Chris Murphy has drawn the attention of Red Sox manager Alex Cora so far at minor-league spring training in Fort Myers, Fla.
Cora, who under normal circumstances would have likely been preparing for a Grapefruit League game against the Yankees on Monday, was instead seen roaming the backfields of the Fenway South complex and watching the action unfold in front of him.
In a brief conversation with the few reporters on-hand, Cora noted that Murphy “is a guy I’ve been looking at. He has a good fastball.”
Murphy, 23, is regarded by Baseball America as the No. 12 prospect in the Sox’ farm system, ranking sixth among pitchers in the organization. Boston originally selected the left-hander in the sixth round of the 2019 amateur draft out of the University of San Diego.
After impressing in his pro debut with the Lowell Spinners that summer, Murphy missed the entirety of the 2020 minor-league season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The California native did, however, participate in fall instructs and carried the momentum he gained there into the following spring.
Upon breaking minor-league camp with High-A Greenville in May, Murphy posted a 4.21 ERA and 5.81 FIP to go along with 81 strikeouts and 23 walks through his first 14 starts (68 1/3 innings pitched) of the year before earning a promotion to Double-A Portland in late July.
In seven outings (six starts) with the Sea Dogs, Murphy pitched to the tune of a 5.45 ERA — but much more respectable 3.52 FIP — with 47 punchouts to just 13 walks over 33 innings of work to close out the year. The southpaw was named Double-A Northeast pitcher of the week on two separate occasions during that stretch (August 22 and September 12) thanks to two superb performances against the Binghamton Rumble Ponies.
Among all Double-A Northeast pitchers who compiled at least 30 frames on the mound last season, Murphy ranked 22nd in strikeouts per nine innings (12.82), 20th in strikeout rate (34.1%), 26th in swinging strike rate (15.3%), 35th in FIP, and 27th in xFIP (3.56), per FanGraphs.
Listed at 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, Murphy is a four-pitch pitcher who works with a 90-94 mph fastball that tops out at 96 mph, an 80-82 mph changeup, a 73-75 mph curveball, and an 80-84 mph slider. It should be noted that his arsenal fared far better against left-handed hitters (.401 OPS against) than right-handed hitters (.914 OPS against) between High-A and Double-A in 2021.
Back in January, Murphy was one of 12 Red Sox pitchers who took part in the team’s Winter Warm-Up program. The lefty was also just one of two players (the other being Triston Casas) to speak with the media that week and he emphasized the importance of attacking the strike zone as well as tunneling his pitches.
“Especially right now, I’m all about the analytics like where does my fastball play and what plays off of it and how can I create tunnels,” said Murphy. “Changeup/slider. Something that we’re getting big on this offseason is making two pitches go (releasing them) looking the same and breaking two different ways. So that’s what we call tunneling. And how to make a fastball up look appealing to a hitter when it’s not really in the zone; get swings-and-misses up in the zone.”
Murphy, who turns 24 in June, is projected to return to Portland’s starting rotation for the start of the 2022 minor-league season. He has a chance to emerge as the top left-handed pitching prospect in the organization, which is important considering the fact he can become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the first time in his career this December.
The Red Sox, of course, would need to add Murphy to their 40-man roster by the November deadline if they intend on protecting him from the 2022 Rule 5 Draft.
(Picture of Chris Murphy: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)