SoxProspects News

December 12, 2014 at 2:28 PM

Justin Masterson: An unlikely All-Star reunites with the Red Sox


After signing with the Red Sox to a one-year deal worth $9.5 million, with incentives that can push it up to $12 million, Justin Masterson returns to the organization that drafted him and first brought him up to the big leagues. Masterson, who was the top-rated prospect on SoxProspects.com in June of 2008, has not had a linear career path after being one of the most aggressively promoted Red Sox prospects in recent memory.

Similar to our pieces on Hanley Ramirez and Jon Lester, Masterson is the focus of our latest Player Retrospective. For another interesting read on Masterson's time in the system, read SoxProspects.com Editor-in-Chief Mike Andrews interview with Masterson from July 2007. 

Rise to relevancy
When Masterson joined the Wareham Gateman in the Cape Cod Baseball League in 2005, he was a relative unknown. He had spent two years at Bethel College in Indiana where he dominated lesser competition, but he joined Wareham as an extra player. He quickly proved that he belonged and became the team's closer, recording 10 saves while sporting a 1.15 ERA in 31 1/3 innings. He joined San Diego State for his junior season, where the 6-foot-6 right-hander was up and down, finishing with a 4.81 ERA over 116 innings while also throwing four complete games, including one shutout. 

The Red Sox saw enough between the Cape and San Diego State to draft him in the second round of the 2006 draft, signing him to a $510,000 bonus and assigning him to Lowell right away. All he did in Lowell was go 3-1 with an 0.85 ERA in 31 1/3 innings, walking only two and striking out 33 while allowing 20 hits. While he did not make the Baseball America top 10 Red Sox prospects after that season, he was firmly on the radar, and SoxProspects.com rated him seventh, behind five future major leaguers. 

Surviving Lancaster
The Red Sox threw Masterson right into the fire in his first full season in 2007, placing him in High A Lancaster, one of the best offensive environments in professional baseball. Over his first nine starts, his ERA was north of 6.00, but because of where he was pitching, the stats do not tell the whole story. He settled down and eventually got his ERA to 4.33 after a total of 17 starts and 95 2/3 innings. The Red Sox quickly promoted him to Portland, where he finished off the season with a 4.34 ERA over 58 innings, striking out 59. He was ranked fourth in the system by both SoxProspects.com and Baseball America after the season, behind Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Michael Bowden

Rapid ascent to Boston
He returned to Portland next season as a starter, though many scouts thought he fit better as a reliever long-term, where his low-90s heavy sinker and slider would play up. He still struggled to throw his changeup, which led to some poor numbers against left-handed batters. He shut up the critics over his first four starts of the 2008 season, striking out 23 over 19 innings while surrendering two runs. The Red Sox called him up for a spot start on April 24, and he tossed six innings of one-run ball at Fenway against the Angels. 

Upon returning to Portland, he seemed to have lost his delivery, as an uncharacteristic struggle with his control led to him walking 11 with a 7.45 ERA over 19 1/3 innings. Despite his struggles, he was called back up to Boston, where he again let up only one run, this time in 6 1/3 innings, while picking up his first win. He was sent back down to Pawtucket for one start, after which he was called back up to Boston for his first extended look. 

He was solid, yet unspectacular, in his seven starts for the Red Sox, going 3-3 with a 4.32 ERA, walking 21 and striking out 30 in 41 2/3 innings. He also hit six batters and allowed seven home runs during this stretch, problems he never had during his brief time in the minors. He went at least six innings in six of the seven starts, proving to be valuable rotation depth for the Red Sox. 

Shift to the bullpen
After proving he could be a valuable piece to team, and with the Red Sox hoping to win back-to-back World Series titles, Masterson was converted to a relief role where he could slot in front of Jonathan Papelbon to add a new dynamic to the bullpen. After a three-game warm-up out of the bullpen in Pawtucket, he was called up to Boston on July 23, where he would spend the rest of the year. Over 27 appearances and 34 1/3 innings, Masterson proved to be just what the Red Sox needed, going 2-2 with a 2.36 ERA. He struck out 29, walked 12, and used his sinker to induce 11 double-plays. He went more than one inning in 10 of those appearances 

In the postseason, he appeared in nine games, allowing three runs over 9 2/3 innings, while picking up a win in the fifth game of the ALCS against the Rays. While there were still many arguments over whether he belonged in the rotation or the bullpen, he had proven that he belonged in the big leagues.

Inconsistent role, production, and trade to Cleveland
Starting the season in the bullpen in 2009, it only took four games for him to be moved back into the rotation. He made six starts, and then he was moved back to the bullpen, where he made his next 21 appearances with the Red Sox. His numbers were unimpressive, with a 4.50 ERA over 72 innings, and his struggles against left-handed batters accounted for most of that damage. Left-handers finished the 2009 season with an .877 OPS against Masterson, compared to just a .591 OPS for right-handers.

At the trade deadline, the Red Sox used Masterson as the main chip to acquire Victor Martinez, and Cleveland quickly moved him into their starting rotation, and from August 2009 to September 2014, he has made 160 starts, while appearing in relief only 13 times. 

He will return to the Red Sox in 2015, and they hope the soon-to-be 30-year-old can recreate his 2013 season, when he was an All-Star with a 3.45 ERA in 193 innings for the Indians. 

Photo Credit: Justin Masterson by Kelly O'Connor

 
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