How Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo became a better major-leaguer because of veteran teammates like Mitch Moreland, Rich Hill

Alex Verdugo’s inaugural season with the Red Sox ended with the outfielder finishing 12th in American League MVP voting.

Well before that, though, the 24-year-old had gotten off to a rough start with his new team.

After being left off the Sox’ Opening Day lineup last July, Verdugo struggled to the tune of a .231/.286/.231 slash line with no extra-base hits, no RBI, two walks, and sevens strikeouts through his first eight games and 28 plate appearances of the year.

The centerpiece for Boston in the five-player trade with the Dodgers that sent Mookie Betts and David Price to Los Angeles, the former top prospect had grown frustrated with his performance, and he let out that frustration in a demonstrative way; much to the chagrin of his veteran teammates — like Mitch Moreland.

“Every at-bat it felt like I was going into the tunnel and hitting something or throwing a helmet down,” Verdugo said recently on the Baseball Tonight podcast with ESPN’s Buster Olney. “And Mitch kind of made a side comment, like ‘Shoot. Seeing him act like that has got me exhausted.’ Like I’m tiring him out just watching what I’m doing. And I sat back on that. I thought about it, and I went over there and I apologized to the team.

“This anger — this stuff that I show — I want you guys to know that it’s from a good place,” he added while recalling how he apologized. “It’s because I’m a competitor. I’m so used to competing.”

Since being selected by the Dodgers in the second round of the 2014 amateur draft out of Sahuaro High School, the Arizona native has always had a fiery personality.

It’s a personality and a way of going about things that may rub others the wrong way, but Verdugo has managed to succeed at every level he’s played at while still maintaining that boisterous edge to him.

That trend of performing to a high level continued for Verdugo over the summer and into the early stages of the fall. From August 4 through the end of the 2020 season, the left-handed hitter slashed .320/.378/.514 with six home runs, 15 RBI, and four stolen bases over his final 45 games (193 plate appearances) of the year.

“I felt like towards the middle and end of the season, I was a lot better,” said Verdugo. “I was a lot better. I was able to handle it more. It was kind of cool, Jason Varitek got a nice little punching bag right in the tunnel. So we’d go down there and I got a nice little inflatable pitching bag with my Verdugo jersey on it. No. 99.”

Verdugo will look to carry over the individual success he enjoyed in 2020 into 2021 for a Red Sox team that figures to be much more competitive than they were last year.

The 6-foot, 205 pounder is no stranger to playing for a team with postseason aspirations, and one of his former teammates on that particular team — Milton’s own Rich Hill — believes that Verdugo can take that next stop with the Sox.

The 41-year-old Hill, now a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, was Verdugo’s teammate with the Dodgers for parts of the 2017, 2018, and 2019 campaigns.

While the veteran left-hander was one of those who initially took issue with the way Verdugo went about his business upon getting called up by the Dodgers in 2017, he also realized — and still realizes — the potential the young outfielder has to do special things on the field.

“When I heard the trade happened, I had gotten the chance to talk to a few people in Boston and just said, ‘Hey, you guys got a really good player here, and not just any player,'” Hill told Olney. “I think he can be a perennial All-Star and be a standout in Boston because of his ability to put the bat to the ball and consistently create damage with runners on and/or start a rally.

“Again, it’s the way he goes about playing the game,” the former Red Sox hurler added. “I think of players right off the top of my head who play hard. Like a Chase Utley for example, a Clayton Kershaw, a Dustin Pedroia. You look at Jose Abreu with the White Sox. I put Alex in that category. It doesn’t have to be just position players, right? I mentioned a few pitchers because when you go to the game and you buy the ticket, you want to see the intensity and the passion from the player — whether it’s the pitcher or position player.”

Pedroia, who retired from the game of baseball in February after spending 14 big-league seasons with the Sox, was teammates with Hill for parts of the 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2015 seasons.

“Dustin kind of rejuvenated me and got more out of myself when I saw his effort and what he brought on a daily basis and what consistent intensity looked like ,” said Hill. “That was something I saw and was like, ‘Wow, if this guy is showing up at 1 o’clock and he’s ready with a full batting practice uniform on, it wasn’t fake. It was real.’ It was every single day.

