Pitchers Drake Britton, Brandon Workman, Matt Barnes, and Anthony Ranaudo started four of Double-A Portland's first five games to begin the 2013 season. Combined, the quartet went 25-21 with a 3.57 ERA in 69 starts for the Sea Dogs.
But, by the end of the season, all four were in different places, all having earned promotions. At the end of October, Britton and Workman were deliriously celebrating at Fenway Park after both played important roles in helping the Red Sox to the 2013 World Series championship.
Barnes and Ranaudo, meanwhile, were helping the PawSox to the International League North title, and a shot at the league championship, before falling to Durham in the Governors' Cup Finals.
The four have pushed each other through the organization over the last few seasons. While Workman and Britton reached the highest rung on that ladder, Barnes and Ranaudo are just one step away. Ranaudo, 24, was promoted to Pawtucket last August 2nd while Barnes, 23, joined him on August 29th. Ranaudo was added to Boston's 40-man roster in the fall while Barnes, with just two years of pro ball under his belt, does not yet have to be on the Red Sox 40-man.
The pair of righties most likely will start this season at Pawtucket, but they will be just one proverbial phone call away from the big leagues. Last year, nine players made their big league debuts with the Red Sox, including six pitchers. This season could again see several players make their big league debuts, with Ranaudo and Barnes potentially among that group.
But, first, there is still some work left to be done.
"I think there's a lot of things that go into it," said Ben Crockett, Red Sox Director of Player Development. "Some of it is individual. A lot of it is fundamental work, refinement of their pitches, refinement of their command, I think more from a structural standpoint. It's introducing more advance reports, scouting reports, building rapport with the catchers that they will hopefully be moving up with. Just getting them to think about the game in a little bit more analytical fashion to prepare for the way they're going to do it in the major leagues."
For Barnes and Ranaudo, they see where the others have gone. That's where they want to go. They'll push each other to get there.
"It's great to see that," Ranaudo said. "Guys I started with last year worked their way up and they're really successful. So, they kind of paved the way. If there's an opportunity and I have a chance and I keep taking care of things that I can take care of and keep being successful, hopefully there's an opportunity and hopefully I'll be able to take advantage of it and contribute to the team just like they did."
"We've kind of been together for the last couple of years at least, the three or four of us, and, yeah, we all have a great relationship with each other. We're all really good friends," said Barnes. "But at the same time we're all competing to get to the big leagues and want to fulfill our dreams. So you keep that healthy…'he had a good outing so I want to go out and have a good outing' [attitude]. And it works out really well for us. We push each other in the weight room, out on the field, and when it counts the most - on the mound in game situations."
Ranaudo was Boston's sandwich pick between the first and second round (#39 overall) of the 2010 draft out of Louisiana State University. His progression is slightly ahead of that of Barnes, who was the Red Sox first-round choice (#19 overall) in 2011 from the University of Connecticut.
There are a number of similarities between the two. Both are right-handed power pitchers. Both are big - Ranaudo at 6-foot-7, Barnes 6-foot-4. And both are from the Northeast. Ranaudo is a native of New Jersey before the Sox selected him from LSU while Barnes is a native of Connecticut and attended UConn.
"Matt and I are really good friends, just like almost everybody else in the organization," Ranaudo said. "We definitely push each other. We've moved up together a lot. We've played on the same teams, and we learn a lot from each other, whether it's helping each other with approaches to certain guys or helping each other with certain pitches, or delivery stuff, physical stuff. We definitely help each other, and it helps our friendship. We sometimes give each other a hard time but we compete and it really has helped us in our careers."
"He's a fantastic pitcher," Barnes said of Ranaudo. "I got to pitch against him in the Cape Cod League (2010) and I knew then that he was going to be a really good pitcher and have a successful career. He brings a lot of calmness to him when he's pitching, he's very poised. He's obviously got a great fastball, great curveball, good changeup. He's one of those guys who attacks hitters. You know you're going to get a quality outing from him every time."
Christian Vazquez has caught for both right-handers over the past three seasons and has seen the on-field similarities first-hand
"They have similarity with the fastball, they throw hard, like 95, 96," Vazquez said. "And they're both competitive pitchers. They like to compete on the mound and to win. They are great teammates. It's fun to catch them."
There are other similarities that may not show up on a stat sheet. But they are just as important.
