Red Sox pitching prospect Andrew Politi, a potential sleeper for 2021, receives invite to major-league spring training

Along with Durbin Feltman, fellow right-handed pitching prospect Andrew Politi was one of 22 Red Sox minor-leaguers to receive an invite to major-league spring training on Friday.

The 24-year-old was originally selected by Boston in the 15th round of the 2018 amateur draft out of Seton Hall University. He signed with the team for only $25,000 that June, and according to The Athletic’s Keith Law, he could be a major sleeper this year.

“Politi was Boston’s 15th-round pick in 2018, a senior signed out of Seton Hall,” Law, who ranked Politi as the No. 15 prospect in the Sox’ farm system, wrote on Thursday, “but his stuff picked up over the last two years and he’s now showing mid-90s velocity with a curveball and cutter — even as he moved from a relief role to the rotation. He needs better control and command, and he’s on the smaller side for a starter, but there’s some starter upside here.

“Politi could make a jump this year, at least into their top 10 if not the global list,” Law added.

Last time he saw any organized minor-league action, the New Jersey native posted a 3.55 ERA and 3.17 xFIP over 33 appearances (five starts) and 78 2/3 innings of work for High-A Salem in 2019.

Politi emerged as a regular starter for Salem towards the tail end of the 2019 campaign in late August, and he dazzled by yielding just three runs (two earned) on three hits, five walks, and 17 strikeouts over his final three starts (13 1/3 innings pitched) of the season.

While he was not included in the Sox’ 60-man player pool nor invited to the Sox’ alternate training site any point in 2020, the 6-foot, 191 lb. hurler did participate in the club’s fall instructional league.

There in Fort Myers, according to SoxProspects.com’s director of scouting Ian Cundall, Politi put his diverse pitch mix on display for scouts to see.

“Though he worked his way into the Salem rotation at the end of 2019, scouts see right-hander Andrew Politi as a reliever all the way,” Cundall wrote back in November. “His delivery has a lot of effort, and his command was inconsistent at Instructs. His fastball sat 93-95 mph and he mixed in an average slider. He also showed a changeup and curveball, and seemed to be working on a cutter as well. “

What Cundall gathered about Politi seems to differ from what Law gathered, but one thing is clear: Politi has potential. Whether that be as a starter or reliever has yet to be determined, but that notion became clear on Friday when he received an invite to big-league camp.

Like Feltman, Politi is also eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the first time in his career this December, so it goes without saying that 2021 will be an important year for him.

Projected to begin the upcoming minor-league season with Double-A Portland, Politi, who turns 25 in June, is currently regarded by SoxProspects.com as the organization’s 40th-ranked prospect.

(Picture of Andrew Politi: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

New Podding the Red Sox episode: outfield prospect Wil Dalton joins the show

On this week’s installment of Podding the Red Sox: A BloggingtheRedSox.com Podcast, I am joined by Red Sox outfield prospect Wil Dalton.

Dalton, 23, was drafted by Boston in the eighth round of the 2019 amateur draft out of the University of Florida.

Among the topics we discussed in this episode, which is available on iTunes and Spotify, were Dalton’s path from junior college to Florida, takeaways from his first professional season in Lowell in 2019, his performance at the fall instructional league in 2020, and his personal expectations for the 2021 minor-league season.

Thanks to Wil for taking time out of his Monday evening to answer some questions.

Thank you for listening and we will see you next time! Make sure to subscribe and leave a five-star review if you can!

(Picture of Wil Dalton: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Jaxx Groshans evaluates some of the top pitching prospects in the Red Sox farm system

He’s caught them. He’s hit against them. When it comes to some of the more intriguing pitching prospects in the Red Sox organization, there aren’t many better people to ask about them than catching prospect Jaxx Groshans.

When speaking with BloggingtheRedSox.com earlier this week, the 22-year-old backstop shared his thoughts on the likes of Jay Groome, Noah Song, and Ryan Zeferjahn, all of whom are regarded by SoxProspects.com as top-15 pitching prospects within Boston’s farm system.

Here are those thoughts put into writing.

LHP Jay Groome (SoxProspects’ No. 7 pitching prospect)

“I’ve faced off against Groomy multiple times and I got to catch him when I was in Lowell and at fall instructs both years (2019 and 2020). His stuff has grown a long way, man. He’s got big-league caliber shit, and I think that’s going to carry him for a while.”

