Red Sox top prospect Marcelo Mayer is ‘eager to take his game to the next level’

He may not be one of the 28 players participating in the team’s Winter Warm-Up program this week, but things are still looking up for top Red Sox prospect Marcelo Mayer heading into the 2022 season.

Last Wednesday, Mayer was recognized by Baseball America the No. 15 prospect in the game. The following day, Baseball Prospectus listed Mayer as their 17th-ranked prospect. He was already identified by MLB Pipeline as the ninth-best prospect in baseball to close out 2021.

Mayer, who turned 19 last month, is coming off his introductory course to pro ball. The Red Sox, of course, selected the Chula Vista, Calif. native with the fourth overall pick in last summer’s draft out of Eastlake High School.

Faced with the pressure of being the highest Boston draft pick in more than 50 years, Mayer very easily could have chosen to honor his commitment to the University of Southern California rather than go pro in 2021. He instead decided to sign with the Sox and received a hefty $6.664 million bonus by doing so.

That Mayer was indeed signing with the Red Sox became significant news. After being paraded around Denver for All-Star Game festivities, he flew into Boston the following week to put pen to paper.

Before taking in a game between the Red Sox and Yankees at Fenway Park on July 22, the then-18-year-old signed his first professional contract and subsequently got his first taste of the big-leagues. He met Alex Cora, took batting practice, fielded groundballs alongside fellow shortstop Xander Bogaerts, and spoke to the Boston media.

“I know it’s going to be a lot of hard work,” he said at the time in regards to the journey ahead. “I’m going to do whatever I can to put myself in the best position and work my butt off.”

After leaving Boston and making the trek down south to Fort Myers, Mayer was officially assigned to and debuted for the Red Sox’ rookie-level Florida Complex League affiliate on August 5.

In the process of notching his first professional hit, home run, and stolen base, the left-handed hitting infielder slashed a solid .275/.377/.440 (121 wRC+) to go along with four doubles, one triple, three homers, 17 RBIs, 25 runs scored, seven stolen bases, 15 walks, and 27 strikeouts over 26 FCL games and 107 plate appearances.

Defensively, Mayer logged 177 2/3 innings at shortstop. The 6-foot-3, 188 pounder committed a total of 10 errors over that stretch while also recording 18 putouts and 42 assists and turning three double plays.

Off the field, Mayer made his impact felt by being a clubhouse leader who was fluent in both English and Spanish. The son of of a Mexican-born mother and Southern Californian-born father, the bilingual Mayer became someone international and domestic prospects could lean on.

“I’m able to get along with both of them and kind of unite them in a sense because there are kids that speak zero English and kids that speak zero Spanish,” Mayer told The Athletic’s Jen McCaffrey. “Being able to help them get along and interact with each other is pretty cool.”

Mayer continued to show the kind of person he is during the Red Sox’ fall instructional league program. There, in the JetBlue Park clubhouse, he could be seen chatting with fellow prospect and Dominican-born outfielder Miguel Bleis, among others.

“There are a lot guys that are bilingual, but not everybody gravitates toward them,” minor-league hitting coordinator Lance Zawadzki said. “So I think a big thing with him is character.”

Brian Abraham, the Sox’ director of player development, echoed the same sort of sentiment in a separate conversation with McCaffrey.

“He’s a natural leader,” stated Abraham. “Guys naturally gravitate to him, some of the young Latin American players who were there during instructional league as well as some of our domestic players, which is really special.”

Since fall instructs ended late last year, Mayer has been staying plenty busy this off-season. Between frequent visits to Fort Myers and check-ins from different Red Sox instructors regarding a variety of topics (including nutrition and strength and conditioning), the 19-year-old is ready to take 2022 head on.

“With how good he’s been, it’d be a whole lot easier to say, ‘I don’t need it or we’ll see what happens,’” Zawadzki said. “But he’s really been eager to take his game to the next level.”

Mayer is projected by SoxProspects.com to start the 2022 campaign out with Low-A Salem. The Red Sox will surely exhibit patience when it comes to managing development, but one thing is for certain: Mayer is looking forward to embarking upon his first full professional season.

“I’m super excited to finally get my first full season in,” he told McCaffrey. “I’m curious how it’s going to be because I honestly have no clue. I know it’s going to be like what I experienced (in the FCL), but probably at a different facility. I know night games, so that will be cool. I’m looking forward to starting my professional career.”