"They're both great guys and they've got great makeup," said Portland pitching coach Bob Kipper. "Say what you want if you don't believe that's important, but personally I think it's extremely important. Anthony and Matt are very coachable. Obviously, they have a passion for playing baseball. Both clearly want to pitch in the big leagues. They feel like they're going to do that some time down the road. When is that? I wish I was that smart. But, in my opinion, it will happen."
Both pitchers, though, struggled in their sophomore seasons. Beset with injuries in 2012, Ranaudo made just nine appearances for Portland, going 1-3 with a 6.69 ERA. He made four appearances in the Puerto Rico winter league before being shut down. In 2013, however, he bounced back to post a combined record of 11-5, with a 2.96 ERA between Portland and Pawtucket. In 25 games, 24 starts, he had a 1.136 WHIP and a ratio 8.2 strikeouts-per-nine innings over 140 innings.
"It's apparent to everybody that during his 2012 season he fell on hard times," Kipper said. "The thing that's most impressive about Anthony Ranaudo is that he didn't get lost in the struggles and the failures of his 2012 season. He went out and did something about it. We all saw him come to spring training. He's a physical guy. Let's face facts. He's 6-foot-7, and was about 230 in 2012. He came to spring training at 250 and it was 20 good pounds of weight that he put on, that became functional for him.
"If you feel strong, you feel healthy. And part of his challenge during the 2012 season was he couldn't stay healthy. And because of that he could never really get on track with regards to developing areas of his game. But last year he was healthy and I think a big part of it - I'm not saying the only part of it but a big part of it - was he was stronger. So hat's off to Anthony for doing the off-season work.
"He came to spring training in 2013 and he was ready to go. He did a lot of drill work to get himself familiar and more efficient with his delivery. He sensed that with his 6-foot-7 frame he can create that steep angle and drive the ball down in the zone with late life and late carry. And he was able to accomplish that. And that to me was a big part of his success right out of the gate last year, in the respect that he was commanding his fastball much better. Along with that comes the improvement with his curveball, the quality of it, the power was much more apparent with this pitch, and it became a real legitimate weapon for him."
Barnes had similar struggles in his second season. In 2013, he went a combined 6-10 with a 4.13 ERA for Portland and Pawtucket. Like Ranaudo, though, he is poised for a bounce back in his third professional season.
"I think he grew up in a lot of ways last year," Kipper said. "The [Double-A] level really challenged him, and that became a really good thing. For me, outside of the apparent fundamental development in his game, he developed a delivery that was more efficient, more repeatable, so that he could command his well-above-average fastball. There was also further development of his curveball.
"He went from throwing his curveball from my understanding 70, 72 MPH, to throwing his curveball 77-80 MPH last year. So he's really developing the ability to power his pitch better off a well-above-average fastball. Matt also learned the importance of throwing strikes early in the count and having the putaway effect late. His changeup was a pitch that I thought was progressing quite nicely. Obviously at the Triple-A level there's a need for this pitch and will be moving forward. He has the ability to use all of these pitches to be effective.
"Matt really began to understand the importance of being a tireless worker. Things don't just happen - he made them happen. He's taking ownership of his baseball career, understanding that this is not an easy game. It's not supposed to be. But he's definitely well-equipped, well-blessed, and becoming an impact guy down the road."
PawSox manager Kevin Boles worked with both right-handers last season when he managed Portland.
"They definitely push each other," Boles said. "Obviously the raw tools and the stuff are there. But it's just refining that and making sure they're attacking the zone and trusting their stuff and able to repeat in the zone. Our starting staff that we had to begin last year in Portland was terrific. If you watch these guys, they profile. They definitely have the look, the mix, the work ethic, the attitude, and they have bright futures ahead of them."
And the experience each got at Triple-A with the PawSox last season can only help as they go forward.
"There's been a history of that," said Boles. "Whether it's been position players or pitchers, just giving them a taste so the next year they understand what's going on, what's been involved. And the great thing about it is that from a developmental side, not only winning but being in a playoff atmosphere because they've been in that situation that last couple of years here in Pawtucket. I think it's really been beneficial for our players to have a consistency where they've performed and they've done well to give them a taste of what's to come."
There's a lot to like with what's to come from Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes and PawSox fans will almost assuredly get the chance to see them first in 2014.