RHP Noah Song (SoxProspects’ No. 6 pitching prospect)

“I caught Noah in his debut in Aberdeen… As far as Songy is concerned, that’s some of the best pure stuff I think I’ve ever seen. I applaud him for going back and serving [in the Navy] like he was supposed to, but that’s a damn shame because that kid probably could have been in the big-leagues this coming year. He probably could have made an appearance in the league out of the ‘pen last year to be honest with you, because his stuff is that good.”

RHP Ryan Zeferjahn (SoxProspects’ No. 11 pitching prospect)

“Zef’s a good dude, man. He’s got some electric stuff, too. I’m very, very excited to see how his career pans out because I think he can be a successful big-leaguer for a long time, especially if he figures out control of all his pitches and finetunes them. We’ll just have to wait and see from here. Like I said, he’s got a lot of special stuff and he’s very blessed with the arm he has.”

Groshans and Zeferjahn both played college baseball together at the University of Kansas. They were both selected by the Red Sox within hours of each other during Day 2 of the 2019 MLB first-year player draft.

“Before we got drafted, we were in Bricktown (Oklahoma City) playing Kansas State in the Big-12 tournament,” Groshans recalled. “Me and Zef were sitting on the bench, and Zef was like ‘Man, how cool would it be if the both of us got drafted by the same team? It would be sick because I’d get to throw to you and we’d be teammates again.’

“And I was like ‘Yeah, dude. That would be sick. That would be awesome,'” continued Groshans. “Then I saw Zef got picked by the Sox in the third [round], and I was like ‘Damn, okay. What’s going to happen? How’s this going to go?’ Then my agent texted me and he was like ‘Red Sox.’ So, I kind of kept it in for a second and as soon as my name got called, Zef was one of the first people to text me. He was like ‘Let’s freaking go! That’s awesome, man!’ I was like ‘Yeah, meet me in Florida and let’s have some fun.'”

BONUS: Former University of Oklahoma outfielder and Oakland Athletics first-round draft pick Kyler Murray, who is currently the starting quarterback for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals

“I know Kyler. I grew up around the same area — before I moved to Houston — that he was from. So I was from Plano, he was from Allen (Texas). I met him off and on the field, too. He’s a freak athlete, man.

“I saw something the other day where they were putting out on SportsCenter: Who of these NFL athletes would be successful in the minor-leagues if they played?’ It’s Kyler 100% hands down,” Groshans said. “He’s said it before. I don’t believe his time in baseball is done yet. I think if at any point he decides to come back, he could definitely do it. 100%.”

(Picture of Jaxx Groshans: Kelly O’Connor/ sittingstill.smugmug.com)

With no minor-league season, Red Sox catching prospect Jaxx Groshans spent part of his summer playing independent league baseball: ‘I think that helped me grow as a player tremendously’

Even with no minor-league baseball season in 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Red Sox catching prospect Jaxx Groshans still made the best of things on multiple fronts.

For starters, in lieu of not being able to experience what was supposed to be his first full season as a professional, the 2019 fifth-round draft pick out of the University of Kanas was able to partake in the Constellation Energy League, an independent summer league in Sugar Land, Texas.

Despite only playing in five games for Eastern Reyes Del Tigre, Groshans certainly appreciated the opportunity so that he could get some reps in among other things. The 22-year-old backstop said as much when speaking with BloggingtheRedSox.com earlier Monday.

“Originally, at the beginning of the offseason, I reached out to Mike Capel, and he was the manager for Team Texas and I had played with his son,” Groshans explained. “I heard about the Constellation League, so I called him and said ‘Hey, if you guys need any catchers or anything like that, I’m more than willing to come play.’ I’m just trying to get some innings in and see some live pitching so that I’m not too far behind. Originally, at the time, they said they didn’t have a spot, so I came back to Arizona — I live out here and I work out here now — and I was actually going to get dinner with my girlfriend when the GM for the league called me. He had me go down there and it was a great experience.”

Consisting of four teams who each played 28 games against one another, the Constellation Energy League was comprised of current and former major-leaguers, current and former minor-leaguers, and current and former independent-leaguers.

“My first game, the first guy I faced was Taylor Jungmann, he has big-league time with the [Yomiuri] Giants,” said Groshans. “Travis Lakins pitched down there, and then you got a lot of former big-leaguers. I got to work closely a lot with Scott Kazmir. I got to catch him quite frequently whenever he’d make his outings. It’s hard to get a feel for a competitive atmosphere — especially when you’re not necessarily playing for anything — but I got my reps in down there and it was great. I got to pick a lot of guys’ minds who are older than me, been in the system longer, and I think that helped me grow as a player tremendously.”

