Even though he spent a decent portion of the season in the majors, left-handed relief pitcher Bobby Poyner still counts as a prospect in the Red Sox system. Poyner started 2018 by skipping AAA Pawtucket altogether and landing on the Opening Day roster. However, a hamstring injury forced him into the minors for the majority of the season. He found his way back to the majors at the end of 2018, but can he stay in the big league full-time in 2019?
Red Sox Prospects: Bobby Poyner
Bobby Poyner making the Opening Day roster to begin with was one of the biggest surprises of the early season. The lefty dominated High-A Salem and AA Portland during 2017, posting a 1.49 ERA and a 2.26 FIP in 60.1 innings of work. This performance, combined with a strong spring training, allowed him to bypass Pawtucket entirely and start the season as the only lefty in the Red Sox bullpen.
Early on, Poyner performed surprisingly well. Pitching seven innings in April, Poyner posted a 2.57 ERA and a 3.16 FIP. He showed the ability to get both lefties and righties out, pitching multiple innings in three of his appearances. He struck out 10.3 batters per nine innings and had a BB/9 of just 1.3. This is obviously a small sample, but the rookie reliever did everything the Sox could ask of him. Unfortunately, a hamstring injury sidelined him midway through April, and a roster crunch kept him in the minors for the majority of the season.
Poyner made a few brief cameos in the majors before staying up for good when rosters expanded in September. In all, Poyner finished the 2018 season with a 3.22 ERA and a 4.01 FIP. He showed strikeout potential, finishing the year with a 9.67 K/9. Additionally, he showed promising command with his 1.61 BB/9
Poyner is primarily a two-pitch pitcher. While he technically has a slider and curveball, he does most of his damage with his fastball-changeup combo. He won’t blow anyone away with his velocity, as the fastball sits at 90 miles per hour. However, he has strong command of the offering and can paint the corners with ease. Poyner complements this pitch with a solid changeup which falls off at the last second. It looks like a fastball out of his hand and is definitely a major league caliber pitch.
What To Work On
Poyner’s overall major league numbers were solid, but there’s a drastic split between his early- and late-season splits. In the second half of the season, Poyner allowed a 4.63 ERA and a 5.13 FIP in 11.2 innings of work. Again, small sample size, but splits this dramatic are obviously discouraging.
Additionally, his minor league numbers weren’t what you’d want out of a major league reliever. Poyner posted a relatively unimpressive 3.07 ERA and 3.83 FIP while with the AAA Pawtucket Red Sox. While these numbers aren’t terrible by any means, they’re not great either. The talent in Pawtucket isn’t nearly as the majors, so Poyner should have performed better against this competition.
The most glaring problem with Poyner is his inability to induce ground balls. Throughout his time in the majors, Poyner allowed ground balls on just 30% of all contact. That number was even worse in Pawtucket, as batters hit ground balls just 23.3% of the time against Poyner. Ground balls are easily the preferred type of contact, and Poyner will need to focus on forcing more weak contact.
In many ways, 2019 will go a long way in determining who Bobby Poyner really is. The lefty dominated throughout 2017 and the early parts of 2018 before falling off later in the year. If Poyner can find his early form, then the lefty should be a mainstay in the major league bullpen. However, if he can’t find his early form, Poyner could be relegated to a minor league career.
Poyner’s strikeout numbers are solid, but he’ll need to work on inducing ground balls if he’s to reach his full potential. While none of his pitches are elite, his top-notch command ensures he’ll always be, at the very least, an emergency major league injury replacement.
Poyner will enter spring training fighting for one of the last spots on the Red Sox Opening Day roster. It’s only December, so it’s far too early to tell if he’ll make it or not. The Red Sox are likely to add another reliever or two, so Poyner could be battling guys like Colten Brewer and Brandon Workman for one spot on the Opening Day roster.
Even if Poyner doesn’t start the year in Boston, he’ll be one of the first players called up in the inevitable case of injury. He’ll never be a closer or a top reliever, but he certainly has the makings of a major league mainstay. He can pitch multiple innings and is proven to get lefties and righties out at the highest level. Hopefully, Poyner can build on the good of 2018 instead of the bad and earn a full-time spot on the Red Sox roster.