Red Sox Prospect ‘Opened Eyes’ With 99 MPH Fastball: Analyst

Red Sox manager Alex Cora has said that Justin Slaten is "opening eyes."

Getty Red Sox manager Alex Cora has said that Justin Slaten is "opening eyes."

The Red Sox are not entering the 2024 MLB season loaded with pitching, but the staff might be getting a boost from a surprising source: 26-year-old Rule 5 pickup Justin Slaten, who has been impressive in camp thus far this season.

He even impressed one of the longest-tenured baseball scribes in the business, 78-year-old Boston icon Peter Gammons, who watched Slaten last week and wrote on Twitter:

“In the Red Sox quest to build their pitching depth from top to bottom, Rule V acquisition Justin Slaten opened eyes Thbursday (sic) hitting 99 MPH against Detroit.”

That is an encouraging turn, considering the potential that Slaten brings to the team. Slaten was taken by the Mets in the Rule 5 draft out of the Rangers organization, but immediately was shipped to the Red Sox. He must stick with the big-league club coming out of camp or returned to the Rangers system.

He’s looking more and more like a safe bet to make the roster when the Red Sox break camp.

Justin Slaten’s Role Worth Monitoring

What will be interesting to monitor Slaten’s progress for the Red Sox in the early going of the season. He is likely to start the year in a long-relief role, and he has a background as a starter, but he is unlikely to be stretched into the rotation.

As Baseball America wrote of Slaten: “Slaten is a pure reliever who mixes four pitches with plenty of power across his arsenal. His four-seamer sits between 95-97 mph with ride and at times cut. He pairs his four-seam primarily with a mid-80s sweeping slider that generates heavy rates of swings-and-misses in and out of the zone.

“His cutter is his third pitch but is an effective weapon as a bridge between his fastball and slider. His cutter sits 89-91 mph. He’ll also mix in a low-80s, two-plane curveball from time to time.”

Slaten has a deep repertoire, a menu that features a fastball, cutter, slider and curveball. He has mostly come out of the bullpen in the minors, though, and has a 10-19 record in 97 career games. While he is an impressive strikeout pitcher (284 in 210 minor-league innings), his problem is pretty clear from his numbers—control.

Slaten has allowed 106 walks and has a WHIP of 1.490 as a pro. He also has a 5.31 ERA.

But he appeared to have a breakthrough last year splitting time between Triple-A Frisco and Double-A Round Rock with the Rangers. Slaten went 5-3 in 40 games, including seven as a starter, with a 2.87 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 59 innings. He lowered his WHIP to 1.073, and that was the driving force behind Baseball America ranking him the No. 1 prospect in the Rule 5 draft.

Red Sox Could Be Looking for a Closer

It’s hard to say where the Red Sox see Slaten’s future. He could eventually move from long relief to a set-up role and perhaps even get a shot to win the closer’s job along the way, if and when the Red Sox trade closer Kenley Jansen.

It might make sense to stretch him back into a starter, though GM Craig Breslow has said he sees Slaten as a “back-of-the-bullpen” pitcher. Either way, he has gotten attention and figures to play a role for the Boston bullpen in 2024.

Last month, manager Alex Cora also said that Slaten was causing eyes to open. He told reporters, “Slate, today, the stuff was really good. He threw cutters and the breaking ball and the fastball. It was fun to watch. He was somebody who is opening eyes right away. If we can harness the stuff in the zone, then great things are going to happen.”

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