It was the sort of performance that forces anyone watching to take notice.
Allen Webster's introduction to the Red Sox' big league coaching staff was little short of spectacular on Monday against the Blue Jays. The right-hander recovered from an infield single and a one-out RBI double to strike out the next four Toronto hitters, a group that featured Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, J.P. Arencibia and Brett Lawrie in two innings. Webster, 23, touched 98 mph on the stadium scoreboard with a fastball that can sink like an anvil while also showing the whiffle ball changeup that is his best secondary pitch.
"He was impressive," Sox manager John Farrell told reporters. "Very impressive."
The outing underscored the intrigue that surrounds Webster as he navigates his first big league camp following his trade from the Dodgers to the Red Sox last August that served as a prelude to his addition to Boston's 40-man roster.
A considerable case can be made that he is the top pitching prospect in the Red Sox system. No one in the organization, save perhaps for Rubby De La Rosa, can match his ceiling, given the combination of a power sinker that hitters either swing and miss or smash into the ground, his outstanding changeup and two usable breaking balls (a curveball and, most notably, a slider that also can get swings and misses). While his fastball command -- a particular challenge given how much the pitch moves -- requires refinement if Webster is to enjoy a big league future, the potential of his arsenal likely exceeds that of anyone in the Sox system.
Like former Dodgers teammate De La Rosa, Webster -- who has a 3.43 ERA with 8.5 strikeouts and 3.8 walks per nine innings, along with just 0.3 homers per nine, in his five minor league seasons -- features outstanding velocity, often sitting at 93-96 mph with the ability to bump 98 mph as a starter. Whereas De La Rosa produces fly balls, however, Webster's turbo sinker induces regular bad contact (as evidenced by his ridiculously low home run rate). And his secondary arsenal is probably more advanced than that of De La Rosa or certainly Matt Barnes, who still has yet to show the ability to get consistent swings and misses with anything but his fastball.
Put it all together and you have a pitcher who had already become one of the most attention-grabbing performers in the early stages of Red Sox camp, even before he opened eyes with his breathtaking stretch against the Blue Jays. Multiple talent evaluators have identified retired six-time All-Star and 211-game winner Kevin Brown as a point of comparison for Webster, suggesting that if his command sharpens, such a dominant starter could represent the ceiling for the young pitcher.
Another hurler more familiar in Red Sox circles also comes to mind when he takes the mound.
"The type of pitcher he reminds me of -- but with better secondaries and better stuff -- is probably Derek Lowe. Just kind of imagine Derek Lowe with sharper, harder and gnarlier secondaries," said Chuck Crim, Webster's minor league pitching coach for parts of four straight years in the Dodgers system. "The sink is insane. Granted, Derek could control that sink and start it and end it where he wanted to. That takes years of experience with that type of a pitch. But there's not too many, if you look at hard sinker guys, there's not too many to compare it to. Normally guys don't throw sinkers with that kind of movement that hard. The only thing I can really compare it to is D-Lowe with better secondaries and a harder fastball.
"He's got the full mix," added Crim. "Sometimes we ran into trouble because he had so many weapons. He kind of messes himself up in games. He almost gets dizzy on what to throw at times because he has so many weapons."
Of course, it is not just Webster's weapons that sometimes conspire to render him dizzy. The mere fact of his surroundings -- in big league camp, a highly regarded prospect whose relatively anonymous baseball existence is coming to an end -- is also somewhat disorienting.
At McMichael High School in Madison, NC, a town of just over 2,000 residents that lies just south of the border with Virginia, Webster acknowledged that he "really wasn't expecting to get looked at at all," and certainly not as a pitcher. Instead, he played shortstop and spent almost no time on the mound.
"His junior year, when we realized he really was a pretty good pitcher, he didn't pitch hardly any innings," recalled his high school coach, John Hall. "One game, he struck out 14. His curveball was crazy. We were giving him a hard time about it. He said, 'Ah, it was OK, but I'd rather play shortstop.' We didn't use him a lot that year [as a pitcher] until we got to the playoffs. We used him again, and he actually won a game in the playoffs for us. But every time he threw well, it was just, 'OK, but I've got to go back to shortstop.' "
He not only liked playing shortstop but he was talented there. Whereas Hall had other highly regarded pitchers on his staff, including some who ended up pitching at Division 1 colleges, Webster represented a huge upgrade over any other option at short.
"He's probably one of the best shortstops I've ever seen at the high school level," said Hall. "Of course he had arm strength. There were so many times I saw him go in the hole, catch it, be on a knee and he'd throw people out at first from his knee. He had that ability. As a hitter, he had some good power, hit it in the gaps and he was a great baserunner. He'd make all the plays. He was so valuable to us there that we didn't really like to take him off of there."
