The 2019 season hasn’t even started, yet the Boston Red Sox bullpen is already getting worse. Knuckleballer Steven Wright will miss the first 80 games of the season due to a PED suspension, dealing a serious hit to the Red Sox depth. However, through adversity comes opportunity, and these Red Sox relievers have a chance to step up in Steven Wright’s absence.
Boston Red Sox Relievers Who Could Fill the Void Left By Steven Wright
He’s no knuckleballer, but Red Sox prospect Travis Lakins has the ability to fill Wright’s role in the bullpen. Lakins rose through the Red Sox system as a starting pitcher but converted to a relievermidway through the 2018 season. Boasting a powerful fastball and a strong curveball, Lakins has the ability to pitch multiple innings out of the pen. With the bullpen in bad shape, the Red Sox could use Lakins to serve as a bridge to Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier.
Lakins was fighting an uphill battle to make the major league roster, primarily because he still has minor league options. He’s probably a better pitcher than guys like Heath Hembree and Brandon Workman, but Lakins was a victim of the numbers game early in camp. However, with Wright out of the picture, Lakins has clear path to playing a big role on the defending World Series champions.
Nobody loves Colten Brewer more than Alex Cora and Dave Dombrowski. Initially acquired in an offseason trade, Brewer entered Spring Training battling for one of the last spots in the Red Sox bullpen. Brewer possesses a cutter-curveball pitch tool which worked well at inducing ground balls and weak contact at the minor league level.
Brewer has essentially no major league experience, but it sounds like that will chance sooner rather than later. When asked about players likely to step up, Cora mentioned Brewer as the first candidate. Brewer has pitched just three Spring Training innings so far and it’s impossible to extrapolate anything meaningful from a sample size so small. However, that sample size should increase in the coming weeks as the Red Sox try to find out what they have in the 26-year old righty.
Bobby Poyner broke camp with the Red Sox in 2018, and the young lefty could be poised to do it again. Just like Lakins, Poyner is a reliever capable of pitching more than one inning of relief at a time. Unlike Lakins, Poyner does have some major league experience, and his numbers are mostly good.
Poyner allowed a 3.22 ERA and a 4.01 FIP in 22.1 innings of major league work in 2018. While these numbers obviously aren’t fantastic, there is reason to believe he can improve in the future. Poyner spent the 2017 season with the Portland Sea Dogs and completely skipped Pawtucket to start the season in Boston. He’s not the second coming of Mariano Rivera, but he can be a decent early-inning arm to bridge the gap to Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes.
The Dark Horses: Darwinzon Hernandez and Durbin Feltman
Darwinzon Hernandez and Durbin Feltman easily have the highest ceilings of the Red Sox farm arms, and Boston could be tempted into accelerating these players’ developments and throwing them into the majors. However, the Red Sox should exercise some patience and hold back from this aggressive strategy.
For one, Hernandez has only pitched six innings at the AA level, while Feltman hasn’t even broken Single-A. Asking either player to make that type of jump in talent is asking for disaster. Additionally, Hernandez still has the chance to develop into a starting pitcher. Feltman is destined for the bullpen, so rushing him to the majors isn’t that short-sighted. However, giving up on developing a talented 22-year old simply because you can’t build a bullpen is a bad look. Hernandez might wind up a reliever in the long run, but he deserves the chance to make it as a starter.