Editor's note: This is the first of a five-part series on depth in the Red Sox farm system.
Over the course of March, I’ll be examining the depth of the Red Sox minor league system on a position-by-position basis. We’ll kick it off with pitchers. Boston has some extremely impressive pitching prospects who currently project as future impact starters, including Matt Barnes, Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa.
POTENTIAL MAJOR LEAGUE STARTERS
RHP Matt Barnes, 22, is about to start his second full season in the Sox system. The 2011 first-round pick spent the 2012 season with Low-A Greenville and High-A Salem, and is expected to break camp with Double-A Portland in April. He projects as a middle-of-the-rotation starter. His arsenal includes a plus 93-98 mph fastball, an average curveball with plus potential, and an average-but-developing changeup. He'll need to work on durability and refining his secondary stuff to take the next step this season.
RHP Allen Webster, 23, was acquired from the Dodgers in the August 2012 megadeal. He has received a lot of attention in camp this spring with his arsenal of three major league pitches, including a plus 93-98 mph fastball with fringy command, a plus changeup, and an above-average slider. He spent all of the 2012 season in Double-A, and is expected to pitch for Triple-A Pawtucket this season. Like Barnes, he projects as a middle-of-the-rotation starter.
RHP Rubby De La Rosa, 23, was another major acquisition in the Dodgers deal. His repertoire includes a 94-100 mph fastball, a plus 84-87 mph changeup, and a fringe-average slider that is a work in progress. De La Rosa spent most of 2012 recovering from August 2011 Tommy John Surgery. While he has 14 games of major league experience under his belt, he'll be on a limited pitch count throughout the 2013 minor league season, especially considering that he threw only 13.2 innings last season. With some improvement in his command and secondary offerings, he projects as a No. 3 starter. Otherwise, he still has the makings of a high-leverage reliever.
LHP Henry Owens, 20, was a supplemental first-round pick in 2011. The 6-foot-7 left-hander spent the 2012 season with Greenville, striking out 130 batters in 101.2 innings. He's expected to pitch for Salem this season. Owens' arsenal includes an 89-94 mph fastball, an excellent curveball, and a below-average changeup. He should be able to add additional velocity to his fastball with continued physical maturation. Owens has the ceiling of a No. 3 starter, but still has lots of work to do to get there.
LHP Brian Johnson, 22, appeared in only four professional games in 2012 after getting hit in the face by a batted ball in August. A 2012 first-round pick out of Florida, the left-hander has a 90-94 mph fastball, an average curveball, and an average changeup. Johnson will likely spend a month or two in Greenville, where he should have an easy time against South Atlantic League competition, before receiving a promotion to Salem. At this point, Johnson projects as a back-of-the-rotation starter or a setup man.
RHP Anthony Ranaudo, 23, had a poor 2012 season by all accounts: He missed the first six weeks of the season with a groin injury, returned to the mound with Portland with decreased velocity and control problems, and then missed the last two months of the season with dead arm. If Ranaudo can stay healthy in 2013 and get back to his 2009 or early-2011 form, the former college star still has the makings of a back-end starter. He'll likely start the 2013 season back with Portland.
RHP Ty Buttrey, 19, received a $1.3 million bonus after the Sox drafted him out of Providence (NC) High School in the fourth round of the 2012 draft. A 6-foot-5 righty, Buttrey throws his fastball in the 90-93 mph range, topping out at 96 mph. He's also working on developing a knuckle curveball and a changeup. He'll likely start the season with Greenville, or possibly short-season Lowell.
Others to Watch: LHP Chris Hernandez, RHP Noe Ramirez, RHP Jamie Callahan
POTENTIAL MAJOR LEAGUE RELIEVERS
LHP Drake Britton, 23, enters his sixth season in the Red Sox system. His mechanics and delivery are quite reminiscent of Jon Lester. His arsenal includes a 92-95 mph fastball, an inconsistent breaking ball, and a developing changeup. He has had numerous bouts of control issues, and has tended to get rattled on the mound too easily. If he can maintain composure, get his breaking ball back to form, and keep his control somewhat consistent, Britton would make a solid seventh-inning reliever. Still, he may start 2013 in Portland's starting rotation.
RHP Brandon Workman, 24, is expected to join Barnes, Britton, and Workman in the Sea Dogs' rotation. A 2012 second-round pick, Workman throws a 91-95 fastball with average command, a plus 89-90 mph cutter, as well a curveball and a changeup, both of which are works in progress. While he's had some success as a starter -- he was named the Red Sox Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2012 -- his jerky mechanics may land him in the bullpen over the long term.
RHP Alex Wilson, 26, projects as long-man and perhaps a seventh-inning reliever in his peak years. This season will likely be his third consecutive one with the PawSox. He has a 92-95 mph fastball with average command and limited movement, a solid slider, and a subpar changeup.
RHP Pat Light, 21, impressed with Lowell in 2012 after being selected in the supplemental first round out of Monmouth. He's somewhat raw for a college draftee, but has room to grow. His repertoire is highlighted by a heavy 90-95 mph fastball that tops out in the high 90s in short bursts. He also throws a slider with major league potential and a below-average changeup. He'll likely be utilized as a starter early in his minor league career, but profiles as a setup man with some closer potential.
RHP Frank Montas, 19, is a boom-or-bust prospect. The young Dominican's fastball already tops out at 100 mph, but his command and control are both below average. He's also in the early stages of developing a slider and a changeup. Montas has the makings of a major league closer if he can refine his control to a respectable level, but that's a big question mark. He's also the type of lottery ticket prospect that the front office has historically liked to include in package deal trades.
LHP Cody Kukuk, 19, missed most of the 2012 season after being suspended for off-field issues. A tall lefty with a 91-93 mph fastball, a decent slider, and a developing changeup, Kukuk also has some starting-rotation potential as he matures, but he's still quite raw at this stage.
RHP Simon Mercedes, 21, signed with Boston as an international amateur at the age of 20, after having his first pro contract with the Giants voided by Major League Baseball. A live arm with solid potential, the Dominican righty throws a 91-96 mph fastball, as well as a curveball and changeup -- both of which need a lot of work.
Others to Watch: RHP Keith Couch, RHP Aaron Kurcz, RHP Austin Maddox