Red Sox catching prospect Connor Wong is a longshot to make the team’s Opening Day roster out of spring training next month.
As the third backstop on Boston’s catching depth chart, the 24-year-old is more likely to begin the year at the club’s alternate training site in Worcester before heading to Double-A Portland or Triple-A Worcester for the start of the 2021 minor-league season.
All that being said, nothing has stopped Wong from impressing his peers thus far at big-league camp in Fort Myers.
Despite collecting just one hit through his first 10 plate appearances of Grapefruit League play, the Houston-area native has drawn three walks, and that ability to be patient and slow the game down is something that has caught the attention of Red Sox manager Alex Cora.
“He’s a good player,” Cora said of Wong on Wednesday. “Very calm behind the plate. Very athletic. Seems like he and Jason [Varitek], they’ve been working hard on that setup on one knee. He’s made progress. I didn’t see him last year, but what I’ve seen is great. Like I’ve been saying: all these kids, Jeter [Downs], and Nick [Yorke], and Connor. There’s something about them that they’re very calm when they play the game.
“It’s like there’s no panic,” continued Cora. “Even his at-bats. He walks and he takes his time putting the bat down. There’s something good about them. They understand the game, they ask questions, and we have a good one.”
The one hit Wong has recorded so far this spring came in the Red Sox’ Grapefruit League opener against the Twins on February 28.
The 6-foot-1, 181 lb. pounder took over behind the plate for Christian Vazquez in the bottom half of the third inning of that contest and picked up a one-out double in his first trip to the plate a half inning later.
He may have struck out in his second at-bat, but he played ‘outstanding’ defense in the process of doing so.
“He’s another guy that slows down the game,” Cora said of Wong back on March 1. “You could see yesterday, we had a bad inning and then he comes in and it’s kind of like a presence about him. He studies the game. He talks the game, which is very important for a catcher. Seems like he never panicked back there. He keeps working on that one-knee down stance. He has some really good hands.”
Wong, a right-handed hitter, was originally selected by the Dodgers in the third round of the 2017 amateur draft out of the University of Houston. His natural position in college was shortstop — not catcher — but he eventually moved behind the plate and has remained there.
While transitioning to catcher, though, Wong also saw playing time at second base and third base at Double-A Tulsa in 2019 before being part of the trade that sent Mookie Betts and David Price to Los Angeles and Alex Verdugo and Jeter Downs to Boston the following February.
The Dodgers have a history of converting position player prospects into full-time catchers. They’ve done so with Will Smith, who played a little bit of infield and outfield at the University of Louisville, and Austin Barnes, who has appeared in 195 total games at either second or third base at the minor-league level.
Cora recounted a conversation he had with the versatile Enrique Hernandez, who spent the last six seasons with the Dodgers before signing with the Red Sox over the winter, about Wong and Los Angeles’ ability to convert position players into catchers.
“A position player that’s a catcher now. It seems like it’s something they like on the West Coast with Smith and Barnes,” said the Sox skipper. “And this kid can do it, too. Good hands. Very smooth. And offensively, he understands what he can do. But, I really like the fact that communication is No. 1 for him in his defensive game. You see him in the dugout talking to Jason [Varitek], to the pitchers, and for a young guy to be able to do that right now is eye-opening. And it was fun to watch him perform yesterday.”
Going into the new season, Baseball America has Wong ranked as the No. 15 prospect in Boston’s farm system, which is the top rank among catchers in the organization.
Just last week, the folks over at Baseball America picked two potential breakout prospects from every team’s farm system for 2021. Along with 2019 second-round draft pick Matthew Lugo, Wong was the other Red Sox prospect chosen by the BA staff to break out this year.
“Wong was granted a reprieve of sorts when he was traded from the Dodgers to the Red Sox in the Mookie Betts’ trade,” they wrote. “Instead of being stuck behind Will Smith and Keibert Ruiz, he now has a clear path to a future MLB role as a well-rounded backup catcher who can play around the infield as well.”
Added to the Sox’ 40-man roster last November, Wong is projected by both FanGraphs and MLB Pipeline to make his major-league debut at some point this season.
That would likely come in the event of an injury to one of Boston’s major-league catchers or when rosters expand to 28 players in September.
(Picture of Connor Wong: Pawtucket Red Sox)