Garrett Whitlock
Garrett Whitlock: The Red Sox potential X-Factor. The early reports on Whitlock are encouraging and it looks like Boston got themselves a steal. (Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox)

Garrett Whitlock: The Red Sox Potential Bullpen X-Factor

The Red Sox feel like a team that’s just a year away in need of more young talent to enter the organization. However, isn’t there an outside chance that Boston actually competes in 2021? On the surface, the offense should be more than good enough. It’s a matter of if the question marks turn into hits on the pitching side of things.

One of the more intriguing X-Factors on the roster was Rule 5 pick, Garrett Whitlock. For a team in dire need of bullpen help, someone like Whitlock could turn the tide. If Whitlock fails, it’s no harm, no foul. Oh well, a Rule 5 pick didn’t work out. If Whitlock succeeds… Chaim Bloom will start to look like the genius that pieced together a beautiful pen in Tampa.

Whitlock, 24, grew up in a goat farm in Georgia and just sort of hung around in the Yankees farm system. Whitlock showed early promise as an 18th round draft pick by New York. However, Tommy John surgery in 2019 made Whitlock feel sort of expandable on a team that already had issues fitting players on the 40 man roster.

Whitlock was left unprotected during the Rule 5 Draft and was selected by Boston. How did the team decide to go with Whitlock? Instagram. Not a joke. The Sox staff scouted Whitlock via his Instagram account to monitor his process recovering from TJ surgery. Real story.

Whitlock is looking like an early keeper this Spring. He’s been clocked in at 97 MPH already. Furthermore, he’s likely going to make the roster so that he doesn’t have to be returned to New York. The early reports on Whitlock have all been very encouraging. The stuff looks nasty and the 6-foot-5 frame makes him look physically imposing with a lot of upside.

Chaim Bloom had the following to say about Whitlock:

“I can echo some of the praise that Alex has heaped on Garrett Whitlock, who is a Rule 5 pick in our camp,” Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, according to “I’m a little hesitant to do it because you never want to put too much on Rule 5 guys. These guys, you want them to be able to settle in at their own pace. But this guy has come back from Tommy John looking great, and what’s more impressive — almost — than how he’s throwing the baseball is how he’s carrying himself.”

Alex Cora also chimed in too about the new addition:

“I’ve been saying it all along, on the mound he looks like a big-league pitcher,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said in a Zoom interview. “The stuff is there. He pays attention to details. Very good kid in the clubhouse, always talking to other pitchers and watching and learning. It was a good first step. We’ll see where we go the next one.”

The Minor League numbers should give Boston optimism that Whitlock can stick at the big league level. The right-hander pitched to a 1.86 ERA with 74 strikeouts in 70 innings during the 2018 campaign. 2019 at AA, Whitlock notched a 3.07 ERA in 14 starts.

The fastball velocity is there as I stated earlier. Whitlock is also a bit of an older breed pitcher. The sinker has started to become phased out of the game, but the Sox new arm has excelled using that pitch. Whitlock uses a low three-quarters arm slot to throw that two-seamed fastball. The former Yankees farmhand has produced an outstanding 1.9 groundout/airout ratio during his three-year career. Not to mention, Whitlock also features a nasty slider (which is probably his second best pitch) and a changeup.

I don’t want to speak too soon and maybe this comp is unfair. However, this story feels a lot like David Robertson who was a successful MLB reliever for a long time. Robertson was a 17th round pick in 2017 out of Alabama. Robertson is much smaller but had a knack for producing ground ball outs and soft contact. Boston hopes they get something similar with the Alabama Birmingham product.

The Red Sox are in the phase of trying to find young talent while they rebuild the mess that was left behind by Dave Dombrowski. Trader Dave sold his soul for that 2018 title leaving behind very little young talent. Taking swings on players like Whitlock is part of the process of building the next great Red Sox team.

Can the Sox compete in 2021? Under the radar pitchers like Garrett Whitlock will go a long way towards deciding their fate. There are reasons to be excited that Whitlock can be a real contributor.