Sports

Alex Speier

Allen Webster a reminder of fickle nature of prospects

Boston, MA 9/5/2014 Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Allen Webster delivers a pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays during first inning action at Fenway Par on Friday September 5, 2014. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff) Topic: Soxjays Reporter:
Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff
The idea of what Allen Webster might become for the Red Sox was too tantalizing for the team to consider dealing him in 2013.

As expected, the Red Sox added three players to their 40-man roster on Friday, with righthander Pat Light, lefthander Williams Jerez, and infielder Marco Hernandez being added to the big league roster for the purposes of protecting them from the Rule 5 draft. To make room for that trio of players, the Red Sox designated infielder Josh Rutledge for assignment and outrighted righthander Anthony Varvaro off the 40-man roster. Peter Abraham breaks down the moves.

Yet from a distance, another move in advance of the Rule 5 draft possessed perhaps even greater intrigue. As Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic details, the Diamondbacks designated righthander Allen Webster for assignment after a year where the former Red Sox prospect’s once-electrifying stuff seemed diminished and his results in the big leagues and Triple A were horrific.

Webster was peeled off the 40-man just less than a year after the Diamondbacks acquired him, along with righthander Rubby De La Rosa, for Wade Miley. His steep descent merits notice, a sort of Webster’s definition of the fickle nature of prospect status, and the difficulty of figuring out how to maximize the value of pitching assets.

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When the Sox acquired Webster from the Dodgers in the money-saving blockbuster in August 2012, he immediately laid claim to a place as the top pitching prospect in the Red Sox system, someone who could work in the mid- to high-90s with a bowling ball sinker and the ability to miss minor league bats with his changeup and two breaking balls. He was the foremost eye-opener of Red Sox spring training in 2013, with scouts from across baseball raving about his stuff.

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At that time, Webster could have represented the centerpiece of a package for a high-ceiling player, but the idea of what he might become for the Red Sox was too tantalizing for the team to consider dealing him. Ditto the 2013 trade deadline and even the offseason after 2013, when evaluators of other organizations still viewed him, for the most part, as one of the top two to four prospects in the Red Sox system.

Yet the regard for his vast potential rapidly withered in 2014, as Webster proved incapable of sustaining any kind of big league success, his confidence appearing forever too fragile to get through a start unscathed. By the time the Sox were able to package him for Miley, they appeared to do well to get a solid No. 3 or No. 4 starter for a package that included him before his value utterly collapsed – a development whose occurrence does not come as a shock.

Webster thus represents a fascinating case study in the challenge presented by prospects, an exercise in when to cash one’s chips in (trade them) and when to hold them for a potential jackpot (key contributor at a near major league-minimum cost) down the road. In dehumanizing terms, players are assets. The teams that figure out how to get the largest yield from those assets are the ones that routinely win; the ones that fail to do so face years if not decades of what-ifs and whys.

Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.