In case you’ve been living under a rock, the Boston Red Sox bullpen isn’t in the best shape right now. Matt Barnes is the only sure thing, as Ryan Brasier is currently dealing with a toe injury. The entire back end of the bullpen needs to be solidified, and one of the players to do that should be Marcus Walden. Walden isn’t an elite pitcher by any means, but he’s proved in the course of spring training that he should make it on the Red Sox Opening Day roster for the second straight year.
Marcus Walden Should Start the Season in Boston
In a spring training where Boston’s relievers, by and large, have been getting shelled, Marcus Walden is having another great spring. Walden has pitched eight innings Fort Myers, compiling a 1.13 ERA while striking out eight and only walking two. Granted, he’s been doing this against AA competition in a small sample, but a small sample is all we have.
For what it’s worth, 2018 showed that Alex Cora clearly values spring training results. Last year at this time, Eduardo Rodriguez, Drew Pomeranz, and Steven Wright all missed the season opener due to either suspension or injury. Because of this, Cora bypasses established relievers like Robby Scott to promote Bobby Poyner and Marcus Walden to the Opening Day roster. The reason he did this because Walden and Poyner simply had phenomenal springs.
Walden has minimal MLB experience, but he pitched adequately when in the big leagues. Pitching in 14.2 major league innings, Walden recorded a respectable 3.68 ERA and a 2.08 FIP. His 9.8% soft contact rate was obviously a problem, but he kept balls on the ground and walked just two batters in the majors.
Nobody Else Is Worthy
Putting Walden on the Opening Day roster isn’t ideal, but the Red Sox simply have no better options. Of the eight spots allotted to the bullpen, six are already filled. Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier will be the top two arms in the bullpen, while Heath Hembree, Brian Johnson, and Brandon Workman will stay in the majors because they don’t have minor league options. Hector Velazquez theoretically could be sent to the minors, but he’s too probably too good to keep down.
This leaves one or two spots open, with Tyler Thornburg, Bobby Poyner, Travis Lakins and Walden as the most likely fill-ins. Lakins has done well in his minor league time, so he should earn one of the spots on the opening day roster. While both Thornburg and Poyner have higher ceilings than Walden, neither player has shown that they deserve to start the year with the major league club.
Thornburg has been absolutely atrocious this spring and it looks like he’ll never find his 2015 form again. The righty has pitched four spring training innings, allowing seven runs and two homers en route to an atrocious 15.75 ERA. His peripherals aren’t any batter, as he’s struck out just three batters while walking two. His fastball is reportedly back in the mid-90’s, but the Red Sox need to start seeing results. His contract isn’t guaranteed, and the Red Sox could save some money by cutting Thornburg before the start of the regular season.
Poyner hasn’t been much better. Through 7.2 innings of work, Poyner has allowed seven runs and nine hits while striking out five and walking four. His 8.22 ERA leaves a lot to be desired, and he still has minor league options. Perhaps the Red Sox will overlook his spring training struggles since he has 22.1 innings of major league experience, but that doesn’t seem likely.
Other Options Too Young
Spring training’s best pitcher is easily 22-year old prospect Darwinzon Herandez. The lefty has been amazing this spring, picking up right where he left off in the Arizona Fall League. Through eight innings of work, Hernandez has allowed just one run and five hits while striking out 11 and walking five. As the top pitching prospect in the Red Sox system, some are calling for Hernandez to start the season with the major league club.
However, that would be a bad idea for a wide variety of reasons. For one, Hernandez only has six innings of professional experience above the Single-A level. Asking Hernandez to make that big of a jump in talent is asking for the worst. Quite frankly, he’ll need more time in the minors before he’s ready to contribute in the majors. Additionally, he’s still a starting pitcher, and the Red Sox should work on developing him into a top- or mid-rotation arm. Starting pitching is significantly more valuable than relief pitching, and the Red Sox owe it to themselves to see if Hernandez can make it as a starter.
The other talented young pitching prospect on everyone’s mind is Durbin Feltman. There’s no denying that Feltman has the ability to be an elite closer, but he still needs more time in the minors. Feltman hasn’t even pitched above the Single-A level and needs more time to face more advanced hitting. He’ll be in the majors before long, but he’ll need at least a month with the AA Portland Sea Dogs and AAA Pawtucket Red Sox.
Ultimately, this leaves Marcus Walden as the only good option to take the final spot in the Red Sox bullpen. This isn’t an ideal plan by any means, but it is the situation the Red Sox are currently in.