Red Sox prospect Rubby De La Rosa is in pitching purgatory. Fully healthy since late in the 2012 season, the right-hander with an electric fastball is nowhere to be found on 25-man roster projections. I don’t expect this to last long since De La Rosa has the arsenal to force his way onto the staff. For now, however, the Dominican will be forced to wait his turn.
It seems like an eternity ago, but De La Rosa’s debut in Dodger blue was impressive. His 3.55 xFIP in 60 2/3 innings included ratios of nearly a strikeout per inning and ground ball rate approaching 50-percent. He walked too many batters — A carry over from Double-A, but De La Rosa was only 22. Time and ability was on his side.
De La Rosa did pitch with effort to touch the upper-90’s though. This, and a hard slider eventually caught up to him. Tommy John surgery was a set back, but De La Rosa returned quickly and was ready to log innings at the time of his being dealt. However, he did not clear waivers and had to be included as a PTBNL. This caused him to be shut down and held in limbo until the trade could be completed.
Based on my belief a healthy De La Rosa is an impact pitcher, the Red Sox off-season was a bit surprising. The team added Ryan Dempster (3.77 xFIP), Joel Hanrahan (4.28 xFIP) and Koji Uehara (2.67 xFIP) to revamp a pitching staff with few open spots to begin with.
Depending on which depth chart you use, Junichi Tazawa (1.82 xFIP), Andrew Miller (3.17 xFIP) and Franklin Morales (4.39 xFIP) were left on the outside looking in after slotting new roster additions. This leaves the Red Sox with 14 viable pitchers for 11 spots without considering what’s on the farm.
Depth charts also concede a roster spot to Daniel Bard who is receiving a mulligan for the reliever-to-starter debacle and his 5.95 xFIP.
So what about De La Rosa? A fair knock is his never having thrown more than 110 1/3 innings in a season. This makes it difficult to envision him seizing a starting role due to expected innings limits — Especially with John Lackey as the projected fifth starter.
The right-hander was once considered a quality starter resulting in a 15.25 million dollar contract in 2013. As Lackey returns from Tommy John, his contract will afford him as much, if not more opportunity than performance on the field.
Inning-for-inning, it would not surprise me if De La Rosa out pitches Lackey, Felix Doubront and even Clay Buchholz in spring training. If a starting pitcher happens to succumb to injury, then De La Rosa should be first in line. If capped at 150 innings, he’d be valuable as a fifth starter who could have a start skipped every once in awhile and transition to a bullpen role later in the season.
After all, this tweaked Red Sox ball club is coming off a miserable 93-loss 2012. Wins in April and May are important at a time when the organization needs to decide whether or not to cash in the Jacoby Ellsbury chip.
De La Rosa would fit in nicely as a relief option, but the team is chock full of bullpen arms who are, or have been good. As a long reliever, De La Rosa would be able to stretch his arm out in longer stints, but Alfredo Aceves is the perfect jack of all trades pitcher to keep around.
Late in games, Andrew Bailey and Hanrahan have closer experience. Uehara and Tazawa were two of the more effective right-handed relievers in baseball in 2012. A pair of lefties from the trio of Craig Breslow, Andrew Miller and Franklin Morales will also make the team. Not to mention Daniel Bard whose success in 2010-2011 were dominant enough to warrant a shot at the rotation.
On the surface, it’s easy to state a 69-win team is better with Rubby De La Rosa as a member of its pitching staff than without. In the current Boston rotation, De La Rosa would be an upgrade. Due to acquisitions and established pitchers derailed due to injury or role change, I’m unable to find a clear path for De La Rosa to contribute early in 2013 even though he possesses one of the top arms in the organization.