Scouting report: Tonight's Sox starter, Anthony Ranaudo

Scouting report: Tonight's Sox starter, Anthony Ranaudo
August 1, 2014, 1:30 pm
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BOSTON -- Anthony Ranaudo makes his major-league debut tonight, taking the departed John Lackey's spot in the Red Sox rotation. Here's a quick scouting report on the 24-year-old right-hander: 

Where does he stand?

The 6-foot-7 Ranaudo has made significant advances this year in Pawtucket, his first season starting at the Triple-A level. He was 12-4 with a 2.41 ERA in 21 starts, and had 99 strikeouts against 49 walks in 119 1/3 innings. Over the last couple of months especially, among a pool of talented arms, he emerged as perhaps Pawtucket’s most reliable starter.

The key? As it is for so many young pitchers, it’s that he’s been able to put his fastball where he wants.

“The biggest thing for Anthony is that it’s really kind of clicked for him after the first month of the season,” said Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett. “His fastball command has really come on. He’s been able to execute down in the zone much more consistently and really pitched effectively with his fastball.

“He’s got a good curveball, his changeup he can throw against both righties and lefties. The key to his success is really going to be his fastball. He’s got such good quality to his fastball that when he’s able to command that, guys don’t generally square him up too much. That’s something that he’s done a nice job with, making a few adjustments mechanically that will allow him to do that.”

"I give Ranaudo credit," said one scout, "he's throwing his fastball for strikes. Changeup is good. The days that he's down in the zone, he's throwing six or seven innings with a strikeout an inning."

As he’s exhibited better ownership over his mid-90s fastball, Ranaudo has grown in confidence with both his changeup and his curveball as well. The changeup is slightly more advanced than his breaking pitch at this point, but both have served him well.

“The fastball command is the primary key with this guy, but the changeup has improved a ton,” said PawSox pitching coach Rich Sauveur. “The curveball is also improved. The command of those two pitches in the past two months -- he’s been able to go to those pitches in fastball counts. That’s where you’ve seen a very, very big stride in this kid between last year and this year.”

Where do the Red Sox hope he’ll be, eventually?

Now that Ranaudo’s found a delivery that he can repeat on a consistent basis to control his fastball, there’s no reason not to think of him as a future big-league starter. Is he an ace? Maybe not. But at 6-foot-7 and with three effective pitches, he has the arsenal and frame to be an innings-eating horse.

“It’s movement, deception . . . He’s 6-7 so he really gets on top of hitters and creates a pretty good downward angle that makes it tough to hit,” Crockett said. “[Hitters have a hard time squaring him up] because of the velocity but also the deception that he has.”

“He’s gonna be in the big leagues,” Sauveur said several weeks ago. “It could start anytime from tomorrow until two years from now. But he’s gonna have a nice career as long as he keeps doing the same things that he’s doing now, work as hard as he does. The way he’s progressed has been outstanding.”

What does he have to do to get there?

With his fastball under control, Ranaudo’s next point of emphasis will be to bring along his secondary pitches. His curveball has room for improvement, according to scouts, and a fourth pitch would go a long way toward making him more effective at the big-league level.

“We’ve worked on a slider for a fourth pitch,” Sauveur said. “We’ve worked on that. He’s probably thrown it in a game a few times, not much. It’s a work in progress. He’s coming along slow with the slider. But I think once he does find that fourth pitch, with the three pitches he’s got right now and the command that he’s shown, if he keeps this command consistent, he’s going to do very well.”

Trade him or keep him?

He’s progressed so well this season that any kind of deal involving Ranaudo would have to net the Red Sox a sizeable return. And the fact that he continues to throw well, posting a 1.94 ERA in his last 10 starts, could mean that the organization has become less and less inclined to part with him with every outing.

The flip side of that thinking is he might carry more value than any other young pitcher in the Red Sox system not named Henry Owens.

If the return is good enough, and if the organization believes in its starting pitching depth at the lower levels, moving the 24-year-old could make sense. But after seeing the flashes of his potential turn into consistent success at the Triple-A level, general manager Ben Cherington and Co. would likely be reluctant to do so.