“And that’s what Alex has,” he continued. “Alex has that every single day, it’s the same mentality. It’s the passion, the joy, the intensity, the love for the game. However you want to put a title over it, he has that for the game. So he’s going to do fine here in Boston.”

Based off his style of play, Verdugo is someone who feeds the energy of the crowd regardless of which ballpark he is at.

After going through an entire season with no fans in the stands in 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Verdugo is relishing the opportunity to play in front of a crowd –albeit a reduced one — at not only Fenway Park, but venues like Yankee Stadium as well in 2021.

“I think the fans are a big part of the game,” he said. “I miss that interaction where they’re talking their smack. They’re letting you have it. Especially when I’m in New York. If I’m in the Yankees’ stadium, I want that, man. I want it. I know you got to be careful what you ask for, but for me, I love it. I really do.”

(Picture of Mitch Moreland and Alex Verdugo: Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

New Podding the Red Sox episode: Red Sox director of marketing Kelsey Doherty joins the show

On the latest episode of Podding the Red Sox: A BloggingtheRedSox.com Podcast, I am joined by Red Sox director of marketing Kelsey Doherty.

Among the topics Kelsey and I discussed were the responsibilities that come with being the online voice for an organization like the Red Sox, how it is running the team’s social media when there is a pandemic going on, how players such as Alex Verdugo can create their own content based on their personalities, what can be expected out of the Red Sox’ social media team in 2021, what went into the creation of the Red Sox’ player development Twitter account, and much more!

The episode is available to listen to on iTunes and Spotify, among other platforms.

Thanks to Kelsey or taking some time out of her busy schedule to have a conversation with me.

You can follow Kelsey on Twitter (@kelseyedoherty) by clicking here. You can follow the Red Sox’ main Twitter account (@RedSox) by clicking here. You can follow the team’s player development Twitter account (@RedSoxPlayerDev) by clicking here.

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

(Picture of Kelsey Doherty: Billie Weiss, courtesy of Kelsey Doherty)

Red Sox’ Alex Cora on Bobby Dalbec: ‘He’s not a home run hitter. He’s a complete baseball player’

Alex Cora’s first exposure to Bobby Dalbec came well before he became manager of the Red Sox and well before Dalbec was even a member of the Red Sox.

It’s a story you have probably heard before: Cora, then an analyst at ESPN, was covering the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. in 2016 and got the chance to see Dalbec, then a junior at the University of Arizona, in person.

At that time, Dalbec was not an everyday first baseman, but rather a two-way player who pitched and played third base for a 44-21 Wildcats team that would go on to lose in the championship series in three games to Coastal Carolina.

While in Omaha, not only did the right-handed hitting, right-handed throwing Dalbec put the finishing touches on a solid junior season that would lead to him getting selected by the Red Sox in the third round of the 2016 June draft, he also impressed the likes of Cora.

Nearly five years later, the ex-Wildcat has emerged as arguably the top power-hitting prospect in Boston’s farm system who now has the chance to crack his first big-league Opening Day roster with Cora as his manager in just over two weeks.

Through 11 games this spring, Dalbec is slashing .308/.400/.808 while being tied with Michael Chavis for the team lead in home runs (4) to go along with eight RBI and four walks over his first 30 plate appearances.

While the 25-year-old slugger is hitting for power at an impressive rate, Cora is also pleased with what he’s been able to do in other phases of the game, like how he stole a base, drew a walk, and scored two runs against the Braves on Tuesday.

“That’s the thing about him. As you guys know, I saw him play in the College World Series,” Cora said Tuesday afternoon. “And he got my attention on the mound, but also at third base. He comes from a program that they do a lot of the little things right. That team, defensive-wise, it was one of the best I’ve seen in college baseball. And he was part of that.

“We talk to him about baserunning,” added Cora. “Talking about primary leads and secondary leads. He understands that. He’s a good baseball player. I was just telling him. I said, ‘You know what? People get caught up on the home run stuff.’ And he’s not a home run hitter. He’s a complete baseball player. And we’re very happy with the way he’s progressing.”

Red Sox general manager Brian O’Halloran echoed this same sort of sentiment regarding Dalbec when recently speaking with The Athletic’s Jim Bowden.

