Red Sox Versatility Should Not Be Overlooked

I have come to the conclusion that versatility is the Red Sox organization’s top strength and it should not be overlooked in 2016. Already we have seen guys step-up to the challenge when injuries and inconsistency arose. Guys like Josh Rutledge, Marco Hernandez, and Heath Hembree have all shown us what “Red Sox versatility” really is and by being key contributors and bright spots in what has so far been a dismal season.Red Sox versatility

Down in Pawtucket the phrase ‘Red Sox versatility’ can be seen in action on a daily basis with guys not only getting reps in at different positions, but also embracing the challenge. One of those guys is IF/OF Sean Coyle. A 3rd round draft pick out of Germantown Academy (PA) in 2010 has been seeing time this season down in Pawtucket at 2B, 3B, and CF. When I asked him about seeing time in the outfield, Coyle responded:

“It’s an easy comp, being an infielder and then going ahead to the outfield. i know Mookie started out as an infielder and then moved to the outfield, anywhere I can go and pick up some AB’s I’m ready to go, I’m ready to play and its kind of a challenge I’ve embraced.”

Having a guy who you can move all around the left side of the infield as well as CF not only helps the organization, but also will help him in the long run. With the way injuries have been taking over the first month of the season for the Sox, you could be seeing Coyle’s versatility at the major league level this season.

It’s becoming more of a common trend to see guys becoming utility-players . Names such as Ben Zobrist, Brock Holt, and Danny Valencia are showing teams that having the ability to play multiple positions can surely strengthen a teams depth, but also gives managers the flexibility to carry an extra pitcher or 2, and we all know you can never have too many pitchers.

 

Heath Hembree Fan Club

The Heath Hembree Fan Club was born in the wee hours of Monday, April 25 after closer Craig Kimbrel blew hist first save against the Houston Astros. But fear not! For a knight in shining armor appeared and mowed down the Astros hitters for the final 3 innings of a 12-inning circus show. That knight who threw 49 pitches (and only 8 were balls) is RHP Heath Hembree.

At first glance, you may think to yourself “wait…is that John Lackey, I thought we traded him?” Fan ClubOthers have compared him to Kenny Powers from the hit HBO show Eastbound and Down. Personally I think he resembles a John Lackey/Craig Hansen with a splash of Bryce Brentz. Regardless, he’s a guy who the Sox have had to rely on early in his call-up and he has welcomed the challenge with open arms.

Hembree who was one of the pieces acquired from the San Francisco Giants during the summer of 2014 as part of the return for pitcher Jake Peavy, has made three appearances so far this season. In 7 2/3 innings he’s allowed four hits and just one walk to counter his 11 strikes. Over his 3 years with the Sox, Hembree has accumulated a 3.38 ERA while appearing in 30 games. Now I know 30 games over 3 seasons is a very small sample size, but so far in 2016 he’s looking like the real deal.

In a season that has been plagued with injuries so early on and huge pitching woes it’s nice to finally see a pitcher that has not only shown some consistency, but has also been pretty effective. That’s a weapon that John Farrell didn’t have in the beginning of the season and, like they say, sometimes it’s better late than never.

The Heath Hembree fan club will be riding high this week. Twitter will be exploding with Hembree references, jersey sales will be through the roof, and you can bet he’ll be making his way around the late night television circuit. Obviously I am kidding about some of these things, but make no mistake about it: the Red Sox have found what I believe is to be a key piece to this bullpen moving forward. The only question is how long can he keep up this dominance? I’m hoping FOREVER!

Pat Light Spotless Early On For PawSox

Last week when Pat Light got the call-up the the PawSox from Portland, many expected, myself included him to take over the closer role for the PawSox. After all Light has been seen this season hitting 100 mph on his fast ball on the occasion and that is something that will miss bats in the late innings, especially in the minor leagues.

So far in two out of his three appearances with the PawSox he has collected saves, both Pat Lightcoming against Toledo during last weekends home stand at McCoy Stadium. His lone other appearance, coming Tuesday night in Charlotte wasn’t something to shy away from either as it only took him 8 pitches to get through the inning including a strike out.

Matt Barnes was recently optioned to the PawSox, after his free fall in last weekends series against the Blue Jays, and he can also bring the heat. Barnes, much like Light was a starter until this season and both could play huge dividends for future Red Sox teams out of the bullpen. Barnes and Light will likely split the closer duties for the PawSox with Heath Hembree and Robbie Ross now up with Boston.

There is no question about the talent of Light, as he was drafted in the first round, three years ago. It just took a little while for the Sox to find a good position for him. Trey Ball, 2013 first round pick is going through the same trouble. The goal for any pitcher starter or reliever is to miss bats and get outs. In his three appearances with the PawSox he has yet to allow a base runner in three innings of work while collecting 4 strikeouts.

Time will tell how long Pat Light can keep this streak going, but for a pitcher who had not appeared in a game above AA before this season, Light looks to be on the fast track to the big leagues.

Brandon Workman Placed On DL

Brandon Workman

The plan for Brandon Workman this off-season was to focus on just relieving for the first time in his career. After being a starter for much of his time in the minor leagues, the Red Sox with many young starters coming up through the system felt relieving is the best fit for Workman, this time around. After struggling last season with velocity, early this spring his velocity was up a tick with shorter outings.

Before even throwing an official pitch this season Workman was diagnosed with a right elbow strain and was placed on the disabled list Saturday. Not exactly how Workman and the Red Sox pictured his season starting. Brandon WorkmanThe minor leagues have a disabled list of seven days, but it has not been announced how long Workman is expected to be out. Workman was one of the last cuts in a battle for the last two bullpen spots that eventually went to Robbie Ross Jr. and Tommy Layne, one of which will likely be sent to Pawtucket on Monday, with Koji Uehara likely being activated from the disabled list, in time for the home opener.

Workman’s experience in the 2013 playoffs had many thinking, myself included he could have been groomed as a potential closer. Heath Hembree and Zeke Spruill picked up saves in the PawSox first two games of the season in Lehigh Valley. With Workman on the disabled list look for those two to get their opportunities in the closer role for the PawSox.

Early injuries happen to many teams, as the Red Sox opened the season with Joe Kelly and Koji Uehara on the disabled list. You could say it had an effect on the bullpen already, as Edward Mujica blew his first save opportunity Friday night. Ironically, Steven Wright, who took Kelly’s initial roster spot got the win in the 19 inning marathon pitching 5 innings in relief. As the Red Sox get their closer back for the home opener, a key component to the PawSox bullpen will be spending time on the shelf.

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.