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.

How Have the Red Sox Trades Fared in August?

Boston Red Sox tradesIt’s been an entire month since the Boston Red Sox made numerous moves geared for future successes. It’s interesting — well, to me, at least — to take a look at how those guys have fared this August with their new ball clubs. Keep in mind, however, this is an extremely small sample size and doesn’t say much about their talent or value. Now, without further ado, let’s see how these guys have played (starting with the subtractions) this past month.

Those We’ve Lost During the 2014 Red Sox Trades

Jon Lester with Oakland Athletics (40 and 2/3 IP): 2.66 ERA, 2.86 FIP, 4.63 K/BB, and .278 BABIP.

Jonny Gomes with Oakland Athletics (40 PA): .250 AVG, .350 OBP, .250 SLG, .320 BABIP, and 73 wRC+.

Andrew Miller with Baltimore Orioles (12 IP): 0.75 ERA, 1.04 FIP, 5.67 K/BB, and .227 BABIP.

John Lackey with St. Louis Cardinals (38 and 1/3 IP): 4.23 ERA, 4.74 FIP, 3.50 K/BB, and .312 BABIP.

Felix Doubront with Chicago Cubs (7 IP): 1.29 ERA, 2.41 FIP, 4.00 K/BB, and .318 BABIP.

Jake Peavy with San Francisco Giants (41 and 1/3 IP): 2.40 ERA, 3.13 FIP, 3.10 K/BB, and .276 BABIP.

Stephen Drew with New York Yankees (80 PA): .153 AVG, .225 OBP, .306 SLG, .170 BABIP, and 40 wRC+

Corey Littrell with High-A Palm Beach (Cardinals’ Affiliate) (31 and 2/3 IP): 4.55 ERA, 4.78 FIP, 1.90 K/BB, and .383 BABIP

Both now ex-Red Sox position players (Drew and Gomes) have been horrendous with their respective clubs. The pitchers who were dealt, however, have been nothing short of stellar, with the exception of Lackey. Lackey had one really bad start against the Orioles where he allowed nine earned runs — which has distorted his numbers significantly — and he’s pitched well in every other start with St. Louis. Peavy, the first Boston player to be dealt, has been quite lucky with his unsustainable BABIP, but making half his starts in AT&T Park certainly helps. Finally, Doubront has only pitched one outing with his new team. Oh, and how incredible has Andrew Miller been? With Zach Britton and Miller in that bullpen, I wouldn’t want to be a left-handed hitter facing the Orioles.

Talent We Gained During the 2014 Red Sox Trades

Yoenis Cespedes (111 PA): .276 AVG, .297 OBP, .457 SLG, .309 BABIP, and 105 wRC+

Allen Craig (33 PA): .138 AVG, .242 OBP, .310 SLG, .176 BABIP, and 54 wRC+

Joe Kelly (28 IP): 3.86 ERA, 5.38 FIP, 1.00 K/BB, and .211 BABIP

Kelly Johnson (25 PA): .160 AVG, .160 OBP, .200 SLG, .267 BABIP, and -12 wRC+

Heath Hembree (6 IP): 4.50 ERA, 4.96 FIP, 0.40 K/BB, and .300 BABIP

Edwin Escobar (1 IP): 0.00 ERA, 3.13 FIP, 0.00 K/BB, and .000 BABIP

Eduardo Rodriguez with Double-A Portland (37 and 1/3 IP): 0.96 ERA, 2.42 FIP, 4.88 K/BB, and .299 BABIP

Well, Johnson’s tenure as a Red Sox didn’t last long, as the utility man was dealt to the Baltimore Orioles a mere month after being acquired by Boston. Speaking of trades with the Orioles, Rodriguez, who the Red Sox attained in return for Miller, has been lights out since joining the Red Sox’ organization. Continuing with the narrative of prospects Boston received in return for big-league talent, let’s talk about Escobar and Hembree. One’s a starter (Escobar) but made his MLB debut out of the bullpen, and the other’s a reliever (Hembree). Both, truthfully, haven’t played enough to pass proper evaluation on, so let’s continue with the three players who have logged multiple innings in the majors. The position players, in Craig and Cespedes, have followed completely different scripts upon their respective arrivals in Boston. Cespedes has been clutch as all heck and is now a new fan-favorite, while Craig has been injury-riddled and when he has played has been largely ineffective. Lastly, Kelly has pitched adequately with horrendous peripherals.

Heath Hembree Settling In For Boston

heath hembreeHard throwing relievers are always a hot commodity on the free agency market and the trade market as well. Fortunately for the Boston Red Sox, they acquired one recently when they dealt Jake Peavy to San Francisco. In addition to starting pitcher Edwin Escobar, the club landed a hard-throwing reliever of their own. Heath Hembree, a 25-year-old reliever, was the other piece of Boston’s haul. Hembree is known to bring the heat with his fastball and has the type of stuff that screams closer in addition to set-up man.
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On July 30th, he made his Paw Sox debut earning the save. Since then, he has been promoted to the big club. Topping out at 95mph with an incredible slider, it is easy to tell why the Red Sox wanted this guy in the first place. Although he is happy to be here, he did not see it coming.

“I was a little shocked at first but I guess this time of year things like that happen it was bittersweet leaving some good friends and a good organization but I am excited to go out and have an opportunity here.”
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He was happy to get his first outing out of the way with Pawtucket about a week ago as well.

