October 24, 2014 at 7:30 AM
Past entries in our Top 40 Season in Review series can be found here.
#22: Heath Hembree, RP
2014 Teams: Fresno Grizzlies (SF - AAA), Pawtucket Red Sox, Boston Red Sox
Final Stats: 46.0 IP, 1-4, 20 SV, 3.72 ERA, 45 H, 20 ER/19 R, 18 BB, 55 K, 1.37 WHIP (minors)
10 IP, 0-0, 4.50 ERA, 11 H, 5 R/5 ER, 5 BB, 6 K, 1.600 WHIP (majors)
Season in Review: Hembree came to the Sox as one half of the return for Jake Peavy on July 26. After making his major league debut in September 2013 for the Giants, he had spent 2014 as the closer for Fresno of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, finishing out games in 35 of his 41 appearances and notching 18 saves. He was named a PCL All-Star, but the right-hander, who was once being groomed to become San Francisco's closer, was somewhat inconsistent. He put together consecutive clean outings only twice in his first 36 appearances before a six-game stretch in July in which he allowed just three baserunners while striking out eight in 5 2/3 innings. In all, at the time of the trade, he had notched a 3.89 ERA in 39 1/3 innings, allowing 40 hits and 13 walks while striking out 46 hitters.
After the trade, Hembree rode the I-95 shuttle, getting recalled to Boston three times in the season's final two months. In Pawtucket, he slotted right into the closer's role, but after two scoreless outings, he was needed in the majors. He made one appearance in that call-up, putting zeros on the board in innings 15 through 18 before Boston finally lost in the 19th to the Angels on August 9. Sent down the next day, Hembree made three appearances before getting the call again on August 24. His stay this time was for two appearances, and he was back in Triple-A on the 27th. Hembree made two scoreless appearances to close out the regular season, then was leaned on heavily as the PawSox's closer in the International League playoffs. In five appearances over nine days, he picked up a win and saves in two of three chances, allowing one run on seven hits and two walks in six innings, striking out six. Hembree capped his season with three more appearances in the Bigs, two of them scoreless, allowing five hits but striking out four and allowing no walks in four innings. - Chris Hatfield
Scouting Report and 2015 Outlook: Although still potentially an impact bullpen arm if he can put everything together, Hembree's ceiling at this point looks limited to a setup role, rather than the closer's role to which he had once been ticketed. When his fastball is on, he works 92-95, potentially touching higher, but he struggles to command it, perhaps most evident in his tightrope-walking playoff appearances in Pawtucket during the International League playoffs. His slider can flash above-average on a good day, particularly against right-handed hitters, but his lack of a changeup allows lefties to hit him hard, as they did to a .317/.418/.585 line this season in the minors, and for a .364/.417/.545 line in the majors. He will compete for a spot in Boston's bullpen next season, but he has two options remaining, and at this point, would probably be a middle-innings option to face right-handers in Boston if he did break camp with the major leaguers. - Chris Hatfield
#21: Steven Wright, SP
2014 Teams: Pawtucket Red Sox, Boston Red Sox (Rehab: Portland Sea Dogs)
Final Stats: 100 IP, 6-5, 3.42 ERA, 91 H, 46 R/38 ER, 23 BB, 72 K, 1.14 WHIP (minors)
21 IP, 0-1, 2.57 ERA, 21 H, 8 R/6 ER, 4 BB, 22 K, 1.19 WHIP (majors)
Season in Review: Coming off a strong first full season in the Red Sox organization that saw him make his major league debut, Steven Wright began 2014 on the disabled list after suffering a sports hernia in December and undergoing surgery. He made his first start of the season on May 26 in Portland on rehab before moving up to Pawtucket on May 31. Wright consistently held opposing offenses in check from that first start until he was promoted to the majors on August 17, allowing more than three earned runs in just two of his 13 starts for a 2.76 ERA during that time period. The same day he was promoted, Wright tossed four innings out of Boston's bullpen, allowing one earned run and striking out four. Wright was sent back down on August 20 and then made two of his worst starts of the season, giving up five earned runs in each and allowing 20 total hits, skewing his overall season numbers downward a bit. That brief, unsuccessful return to Pawtucket was followed by a strong run in Boston as a September call-up to finish the season, in which the team even shuffled the rotation to reward him with a start in the season's final week. - Matt Huegel
Scouting Report and 2015 Outlook: While other pitchers in the 2014 Pawtucket starting rotation garnered the lion's share of the limelight, Wright quietly put together another strong season. The lack of attention can be attributed to the fact that it was his age 29 season, as well as the ever-present doubts facing most any minor league knuckleballer that the pitch will translate at the highest level. He began throwing the knuckleball as his primary pitch in 2011, and now uses it roughly 80 to 85 percent of the time. His version is a bit harder than that of former Red Sox stalwart Tim Wakefield, mostly in the range of 72-79 mph. Wright will intentionally vary the speed of the pitch to give batters different looks. In addition to the knuckleball, Wright throws a four-seam fastball in the mid-to-high 80s and a sinker in the low-to-mid 80s. Since he was a traditional pitcher up until 2011, Wright also has a cutter and a curveball in his back pocket, though they have seen little usage as of late. The most encouraging sign for Wright's development this year, particularly as a knuckleballer, was the significant decrease in his walk rate, which fell by more than half from between 4.6 and 4.3 walks per nine the past three years to 2.1 in this. Wright's role next season will be largely determined by the moves the Red Sox make with regards to their pitching staff this offseason, but the best guess here would be that he begins the season in the Pawtucket rotation once again with a season ticket for the shuttle to Boston in his final option year. - Matt Huegel
Additional editorial support provided by Norm Cimon.
Photo credit: Both by Kelly O'Connor.