INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — There is nothing more important to a team than the ability to develop starting pitchers. It's the best, and most economical, path to success.
That's why you should be following the progress of Anthony Ranaudo in the Puerto Rican winter league.
Ranaudo, 23, was the 39th pick of the 2010 draft out of LSU. One of the nation's best pitchers as a sophomore, he had an inconsistent junior season because of an elbow injury and fell in the draft.
The Sox took a gamble and paid for it, giving Ranaudo a $2.55 million bonus to sign. He signed too late to pitch in 2010, but got in 127 innings in 2011 and looked worth the investment. The 6-foot-7 righthander struck out 117 while allowing 115 hits. His 3.97 earned run average was a little high, but there was plenty to like.
Ranaudo's career hit a wall last season. A spring training groin strain led to his not starting the season until May with Double A Portland. Once he took the mound, Ranaudo showed poor command and a loss of velocity. He had a 6.69 ERA over nine starts and 37.2 innings.
Ranaudo made his last start on July 3, the Sox shutting him down because of a sore shoulder. Tests came back clean and he was allowed to pitch in the Instructional League. That led to a spot with Caguas in Puerto Rico.
Ranaudo made his first start on Thursday night and pitched three no-hit innings. He walked one and struck out three.
The goal is for Ranaudo to get some innings in and come to spring training ready to return to Portland and pitch well.
How good can Ranaudo be? As a sophomore at LSU, he struck out 159. He was third in Division I behind Stephen Strasburg and Mike Leake. They're both in major league rotations now.
Ranaudo took a small step in that direction on Thursday. It's a journey worth keeping an eye on.