Xander Bogaerts has played with his fair share of defensively-gifted outfielders in his career with the Red Sox.
Whether it be Shane Victorino, Mookie Betts, or Jackie Bradley Jr., Bogaerts has certainly seen Gold Glove-caliber defense from his teammates in the outfield over the years, and he’s seeing it again this season with Hunter Renfroe.
Renfroe, who came into the weekend leading all American League right fielders in Ultimate Zone Rating (3.2), recorded his league-leading 11th outfield assist of the year in the fourth inning of Friday night’s 5-3 victory over the Yankees at Fenway Park.
At the time, the Sox were holding on to a 4-3 lead and the Yankees had just put the potential tying run in scoring position on a leadoff double off the bat of Gio Urshela.
Urshela attempted to score from second on a Miguel Andujar groundball single to right field off Red Sox starter Martin Perez, but Renfroe had other plans.
Fielding the ball rather routinely, Renfroe was able to gun down Urshela at home with plenty of time to spare by unleashing a 94.7 mph laser to an awaiting Christian Vazquez.
Vazquez caught the relay without haste, and snuffed out a sliding Urshela to prevent the possible tying run from crossing the plate for the first out of the fourth.
“Anytime you throw a guy out at the plate, it’s pretty special,” Renfroe said. “You don’t get to do that very often. And especially in that moment, it was a big moment in the game, could have tied the game up. But, obviously, anytime you can help the team win or do something for the team, it’s great.”
Renfroe has made a habit of making these sorts of plays look routine this season, and he has thoroughly impressed his peers — including his manager — while doing so.
“He does a good job charging the ball in that situation,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “He has the presence of mind, too, like he didn’t need to keep that throw down. He knew he had a chance to get him at the plate.”
Bogaerts, meanwhile, had a front-row seat to yet another eye-opening display from Renfroe, and he was still in awe of what happened when speaking with reporters hours later.
“He’s been hot for a while,” Bogaerts said of Renfroe. “If you ask me what I could compare him to, it’d be Jackie Bradley. When he gets on that streak, it’s just missiles and doubles and homers and hard hits. It’s pretty nice, man. And his defense, I wish mine was like that. He’s been awesome offensively and defensively. I didn’t even know he was that good of an outfielder, but he’s been playing really, really good for us.
“He has a cannon, man,” Bogaerts added. “He reads the ball well out there, he has a cannon, he’s strong. I mean, this guy is solid. He’s definitely a really good baseball player.”
In addition to his fine night in the outfield, Renfroe also enjoyed a productive evening at the plate. The 29-year-old went 1-for-1 with a double, a sacrifice fly, two RBI, two walks, and one run scored in Boston’s win over New York.
“He had a great game, not only defensively but offensively,” said Cora. “The patience at the plate, getting to fastballs, putting the ball in play with a man at third. A great game for him.”
Over his last 30 games, Renfroe is slashing an impressive .308/.392/.519 with four home runs, 17 RBI, and 21 runs scored. He started the season by posting a .167/.235/.250 slash line in April after signing a one-year, $3.1 million deal with Boston in December.
“We knew he was a good athlete. We knew he was a good defender,” Cora said when asked if the Red Sox knew Renfroe was this good a player. “Talking to him in the offseason, he mentioned that he didn’t have a chance to play against righties, and although he has a reputation of hitting lefties, he needs righties to stay with his approach.
“In spring training, he did a good job for us. He went the other way,” added Cora. “He struggled early on, but he started shooting the ball the other way, staying off pitches. And you see the at-bats, they’re a lot better. He’s actually walking at a high rate now — he’s controlling the zone. We knew he was talented. Everybody knows it, and he’s putting everything together.”
For Renfroe, his early-season struggles this year can likely be linked to the fact that he was playing for his third team in three seasons. In other words, there was a bit of an adjustment period this spring.
As he has gotten more and more acclimated to the Red Sox, though, the Mississippi native has seen his level of play increase drastically.
On May 1, the 6-foot-1, 230 pound right-handed hitter ranked 12th among Boston position players in terms of fWAR (-0.3). Since then, he ranks third on the team in fWAR (1.1) behind only Xander Bogaerts (2.3) and Rafael Devers (1.6), per FanGraphs.
“It’s come really easy for me to transfer over and be part of the Red Sox,” said Renfroe. “It’s been easy for me to come over here and just step right in and do the best I can. Obviously, you can’t fake hard work as well. I worked my butt off this offseason to put myself in the best shape I can and put myself in a great hitting stance going forward into spring training and going forward [into the season].”
(Picture of Hunter Renfroe: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)