“Bobby continues to work hard at all aspects of his game this spring,” said O’Halloran. “People obviously notice the home runs and the power to all fields. He is very diligent in working on his approach and any adjustments he needs to make at the plate. He also continues to focus on defense and base running in order to become a complete player.”

As previously mentioned, Dalbec is on track to make his first Opening Day roster out of camp this spring and figures to see most of his playing time come at first base with a little bit of third base — his natural position — mixed in there as well.

Upon getting called up by Boston last August, the 6-foot-4, 227 pounder posted a .263/.359/.600 slash line to go along with eight home runs and 16 RBI over his first 23 games in the majors.

He also struck out more than 42% of the time in that stretch, but Cora is optimistic that Dalbec will be able to lower that number in 2021 once he properly adjusts to a more advanced degree of pitching, as has been the case throughout his professional career after getting promoted to a new level.

“I don’t think Bobby Dalbec will be swinging and missing 40% of the time during the season,” Cora said back in February. “I think if you look at his career, the first part of the season, whatever league he’s at, he swings and misses a lot. But then he catches on. We do believe that he will make more contact. What he did last year was eye-opening. It was fun to watch. And hopefully he can get a lot of traffic in front of him and he can drive them in.”

Dalbec, who doesn’t turn 26 until late June, figures to be in play for the American League Rookie of the Year award this year assuming he can successfully build off what he did in 2020.

(Picture of Bobby Dalbec: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox top prospect Triston Casas in Boston for non-baseball medical issue, expected back in Fort Myers ‘very soon’

Before his team took on the Orioles in Sarasota on Thursday, Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters that top prospect Triston Casas is currently in Boston to address a non-baseball-related medical issue.

“He’s actually in Boston,” Cora said when asked why Casas has yet to appear in any games so far this spring. “They found something medically that we have to take care of. It’s not baseball-related. It’s actually personal. I’ll leave it at that. We’re hoping that everything is fine. He’s in Boston right now going through all that stuff.”

Casas, who turned 21 in January, is currently regarded by Baseball America as the top prospect in the Red Sox’ farm system. Boston originally selected the young corner infielder out of American Heritage High School (Plantation, Fla.) with their top pick in the 2018 amateur draft.

In his first full minor-league season the following year, Casas slashed an impressive .256/.350/.480 to go along with 20 home runs and 81 RBI over 120 total games between Class-A Greenville and High-A Salem. He was named the organization’s offensive player of the year for his efforts.

With no minor-league baseball at all in 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Florida native was limited in what he could do to further his development, but he still impressed at the Red Sox’ alternate training site in Pawtucket and fall instructional league in Fort Myers.

Leading up to the start of the 2021 campaign, the left-handed hitting Casas — listed at 6-foot-4 and 252 lbs. — was without a doubt a prospect worthy of garnering a solid amount of attention at the onset of spring training.

That garnering of attention has yet to come to fruition down at the Fenway South complex to this point in time, but it does appear that Casas could return to southwest Florida relatively soon.

This being the case because according to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier and Julian McWilliams, “the decision to send Casas to Boston was an effort on the part of the Red Sox to be thorough, and there’s a good chance that he’ll be back in Fort Myers, Fla., and taking part in baseball activities in a matter of days.”

MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo adds that “Casas is planning on returning to Fort Myers [Thursday] or [Friday]” and it’s “unclear what the medical issue was, but he’s expected back in camp very soon.”

The fact that Casas may only miss a limited amount of time here is certainly encouraging and we look forward to seeing him back at JetBlue Park.

For what it’s worth, Casas is projected to begin the 2021 season with Double-A Portland, whose season will not start until sometime in May at the earliest.

(Picture of Triston Casas: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Yairo Muñoz among Red Sox’ most impressive performers early on in spring training

In his first traditional spring training with the Red Sox, Yairo Munoz is off to a hot start.

Following a 1-for-3 performance against the Rays on Tuesday that was highlighted a hard-hit two-run home run to the opposite field, the 26-year-old came off the bench as a pinch-runner in Wednesday’s contest against the Twins and collected another RBI by lining a run-scoring single in his only trip to the plate in the sixth inning of an eventual 14-6 victory for the Sox.