(Picture of Marcelo Mayer: Bryan Green/Flickr)

Red Sox’ Triston Casas on fellow top prospect Nick Yorke: ‘I know we’ll be teammates soon. He’ll catch up to me soon’

Despite being born and raised on opposite sides of the country, Triston Casas and Nick Yorke share something in common in that they are both former first-round draft picks of the Red Sox.

Casas, a Florida native, was selected by Boston in the first round of the 2018 amateur draft while Yorke, a California native, was selected by Boston in the first round of the 2020 amateur draft.

Both highly-touted prospects coming out of their respective high schools, the pair of young infielders first got to know each other at the Red Sox’ alternate training site in Pawtucket during the final weeks of the compressed 2020 season.

Last year, each of Casas and Yorke received an invite to major-league spring training and the two became roommates in Fort Myers as a result.

While the duo went their separate ways and were assigned to different affiliates once minor-league camp broke in May, they both enjoyed great success on an individual level in 2021.

Casas, in what his his third professional season, split the year between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Worcester, though he needed to step away from affiliated ball for a few weeks over the summer to help Team USA win a silver medal in the Tokyo Olympics.

Across 86 games with the Sea Dogs and WooSox, Casas batted a respectable .279/.394/.484 to go along with 15 doubles, three triples, 14 home runs, 59 RBIs, 63 runs scored, seven stolen bases, 57 walks, and 71 strikeouts over 371 total plate appearances. The left-handed hitting first baseman also posted a .982 OPS in 21 games for the Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona Fall League.

Yorke, getting his first true taste of pro ball, initially got off to a slow start with Low-A Salem, but performed exceptionally enough there to earn a promotion to High-A Greenville in late August. Between the two Class-A levels, the right-handed hitting second baseman slashed an astounding .325/.412/.516 with 20 doubles, five triples, 14 homers, 62 RBIs, 76 runs scored, 13 stolen bases, 52 walks, and 69 strikeouts over 97 total games spanning 442 trips to the plate.

While receiving plenty of attention for what they did on the field over the course of the 2021 campaign, Casas and Yorke were both recently recognized by Baseball America as two of the top-40 prospects in the game heading into the 2022 season.

Subsequently, the Red Sox kicked off a weeklong minicamp at their Fenway South complex on Monday. This “Winter Warm-Up” program was implemented with the idea of getting a larger group of prospects and minor-leaguers into a warmer climate.

Of the 28 players who were invited to participate in this minicamp, Casas and Yorke obviously stick out as the headliners given their standing as two of the top prospects in Boston’s farm system.

With the opportunity to further their development, though, also comes the opportunity to build upon previously established relationships. Casas and Yorke are clearly close already, but are once again rooming up down in Southwest Florida.

Casas was among those who spoke with reporters on Wednesday. He seems to like playing with Yorke, noting that the two have “gravitated toward each other.”

There is a chance that Casas and Yorke are among those who stick around in Fort Myers until minor-league camp begins in full around mid-March.

While Casas, who turned 22 this month, is projected to begin the 2022 season with Worcester and Yorke, who turns 20 in April, is projected to begin the 2022 season with Greenville, the former is hopeful that he will be sharing the same infield with the latter before long.

“I know we’ll be teammates soon,” Casas said of Yorke. “He’ll catch up to me soon.”

(Picture of Triston Casas: Chris Bernacchi/Diamond Images via Getty Images)

Red Sox legend David Ortiz elected into Baseball Hall of Fame on first try

Red Sox legend David Ortiz has been elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America announced through MLB Network on Tuesday evening.

In his first year on the ballot, Ortiz received 307 — or 77.9% — of a possible 394 votes, just surpassing the 75% threshold needed to get inducted. The 46-year-old was the only player to be voted in by the writers this year.

Immediately trailing Ortiz on this year’s ballot were Barry Bonds (66%), Roger Clemens (65.2%), Scott Rolen (63.2%), and Curt Schilling (58.6%). All three of Bonds, Clemens, and Schilling were in their final year of eligibility and will therefore be removed from the writers’ ballot. Rolen, on the other hand, has five years of eligibility remaining.

Schilling, of course, was a former teammate of Ortiz’s. Other former Red Sox players on the ballot who came up short this year include Billy Wagner (51%), Manny Ramirez (28.9%), Jonathan Papelbon (1.3%), A.J. Pierzynski (0.5%), Carl Crawford (0%), and Jake Peavy (0%). Since they failed to receive at least 5% of the vote, Papelbon, Pierzynski, Crawford, and Peavy will also be removed from the writers’ ballot.

