John Tomase

What Red Sox' Shane Drohan decision tells us about Craig Breslow

Boston could lose a talented young prospect in the Rule 5 Draft.

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Looking for clues into how Craig Breslow's tenure will differ from that of predecessor Chaim Bloom? He gave us one on Tuesday.

The Red Sox added two pitchers to their 40-man roster, but the real story was the one they left unprotected. Left-hander Shane Drohan looked like a breakout prospect early last season before faltering at Triple-A. He was left off the 40-man on Tuesday, which means he'll be available to other clubs in the Dec. 6 Rule 5 Draft, provided he's not traded first.

The move qualified as a surprise. Drohan ranked No. 18 on MLB Pipeline's list of Red Sox prospects, No. 9 on Baseball America's midseason update, and No. 13 according to After a 5-0 start with a 1.32 ERA at Double-A Portland, he earned raves both inside and out of the organization. His fastball jumped from 89-92 mph in 2022 to as high as 95, and analysts lauded his changeup as a weapon. Continued production at Triple-A almost certainly would've landed him in the big leagues last summer.

It didn't happen. He went 5-7 with a 6.47 ERA at Triple-A Worcester, where in 89 innings he couldn't throw strikes (63 walks) or keep the ball in the park (19 homers allowed). Rather than let him make his last start, the Red Sox shut him down, ostensibly because he had reached his innings limit.

This is where Breslow enters the picture. He started overhauling the Cubs' minor league pitching operation in 2019 by placing an emphasis on velocity and stuff over immediate results. The Cubs led the minors in velocity last season and watched homegrown pitchers continue to make an impact in the big leagues, led by left-hander Justin Steele, who went 16-5 with a 3.06 ERA and made his first All-Star team.

Relievers Adbert Alzolay, Javier Assad, and 2021 first-rounder Jordan Wicks also contributed, giving the Cubs a solid base of young pitching, with more highly regarded prospects on the way.

It's worth noting that Alzolay is the only hard thrower in that group, so it's not as if the Cubs were building a system of cookie-cutter fireballers. But if a pitcher lacks an elite fastball, then he'd better be able to shape his pitches and command them.

Drohan, by contrast, doesn't necessarily fit the profile. Even after increasing his fastball to 92-94 mph, his velocity rates no better than average. There's also a concern that his stuff may not play above Double-A, especially after his struggles at Worcester. The command of his curveball and even his changeup remains iffy.

So Breslow, who promised action on the day he was introduced while also making it clear that he wouldn't fall in love with every prospect, made a statement. Drohan may have earned some hype last year, but it didn't hold up over a full season, and the Red Sox are OK with losing him if it comes to that.

Breslow instead protected the club's minor league pitcher of the year, right-hander Wikelman Gonzalez, as well as Single-A righty Luis Perales. What the two have in common is they throw hard, particularly Perales. Gonzalez features a fastball in the mid to upper 90s, while Perales touched 99 mph. Each possesses the building blocks of an elite arsenal, which made protecting them essential.

Drohan may yet contribute in the big leagues, and it could even be with the Red Sox, though his age (25 in January) and experience (19 starts at Triple-A) make him exactly the kind of pitcher rival organizations often target in the Rule 5.

If he does leave, it will be because Breslow made a tough call and has begun the work of dispassionately evaluating the farm system he inherited.

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