Through his first four Grapefruit League games of the year, Munoz is 5-for-9 (.555) at the plate with that one homer, one double, and four RBI while playing left field and third base.

The Dominican native is coming into the spring without a spot on Boston’s 40-man roster, meaning he is one of 33 non-roster invitees currently at big-league camp in Fort Myers.

The Sox outrighted Munoz off their 40-man roster in December. That decision was met with much surprise considering the fact that the utilityman impressed over the course of the final month of the 2020 campaign and the team had just signed him a one-year contract for the 2021 season.

After spending a healthy chunk of July and the entirety of August at the club’s alternate training site in Pawtucket, Munoz was called up by Boston on August 31 and made his team debut on September 1.

From that point forward, the right-handed hitter — listed at 5-foot-11 and 200 lbs. — slashed an impressive .333/.333/.511 to go along with one home run, five doubles, four RBI, and two stolen bases over 12 games played before a lower back strain prematurely ended his year on September 19.

Given the fact he performed well and proved more than capable of playing multiple defensive positions (was worth positive-4 defensive runs saved in left field), it, again, was somewhat shocking to see Munoz stripped of his 40-man roster spot three months ago.

Having said that, it might be even more shocking that the ex-St. Louis Cardinal managed to clear waivers without getting claimed by another organization beforehand.

At just 26 years old, Munoz is still relatively young, under team control through 2024, and has one minor-league option remaining. All while just a few years removed from being one of the top prospects in the Athletics’ farm system, which is the organization he originally signed with back in 2012.

In Chaim Bloom’s tenure as chief baseball officer thus far, the Red Sox have clearly placed an emphasis on bringing in — whether by trade, waiver claim, or free agency — versatile players who can be put to the test on the field. Christian Arroyo, Enrique Hernandez, and Marwin Gonzalez are among those on the team’s projected Opening Day roster who fit that mold.

While Munoz may have taken a step back this offseason and still has some work to do in order to crack Boston’s Opening Day roster, he seems to fit that mold, too.

At the end of the day, it’s as MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith wrote earlier Wednesday: “The Red Sox are lucky Yairo Munoz remains in the organization.”

Smith also wrote that Munoz “is one of the top outfield depth options heading into 2021. He will play for Boston at some point this season.”

(Picture of Yairo Munoz: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Nick Yorke, the youngest player at Red Sox camp, makes solid first impression in spring debut

Red Sox infield prospect Nick Yorke was in the midst of his senior year at Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose at this time one year ago.

On Monday afternoon, the 18-year-old made his spring training debut for the Sox as a defensive replacement at second base for Marwin Gonzalez in the fifth inning of a Grapefruit League contest against the Braves.

Playing the final three innings of Monday’s eventual 5-3 loss to Atlanta, Yorke got the chance to step up to the plate for the first time with one out in the bottom half of the fifth.

His opposition? Only Braves right-hander A.J. Minter, who is coming off a 2020 season in which he allowed just two earned runs over 22 relief appearances and 21 2/3 innings pitched.

Going up against that caliber of competition is no easy task, especially for a teenager who had not gotten a legitimate, in-game at-bat in well over a year.

Having said that, Yorke held his own, and after looking at and fouling off a handful of pitches, golfed a single to right-center field that found a nice patch of grass to land on.

Fast forward to the seventh, and the California native again showed discipline at the plate by drawing a walk to cap off what was an impressive 2021 debut.

“That was the highlight of the day, having that kid play,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of Yorke during his postgame media availability. “It’s funny because I told him before the game, ‘Hey, you’re playing second base.’ He’s like, ‘Ok, cool.’ I asked him, ‘Are you nervous?’ He’s like, ‘Nope.’ I said, ‘Ok, good for you.’ I was probably more nervous for him, so that’s a good sign.”

Boston selected Yorke with the 17th overall pick in the 2020 amateur draft last June, which at the time was viewed as a somewhat surprising selection considering the notion he was not projected to go that early.

Since then, though, the right-handed hitting, right-handed throwing second baseman has been turning heads on a consistent basis — whether it be at the Red Sox’ alternate training site or fall instructional league — to the point where he is entering the 2021 season as Boston’s ninth-ranked prospect according to Baseball America.

