Red Sox pitching prospect Brandon Walter is slated to make his first start of the season for Double-A Portland on Sunday afternoon as they go for a series victory over the New Hampshire Fisher Cats at Hadlock Field.
Update: It was a quality 2022 debut for Walter, who allowed zero runs on one hit, no walks, and one hit batsman to go along with seven strikeouts over five solid innings of work. 40 of the 62 pitches he threw went for strikes.
Walter, 25, burst onto the scene in 2021 while putting together a stellar season between Low-A Salem and High-A Greenville. The left-hander was not even regarded by Baseball America as one of the top 30 prospects in Boston’s farm system at this point last year.
After breaking minor-league camp with Salem, though, Walter proceeded to put up a 1.45 ERA and 1.78 FIP with 46 strikeouts to just six walks over his first 13 appearances (two starts) and 31 innings of the season before earning a promotion to Greenville in early July 6.
With the Drive, Walter was used primarily as a starter. The lefty posted a 3.70 ERA and 3.13 FIP to go along with 86 strikeouts to 14 walks across 12 starts and 58 1/3 innings pitched at the High-A level. He was recognized by MLB Pipeline as the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year in October.
The Red Sox originally selected Walter in the 26th round of the 2019 amateur draft out of the University of Delaware. As a late-round senior sign, the New Castle native received a modest $35,000 bonus from the club.
Two years removed from Tommy John surgery at the time of signing with the Sox, Walter made his professional debut in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League. He appeared in 13 games for the GCL Red Sox before the season came to a close.
The following spring, Walter fell victim to the fact that the 2020 minor-league season was wiped out because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the Red Sox did not invite him to their alternate training site that summer, Walter was left to develop on his own time. But he went on to take advantage of his time away from affiliated ball.
“I just used that whole time [to my advantage],” Walter told MLB.com’s Ian Browne back in December. “I wanted to add on some weight. I put on 15 pounds of muscle during that time to try to make myself a better athlete. I kept the arm going, I kept throwing. I just trained. I mean luckily for me, there was a bunch of Minor Leaguers from my area that were in the same situation. So we all just kind of looked at it as a time to get better.”
On the heels of what had the makings to be a lost year in 2020, Walter came into camp last spring and made immediate strides by displaying an increase in fastball velocity to coincide with his changeup and slider.
Among High-A East pitchers who accrued at least 50 innings on the mound in 2021, Walter ranked fourth in strikeouts per nine innings (13.27), 16th in walks per nine innings (2.16), second in strikeout rate (36.3%), 18th in walk rate (5.9%), eighth in batting average against (.211), seventh in WHIP (1.03), fifth in swinging strike rate (17.6%), fourth in FIP, and first in xFIP (2.58), per FanGraphs.
For as dominant as Walter was in Greenville last summer, he was — on average — facing hitters who were slightly less than a year younger than him. That will likely not be the case for 6-foot-2, 200 pound southpaw in 2022.
As he recently explained to The Portland Press Herald’s Travis Lazarczyk, Walter is aware of the significance that comes with the jump from pitching at High-A to pitching at the Double-A level.
“Obviously, Double-A is a big jump up from High-A. It’s one of the biggest jumps you’re going to make in professional baseball,” Walter said. “The hitters are just smarter. They’re older. They’re not going to chase as much stuff outside the zone as younger guys in the lower levels. They’ll do more damage when you make mistakes in the middle.
“Everybody says Double-A is the separator,” he added. “I’m kind of excited to see how I match up, how I’m going to attack these hitters.”
Walter, who turns 26 in September, enters the 2022 season as Baseball America’s No. 11 Red Sox prospect, which ranks fifth among pitchers in the organization.
Beyond the jump from High-A to Double-A, the 2022 campaign is undoubtedly an important one for Walter since he can become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the first time in his career by the end of the year.
So, you can make the case that Walter will be pitching for a spot on Boston’s 40-man roster this season while also auditioning for 29 other teams in the event that he is not added to the Sox’ 40-man come late November.
(Picture of Brandon Walter: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)