Just How Good Can Red Sox Rookie Anthony Ranaudo Be?

Evan Brunell@evanbrunellFeatured ColumnistAugust 20, 2014

Could Ranaudo emerge as a workhorse in the rotation?
Could Ranaudo emerge as a workhorse in the rotation?Joe Robbins/Getty Images

As the Boston Red Sox attempt to figure out who can be a part of their 2015 rotation, the club has turned to Anthony Ranaudo, handing the former first-round pick two starts in August to showcase his talents.

Drafted with the 39th pick in 2010, Ranaudo was once the best pitcher available in the draft, according to ESPN's Keith Law (subscription required). However, an injury-plagued season and signability concerns, as Mike Andrews of Sox Prospects writes, dropped Ranaudo's stock, which allowed Boston to snag him late in the first round.

Fast forward four years, and Ranaudo found himself outside of Jason Parks' top 10 Red Sox prospects for Baseball Prospectus. As Parks wrote, Ranaudo is limited by his "pedestrian" fastball, and his other pitches are too inconsistent to offset the fastball.

However, the 24-year-old got off to a strong start for Triple-A Pawtucket in 2014 and currently holds a 2.58 ERA through 22 starts. That was enough to earn Ranaudo a promotion to Boston, starting on Aug. 1 against the Yankees. Ranaudo limited New York to two runs over six innings, although he walked four while striking out just two.

The right-hander returned to the bigs on Aug. 13 to face the Reds, winning his second game as he coughed up four runs over six innings with one walk and one strikeout.

Ranaudo relied far too much on his heater in his first start, throwing it 78 percent of the time, according to Mike Podhorzer of FanGraphs. Given his "pedestrian" fastball, as Parks called it, it's no wonder that Ranaudo could only rack up 3.9 percent of all strikes that were swung at and missed, especially when paired with his inconsistent secondary offerings. 

The MLB average in this category is 9.3 percent, which does not bode well for the right-hander. With an average fastball velocity of 92.1 mph, Ranaudo will struggle at this stage to be a consistent member of the rotation.

However, his ceiling is that of a third starter, and the rookie could very well reach that level after making mechanical adjustments and adding a new pitch that culminated in his breakthrough season in the minors, as WEEI.com's Joon Lee writes. 

Ranaudo's windup was streamlined to be similar to his windup in the stretch, which has improved his command by allowing him to be more balanced as he delivers the ball.

The New Jersey native also has incorporated a slider into his resume. While it's still a fairly new pitch that needs further refinement, Triple-A pitching coach Rich Sauveur believes the new pitch could be a weapon before long, as he tells WEEI.com's Lee

"He’s just starting out with it," Sauveur noted. "It’s a true slider, which is good and he’s picked up on it well." Sauveur believes that Ranaudo needs to add velocity to the slider for it to truly emerge as a weapon.

Between Ranaudo's step forward in the minor leagues, his streamlined mechanics and new pitch, he may be able to overcome the limits that his fastball puts on him. In addition, with further experience, his secondary offerings should become a lot more consistent, giving Ranaudo a strong chance to reach his ceiling of a No. 3 starter.

Third starters aren't glamorous, but they are worth tens of millions of dollars when they hit the free-agent market and are a vital cog teams' rotations, helping extend a rotation's quality and providing another element to keep clubs in games.