July 10, 2013 02:16PM
By Ken Lipshez
NEW BRITAIN — Red Sox pitching prospect Anthony Ranaudo was commanding plenty of attention as Major League Baseball settled in for the amateur draft in June 2010.
He led LSU to the College World Series title in 2009 posting incredible numbers as a sophomore, but fell off drastically the next season and his stock was dropping.
The Jersey Shore native, once mentioned as the top pitching prospect in the draft and second overall to only Bryce Harper, fell to 39th when Boston selected him in the supplemental phase of the first round. While his time with the Red Sox system has been spotty, the 6-foot-7, 231-pound right-hander is making progress with the Portland Sea Dogs this year, according to his manager Kevin Boles.
Local Sox fans will have a chance to see just how much progress tonight when he starts the Eastern League All-Star Game for the Eastern Division squad. The first pitch is slated for 7:05 p.m. at New Britain Stadium.
Nagging injuries appear to be the source of Ranaudo’s uneven performance after an All-American senior season at St. Rose High School just south of Asbury Park. A reported forearm injury marred his junior year at LSU.
Professionally, he was shut down last July 3 after only nine starts due to shoulder fatigue. More recently, he’s been pestered by groin issues.
But this season Ranaudo looks more like the pitcher the Red Sox projected. In 15 starts, he’s 8-2 with a 2.68 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of nearly 3 to 1. His abbreviated 2012 campaign (1-3, 6.69 ERA in 37 1/3 innings) can be relegated to the back page of the statistics manual.
“Ranaudo has had a big turnaround from last year,” Boles said. “He has better leverage with the fastball and is down in the zone with a quality mix (curveball and changeup). He went through a difficult stretch last year, but is now healthy and we’re seeing the results.”
The Red Sox organization stood by him through the hard times and he worked diligently to dispel the notion that he’s injury-prone.
“Coming into the year I was really focused on being healthy and hoping that the success came,” Ranaudo said Tuesday. “I expected to do well, but I think the things that are happening so far are kind of a reward for the hard work I put in, the Red Sox put in and the physical therapist that I had.”
Scouts assess that his fastball can reach as high as 95 mph. He accents it with a plus curveball, rated by Baseball America as the best in Boston’s system. The changeup remains a work-in-progress. Ranaudo’s problem, scouts noted, was his inability to repeat his delivery.
“It was in the past when I was injured, but this year I’m a lot stronger,” he said. “I came into the season 15-20 pounds heavier and that’s helped me. Being able to repeat my delivery is a big part of my success.”
Ranaudo was 12-3 with a 3.04 ERA his sophomore year at LSU. With the 2010 draft approaching, he was 5-3 with a 7.32. After yielding just 93 hits in 124 1/3 innings, he gave up 60 in 51 2/3. His strikeouts were down and his walks up. Something obviously was wrong.
But the arm issue wasn’t a factor when he dominated the Cape Cod League later that summer. He was 3-0 and didn’t give up a run in 29 2/3 innings.
The groin kicked in during spring training last year. He went 1-3 with a 6.69 with equal numbers in the strikeout and walk columns (27 in 37 2/3 innings), which was a cause for alarm. He pitched in the Puerto Rican Winter League for Caguas when the groin problems resurfaced, but he’s been on top of his game in 2013.
In his last outing, Ranaudo allowed two runs on four hits in seven innings against the Rock Cats. In 91 innings, he’s yielded 63 hits and 32 walks while fanning 94.
“We saw him a lot in spring training and the first thing we noticed was that he looked bigger and stronger,” said Rock Cats and Eastern Division manager Jeff Smith. “When he’s really pitching well he has some of the best angle in the league on his fastball and gets a lot of groundballs.”
Ranaudo grew up one town over from Bruce Springsteen, but doesn’t consider himself a diehard fan. He grew up a fan of the Yankees, but as he developed into an elite amateur, he became more focused on playing big league baseball for whoever drafted him. He’s now a Red Sox through and through.
“I grew up watching the Yankees, I’m from New Jersey and I went to a bunch of Yankee games, so I was definitely a Yankee fan,” said Ranaudo, who takes some ribbing from family and friends. “But, honestly, by the time I got to college and you start seeing the guys you played with on TV, you realize they’re my competition now. You’re no longer a fan. You’re no longer in awe of them. You just start becoming a fan of the game.
“It was perfect because by the time I was drafted, there was no letdown I was drafted by the Red Sox. I was happy to be drafted by a team with the great tradition they have and the way they develop players.”