Pitching prospect Anthony Ranaudo didn’t get a rousing welcome to professional baseball.
In fact, it was the polar opposite. Ranaudo, coming into the Boston Red Sox organization after the team drafted him out of LSU in 2010, didn’t blow anybody away in 2011, going 9-6 with a 3.97 ERA in 26 starts in Class-A, including a 4.33 ERA in 16 starts at High-A Salem. That said, he did strike out 117 over 127 innings.
The big meltdown, however, came in his second pro season in 2012. At Double-A Portland, the unofficial big hurdle every player must jump past in order to get to the majors, Ranaudo got waxed. Making nine starts for the Sea Dogs, Ranaudo allowed 28 earned runs on 41 hits, and 27 walks to 27 strikeouts over 37.2 innings. He was shut down in May after having no answers to Eastern League hitting.
It was a setback seen time and time again in the industry, and how a player performs at the Double-A level usually defines a player’s future in the game. However, Ranaudo didn’t allow that 2012 season define his future in the game, but rather define his character and the type of player he would become. Rather than fading off into the sunset and becoming a career minor leaguer, he’s become one of the best pitchers in all of minor league baseball while emerging as one of the top prospects in the talent-rich Boston system.
Going back to the start of the 2013 season, the big 6-foot-7 righty has gone 25-9 with a 2.78 ERA and 1.113 WHIP, with 238 strikeouts to 91 walks over 278 innings between Double-A Portland (19 starts in 2013) and Triple-A Pawtucket (29 starts between 2013-14). He earned the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year award in 2013, before receiving the same award in the International League in 2014.
In winning those two awards, he joins a fraternity that includes Carl Pavano (Eastern League POY, 1996), Bronson Arroyo (International League Most Valuable Pitcher, 2003) and Jon Lester (EL POY, 2005). Not bad company.
In addition to showing his promise in the minors, Ranaudo showed he can pitch at the major league level. Making two spot starts for Boston in August, he allowed six runs on 12 hits and five walks while striking out three. They’re not dazzling numbers, but the 24-year-old competed and left the game with the team in position to win the game. As a result, he earned the winning decision in both starts.
Ranaudo’s presence and compete level on the mound looked similar to those of John Lackey, a big righty who was a big piece of the Red Sox rotation before he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
It goes to show that struggling early on in the minor leagues could go a long way in the career of a pitcher, as crazy as it may sound. It’s been said that the sooner a player meets reality, the better. Playing a game predicated on failure for as long as an MLB season lasts, ups and downs are inevitable. Players will struggle, and will be required to respond and move forward to have a long career.
Baseball isn’t an easy game as evidenced by the many prospects who have fizzled out over the years, but as Ranaudo has demonstrated, early struggles in the minors could be the best thing that could happen to a young player.
Pat O’Rourke is a Red Sox writer for RantSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter or join his network on Google.