The Red Sox promoted knuckleball pitcher Steven Wright to the major leagues yesterday, taking the place of injured Joel Hanrahan on the roster. Here is the lowdown on Wright (LINK: career minor league stats).
Wright was originally drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the second round in 2006, from the University of Hawaii. At the time, he was a conventional pitcher with a low-90s fastball, a cutter/slider, and a curveball. He performed reasonably well in the low minors, but as he moved up the ladder he got lost in the shuffle of non-standout minor league arms, converting to the bullpen in Double-A in 2009. By that point, he was a fringe prospect who could possibly project as a 12th man on a major league staff, but nothing more.
Not satisfied with that sort of future, Wright began using a knuckleball in 2011. He had tinkered with the pitch since childhood, but committed to it fully as his bread-and-butter. As you would expect, he had serious problems controlling the pitch at first, but he took a step forward in 2012 with a 2.49 ERA and a 101/62 K/BB in 116 innings for Double-A Akron, with 86 hits allowed.
The Red Sox picked Wright up in exchange for ex-prospect Lars Anderson last summer and he continued to pitch well, ending the campaign with four solid starts for Triple-A Pawtucket, posting a 3.15 ERA with a 16/5 K/BB in 20 innings. He made two more starts this year, allowing three runs in 10 innings with an 11/7 K/BB.
Wright uses his knuckleball about 70% of the time, but he still has his original arsenal to fall back on when needed, enabling him to give hitters a different look with his four or two-seam fastballs, the cutter, or softer curve. Overall, however, his career rests on how well the knuckler works.
Due to the vagaries of the knuckleball, it is difficult to project how Wright will perform in the majors. Sabermetrically-speaking, Wright's minor league stats are better than Tim Wakefield's were at the same stage of their careers. That doesn't mean Wright will win 200 games like Wakefield did, but it does imply that he has a reasonable chance to produce some positive value.