“It was good, it was good. I was anxious to get the first one under my belt, so I was glad to get it done and get that last guy to pop out.”

Of course Hembree is a great pitcher all-around, but he realizes where his strength is.

“I’m a fastball pitcher, so I try to attack hitters with that,” said Hembree. Although his velocity is down from where it was in past years, his command is impressive. Striking out 48 men while walking 14, Hembree shows command which will transfer over at the next level. Even when a pitcher has great stuff, and everything going for them, command can be a killer.
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Hembree is a selfless guy who does not have any goals of when he should be where.

“Just to finish healthy and end the year strong,” Hembree said of his goals for this year. Of course, he is definitely the type of guy who could be the next Red Sox closer, but he seems to be taking it one step at a time.
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It is always tough to be a top prospect as a reliever, but Hembree puts that myth to rest. Easily the top relief prospect in the Red Sox system, when it is all said and done, anything is possible for him. A potential successor to Koji Uehara at closer? Who knows, he could be, but for now he is taking it on a day-by-day basis.

Grading the Jake Peavy Trade for the Boston Red Sox

Jake PeavyJake Peavy was shipped out of Boston Saturday afternoon for a pair of pitching prospects in the San Francisco Giants farm system. Did the Boston Red Sox get fair value in the deal for the struggling veteran pitcher? The 33-year-old had pitched fairly well for the Red Sox at times, but failed to get run support —or support a lead— which led to an unimpressive 1-9 record in 20 starts this season. His 4.72 ERA and 20 home runs allowed did not help his cause, but he also had the least run support of any starter in MLB.

Peavy had his lowest strikeout and walk rates since 2003 this season, and has only earned one win against AL opponents (May 29 against the Toronto Blue Jays) since joining the Red Sox last July. In return for the veteran right-handed starter, the Red Sox received minor leaguers Edwin Escobar and Heath Hembree. Both are top 10 prospects in the Giants farm system and look to be pretty solid assets for the Red Sox, whether its for more trades or just options in the rotation/bullpen.

Escobar is a lefty starter who was the No. 2 prospect entering the 2014 season, but has struggled with a 5.11 ERA through 20 starts and a 3-8 record at Triple-A Fresno. Over the previous two seasons, the 22-year-old had dominated Double-A and Single-A leagues with a combined 2.88 ERA while striking out 268 batters in 259.1 innings of work. He did walk 62 batters in 2012 and 2013 combined as well, but command is something a 22-year-old can work on as he works on everything in the minors.

Hembree was rated seventh coming into the season and really lived up to those expectations by making the Pacific Coast League All-Star team and notching 18 saves in 41 games. The 3.89 ERA might not be too impressive, but the 25-year-old did have a 46:13 K:BB in just 39.1 innings of work at Triple-A Fresno. The 105 career minor league saves in five seasons might mean he has the makeup to be groomed into the next closer for the Boston Red Sox.

Another bonus for the Red Sox is that the Giants will be splitting the rest of the money owed to Peavy 50/50.

Ben Cherington really did his work on this deal and received two quality pitching prospects in return for a 58-game rental of Peavy. The Red Sox might not hold on to these players for long, but at least the team got something of value for a struggling veteran starter.

Grade: B+

Poor Performance by Jake Peavy Was Inevitable

Jake PeavyIt was nearly a year ago when the Boston Red Sox acquired Jake Peavy in a three-team trade with the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers. The Red Sox were unsure about Clay Buchholz’s health, so they acquired the former Cy Young Award Winner for the stretch-run. Cashing in on Jose Iglesias’ aberration year worked wonders as Peavy was a crucial piece to the Red Sox’ World Series run. Yet, at least to me, it seemed the emotional right-handed pitcher was the recipient of quite a bit of luck.

He didn’t strike guys out at the rate he used to, his extremely high fly ball rate shouldn’t have transitioned well to the hitter-friendly confines of Fenway Park, and his BABIP was unsustainable. He threw all that out the window, and pitched splendidly in the second-half with Boston despite a horrible 6.26 K/9 and 2.64 BB/9, an even more unsustainable BABIP at .256, and an odd 6.6 HR/FB ratio considering his move to Fenway.

Peavy required a whole lot of luck to attain a mediocre 4.04 ERA and 3.79 FIP. However, what would happen next year when that luck inevitably ran out? His BABIP would likely deviate closer to his career .284 BABIP and so would his HR/FB ratio — actually, probably worse playing half his game in a full season in the not-so-pitcher-friendly Fenway Park.

Fast forward an offseason filled with doubt about Peavy’s 2014 outlook, and we’ve gotten to the point — nearly a year after the trade was made — where the Red Sox had no choice but to trade him and his abysmal 4.72 ERA and 4.81 FIP. In exchange for minor-league pitchers Edwin Escobar and Heath Hembree, the San Francisco Giants acquired Jake Peavy Saturday morning.

Moving to AT&T Park should improve Peavy’s pedestrian numbers, but, still, he’s far from his former self. Although I remain a bit puzzled how one of the most Sabermetric-savvy front offices missed Peavy was destined for sharp regression. The Red Sox should have dealt the 33-year-old in the offseason when his value was greater, and watch with a smile as another team had to deal with Peavy’s foreseeable demise.