FORT MYERS, Fla. — A case can be made that Rubby De La Rosa, the 23-year-old with the high-octane arm whom the Red Sox acquired from the Dodgers last August, has as big a ceiling as any pitching prospect in the organization. With a demonstrated ability to hit triple digits on the radar gun as a starter and a swing-and-miss changeup and curveball, if De La Rosa can make a full recovery from Tommy John surgery (which he underwent in August 2011) and hone his command of the incredible stuff he displayed prior to the procedure, he could be special.
Still, while he has a measure of big league experience, having gone 4-5 with a 3.96 ERA in 14 games (10 starts) with 60 strikeouts and 33 walks in 61 1/3 innings, the Sox will move deliberately with him this year. That is not simply in deference to the fact that he’s still working his way back from Tommy John surgery, but also to the fact that he’s never had the sort of workload as a professional that would allow the team to turn him loose.
De La Rosa’s career-high in innings is 110 1/3, a mark he reached in Single-A and Double-A in 2010. He tore his Tommy John ligament in 2011 after ticking just past 100 innings between Double-A and the majors.
So, the Sox are mindful of the twin need to regulate his workload both given the stage of his recovery from surgery and because his workload baseline remains relatively modest.
What does that mean? The Sox are unlikely to use De La Rosa during spring training in stints of more than two innings. The team will likely maintain innings restrictions on him early in the season, and then slowly build up the length of his outings towards the middle of the year. There’s no hard and fast innings target for the right-hander for the season, though certainly, if he could build on his prior career-high of 110 innings — perhaps by moving up to 120 or 130 frames — that would represent a player development success in the eyes of the organization.
The planned gradual progression of the right-hander suggests that he’s unlikely to represent a big league rotation depth option at the beginning of the year. While he may become a consideration for the big league rotation in case of injury or underperformance as the season progresses, that likely won’t be the case in April and May. He represents too valuable a long-term asset for the Sox to let him operate at full throttle in the short-term.