October 31, 2013 at 8:00 AM
SoxProspects.com is counting down its season-end top 40 prospects, recapping their seasons and previewing what's ahead in 2014. You can find all of the entries in this year's series here.
2013 Teams: Pawtucket Red Sox/Boston Red Sox
2013 Stats: 105 IP, 8-4, 3.60 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 116 K, 43 BB (minors)
30 1/3 IP, 1-2, 8.60 ERA, 1.81 WHIP, 23 K, 18 BB (majors)
Pre-2013: The starting shortstop at McMichael (NC) High School, Allen Webster caught the eye of veteran scout Lon Joyce when he pitched an inning of mop-up duty in a blowout. Impressed, Joyce got the Dodgers to take a flier on Webster in the 18th round of the 2008 draft. He signed quickly but worked his way up the ladder slowly, spending that season and all of 2009 in Rookie ball making the transition to pitching full-time. He made a solid debut in full-season ball in 2010 with Great Lakes of the Midwest League, striking out 114 batters in 131 1/3 innings, but also walking 53, showing the control issues with which he still struggles. Webster established himself as a prospect in 2011, at 21 in his third year as a full-time pitcher, starting the season with a short, successful stint in the notoriously hitter-friendly environs of the California League. He posted a 2.33 ERA through nine starts and allowed less than a hit per inning while striking out 62 in 54 innings. He was challenged with a promotion to Double-A Chattanooga in late May. While he posted a 5.05 ERA at the level, he struck out 73 in 91 innings against the more mature competition, earning him recognition as the number 95 prospect on the Baseball America Top 100.
Returning to Chattanooga in 2012, Webster showed significant improvement. He lowered his ERA to 3.55, struck out 117 in 121 2/3 innings, and allowed only a single home run. In August, having established himself as perhaps the top prospect in the Dodgers’ system according to some evaluators, he was brought to the Red Sox as one of the main pieces of the now-famous trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Carl Crawford to Chavez Ravine. Webster debuted in the Red Sox organization with a pair of outings for Portland, striking out 12 in nine innings. Baseball America named him the number 49 prospect in the game, and he entered his first offseason with the Red Sox organization ranked fourth in the SoxProspects.com rankings.
2013 Season in Review: Added to the 40-man roster in the offseason, Webster drew rave reviews in his first major league Spring Training. Outside reports had him throwing as hard as 99 mph, and SoxProspects.com columnist Jon Meoli recorded him at 96 in Fort Myers. In fact, Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com wrote at the time that, “one major league talent evaluator declared [Webster] had the best stuff of any pitcher in Sox camp.” Webster began the year with Triple-A Pawtucket, and after striking out 16 and allowing one run across 12 innings in his first three starts, the right-hander got the call to make his major league debut on April 21. He pitched six strong innings against Kansas City, departing with a 4-3 lead. That would be the first of four trips up I-95 to Boston on the season for Webster. After two starts in Pawtucket following his debut, he got another spot start on May 8 that went quite poorly, with the Twins scoring eight runs and chasing the rookie in the second inning. He bounced back upon returning to Pawtucket, allowing 11 runs on 17 hits over 31 1/3 innings while striking out 30 over six starts, but the control woes he’d seemingly exorcised returned, as he walked 16 hitters and hit another nine during that span.
Regardless, he was needed in Boston again returning on June 22, during a period in which the Red Sox made a transaction nearly every day, for a four-start run. Although he was solid in his third start, on Independence Day against the Padres, going six strong innings for his first major league win, he had an 8.68 ERA in the four starts and went back down after failing to last through the third inning on July 9 at Seattle.
Finally able to spend most of July and all of August in the Pawtucket rotation, the consistency seemed to pay dividends for Webster. He struggled in his first two starts after returning to the minors, but in his final eight starts with the PawSox, Webster had a 2.51 ERA in 46 2/3 innings while allowing opposing batters a meager .173/.254/.272 line. He struck out 49, and, perhaps most encouragingly, walked only 15 and hit just three batters, taking steps toward overcoming the control difficulties that led to his struggles in Boston. After a September recall, Webster made two more appearances, including tossing three no-hit innings in a start against Baltimore in the final game of the year.
First-Hand Report & 2014 Outlook: Webster came out of spring training this season being called a future ace with electric stuff who had figured out the control issues that had plagued him early in his minor league career. He kept up the dominance he showed in camp in his first three starts with Pawtucket, before being summoned to make his major league debut. Being sent down following that start, he seemed to have trouble adjusting to being moved up and down between levels, and his results suffered coinciding with a regression in his control. However, things seemed to click for him once he settled back in at Pawtucket for the final stretch run.
Being a shortstop before entering the professional ranks, Webster is very athletic with room left to grow as a pitcher. For instance, the team moved him to the middle of the rubber and made a slight mechanical tweak that kept his head more still in spring training to help with his control problems, and that seemed to work great for him early in the season. He can ride the fastball up to 96-97 mph when he wants to, and also will take some off and sink it at times with effectiveness. He also throws a slider that is plus at times and an occasional show-me curveball, but his best weapon is a nasty changeup. The change makes hitters look foolish when it is on with both deception and fade. Part of his struggles at the big league level can be attributed to him getting away from inducing groundballs with the sinker and instead trying to rely more heavily on missing bats entirely with the four-seamer and changeup. His stuff is special, but refining his command and control will continue to be the discussion point heading into next season. In my opinion, he could be put into a major league rotation coming out of spring next year to sink or swim, but it looks more likely he starts as Boston’s sixth starter and continues to hone his craft in Pawtucket to start the year. – Matt Huegel
Photo Credit: Allen Webster by Kelly O'Connor