He’s also entering the 2021 season in better shape than he was in the fall, as he explained when speaking to reporters on Monday afternoon.

“In Pawtucket (alternate site) and instructs I wasn’t in the greatest shape,” Yorke explained. “Going into my first offseason, we made a goal to lose 10-15 pounds before I came back, and just focusing on that I came back and lost 25 (pounds).”

Yorke, who turns 19 in just over a month, is far and away the youngest player at Red Sox camp. While he may not be playing for a spot on the club’s Opening Day roster this spring, he is using this time to learn as much as possible by following around the likes of Enrique Hernandez and Xander Bogaerts.

“I’m working out with all the big-league infielders and just trying to be a sponge,” he said. “They’ve been in this game a lot longer than me, so I’m just trying to take what I can from them and piece this thing together.”

Cora himself echoed this same sentiment as well in regards when detailing why Yorke is at major-league spring training in the first place.

“He’s here to learn,” said the Sox skipper. “He’s here to be around big-leaguers and learn how to act in the clubhouse and be a professional, but you can see. He controlled the strike zone, controlled his at-bats.”

One thing that aided Yorke in his ability to control the strike zone and his at-bats on Monday was the fact that he did not let his nerves get to him, which is something the Red Sox coaching staff helped him with in getting him ready for in-game action.

“Once they said, ‘Play ball,’ I was ready to go,” Yorke said. “We haven’t been able to play on the field a lot the last year, so to get on the field, it’s just exciting. You get to go do what you love. I didn’t have a lot of nerves. It’s baseball at the end of the day. It’s just a game. I was just trying to go and have some fun.”

Listed at 6-foot and 200 pounds, Yorke is projected to begin the 2021 minor-league season with Low-A Salem, whose season is slated to begin on May 4.

For the time being, though, Yorke is looking forward to continuing to show what he’s got under the watchful eyes of Red Sox management these next few weeks in southwest Florida.

“Any opportunity they give me to touch a baseball field, I’m going to try to run away with it,” he said. “I’m very grateful for the opportunity and just trying to get better.”

(Picture of Nick Yorke: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox acquire right-handed pitching prospect Zach Bryant from Cubs to complete Josh Osich trade

The Red Sox have acquired right-handed pitching prospect Zach Bryant from the Cubs to complete the trade that sent left-hander Josh Osich to Chicago back in August, the team announced Saturday.

Boston originally dealt Osich to Chicago on August 31 in exchange for a player to be named later. Given six months to complete that deal, the deadline was fast approaching, and we now know Bryant is indeed the PTBNL.

The 22-year-old right-hander was selected by the Cubs in the 15th round of the 2019 amateur draft out of Jacksonville University.

In his debut season as a professional, Bryant — listed at 6-foot-1 and 210 lbs. — posted a 1.27 ERA and 1.17 WHIP over 12 total relief appearances and 21 1/3 innings of work between the rookie-level, Arizona League Cubs and short-season, Northwest League Eugene Emeralds in 2019.

A native of Port Orange, Fla., Bryant initially attended Daytona State College for two years before transferring to Jacksonville for the 2019 season, where he produced a 3.48 ERA over 28 outings and 31 innings pitched.

He also put up a 44:19 strikeout-to-walk ratio while recording 12 saves en route to being named to the All-ASUN second team.

Now a member of the Red Sox organization, Bryant joins the likes of Christian Koss and Nick Sogard as former 2019 draft picks that Boston has acquired via trade this offseason.

(Picture of Zach Bryant: Zach Bryant’s Twitter/@zbry34)

Red Sox’ Christian Vázquez, 15 pounds lighter than he was last year, aspiring to win first Gold Glove in 2021

Earlier this week, Red Sox manager Alex Cora poked fun at a typical spring training cliché you hear every year in that a certain player showed up to camp in the best shape of his life. The player Cora was talking about in this case was Christian Vazquez.

“Christian put work in in the offseason,” Cora said Monday. “I know [WEEI’s Rob Bradford] always makes fun of me when I say ‘He’s in the best shape of his life,’ because everybody is. Well, you’ll see him. You’ll see the pictures. He is in the best shape of his life.”