With his senior year nearing its end, the quiet, mild-mannered Webster was slated to play short at Rockingham Community College. (He'd been undecided, Hall recalled, about whether he wanted to attend a two- or four-year school, something that limited recruiting interest in him.)
However, Webster also spent some time on the mound during his high school career. In addition to the occasional start, he'd also come in to close out games. And, in one of his last high school games, Webster came on in relief and opened eyes with the right sets of eyes in the crowd.
"It sort of exploded," said Hall. "He was throwing in the 90s, and it blew up in the last two rounds of the playoffs. He went from nobody to, the last time he pitched I think there were 17 scouts there. It was crazy. It was unreal. It was overwhelming for him and it was crazy for us. It was like the first round of the playoffs where he came in to pitch a game, and from there he went crazy.
"Now, looking back, it makes you look a little crazy that he was pitching to these other guys, but it sort of worked for us," he added. "He threw well [in high school]. He threw hard. He threw in the low-90s, overpowered guys. He had a real nasty curveball. That's pretty much all he threw, fastball, curveball. We knew what we had. We only brought him out for a conference game or in the playoffs. We just didn't throw him out there everyday to try to win games."
After that playoff appearance, Webster's name was turned in to the scouting bureau, leading to a modest scouting presence (Red Sox area scout Quincy Boyd, for instance, recalled being one of roughly a handful of teams represented at Webster's final game) at the end of his high school career. Dodgers area scout Lon Joyce was among those in attendance, and he also had a chance to see Webster at a pre-draft workout.
The Dodgers loved Webster's athleticism, and saw a pitcher whose lean, lanky frame (at the time, he was 6-foot-2 and perhaps 165 pounds) was projectable. That forecast, since Los Angeles stole Webster in the 18th round of the 2008 draft and signed him for just $20,000, has been borne out slowly over time, as Webster has shown steady increases in velocity that have helped to establish him as a rare breed of power sinker pitcher.
"I was more of an 89-91 guy [in high school]. As I've grown and gotten stronger, I've added velocity along the way. It kind of slowly went up. It didn't jump," he said. "I think I've come a long way from where I started, but I'm still working on it everyday."
Webster, who suggests that he views Derek Lowe as a pitcher after whose stuff he likes to fashion his own game, continues to make leaps in his development. He was crude when he entered the Dodgers system, but learned the changeup after being drafted and showed enough aptitude with it to turn it into a devastating out pitch by the time he pitched for Crim in Rookie Level Ogden in 2009.
He's continued to show progress with that full, dizzying arsenal since then. And because he's still less than five years into his life as a full-time pitcher, there remains development, growth and upside.
Already, the strides have been head-turning, to the point where the once-obscure Webster -- the 547th pick in the 2008 draft -- has become a coveted prospect of multiple organizations, as evidenced by his role as the centerpiece prospect in the trade between the Dodgers and Red Sox last August.
Yet Webster is not yet at his end point.
"I'm learning every day," said Webster. "I figure new stuff out every time I throw a ball."
"He's developed every year. He's a hard worker. He's worked hard on his mechanics," added Crim, his longtime Dodgers pitching coach in Rookie Ball (2008, 2009), the Single-A Midwest League (2010) and in Double-A (2011 and 2012). "Really, he's right on time as far as his development. He's still young, still developing with his body and mind.
"He really never thought he was going to be drafted. A lot of this came as a surprise to him. We really had this blank mold of clay," he added. "You just project the guy. Take the physical ability you can't teach and work with it.
"Webby still has a little to grow as far as maturity, more of a big league mindset. But the stuff is off the charts. His stuff is big league right now. The stuff is unbelievable. It's just a matter of learning the pitchability and the fastball command."
Webster now sees what lies in front of him. He understands the opportunity presented by being in big league camp, even as he sits quietly in a corner of the clubhouse, trying to absorb as much as possible while letting his performance on the field -- where his electric stuff and athletic delivery are undeniable -- serve as the testament to his abilities.
As for the days when he constantly asked his coach to send him back from the mound to shortstop?
"It's been a while now," Hall chuckled. "I give him a hard time about it sometimes, because when he was in the Dodgers organization, he got to hit, so I'd ask him about that all the time. I don't think he wants to go back to shortstop right now.
"He liked playing short, but the more he started to pitch and the better he got, when he started dominating, it was like, 'Wait a minute -- I'm pretty good at this.' It sort of built steam from there."