PawSox Closer Heath Hembree Seeks Opportunity

Heath Hembree

When the Boston Red Sox dealt Jake Peavy, the front office felt as though they made out like bandits scoring Edwin Escobar and Heath Hembree. Since Peavy was not a fit for Boston, the San Francisco Giants coughed up a young starting pitching prospect in AAA and a reliever who scouts liken to a potential set up man— possibly even a closer.
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heath hembreeRelief prospects are always an interesting breed, especially when they have not started a game since sophomore year in college. That is what the Red Sox have in Heath Hembree, although stamina is not really an issue for him.

Headed into his fourth year in AAA, Hembree looks to take on the closers role for the PawSox after notching the save in their first game of the season.
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“For us in the bullpen, it’s about going out there to compete and getting our work in,” he told Yawkey Way Report.

For a lot of guys, the ninth inning poses a bit of a threat. Some guys just can’t handle the pressure and blow save after save even if they are lights out in other innings. It’s a different mentality and a delicate mindset. Hembree tries to keep a consistent approach.

“I take every inning with the same mentality,” he said. “I try to put the same amount of importance on it each time out and when it is a tight situation, it seems pretty normal—just like any other outing.”
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In 2012, the Red Sox found out the hard way that a team cannot simply take a pitcher and expect him to be a good closer. Last time they tried that, they destroyed Alfredo Aceves’ career. After going 24-3 in his first four big league seasons with a 2.93 ERA, he is 7-13 with an ERA well above 5.00 since the Red Sox tried him out in the ninth inning role.

At that same time, Hembree was in AAA looking for an opportunity. This year, he hopes to earn a spot in the Red Sox bullpen if anything happens to any of the regulars.

“Just to continue developing,” Hembree said when speaking of his goals. “I want to become the pitcher I want to be, just working on my stuff and hopefully I can get out of here.”

Even though closers tend to take things one inning at a time, Hembree made his Red Sox debut by stretching out his arm in a 19 inning thriller. Boston fell in the contest 5-4, but Hembree gave the Red Sox four scoreless frames.
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“That was the first time I had pitched more than two innings in my whole career and I guess in that situation, since it was my first time with Boston, it was about making a good impression on the big league club,” he said. “They just kept sending me back out there and I gave them whatever I had in me which turned out to be four innings. For that, I was just trying to help the team, but making a good first impression was important too.”

Hembree owns a 2.55 ERA in 15 career big league games and when the Red Sox need an extra arm in the bullpen, the righty is on the short list of guys who could possibly get the call. After all, his 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings in his Minor League career are convincing—not to mention much higher than Pedro Martinez’ career mark of 10 K’s per nine frames.
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Posting a 6.27 ERA his junior year at the College of Charleston, the Giants still took him in the fifth round in the 2010 MLB draft because of his raw talent. He stated his fastball flirted with 100 MPH back then, although he sits comfortably now at around 93-94 MPH, usually topping around at 95 MPH. The fastball is still an important part of his game, but he also utilizes his slider in what can be best described as a two-pitch mix.

“I’ve learned how to pitch these past few years so if the fastball is there that day that’s good, but I feel comfortable with the stuff I have,” he said.

Heath Hembree: A Bullpen Possibility

heath hembree

For the most part, the Boston Red Sox have their Opening Day roster set in stone— with two minor exceptions.

The team’s bullpen has five of their seven spots secured and as a result, two spots are up for grabs. It might not sound like major news, but whoever fills these two positions will have an important role with the Boston Red Sox this season.
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Sure Koji Uehara, Edward Mujica, Junichi Tazawa, Alexi Ogando and Craig Breslow are Heath Hembreeall locks this season, but right-handed reliever Anthony Varvaro looks to be a near lock. Allowing an earned run in four appearances this spring, the northpaw pitches like a southpaw, and boast excellent splits against lefties. From 2013-2014, Varvaro posted a 2.74 ERA in 123 games for the Atlanta Braves.

Looking to fill that last bullpen spot, it appears as though Boston would go with another righty since having both Breslow and Varvaro is like having two lefties. Sorry Robbie Ross Jr., but you’re out of luck.

From the looks of it, Heath Hembree could be an appealing option for the Red Sox. Closing out Wednesday’s win over the Minnesota Twins, the 26-year-old reliever owns a 2.55 ERA in 15 career big league outings with 18 strikeouts and profiles as a future MLB setup man and potentially even closer.

Gauging ability from Spring Training stats has little merit for position players but if a reliever is struggling in the spring, it tends to be a bad sign. In limited work, Hembree has tossed three scoreless— but it is his raw ability that Boston should find appealing.
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Topping out around 95-96 MPH with his fastball, he also throws a slider which scouts describe as plus. The only issue here is that he lacks a third pitch— Brooks Baseball had him throwing just four change-ups last season, but even those might have been sliders that did not break.