In addition to the Constellation Energy League, Groshans also had the chance to face off against and catch major-league caliber pitching earlier in the year, before the start of the truncated 2020 season. He did so at a facility in Arizona, where plenty of other players reside as well.

“There’s actually a place out here that I work out at. It’s called Fuel Factory,” Groshans said. “It’s run by a guy named Jon Huizinga, he has a little bit of affiliate time, and he runs the place. I work out and am facing guys like Ken Giles, Liam Hendriks, Matthew Liberatore, guys like that. It’s a very, very competitive space and you got a lot of good arms throwing. Everybody was throwing bullpens and live at-bats, trying to simulate what the season would be — and this was before the alternate site happened. So before Sugar Land, I was doing live at-bats, went down to Sugar Land, and then I came back and did them afterwards as well.”

In the weeks following the conclusion of the Constellation Energy League season, Groshans arrived in Fort Myers for his second go-around at the Red Sox’ fall instructional league. And although fall instructs in 2020 were different from fall instructs in 2019 on account of COVID-19 protocols, the Lousiana native actually enjoyed the most recent version more.

“Last year (2019), we didn’t have to do any of the stuff related to COVID,” stated Groshans. “But honestly, I liked this year’s (2020) fall instructs a lot more just because we got to play a lot more games than we did last year. Last year, we were doing a bunch of stuff off machines and stuff like that because everybody just got done with their season or hit their innings limit. So, we couldn’t really see a whole lot of arms.

“This year, we did,” he continued. “We got a lot more personalized stuff, one-on-ones with our coaches — I got a lot of work in with Chad Epperson, our catching coordinator — and I enjoyed it. Honestly, it’s kind of hard not to look forward to something like that, especially in a year like this where we haven’t been able to do anything. Really, there was no other place I would have wanted to spend my time.”

Groshans, who does not turn 23 until July, is looking on improving two aspects of his game in 2021: blocking and throwing down.

“Blocking and throwing down,” he said. “I mean, my arm is strong. I believe that. There’s some new things that we started doing with mechanics for footwork, so I’m going to work on that and that’s what I mean by throwing down. And then, you can never stop getting good at blocking. I believe my blocking is good now, but there’s always something there to improve on.”

As for where Groshans will begin the upcoming minor-league season, that really does not matter as long as he’s given the chance to go to work.

“At the end of the day, I’m just trying to keep my nose to the grindstone and do my job,” the 6-foot, 210 lb. backstop said confidently. “Whether I’m in Low-A, High-A, Double-A, Triple-A, it doesn’t matter. I’m just going to be doing my thing.”

While Groshans waits to do his thing at the onset of spring training come February, you can follow him on Twitch by clicking here.

“I’m 10 followers away from affiliate, so that’s been the big thing for this offseason,” he said. “I’ve been trying to keep myself busy by playing video games and stuff. It’s been great.”

(Top photo of Groshans: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Red Sox pitching prospect Bradley Blalock reflects on unique 2020 for minor-leaguers, looks ahead to 2021

This year was supposed to serve as Bradley Blalock’s springboard into professional baseball.

After being selected by the Red Sox in the 32nd round of the 2019 amateur draft, the right-hander made just four appearances (three starts) in the Gulf Coast League on account of how much he had pitched earlier in the spring while still in high school.

2020 was going to be the year in which Blalock formally introduced himself as a legitimate pitching prospect, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic prevented that from fully happening.

Rather than pitch a full season at one or multiple minor-league levels, Blalock was limited to just the fall instructional league in terms of throwing in front of team officials.

The 20-year-old hurler recently spoke with BloggingtheRedSox.com about how this year has gone for him as well as a number of other topics.

“Once I got [to fall instructs], I definitely started working,” Blalock said. “Got to pitch in two intrasquad games. First one, just threw one inning but it was a little rough since I got hit around a little bit. In my second outing, I pitched six innings — went six up, six down — so it was definitely really exciting to do that in front of everyone that was there. And my third one, I was supposed to throw three innings on the last day, but it got rained out. But, I was able to throw a bullpen, so it was good.”

While fall instructs this year were certainly different from fall instructs the year before, Blalock has enjoyed his time with the Red Sox organization thus far. The Georgia native signed with the club for $250,000 last July as opposed to attending Kennesaw State University.

“It was a personal decision for me,” Blalock said of his choice to go pro out of high school. “Me and my family talked about it, and we thought that was the best decision because you don’t know if three years down the road, you’re ever going to get that opportunity [again]. You might get hurt or something, so we just took a chance and we love it so far. I do.”