While Vazquez has been at camp for the past week-plus, he talked to reporters for the first time this spring on Friday and went into more detail about what exactly he accomplished over the winter.

“I went out and improved everything,” the veteran backstop said via a Zoom call. “I improved my hitting, my body. [I wanted to] get in the best shape, the best I can do with my body. I want to catch all the games I can and help the team.

Vazquez, 30, is coming off a 2020 season in which he slashed a solid .283/.344/.457 to go along with seven home runs and 23 RBI over 47 games played, 42 of which came behind the plate.

As he alluded to, the Puerto Rico native is coming into spring training in better shape thanks in part to dropping a significant amount of weight during the offseason, which he feels will aid him throughout the upcoming 2021 campaign.

“I’ve lost like 15 pounds,” Vazquez said while giving credit to one of the Red Sox’ nutritionists for helping with his diet. “I’m lighter, I feel better, moving better behind the plate. I feel 10 years younger, so it feels good. It feels good.”

Given the fact that he feels as good as he has in quite a while, Vazquez would like to start as many games at catcher for the Sox as possible in 2021. And while playing a full 162 may be out of the question, the right-handed hitter would still prefer to contribute as much as possible.

“Like I said before, I don’t help the team on the bench,” said Vazquez. “That’s the pride I take everyday. Go to the ballpark and be in the lineup. I want to be there. I like to be on the field. Like, I need to be dead to be on the bench, brother. I like to be in the lineup everyday. They pay me for that, so why not? Take charge everyday behind the plate, help my pitchers, block all the balls. It’s the pride inside me.”

Taking that pride into consideration, one milestone Vazquez would like to reach as a catcher from Puerto Rico is to win a Gold Glove Award, which seemed like a given at the time of his call-up in 2014 due to his reputation as a defense-first backstop back then.

“I know for a fact that he takes it personal because Martin [Maldonado] has a Gold Glove. Roberto [Pérez] has two,” Cora said of Vazquez’s aspirations earlier Friday. “Obviously Yadi [Molina], he’s the king of the Gold Gloves on the island. So, it’s a position that since 1986 when Benito [Santiago] got called up with the Padres, we’ve been so consistent behind the plate. We’ve had so many good ones. And he wants to be in the conversation.”

Over the last two seasons, Vazquez ranks second in Catcher Framing (17) and third in Defensive Runs Saved (6) among qualified big-league catchers, per FanGraphs. He has also thrown out 31 of the 88 base runners (35%) who have attempted to steal off of him in that time frame.

“He’s one of the most complete catchers in the big leagues,” Cora stated confidently in regards to Vazquez’s ability at and behind the plate. “Offensively, he puts the whole package. But sometimes those awards are hard to come… He put in a good season last year. I think framing-wise he was good. Blocking-wise, throwing people out. Hopefully, people can recognize him this year and he can get one. I know he wants one.”

In order to see that potentially come to fruition this year, the Red Sox first have to take care of Vazquez so he is not overworked and can instead be the best version of himself when he takes the field.

“We want the best version of Christian Vazquez,” said Cora. “I think we got a pretty good chance to see it this year.”

(Picture of Christian Vazquez: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo prefers hitting in batting cage to on-field batting practice: ‘It keeps my swing more locked in’

If fans were allowed on the premises of the Red Sox’ Fenway South complex in Fort Myers this spring, one thing they may notice while wandering around the many backfields is that Alex Verdugo is not out there taking batting practice while other position players are.

“Here, it’s not mandatory to go outside and hit,” Sox manager Alex Cora explained on Tuesday. “[Verdugo] did everything inside. We talked about his preparation and all of that. He stays away from the field for the first few just to do his cage work and hit off the machine. It’s part of his preparation, but he’s always out there for the defensive part of it.”

On the surface, it may seem odd that the 24-year-old outfielder does not participate in on-field batting practice and prefers to take his swings in the batting cages, but it turns out he actually has a sound reason as to why that is the case.

“I don’t like to hit on the field as much,” Verdugo said when speaking with reporters via Zoom on Thursday. “I think it’s good to occasionally see where the ball’s going, see how it’s flying. I think it’s good. But, me personally, through the last few years, I’ve found that the cage just does it better for me, man. It keeps my swing more locked in. It keeps me really focused up the middle — not trying to lift, not trying to do anything — just hit a nice, consistent line drive up the middle.

