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May 15, 2020 at 12:00 PM

2020 SoxProspects Pre-Season All-Stars Pt. 2 - Pitchers

The 2020 Minor League season was suspended before it even began as a result of COVID-19. The uncertainty surrounding the season happening at all gives the SoxProspects.com's pre-season All-Star list a different feel, like almost everything else occurring this year. The site's Forum posters have selected four starting pitchers and three relievers to garner the honor. Both categories are full of new names, as only one starter and one reliever are repeat winners from 2019.

Starting Pitcher: Bryan Mata, Portland Sea Dogs
Still only 20 years old, Mata was signed as an international free agent out of Venezuela in 2016 and has progressed quickly through the Red Sox system, splitting his time evenly between Salem and Portland in 2019, even as one of the youngest players in the Carolina League at the beginning of the season. Mata is expected to play an important role in the Portland rotation in 2020 and build on the momentum from his 2019 campaign, in which he pitched to a 1.75 ERA with Salem before his promotion on July 1. The Venezuelan was more uneven during the second half of the season up in Portland, but he closed the year with two of his best outings in a Sea Dogs uniform, lowering his ERA by more than a run. The No. 3 prospect in the system also maintained his strikeout totals, punching out 9.9 batters per nine innings while at Double-A. Mata also pitched in the Arizona Fall League in 2019.

Starting Pitcher: Thaddeus Ward, Portland Sea Dogs
Ward joins his teammate on this list as part of what is expected to be an intriguing roster in Portland for 2020. The 23-year-old split his time between Greenville and Salem in his first full professional season after being drafted out of UCF as a fifth-round pick in 2018. The Florida native dominated hitters with 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings between both levels. Ward used his dominating cutter and sinking action on his fastball to limit contact, with a strikeout rate that was tops in the system among pitchers that threw more than 60 innings on the year. Ranked as the No. 11 prospect in the system, Ward is projected to be a back-end starting pitcher, though his cutter and slider have potential as plus offerings, which could aid him in the back end of the bullpen as well.

Starting Pitcher: Jay Groome, Greenville Drive
Groome has been in the system since 2016 after being selected with the No. 12 overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft. However, myriad injuries, including a UCL tear that led to Tommy John surgery in May 2018, have led to the left-hander pitching only 66 innings since he signed for an above-slot bonus. Despite injury trouble, Groome still has some of the best stuff in the system and is ranked No. 4 in the system. His fastball and curveball have the potential to both become plus pitches and he has a strong build that can handle a starting pitcher's workload. Groome is expected to begin the year in Greenville and this year is pivotal for the New Jersey native, as he is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft in December.

Starting Pitcher: Chris Murphy, Greenville Drive
Like Groome, Murphy is a left-handed pitcher and is expected to start 2020 in Greenville. However, Murphy burst onto the scene in Lowell after being selected as a sixth-round pick out of UC San Diego. The 21-year-old had a sparkling ERA of 1.08 and a stellar 0.90 WHIP across 33 1/3 innings with the Spinners and shows an intriguing four-pitch mix. Murphy was the 2019 SoxProspects Rookie of the Year and projects to be a back-end starter, though he also has the stuff to transition to a high-leverage bullpen role with his ability to miss bats. 

Relief Pitcher: Durbin Feltman, Portland Sea Dogs
Feltman is expected to spend a second season with the Sea Dogs in 2020 after a trying 2019 with control issues. The TCU product posted a 13.9 percent walk rate, which translates to 5.5 walks per nine innings. His strikeout figures also shrunk from his impressive 2018 debut, which also contributed to his high 5.12 ERA. However, the No. 29 prospect in the system still allowed batters to hit only .223 against him and if he can regain control, he is still a back of the bullpen-type arm.

Relief Pitcher: Eduard Bazardo, Portland Sea Dogs
Bazardo is one of four Sea Dogs among this year's pre-season All-Stars. The No. 30 prospect in the system converted to the bullpen in 2019 and was a Carolina League All-Star before a mid-season promotion to Portland, where he is slated to start the year. Bazardo limits baserunners well, with a WHIP of 1.06 between both levels to go along with a .206 batting average against across both levels in 2019. While the Venezuelan does not have elite velocity, his deceptive and jerky delivery don't allow players to see the ball well, setting the stage for his success.

Relief Pitcher: Yoan Aybar, Salem Red Sox
The only member of the 40-man roster on this list, Aybar is a converted outfielder. The No. 31 prospect in the system did not improve at the plate despite a strong arm and good athleticism, so he began pitching in in 2018 and despite still being fairly raw, has succeeded in the low minors. The 22-year-old spent almost all of 2019 with Greenville before an August 21 promotion to join the Salem Red Sox. Utilizing his mid- to high-90 mph fastball, batters hit only .180 against him in Greenville, though he walked 40 batters in 51 2/3 innings. If the Dominican Republic native can improve his control, he could move quickly through the system.

Photo Credit: All by Kelly O'Connor