Much has been made of young Boston Red Sox pitchers Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa and Matt Barnes, but it’s important not to forget left-handed starter prospect Drake Britton, who could also be the real deal.
On numbers alone, Britton may not appear to be a top prospect. The 23-year-old has a career record of 11-30 with a 4.68 ERA in five minor league seasons. However, that’s not a fair or complete analysis of his talent and potential.
After graduating from high school, the heavily recruited Britton was slated to attend Texas A&M University on scholarship, according to the Maine Sunday Telegram’s Kevin Thomas. The Red Sox swooped in and selected him in the 23rd round of the 2007 draft, convincing him to go pro with a $700,000 signing bonus.
Unfortunately, shortly after the start of the 2009 season, he had to undergo Tommy John surgery and missed a significant amount of time.
Boston took things very cautiously with Britton upon his return in 2010. Although he made 21 starts, he threw just 75.2 innings. He did pitch effectively that year, posting a 2.97 ERA and striking out more than a batter per inning.
Following the season, Baseball America’s Jim Callis named Britton as Boston’s fifth-best prospect, ahead of such players as Josh Reddick and Felix Doubront.
Everything fell apart for Britton in 2011, as he had an abysmal 1-13 record and a 6.91 ERA. Still, the Red Sox regarded him highly enough that they added him to their 40-man roster after the season, protecting him from the Rule 5 draft.
The addition shocked Britton, as he told WEEI’s Alex Speier:
I wasn’t expecting it. Obviously, I was thinking about it. It hit me out of nowhere. I was like, ‘This is real. They still believe in me.’
Boston’s faith was rewarded last season, as Britton finally found consistency and regained his status as a top prospect. In 26 games (24 starts) between High-A and Double-A, he went a combined 7-12 with a 4.44 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 129.2 innings.
Britton told NESN.com that one of the biggest improvements he made last year was believing more in himself and carrying that confidence with him to the mound.
Tapping into his natural talent has also helped Britton’s development. Speier wrote glowingly of his repertoire:
He possessed well above-average stuff: a fastball that touched as high as 96 mph last year, a slider he developed last year that immediately showed promise as a wipeout offering, a 12-to-six curve that came back after he started throwing the slider and a developed changeup. That combination convinced the Red Sox that he needed to be added to the big league roster rather than exposed to the Rule 5 draft.
After Speier noted that the Red Sox believe Britton can be a similar pitcher to Jon Lester, the youngster spoke of his pride in such a comparison:
It’s just nice to be around him, to witness the things that he does and the things I would like to do, too. It’s just been awesome to be around him, watching him throw.
Being compared to be, I take that on as a great honor. There’s no better guy to be compared to than that. I love being compared to him. That’s a privilege. I take it on as the greatest compliment ever.
Britton is not among Callis’ top 10 Boston prospects for 2013. Such accolades are nice, but are no substitute for hard work and results. If Britton continues on his current path, he still has plenty of time to live up to the potential he brought with him from the draft.
Britton will likely start 2013 with Double-A Portland, but the Providence Journal’s Tim Britton believes that the young lefty could be in Triple-A before the end of the season. That would put him on the verge of the major leagues and that much closer to fulfilling expectations.
He’s not written or talked about nearly as much as some Boston prospects, but Britton is every inch their equal. If he becomes the pitcher the Red Sox think he can be, he will be discussed about in the not-too-distant future.
Statistics via BaseballReference