Top prospect Ranaudo aiming for assignment to Double-A
By Brian MacPherson
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Anthony Ranaudo
could feel the effects of fatigue.
Making his first start of the spring against an opposing team on Wednesday, Ranaudo -- the consensus top pitching prospect in the organization -- cruised through his first inning of work but hit a batter, walked a batter and allowed a line-drive single to right before escaping the jam in his second.
"For my first outing, I felt like it went pretty well," he said afterward. "I thought I did a good job in the first inning of locating to both sides, down in the zone. The second inning, I could see I was a little fatigued, I was leaving some fastballs up in the zone. But, overall, I felt pretty good, especially about my secondary stuff. It's definitely something I can build off."
Fatigue is normal this early in the spring. Fatigue also is something with which Ranaudo has had to deal before.
Ranaudo cruised through 10 starts at Single-A Greenville in April and May last season, compiling a 3.33 ERA and striking out 50 hitters in 46 innings. He hit some obstacles upon his promotion to Single-A Salem in June, compiling a 4.33 ERA in 16 starts for Salem -- including a 6.30 ERA in six starts in July.
The stock of Ranaudo -- a supplemental first-round draft pick in 2010 -- seems to have taken some hits in the world of prospect evaluation in large part due to those late-season struggles. The Red Sox remain optimistic, as they did throughout last year.
"I know he didn't necessarily dominate from a statistical standpoint, but we thought he had some really good outings down there and he held that level, for a first-year guy, really well," Red Sox assistant general manager Mike Hazen said.
The question now becomes where to place Ranaudo in order to maximize his development -- back at Salem, where he'd probably thrive against less skilled competition, or at Double-A Portland, where he'd encounter more trial by fire.
The same question must be answered for each pitching prospect in the organization. Some answers are easy. Alex Wilson, for example, undoubtedly is going to pitch at Triple-A Pawtucket if his longshot bid for a spot on the major-league roster falls short.
But most minor-league players come to spring training a little bit unsure whether they're going to go back to the level at which they pitched the previous season or be promoted to a more advanced level.
"Hopefully I break with Portland," Ranaudo said. "Obviously, nothing is set in stone, but if I do get that chance, it would be a great experience and I'd definitely be looking forward to the challenge and seeing how my stuff plays out up there."
Simply failing to dominate the advanced Single-A Carolina League would not disqualify Ranaudo from being promoted to Double-A -- nor does it disqualify him from being a top prospect.
Hazen pointed out that Wilson endured even more severe late-season struggles following a promotion to Double-A Portland in 2010 -- a 6.66 ERA in 16 starts starting in mid-June. Wilson followed that up with a 3.11 ERA in 25 starts in 2011 and is considered a candidate to help the Red Sox either as a starter or reliever this season.
The situations were a little different. Wilson did go back to Portland, the same level at which he had his struggles, to get himself straightened out the following year. Ranaudo did not struggle nearly as badly as Wilson did, but he's going to face a steeper challenge if he makes the jump to the next level.
But, still, both were pitching a full season of pro baseball for the first time -- and that's more of an adjustment than one might think.
"First-year pitchers, you've got to be careful evaluating them in August," Hazen said. "These guys have never pitched on a five-day cycle before. ... There's going to be a little downtick. Those guys that don't downtick in August are probably freaks."
As much as Ranaudo tried to prepare for the adjustment to a five-day routine, it still was an adjustment.
"Anytime you make 27 starts and you pitch 120-plus innings in a season, you're definitely going to learn a lot of things, learn a lot about yourself and your stuff. ...
"There are some things that are going to make your arm feel great sometimes, and there are going to be some things that make your arm feel a little slow. Just making those adjustments, the in-game adjustments, the between-starts adjustments, was the biggest thing for me last year."
A similar dilemma will surface when the Red Sox try to decide what to do with last June's draft picks, the pitchers entering their first full season of baseball.
First-round draft pick Matt Barnes is 21 and pitched three seasons in college for UConn, so he's more likely to jump straight to Single-A Greenville like Ranaudo did. Supplemental first-round pick Henry Owens is 19 and was drafted out of high school, so he's more likely to stay in Fort Myers for extended spring training and head to short-season Single-A Lowell in June.
But nothing ever is set in stone. It all depends on the player.
"There's no formula," Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett said before spring training began. "There's no set formula that if he does X, Y and Z, he definitely goes here and if he doesn't, he doesn't. It has a lot to do with, to some extent, us getting to know these players. We have quite a history with them on the scouting side. In player development, we got to know them a little bit at the end of last year and in instructional league. That's a key part of it. It's putting together as much information as we can and trying to make an educated decision.
"We're learning, figuring out where we can push some guys, where we should be less aggressive with others. Some of it is personality. Some of it is talent. Some of it is past competition. Some of it is physical development. There are a lot of different factors that go in and make an equation that we try to put together to make those decisions."