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One of the most interesting parts about scouting minor leaguers is seeing what they are in the present and projecting what they can be in the future. Because of this projection, 20-year old Alex Scherff enters the 2019 season as the Red Sox 16th-ranked prospect. Scherff only has one season of professional ball under his belt but has one of the best pitch tools in the entire farm system.
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Scherff originally joined the Red Sox as a fifth-round pick in the 2017 June Amateur Draft. However, despite being selected in 2017, the right-handed pitcher didn’t make his Red Sox debut until 2018. Scherff played the whole season with the Low-A Greenville Drive, compiling a 4.98 ERA and a 4.46 FIP in 65 innings of play. He stuck out 7.06 batters per nine innings while walking 3.18 batters per nine.
While his final numbers are somewhat discouraging, they don’t tell the whole story. Scherff is something of a question mark athletically (more on that later) and struggled throughout the first half of the 2018 season. In his first 11 starts, Scherff pitched 47 innings to the tune of an ugly 6.32 ERA and a 4.83 FIP. His K/9 dropped to 6.70 and his walk rate climbed to 4.02. Scherff landed on the disabled list with a shoulder strain before returning as a more dominant pitcher in August.
Scherff pitched five games after coming off the disabled list and played much closer to his ceiling. During those starts, Scherff pitched to the tune of a 1.57 ERA and a 3.38 FIP. He stranded an unsustainably-high 94.3% of batters, but the rest of his peripherals saw dramatic improvement. His K/9 increased to 7.43 and his BB/9 plummeted to a fantastic 1.17. Minor league baseball doesn’t track contact data, but his .302 BABIP over this timeframe suggests he wasn’t being helped or hurt by batted ball luck.
Scherff, at the moment, is a two-pitch pitcher. The young righty’s best pitch is his fastball, which reportedly reached as high as 98 back in high school. However, since adjusting to pitching in a rotation, his velocity has fallen closer to the low- to mid-90’s. The pitch still has good movement and certainly can develop into a major league-caliber offering. His changeup, while not quite as good, still projects as an above-average offering. It looks identical to his fastball out of his hand and possesses a last-second dip which consistently fools hitters.
While the fastball and changeup are easily his best two offerings, Scherff is currently working on developing his curveball. Right now, the pitch isn’t close to being major league ready. He cannot consistently locate it and its’ movement is anything but consistent. When it works, it could be a decent third pitch. However, it doesn’t work all that often.
While Scherff’s ceiling is as high as guys like Tanner Houck and Mike Shawaryn, he still has a lot of developing left to do. The first and most important, thing for him to do is improve his curveball. Starting pitchers who only throw two pitches are few and far between in the majors. He was electric once he returned from his DL stint, and should stick in the rotation if he can make his curveball an adequate offering.
Additionally, there is some concern about Scherff’s condition. Scherff lost 40 pounds back in high school, which helped with his velocity. While he’s managed to keep the excess pounds off, it is worrisome that he was able to pack on that much to begin with. It’s nothing to actively worry about, but it is something to monitor.
Lastly, there is the concern that his end to 2018 was something of a fluke. He only pitched five games, and he was getting lucky with guys on base. His entire start to the season wasn’t pretty, and it’s hard to put all of that on a shoulder injury. More than likely, his slow start was caused by the injury and the natural adjustment to facing professional talent. Still, there’s a lot we don’t know about this 20-year old, and he should be one of the most interesting prospects to watch in 2019.
So much of Scherff’s projection is dependent upon that curveball. His fastball and changeup are both potential elite pitches, but he has nothing with which to complement said pitches. Two-pitch pitchers just can’t make it in the majors as starters. No matter how good your stuff is, a major league batter will figure you out after a second or third time through the order. Even if his curveball never becomes as good as his other two pitches (it won’t), it will keep hitters guessing just enough for his other two pitches to remain effective throughout a game.
However, even if Scherff can’t figure out his curveball, he still has a bright future ahead of him. As previously mentioned, Scherff used to hit 98 miles per hour with his fastball back in the day. If forced to go back into the bullpen, Scherff will probably see his velocity increase back to this level. That velocity combined with his fastball’s natural motion could make the pitch one of the better offerings in baseball. When combined with his changeup, Scherff has the making of, at worst, a strong late-inning relief arm.
Starters are far more valuable than relievers, so the Red Sox will give Scherff every chance possible to make it as a starter. The righty will likely start his year in High-A Salem to work on developing his curveball while continuing to dominate with his other two pitches. Should this go well, he could earn a spot on the AA Portland Sea Dogs later in the year.
Starting pitchers take longer to develop, so if he makes it as a starter, look for him to arrive sometime around 2021. If, however, the Red Sox decide to move him to the bullpen, Scherff could be in the majors midway through the 2020 season. That seems unlikely though, so look for him to fight for an Opening Day spot in Spring Training, 2021.
Red Sox Prospects Master List