January 31, 2013 at 10:11 AM
BOSTON, Mass. -- Though right-hander Brandon Workman put up a respectable 3.71 ERA while playing for Low A Greenville in 2011, it was his season last year that vaulted him into position as one of the top pitching prospects in the organization. His move from outside the top 20 prior to last season in the SoxProspects.com rankings to his current spot at 12 is no surprise after winning the organization's 2012 Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors while making the difficult transition to upper minors.
“I just got into a good routine,” Workman said about his 2012 season while at the recent New Stars for Young Stars Jimmy Fund event. “I had a good thing going. I was throwing the ball well, locating pitches, and it just worked well for me.”
His numbers last season bear that out. In 138 2/3 innings between High A Salem and Double-A Portland, he lowered his ERA (to 3.50), his hits and walks allowed rates, while raising his strikeout rate from the season before in Greenville. Though the 24-year-old only threw 25 innings with the Sea Dogs at the end of the year, he hardly seemed out of place as he kept his ERA under 4, at 3.96, and otherwise put up similar numbers to what he had been doing in Salem.
Part of this success may be attributed to Workman’s reintegration of the cutter into his pitching arsenal. In 2011, Workman’s first season in the Red Sox system after being selected in the second round the year before, the club asked him to refrain from throwing the cut fastball, which had been one of his better pitches in college.
“They didn't want me to throw it so I could have a chance to develop some other pitches, and become more consistent with those,” he said.
Workman does not consider the cutter his “out-pitch” though. Instead, he uses it when he’s trying to induce a groundball and as “a bad-contact pitch.” Still, it is an important pitch because it can help him get quick outs or escape from jams when it's working. The curveball is what he considers his out-pitch, and the pitch on which he gets most of his strikeouts. Meanwhile, it was another pitch on which Workman felt he gained the most in 2012.
“My changeup probably made the most [progress last season],” said the 6-foot-4 righty. “I went from not having a changeup to being able to throw one.”
That changeup could end up being very important to his trajectory as a prospect. One potential dividing line between major league starters and relievers is whether the pitcher has a diverse enough repertoire to work through lineups several times. Whether Workman’s change continues to develop into a legitimate major league pitch could make the difference of whether he will stick as a starter in the big leagues.
On top of the changeup needing to develop, SoxProspects scouts also have questions about the jerky nature of his mechanics and whether those also point towards a more natural fit in the bullpen. Pitchers with smooth, clean deliveries tend to stick as starters more easily because there is less wasted motion and energy. Pitchers with higher-effort deliveries, like Workman, are often better in short bursts. If he does end up in the bullpen, he has the ceiling of a future set-up man for the Red Sox.
This offseason Workman is not doing anything particularly different than last, the first of his professional career. However, he did admit he has found several advantages to having a year of experience from which to draw.
“The first offseason, you didn't really know what to do or how hard to work and get ready,” he said. “I feel like now, having last offseason, I kind of have a good idea of what I need to do to get ready to play.”
Heading into the spring, Workman is looking to be more consistent throughout the season. He joined Salem in late April after an injury in spring training, so starting the season on time and making all his starts this season is an important goal.
He summed up his goals for the 2013 season by saying, “[I want to go] out there and be able to repeat good performances over and over.”
If he is able to do that to start the season in Portland, it may not be long before he receives his final minor league promotion to Triple-A, and from there only his performance will determine when he can punch his ticket to The Show.
Photo Credit: Brandon Workman by Kelly O'Connor
Matt Huegel is Managing Editor for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @MattHuegelSP.