In my continuing series of articles covering the Boston farm system, I'll be discussing a number of top-tier prospects throughout the Red Sox minor leagues with the potential to help the team in the next wave of home-grown talent. You can read Part 3 on Jose Iglesias here.
When the Red Sox traded for Adrian Gonzalez last December, the minor league talent they sent packing represented a large piece of Boston's future. Few should question Theo's decision to pull the trigger, but the move cost the Red Sox some of their highest rated prospects. With Casey Kelly gone, the pitching arm with brightest potential now belongs to young Drake Britton out of the Lone Star State.
Britton (21 years, 6'2", 200 pounds) is coming off a strong year at Mid-A Greenville. Headed into 2010, Drake had pitched very few innings the previous year. Tommy John surgery in Fall 2008 relegated him to only seven games in 2009. Limited to 75 innings last year, Britton made the most of his opportunities.
Drake's pitching line (2.97 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 3.39 K/BB) in 2010 hinted at a high ceiling as yet unrealized. Drafted out of high school from Tomboll, TX, Britton currently brings a three pitch arsenal. His fastball clocks in the low- to mid-90's, with the ability to gas it up to 97. He has a huge 12-6 curve that has been used very effectively against righty and lefty hitters. Drake's show pitch is an undeveloped change up.
Britton should begin the year in High-A Salem with fellow phenom Anthony Ranaudo. Unlike my previous prospect profiles, these players do not represent imminent impact on the major league club. Given his young age and lack of innings in the minors, he is still looking at two full years of development.
It remains to be seen if Drake can develop a fourth pitch, which has become a prerequisite of starters in the big leagues. A second fastball with movement or a slider might be required to buy a ticket past Double-A. Regardless of his time line, the Red Sox are very high on the left-hander, and he was recognized as one of the top three prospects in Boston's system by Baseball America.
Unless Dice-K can be unloaded sooner, the Red Sox won't have a permanent starting job open for two years. Felix Doubront may have the lead for spot starts and September call-ups in the next few seasons, but my money is on Drake Britton to earn a place in the rotation come April 2013.