Webster coming on strong for Red Sox

Webster coming on strong for Red Sox
March 13, 2013, 6:00 pm

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Right-hander Allen Webster, who was acquired from the Dodgers in the August blockbuster trade, may present the Sox with some difficult choices this spring. But, these are the kind of choices that most teams are happy to have.
 
In Tuesday’s win over the Blue Jays Webster went three innings, giving up one unearned run on three hits with three strikeouts. In four Grapefruit League games this spring, spanning 11 innings, he has given up three runs, two earned runs, for a 1.64 ERA, on nine hits with just one walk and 14 strikeouts.
 
After Tuesday’s game, a scout in attendance was asked for his thoughts on Webster’s outing.
 
“Very impressive,” was the reply. “Ninety-four, ninety-eight [mph fastball] with a swing-and-miss changeup. Slider showed potential. Top-of-rotation-type stuff.”
 
Later, another scout offered an unsolicited review of Webster, saying the right-hander was the best pitcher, at any age, and any level, he has seen this spring.
 
Webster, however, has not pitched above Double-A. After the trade, he made two appearances for Portland, posting a record of 0-1 with an 8.00 ERA, giving up eight earned runs in nine innings. In 130 2/3 combined innings pitched last season he allowed just two home runs (one each with Portland and Chattanooga). His home run rate of 0.1 per nine innings was fourth in all of minor league baseball. In five minor league seasons, he is 34-25 (3.43), in 110 games (84 starts). In this offseason, Baseball America ranked Webster, the No. 4 prospect in the Sox system.
 
Webster, who turned 23 in February, was an 18th-round pick of the Dodgers out of McMichael High in Madison, NC, in 2008. He started last season by going 1-7 with a 5.24 ERA in his first 15 games. He then got hot, going 5-1 with a 2.08 ERA. Before the trade, he had an overall record of 6-8 with a 3.55 ERA in 27 games (22 starts) for Double-A Chattanooga.
 
His strikeout-to-walk ratio, at 14.00 this spring, is unlike anything he has posted so far in his career, in which he has averaged 2.27. He posted his best mark of 4.28 in 2009, between High-A and Double-A.
 
A typical progression might have Webster returning to Portland this season or perhaps opening the season with Triple-A Pawtucket. Webster, though, is giving the Sox reason to question that.
 
Webster’s sinker has been compared to that of former Sox right-hander Derek Lowe’s, which Webster has said is “kind of crazy.” But, it should give Sox fans a point of reference.
 
In the offseason, Webster said it was mechanical issues that led to his inflated numbers at Portland. That does not seem to be an issue now.
 
“I think the one thing he’s grasping is, with his stuff and the action to his two-seamer he doesn’t have to pitch to a third of the plate,” said manager John Farrell. “He can be more aggressive on the white part of the plate. And it’s allowed him to pitch, at least execute strike one with a higher rate. And it just opens up so many other options for him. But I think in a nutshell it’s his ability to attack the strike zone.”
 
But it’s also his changeup that has been earning raves this spring.
 
“He knows, probably in his mind, getting to know him, he would probably rate his changeup as probably his second-best pitch,” Farrell said. “And when he’s been in trouble, even in the minor leagues when we got him, his willingness to use that pitch to slow hitters down is evident. And I think it speaks to some maturity of the guy on the mound.”
 
Enough for the Sox to include him on the Opening Day roster?  Probably not. But he's making it an interesting decision for them.