Utilizing that approach, as well as the mindset that opposing pitchers are seemingly throwing harder than ever, leads Verdugo to believe that cage work does a better job of simulating the in-game experience than batting practice does.

“Especially when you have a lot of guys throwing hard nowadays, I just feel like for me, seeing some hard velo in the cage is more realistic than seeing nice, easy BP on the field and trying to lift,” the left-handed hitter said. “Obviously, I can go out there and hit on the field and keep a professional approach and do my line drives, but I just like the cage better.”

In his inaugural season with Boston after coming over from the Dodgers last February, Verdugo impressed to the tune of a .308/.367/.478 slash line to go along with six home runs, 16 doubles, and 15 RBI over 53 games played (221 plate appearances).

The former second-round draft pick managed to stay relatively healthy throughout the duration of the year, but that likely would not have been the case had the 2020 season started at time.

That being due to the fact that, upon getting traded from Los Angeles last year, Verdugo was dealing with a stress fracture in his lower back, which at the time resulted in discomfort whenever he swung a bat.

While the Arizona native may be fully recovered from that ailment now, back injuries are nothing to mess around with, especially for a player with a limited history of them.

“I think if I do cage and BP on the field, the workload starts increasing, the number of swings start increasing,” said Verdugo. “For me, it’s going to be a long year. It’s going to be a long year trying to stay healthy through the whole year. If I’m feeling locked in and I’m feeling like I’m where I need to be and cage is enough, then there’s no reason to try to push it or try to go do something just for people to see me do it. I’m getting my work in, and I know what I need to be ready for April 1.”

(Picture of Alex Verdugo: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo says Dodgers winning World Series was ‘bittersweet’ for him, calls Boston place ‘where I was supposed to be’

Last year, Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo went through something for the first time as a major-leaguer in that he played for a team that failed to qualify for the postseason.

Prior to getting traded to Boston last February, the 24-year-old had been a part of three straight National League West-clinching Dodgers teams from 2017-2019.

Although he never appeared in a postseason game as a member of the Dodgers, Verdugo still worked hard to reach that ultimate goal of being a member of the last team standing come late October.

So when Los Angeles finally ended their 32-year World Series drought this past fall while Verdugo was at home watching his former teammates celebrate that accomplishment, it was a bit weird for the former Dodgers top prospect.

“I’m happy for the guys,” Verdugo said Thursday when speaking with reporters via Zoom. “It’s a bittersweet moment because at the same time, I want that ring. I want to be a champion, but I think things work out for reasons.”

While the Red Sox may have struggled to the tune of a 24-36 record in Verdugo’s first season with the club, the left-handed hitter did enjoy success on an individual level in 2020.

Over 53 games played last year, Verdugo slashed an impressive .308/.367/.478 to go along with six home runs, 16 doubles, and 15 RBI across 221 plate appearances. He also recorded seven outfield assists en route to finishing 12th in American League MVP voting.

“Coming over here and being with Boston and being with the staff and the teammates, and how I feel like I get along and jell with the guys, I think the fit here is better,” said Verdugo. “I think this is where I was supposed to be, and I think it’s going to make it even more special when we do get that ring and we win it here.”

Having said that, Verdugo — who was selected by Los Angeles in the second round of the 2014 amateur draft — still enjoyed seeing some of his old friends like Cody Bellinger, Edwin Rios, and Walker Buehler win it all considering the fact they all grinded through the minor-leagues together not too long ago.

“It was fun. I still got a lot of friends over there,” he said. “Still had some guys that you root for and at the end of the day, I put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, into the minor-leagues to get into the bigs and play next to these guys. To see their dreams come true, it’s amazing.”

As the Dodgers head into the 2021 season coming off their first World Series title since 1988, Verdugo hopes the Red Sox can meet them in the Fall Classic once more to get a little retribution sometime in the near future.

“Now, it’s just, hopefully we see them and we get to beat them and get a little satisfaction that way,” said Verdugo.

(Picture of Alex Verdugo: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)