March 30, 2011 at 7:15 AM
The second to last installment of the series takes an in-depth look at the top two pitching prospects within the Red Sox organization.
Position: Starting Pitcher
2010 Team: Greenville Drive
2011 Projected Team: Salem Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 21
Strengths: Returning to full health after undergoing Tommy John Surgery in 2008, Britton saw his stuff make good strides in regaining the form that led to him being selected as a late-round bonus baby in the 2007 Draft. Featuring a very live fastball that he throws from a high ¾ arm slot, he sits 92-94 MPH with the ability to reach back to touch 96 MPH when the situation calls for it. Making improvements with staying on top of his heater and not dropping his wrist under it, Britton’s fastball shows some downward action through the strike zone that makes it very tough to square up when he is commanding it on the corners of the plate. With improving command and feel for the offering, he has been spotting up much better with the pitch and using it to get ahead in counts with more frequency. After showing batters his plus-to-better fastball, Britton leans on a classic mid-70s 12-to-6 curveball with tight rotation and excellent bend as it breaks down through the strike zone. Already advanced with the offering upon entering the Red Sox system, he’s been able to quickly re-learn the feel for it and produce hard snap as he gets further removed from surgery. Able to either break it off hard into the dirt or drop it into the strike zone with knee-buckling break, Britton’s curve projects as his go-to out-pitch. Cleaning up his mechanics and repeating his delivery more consistently post-surgery, he now throws the ball much more loosely and generates velocity with greater ease.
Development Needs: While he is pushing his fastball and curveball on the path to rounding out as above-average at the major league level, Britton has work to go with polishing off his changeup to bring his arsenal up to the level of possessing three big league caliber pitches. Raw with throwing it after signing with the organization, he’s still trying to learn how to bury it deeper in his hand and produce enough arm speed when delivering the offering to create good separation between his fastball, along with getting more bottom-dropping action due to the reduction in velocity. His changeup has the potential to develop into a solid pitch down the line and play up well off of his heater, but presently it is below-average. Much of whether Britton is going to stick in the starting rotation and continue to project as a potential front-line starter rests with the strides his change can make in the coming seasons. At some point, especially when entering the upper levels of the minors, he may also look to develop a two-seam fastball or cutter-type pitch to create a little more movement to prevent advanced hitters from sitting on his four-seam fastball. Currently, he gets by well with his four-seamer and curve, but down the line it could mitigate a potential rise in solid contact against. At times, Britton gets himself out of control on the mound and can speed up his delivery, which causes him to miss up and away with his fastball or have his curve spin out of his hand. Continued work with his pitching pace and staying within himself during his delivery should make these instances fewer and farther between.
2011 Outlook: Working with a controlled pitch count and on a structured innings limit in the early goings of 2010, Britton came on strong to close out the season as his restrictions loosened. Ready to break camp with Salem to start the season, he will look to build upon the strides he made with Greenville last year and continue his innings progression as he further hones his improving arsenal. After getting a feel for the rise in the level of competition in High-A, he has the potential to put up strong strikeout totals and make it tough for opposing batters to make solid contact against him. As he gets more comfortable throwing his changeup and starts to see more progress with the offering through repetition, Britton has a chance to push his strikeout totals even further and be trending towards Double-A with a legit three pitch mix at his disposal. The majority of his development this season should focus on working more with his change and further sharpening his fastball command to show by season’s end he has mastered High-A. A young, left-handed arm on the rise within the Red Sox system, 2011 is slated as challenge for Britton to prove he’s able to handle another rank of the minors, with an eye on showing he’s cresting towards becoming an impact pitcher at the major league level in the coming seasons.
Position: Starting Pitcher2010 Team: Did not play
2011 Projected Team: Salem Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 21
Strengths: Very strong and operating out of an extremely large frame, Ranaudo has an excellent physical base for developing a power pitcher’s game. Coming at hitters from a high ¾ arm slot and looking like he is coming right down on top of them, he generates outstanding arm speed to produce plus-to-better velocity with his fastball. Able to consistently sit right around 93 MPH and touch the mid-90s in stretches, Ranaudo’s fastball has the potential to be extremely tough on hitters as he continues to work on being consistent with his release point. A downhill thrower, his heater shows its best tail and late finish in the lower portions of the strike zone. He’s demonstrated pin-point accuracy with his fastball and the ability to constantly hit his desired spots within the strike zone or just off the plate for hitters to chase. Once Ranaudo has pounded the zone and established his fastball against opposing batters, he then flashes a high 70s power curveball with good depth and tight rotation. This offering can be plus at times and, with further polishing of his feel, has the potential to be an above-average weapon consistently at the major league level. During his early career in the low minors, he should pick up plenty of swings and misses with his curve, especially when he starts it off lower in the strike zone and it falls hard off the table into the dirt. Despite slipping in the 2010 Draft due to injury concerns and a subsequent drop in his stuff, the Red Sox organization made it a top priority to get him signed and showed their belief in his talent by giving him a $2,550,000 signing bonus as a supplemental round pick.
Development Needs: After showing he was over the injury hump during his time in the Cape Cod League this past summer, Ranaudo will work to prove in the early going as a professional that his struggles in college were just a blip on the radar screen. With his fastball and curveball making a return to form and having strong big league potential, his focus should turn on continuing to sharpen the feel for his 82-84 MPH changeup. Set to work on developing consistency and trust with this offering in the beginning stages of his professional career, Ranaudo has a chance to see quick initial strides with it. Showing fade down through the strike zone and slightly moving in on right-handed batters, polishing how he finishes out of his delivery with the pitch can round it into a solid-average-to-better secondary offering with which he can keep hitters off balance. Showing some strides with his changeup will be important for him as he reaches Double-A and to keep more polished professional hitters honest against his fastball. A lanky guy, Ranaudo can get out of whack with his mechanics from time to time, either falling off the mound too much towards first base or dropping his arm slot a tad. In both cases, he loses command of his repertoire and can work too often up in the strike zone. He has the type of fastball velocity to challenge hitters, but it tends to flatten out some in the upper reaches of the zone and loses its effectiveness constantly being thrown behind in the count.
2011 Outlook: Gearing up for a highly anticipated debut season, Ranaudo has been throwing with the Salem group in the minor league camp and looks on track to take a turn every fifth day in the High-A starting rotation. While there are big expectations in regards to his future development path and potential at the major league level, it should be expected that he’ll need some time to settle into professional baseball and get his feet wet with the routine. Given his advanced arsenal and excellent stuff, after feeling things out and getting some innings under his belt, strong results should start to trend as the season gets going. With his overpowering fastball and hammer curve, Ranaudo has the potential to pile up a lot of strikeouts and keep the solid contact against him inconsistent. A good sign that his changeup is making strides towards catching up to his other pitches is more and more ease with going deeper into outings as the summer months heat up. With all things going as planned and his stuff proving to be advanced as it was during his sophomore year in college, Ranaudo has a strong chance to contend for a promotion to Portland by mid-season. In Double-A, he’ll be tested against much more advanced hitters and will be challenged to further round out his arsenal, while also getting a taste of the Eastern League before a 2012 assignment. A talent that many envision filling the blue chip prospect gap in the upper levels of the Red Sox organization as his career gets going, 2011 is a season for Ranaudo to put the wheels in motion and begin rounding out a potential high caliber major league arsenal. If all goes to plan he will likely begin to show glimpses of fulfilling his projection as a front-of-the-rotation starter down the line.