The Red Sox have a number of intriguing left-handed pitching prospects within their farm system. Brendan Cellucci is among them.
Cellucci, now 24, was originally selected by Boston in the 12th round of the 2019 amateur draft out of Tulane University. The Philadelphia-area native signed with the club for $345,000 and made his professional debut for short-season Lowell later that summer.
What would have been Cellucci’s first full season in pro ball was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. He then spent the entirety of the 2021 minor-league campaign with High-A Greenville and also pitched for the Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona Fall League.
After taking part in the Red Sox’ Winter Warm-Up minicamp last January, Cellucci returned to Greenville for the start of the 2022 season. The left-hander began the year in the Drive’s bullpen, but he struggled to the tune of an 11.70 ERA over nine relief appearances (10 innings pitched) out of the gate.
Three days following another tough showing against the Rome Braves at Fluor Field on May 8, Cellucci did something he had not done since pitching on Cape Cod in 2019: he started a game. On May 11, Cellucci served as an opener for Greenville and struck out four of the six batters he faced over two scoreless, no-hit frames on the road against the Asheville Tourists.
For the next month, Cellucci continued to open games for the Drive every three to four days. In 10 starts from May 11-June 12, he produced a 1.83 ERA and .141 batting average against to go along with 30 strikeouts to 14 walks across 19 2/3 total innings of work.
Though he found success in an opening role, Cellucci returned to the Greenville bullpen in mid-June. The results (such as a 7.04 ERA in his next 13 outings) were not pretty at first, but the lefty was able to settle down a bit following a five-run blowup against Rome on August 3.
Against that same Braves team four days later, Cellucci worked a scoreless seventh inning. He then proceeded to keep the opposition off the scoreboard in eight of his next 10 appearances, putting up a 1.06 ERA and .155 batting average against with 22 strikeouts to six walks over 17 innings pitched altogether.
On September 16, Cellucci earned a late-season promotion to Double-A Portland. He appeared in two games for the Sea Dogs down the stretch and did not surrender run while recording three punchouts and zero walks in 2 1/3 frames of relief.
All told, it was an up-and-down season for Cellucci. Between Greenville and Portland, he wound up posting a 4.34 ERA and 4.64 FIP with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 85:44 over 45 total appearances (10 starts) spanning 64 1/3 innings. Opponents hit .238/.374/.340 with six home runs in 290 plate appearances against him.
According to FanGraphs, 30 minor-league pitchers in the Red Sox organization accrued at least 60 innings on the mound last year. Among them, Cellucci ranked second in strikeouts per nine innings (11.89), 30th in walks per nine innings (6.16), fourth in strikeout rate (29.3 percent), 30th in walk rate (15.2 percent), 11th in batting average against, 26th in WHIP (1.55), seventh in line-drive rate (18.4 percent), ninth in groundball rate (48 percent), ninth in swinging-strike rate (13 percent), 14th in ERA, 18th in xFIP (4.61), and 20th in FIP.
Cellucci could have been added to Boston’s 40-man roster at the end of the season in order to receive protection from the Rule 5 Draft. The Red Sox, however, left Cellucci unprotected and he unsurprisingly did not get scooped up by another team on the final day of the Winter Meetings in December.
While he is not considered to be one of the top relief prospects in Boston’s farm system, Cellucci does have potential. His strikeout numbers are indicative of that, though his struggles to command the strike zone at times do lead to some concerns surrounding his long-term outlook.
Per his SoxProspects.com scouting report, Cellucci is a three-pitch pitcher who possesses a max-effort, over the top delivery. The 6-foot-4, 211-pound southpaw operates with a 91-93 mph fastball that tops out at 95 mph (and has topped out at 97 mph in the past), an 88-90 mph cutter, and an 82-88 mph slider.
Cellucci, who turns 25 in June, is projected to return to Portland for the upcoming 2023 season. He will once again be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft next winter, but will presumably look to make strides with the Sea Dogs in the meantime.
(Picture of Brendan Cellucci: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)