Coming out of high school in 2014, Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo was seen by clubs as both a tantalizing hitting and pitching prospect ahead of that year’s amateur draft.
While attending Sahauro High School in Tucson, Ariz., Verdugo played for the varsity baseball team all four years he was a high school student.
In his final season before graduating, Verdugo put up a gaudy .532/.593/.861 slash line in addition to posting a 2.26 ERA over 10 appearances (nine starts) and 52 2/3 innings of work as one of his team’s standout left-handed pitchers.
Those impressive numbers on both sides of the ball made the Tuscon native one of the top high school players in the state of Arizona, and they also made it difficult for team’s scouting departments to determine what the future held for the young left-hander/outfielder.
The Red Sox, under then-general manager Ben Cherington, had two opportunities to draft Verdugo in the first round of the ’14 draft but passed on him both times. Sox scouts, according to The Athletic’s Chad Jennings, “had him as a hitter on draft day, but it was a close decision and their scouts were split.”
Verdugo instead fell to the Dodgers with the 62nd overall pick. Despite how much they liked him as a pitcher, though, Los Angeles ultimately chose to label him as an outfielder, “believing he could always transition back to the mound if hitting didn’t work out.”
As it turned out, hitting did indeed work out for Verdugo, as he raked his way to becoming one of the top outfield prospects in baseball ahead of the 2017, 2018, and 2019 seasons.
Still, even with a solid track record as a hitter and a solid OPS of .817 in his first full-ish season in the majors last year, Verdugo remains interested in pitching and likens it to his little league days.
“I would be like a little kid again,” he said to Jennings in regards to being a two-way player. “Just playing ball again. Driving to the games or the tournaments, that was cool coming out of center field to go throw one inning … just try to freakin’ blow up the doors, and after that, I go back to center and we have another guy come in.”
As he told Jennings back in March, Verdugo, who turns 24 next month, understands that all this talk about pitching is just a fantasy for the time being. Until he can get through a full season healthy, it will stay that way. If he can stay healthy for a full season and produce at a high level though, Verdugo will then implement a plan that involves an offseason throwing program, building strength and durability in his arm, throwing a full bullpen sessions in Fort Myers during spring training, and then, if the Red Sox are getting blown out in a game, be used as a reliever in mop-up duty.
“I’d be like, ‘All right, I won’t throw hard today, I promise you guys!'” Verdugo told Jennings. “I’ll just go out there, and maybe I’m throwing 70 percent and touching 90 (MPH). And then they’re like, ‘Wait a minute!'”
Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom told Jennings via email that although he generally does not like “to take options off the table,” the priority right now is “helping Alex through his rehab so he can impact us at the plate and in the outfield! It just goes to show how confident he is.”
The Rays, Bloom’s former employer, drafted two-way player Brendan McKay out of Louisville in the first round of the 2017 draft, when Bloom was still there. McKay, 24, made his big-league debut for Tampa Bay last June, and posted a 5.14 ERA over 13 outings (11 starts) while going 2-for-10 with one home run at the plate.
Like McKay, Verdugo is both a left-handed hitter and pitcher. It does not seem like the easiest transition to make as a baseball player.”
“It still takes a special player to do both and a lot of work on the part of the staff to help manage workload on both sides of the ball” Bloom said. This is especially important in Verdugo’s case, considering he came to Boston as the centerpiece in the Mookie Betts and David Price trade with a stress fracture in his lower back and will likely be monitored closely once baseball activities do eventually resume sometime in the near future.
For now though, it was fun to ponder on this hypothetical possibility and it will be something to pay even closer attention to in 2021 or 2022.