’s. However, the pitch doesn’t have much movement and he has a tough time controlling it. His cutter comes in at around 88-90 miles per hour and has a short, horizontal break towards a left-handed hitter. His curveball sits in the high 70’s to low 80’s and has a short, vertical break.
Ultimately, none of his pitches will blow you away at the moment. However, each pitch is solid enough in its’ own right to complement each other. He’ll never become an elite pitcher with his stuff, but he has the potential to be a decent middle-relief arm.
What To Work On
As previously mentioned, Taylor doesn’t have the most explosive pitch tool. If he’s to make it as a mainstay in the majors, he’ll need to have pinpoint command and excellent ball placement. That is a major concern right now, as Taylor simply could not find the strike zone for the majority of 2018.
Throughout his time in Portland, Taylor walked a concerning 4.54 batters per nine innings. This simply cannot happen if he’s to ever stick around in the Red Sox bullpen. It’s one thing for Matt Barnes to do it (4.52 BB/9 in 2018), but he was also striking out 14.01 batters per nine innings. Taylor doesn’t have that type of strikeout potential, so he’ll need to find the strike zone more consistently.
In fairness to Taylor, his command normally isn’t that bad. Throughout his minor league career, Taylor owned a 3.40 BB/9. This number, while not elite by any means, is serviceable for a reliever. If he brings his walk rate back to his career norm, he could have a home in the majors, or at least be a regular call-up from Pawtucket.
Ultimately, Taylor has a fairly-safe ceiling as an early-inning relief arm. He’ll never be asked to replace Craig Kimbrel, but he should have a major league future, even if his ceiling is a little low. It is surprising that they chose to protect him over a higher-ceiling guy like Josh Ockimey, but the Red Sox are clearly putting the priority on the pitchers.
Taylor will have a chance to compete for a bullpen spot out of spring training, but it’s unlikely he’ll get one. The best thing for Taylor is to start the season with the Pawtucket Red Sox. He’s never really faced competition that good, and throwing him right into the majors could overwhelm the kid.
Taylor will probably make his MLB debut the first time injury strikes. We’re obviously a long ways away from the start of the 2019 season, but Taylor figures to be one of the top depth options in Pawtucket. He’ll probably spend most of 2019 on the bus from Pawtucket to Boston, but look for him to try to stay on the roster full-time in 2020.