As a 32nd round pick, Blalock could have signed with Boston for just $125,000, that round’s assigned slot value, but he actually managed to sign for double that amount last summer.

“We just did some negotiations and we found a price that worked for both of us: me and the Red Sox,” said Blalock. “So we definitely came to an easy deal, quick deal on that.”

Even before signing with the Sox, Blalock started to garner at least a little major-league interest starting his junior year of high school in Loganville, Ga. He provided some insight on what that whole process was like.

“I didn’t really talk to a lot of pro scouts my junior year,” Blalock said. “I talked to one [with the Minnesota Twins] and we built a close bond. My senior year, I definitely had a lot more attention. Had to fill out a couple questionnaires that I had to fill out from each team.”

One of those interested teams was obviously the Red Sox, and their interest in Blalock gave the righty the chance to get to know his eventual signing scout Brian Moehler, who covers Georgia and South Carolina for the team as an amateur scout.

“Once I met him, we built a close bond,” Blalock said of Moehler. “He was the one that was really talking to my dad, because I don’t have an agent right now so my dad’s really my agent. So, we built a close bond and we talk a couple times every month.”

The Red Sox viewed Blalock, who originally committed to Kennesaw State as a two-way player, as a pitcher from the get-go. That likely had something to do with his pitch selection, which the 6-foot-2, 190 lb. righty broke down in-depth.

“In high school, I threw a four-seam fastball, a slider, a changeup, and a knucklecurve,” he explained. “When I got to the GCL, I didn’t bring the slider along because my curveball was definitely my better offspeed pitch as the year advanced. So, I had my fastball, curveball, changeup — but my changeup wasn’t really there so I was really just a two-pitch guy.

“After instructs last year, they were like ‘Hey, let’s work on a changeup,'” Blalock continued. “So, all instructs and all offseason I worked on getting my changeup back to where it needed to be. I came into spring training with a four-seam fastball, a knucklecurve, and a changeup. And during spring training — during my bullpens — my curveball was always down for a strikeout pitch. It was like an 0-2 or 1-2 pitch, so we working on trying to get that and land it for a strike.

“But then I realized I need something better that I know I can land for a strike,” he added. “So I talked to [Lowell Spinners pitching coach Nick Green] and [performance pitching coordinator] Shawn Haviland about going back to my slider and figuring that back out. During quarantine, I worked on getting my feel back for my slider. They were excited, and I brought that into instructs with me.”

While he was able to hone his pitch mix in the weeks leading up to fall instructs thanks to tools such as video and Rapsodo, Blalock also continued to use training methods inspired by Driveline Baseball, which is something he has done since his freshman year of high school.

“At the facility I train at, it’s called Full Count Baseball, we do Driveline stuff,” he stated. “We have all the Driveline balls, shoulder tubes, wrist weights, and we have core velocity belts, which helps you get your core engaged.”

The use of Driveline’s weighted balls specifically seemed very important to Blalock, as he attributed them to his uptick in fastball velocity over the past few years.

“To think my freshman year, I was probably [sitting at] 75 mph,” Blalock said. Just to think that then I was like ‘Hey, I don’t even know if I’ll get to play college baseball.’ Just to continue to work, keep staying with the process, and using the weighted balls and the jaeger bands. It’s definitely been [something] I really like and I’m going to keep doing it.”

Blalock’s fastball, which today tops out at 95 mph, can be attributed to the proper use of weighted balls, weight lifting, and two to three long toss sessions per week. He still believes his four-seamer has room to grow, though.

“That still has room to grow,” Blalock said of his heater. “I’ve been working this offseason still trying to gain some velocity. I mean, it’s always good to try and get some more. One of the guys I work out with, he throws 99-100 mph, so I’m trying to get there with him.”

As for how Blalock will get there, the 2021 season serves as a good first step. Though it’s unclear which affiliate he will start the season with, Blalock does not necessarily care about which role — starter or reliever — he undertakes as long as it helps him contribute at the major-league level sooner.

“I just want to be able to help [the Red Sox] get to the World Series. Starter or reliever, I just want to be able to make it to the bigs and help the Red Sox get there, again.”

Blalock, who does not turn 21 until next December, is currently regarded by SoxProspects.com as the organization’s No. 35 prospect. He is projected to begin the 2021 campaign with the GCL Red Sox, though he certainly would not mind getting called up to Salem, or even Greenville, either.