April 20, 2013
The Situation: With a doubleheader scheduled on Sunday against the Royals, the Red Sox require a spot starter to help bolster the starting rotation. With Webster rested and pitching extremely well in Triple-A, he gets the call to make his big-league debut.
Background: Acquired as part of the package sent to the Red Sox in exchange for Josh Becket, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez, Webster may end up the most important piece of that deal for the Sox. Drafted by the Dodgers in the 18th round of the 2008 draft, Webster has endured an up-and-down professional career. After breezing through the lower levels during his first three seasons as a pro, Webster hit a bump in the road when he reached Double-A as a 21-year old in 2011. In 91 innings with Chattanooga that summer, the right-hander was touched up for a 5.04 ERA and over 10 hits per nine innings.
Webster returned to Chattanooga to start the 2012 season and improved dramatically, to the tune of a 3.55 ERA across 121 2/3 innings with 117 strikeouts. Traded late last summer, Webster made two starts for Double-A Portland, posting an 8.00 ERA. After an impressive spring with the Red Sox, Webster has gotten off to a red-hot start with Triple-A Pawtucket, posting a 0.90 ERA in two starts and allowing only seven hits in 10 innings.
Scouting Report: Webster features a robust arsenal of pitches, including three that offer plus potential long term. His fastball sits in the low-90s with heavy sink, and he can run his four-seamer up to 95-96 mph when he needs a little extra. His size and arm angle allow him to generate excellent downward trajectory, accentuating the natural sink on his fastball and allowing him to induce plenty of ground balls. His changeup shows as a true plus-plus offering and allows him to be effective against left-handers.
Webster’s slider has taken a large step forward over the last year, now showing consistently as a plus pitch and earning even more substantial praise at times. Webster also mixes in a below-average curveball that is not a significant part of his arsenal. Control and command have never been strong points for Webster, but he has developed to the point where he can throw enough strikes to be effective. His wide arsenal of pitches suggests bigger projection than the actual package allows, but Webster should end up a solid no. 3 starter with a chance to surpass that if his command suddenly comes around.
Immediate Big-League Future: Everything points to Webster heading back to the minor leagues after his major-league debut on Sunday. Even with the injury to right-hander John Lackey, the Red Sox don’t appear to be in a hurry to add Webster to the rotation full time. But if he returns to Triple-A and continues to dominate, Webster could force the issue and end up pitching meaningful innings down the stretch for a Red Sox club that should be in contention for a playoff spot. —Mark Anderson
Fantasy Impact: It looks like the Red Sox are planning on calling up Webster only for Sunday night’s start and then returning him to Triple-A before Monday’s game. However, with his direct competition for the fifth starter’s job being Alfredo Aceves and John Lackey, I would not rule out Webster getting 15-plus starts at the major-league level this season.
And with those starts, Webster could be pretty productive, despite pitching in Fenway Park. In fact, if you were going to build your ideal starter given the makeup of the stadium, a right-handed pitcher who induces a lot of ground balls would be right at the top of the list. Pitching for a surprisingly solid Red Sox team (12-4 in their first 16 games), Webster should make for a nice option if you’re seeking wins and strikeouts. However, some of those positives may be offset by ratio risk—especially in WHIP, as prior to his 10-inning sample this season, Webster hasn’t had a BB/9 rate below 3.50 since Rookie ball.
Webster is going to make for a decent streaming play in deeper mixed leagues for his big-league debut, as after doing my own research on the topic, Top 100 prospects tend to be more successful in their debut starts than conventional wisdom suggests. In AL-only formats, he’s likely to be worth throwing $5-7 on because of the potential for him to get 15-plus starts during the season. If he ends up throwing around 100 innings for the season, it would be reasonable to expect a 4.25 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 70 strikeouts and five wins. In keeper/dynasty formats, he should be grabbed in 12-plus team formats. —Bret Sayre
Mark Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @ProspectMark