The Red Sox may insist their white flag is tucked away, still gathering dust since 2012 -- perhaps in A.J. Pierzynski’s now-vacant locker -- but the signs are all around. Mookie Betts is up. Christian Vazquez is up. Space in the rotation could soon open up for both Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa. The rest of this season will be spent developing young prospects at the game’s highest level so that, even if they make a miraculous climb back from 9 1/2 games out of first place in the A.L. East, the core of the next great Red Sox team will have accumulated valuable big-league innings.
“We are where we are,” said Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington. “If the standings were turned upside down, if our positioning was different, maybe that wouldn't be happening. But we are where we are, so we gotta find out about guys. We've gotta see what opportunities come our way. At the same time, we're trying to get better as quickly as we can in ways that make sense.”
Already, several young players have seen significant MLB action in 2014. At times they’ve flashed the skills that have had them earmarked as young organizational thoroughbreds. At times -- more often that not for some -- they’ve struggled badly. Luckily for the Red Sox, their system is deep with ready-made Major League talent. It's on the backs of those players that the oft-mentioned “bridge” will be built, and the construction is underway.
After hearing from members of the organization and players as well as MLB scouts, we look at six Red Sox up-and-comers who will help determine the team's direction for years to come. Here's one:
Where does he stand?
For now, he’s with Triple-A Pawtucket. But how long before he makes the trip back up I-95 to Boston?
The 6-foot-5 righty was optioned back to the PawSox for the second time this season on July 8. He’s not scheduled to pitch in Boston’s first five games after the All-Star break, but if Jake Peavy is dealt -- which seems a formality at this point -- Workman will likely be recalled to take the open spot in the Sox rotation.
Though he’s bounced back and forth, Workman has been solid in his starts at the big-league level. Excluding his ugly July 2 outing when he went four innings and allowed six runs, Workman has given up 18 earned runs in 48 1/3 innings for a 3.35 ERA.
He was disappointed after finding out he’d be sent down following his most recent Red Sox start, but the team appreciates how he’s handled things as a player on the cusp.
“There are some emotions that go into the process going in both directions,” Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett said, explaining how both Workman and fellow part-time big-leaguer Rubby De La Rosa have dealt with their similar situations.
“But I think they’ve been able to handle both well and control their emotions, which has enabled them to pitch so well at the major-league level. And certainly compete the way we expect them to down in Triple-A and continue to try to get better.”
Where do the Red Sox hope he’ll be, eventually?
While Workman has been made a starter for the season and the Red Sox have shown reluctance to move him back and forth between a starting role and one out of the bullpen, there has been no final decision made as to his long-term gig.
“We’re definitely going to take the step of ‘Let’s see where he’s the most dominant at,’ ” said Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves. “We’ve seen him come out of the bullpen and be very dominant at a higher velocity. But as a starter, it would be nice to have a starter for the next six years, seven years.”
Scouts rave about Workman’s ability to fight through an off outing to eat innings, but he is dynamic enough out of the bullpen that they see him having success in either job.
Given that the Red Sox bullpen could undergo an overhaul this upcoming offseason -- Koji Uehara, Andrew Miller, Burke Badenhop and Craig Breslow all could be gone after this season -- Workman may be relied upon to be a key reliever in 2015.
What does he have to do to get there?
Workman has had plenty of big-league experience over the last couple of years, but he’s still far from a finished product. His fastball sits in the low-90s and he has shown a devastating curveball at times, but developing his other pitches, and figuring out where they’re going, is still somewhat of a work in progress.
“[His curveball] is phenomenal,” Nieves said. “The key now is to figure out how to put guys away with it. And of course working in the cutter, the changeup to both sides of the plate eventually -- that’ll be the next step up.
“Fastball command is the most important part for him, being able to keep the ball down. He’s such a big guy, he creates a downhill plane and [he has to make] sure he takes advantage of the two-seam and four-seam that way.”
For Workman, going back and forth from Triple-A to the bigs has shown him just how different the levels are. Every MLB start he makes is a lesson unto itself that he hopes brings him closer to his goal being a full-time big-leaguer.
“It's execution,” said Workman. “When I'm executing my pitches and throwing the ball where it needs to go, usually I have pretty good success with it. It seems like mistakes are what has been biting me. When I don't put the ball where it needs to be, guys seem to get all on it.
“You get away with less and less every step up. From A-ball to Double-A, from Double-A to Triple-A, and obviously Triple-A to here. You don't get away with a lot.”
Trade him or keep him?
Keep him around and find out what you have. Is he a starter? Is he a reliever? For now, there’s good value in his ability to do both. Maybe someone thinks the same way and blows the Red Sox away with an offer, but that seems unlikely. For now he’s worth stashing, especially given the state of the bullpen’s future.