When the Red Sox made their mea culpa blockbuster deal last August, removing the contracts of Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, they received a bounty of five players in return from the Los Angeles Dodgers, and a few extra bucks to sweeten the pot.
Five months later the likes of James Loney and Ivan De Jesus Jr. have come and gone, and outfielder Jerry Sands never even had the opportunity to pull on any uniform for the organization.
The trade was never about those three.
If a return of any sort was going to come from it, it would be on the arms of 23-year-old Rubby de la Rosa, who was added to the trade after the 2012 season commenced, and Allen Webster, a 22-year-old right-hander who pitched his final two games of last season with Double-A Portland.
For Webster, comparisons to Derek Lowe were drawn due his ability to produce ground ball outs (2.05 ground out/fly out ratio in 2012), but the slim, 6’3” hurler combines that with accuracy and a heavy fastball that produces a bounty of strikeouts as well (468 Ks in 494 innings).
His mid-90s sinking heater and a cutting slider help to keep the baseball within the confines of the stadium, as last year Webster allowed only two home runs over 130 2/3 innings and only 19 total in his pro career.
All of this adds up to high expectation and Baseball America, SoxProspects.com and MLB.com all project Webster as the Red Sox fourth best prospect, and second best pitching prospect behind Matt Barnes.
Having been ranked as the Dodgers second best prospect by Baseball America heading into last season, Webster is familiar with the expectations but none are greater than what he expects of himself first and foremost.
“Of course I look at, everybody looks at it,” said Webster of the rankings. “You just try not to think too much of it. You still have to go out and perform and if you don’t perform, you’re not going to get any higher.”
Webster is aware that it will take all of his efforts to ensure that he meets his and the organizations expectations, and he is firmly aware of where he needs to improve to reach his goals.
“[I have to] be more consistent, cut down on the walks,” said Webster who allowed a career high 61 free passes last season.
“[I’m trying to] just repeat my delivery better and not drift forward,” he added. “When I drift I let the ball sail up and I miss my spot.”
In 2012 Webster allowed four more walks, in fifteen less innings, than in 2011, but there is hardly cause for concern and his experience puts him in the perfect spot to pounce on an opportunity to reach the next level, which for Webster would mean Triple-A.
As the Providence Journal’s Brian MacPherson points out, Pawtucket will be looking to make their rotation a bit younger this year and while De La Rosa looks to be a lock for the PawSox, Webster could also force himself into the mix with a strong spring.
Although he was only around for less than a month with the Sea Dogs, that acclimation could also play a part in helping the normally reserved Webster feel more comfortable coming into the 2013 campaign, but ultimately he is willing to let his results guide his path.
“I think it’s going to help out a lot,” said Webster of his short time in Portland. “I got to come in and meet all the guys on the team, meet the coaches and they took me in and were awesome to me. I couldn’t ask for much more.
“It’s hard to tell [where I might end up], it just depends on how I work on the field.”
For now he is enjoying his time with his new organization after having spent his first five with Los Angeles.
He was one of eleven top organizational prospects invited to take part in the Red Sox rookie development program at the beginning of January, finding time between workouts to check out the friendly confines of Fenway.
“It was awesome to go see the field and go around it,” said Webster of his trip to the 100 year old ball park. “It helps a lot because you can actually see your goal. It’s just right there.”
Regarding the organization as a whole he said, “They really look after you. They’re awesome.”
Two days before pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers, Webster will celebrate his 23rd birthday and as he gets ready to reach the most important stretch of his career, he could quickly develop into a role that could signify a resurgence of young arms in the Red Sox system while providing a proper refund from the biggest trade of a season ago.
Now, as he gears up for Spring Training, the 23-year-old righty is discovering what it takes to get back to what made him a 2011 first round pick.
"By the injury you learn a lot about your body," said Ranaudo, who suffered from groin and arm injuries last year. "You learn about different things that you need to do to stay healthy. Unfortunately you don't ever want to get hurt and learn that way but since I did I'm trying to find the positive from it and learn about my body and my strength conditioning program."
A groin strain late in spring training set back the start of his regular season until mid-May and after posting a 1-3 record in nine starts with AA Portland, his season was unexpectedly cut short when he suffered from a dead arm.
"Once I got back on the mound I don't think I was 100% ready," said Ranaudo. "I don't know if it was mentally or physically, but I felt fine.
"Obviously I had arm issues. A lot of the stuff that I showed when I was on the field was not my best, so there is a lot to prove from my end. It's nothing that I can talk about, nothing that I can say, it's something that I have to go out on the field and do."
In November he got back on the mound for Caguas of the Puerto Rico Baseball League, and in 9 2/3 innings of work he walked only two batters and struck out nine.
Ranaudo did suffer through two tough outings where he allowed eight earned runs over two innings and though he tweaked the groin that plagued him in spring, he looks upon his experience positively.
"It was a lot of fun and a great experience," said Ranaudo who used the opportunity to learn from some of the older teammates. "From the baseball standpoint, that was as good as my body had felt in a really, really long time.
"As far as the 'stuff' standpoint, I felt like my stuff was just really back. My velocity was back to where everybody wanted it to be, where I wanted to be. I was pitching with confidence and being able to use my breaking ball, my curve and my changeup in different sequences and be successful with that."
His positivity in the face of the speedbump that was his 2012 baseball season stems from the countless physical therapy sessions over the past year, which have also served as a class in self-preservation for Ranaudo.
"From doing my physical therapy, you learn how important your hips are in baseball," said Ranaudo. "You always hear "keep your hips loose" and "keep your hips healthy" and that it's a key to a long career, for pitchers at least.
"Everything I'm doing for my groin now is hip strengthening, hip flexibility and things along those lines. You don't really think how different parts of your body are in connection with each other until, unfortunately, you find out the hard way. It's pretty crazy, but it's cool, because I'm into that stuff. It's been a good experience for me to learn different things."
This new found knowledge now feeds his urge to be back on the mound and with Spring Training within reach, he's ready to re-establish his spot as an elite prospect in the Sox organization.
"Hopefully I can just keep it at a hiccup," said Ranaudo. "Hopefully I'll be able to learn from this and be able to look back and have a long successful career.
"I'm healthy. I'm on my throwing program. I'm on my strength and conditioning program. I've been doing PT for my hips and my groin for the past 3-4 weeks. I'm definitely excited and ready to get down to Ft. Myers."
Anthony Ranaudo photo credit - John Corneau/Lowell Spinners