By being elected in the fashion he was on Tuesday, Ortiz becomes the fifth former Red Sox player to earn the title of first-ballot Hall of Famer and joins the likes of Pedro Martinez, Wade Boggs, Carl Yastrzemski, and Ted Williams in doing so.

Looking at the bigger picture, Ortiz will be the 58th player enshrined in Cooperstown who got voted in on their first try. He will also become the 38th former Sox player to be elected into the Hall of Fame and will be the 11th to don a Red Sox cap on his plaque.

Ortiz will be formally be inducted into the Hall at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown on July 24. He will be part of a seven-man class that also consists of Bud Fowler, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva and Buck O’Neil, all of whom were previously elected by the Veterans Committee.

A former international signee of the Mariners out of the Dominican Republic in 1992, Ortiz was traded to the Twins in 1996 and debuted with Minnesota the following September.

After spending six years with the Twins, Ortiz was released at the conclusion of the 2022 season and subsequently signed a one-year deal with the Red Sox leading up to the start of the 2023 campaign.

As a member of the Red Sox, Ortiz established himself as one of the most feared left-handed hitters in all of baseball. The vaunted slugger became one of the most clutch hitters in the sport over the course of his 14 seasons (2003-2006) with Boston.

For his regular season career, Ortiz as a lifetime .286/.380/.552 hitter who clubbed 541 home runs and collected 1,768 RBIs over 2,408 total games (10,091 plate appearances) while being named to 10 American League All-Star teams and winning seven Silver Slugger Awards.

When it came time to play October baseball, that is when the legend of “Big Papi” really began to grow. In 76 career postseason games with the Red Sox, Ortiz batted a ridiculous .291/.415/.560 with 17 home runs, 57 RBIs, and 51 runs scored.

In the process of helping the Red Sox win three World Series titles in 2004, 2007, and 2013, Ortiz earned ALCS MVP honors against the Yankees in ’04 and World Series MVP honors against the Cardinals in ’13.

In addition to these accolades, Ortiz also won two Hank Aaron Awards, set the Red Sox’ single-season home run record (54) in 2006, and hit a record 38 homers during his final season in 2016.

While his on-field accomplishments speak for themselves, Ortiz getting the call to the Hall during his first year on the ballot was far from a guarantee. Not only did Ortiz draw criticism for being an offense-first designated hitter for the majority of his career, but he also allegedly tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003.

That being said, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has since come to the defense of Ortiz, stating in 2016 that the veteran slugger may not have actually tested positive back then and that he did not test positive from 2004 on.

Regardless of that, though, Ortiz will nonetheless be immortalized in Cooperstown this summer. The Red Sox were already planning on officially inducting Ortiz into their own Hall of Fame this season, but it seems likely they will now have more in store for the franchise icon.

(Picture of David Ortiz: Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

Red Sox pitching prospect Chase Shugart ‘had a lot of success in Puerto Rico’ this winter, Brian Abraham says; ‘It was a really good experience for him’

Chase Shugart was one of several Red Sox minor-leaguers who spent part of their off-season playing winter ball outside of the United States.

Suiting up for Indios de Mayaguez of the Puerto Rican Winter League, Shugart posted a 2.84 ERA and 1.11 WHIP with nine strikeouts to two walks over five relief appearances spanning 6 1/3 innings of work during the regular season.

In the postseason, Shugart’s star shined even brighter. The right-handed pitching prospect allowed a total of one run on five hits, two walks, and nine strikeouts across six outings (6 1/3 innings pitched) out of the bullpen for Mayaguez. That’s good for an ERA of 1.42.

Prior to making the trek to Puerto Rico in December, Shugart had only been used as a starter since being drafted by the Red Sox in the 12th round of the 2018 amateur draft out of the University of Texas.

Last season alone, the 25-year-old pitched to the tune of a 4.78 ERA and 4.34 FIP to go along with 93 strikeouts to 24 walks over 22 starts (105 1/3 innings) for High-A Greenville.

Upon returning from Puerto Rico earlier this month, Shugart was one of 28 Red Sox minor-leaguers to receive an invite to the team’s weeklong Winter Warm-Up minicamp in Fort Myers.

That minicamp commenced at the Fenway South complex on Monday, and it also gave reporters (including MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith) an opportunity to speak with Sox director of player development Brian Abraham.

When asked about the long-term role of certain pitchers in the organization such as Shugart, Abraham seemed to indicate that Boston will attempt to maintain as much flexibility as they can moving forward.

“I think there’s still an opportunity to start, but I think ultimately we see him more as a bulk reliever type role,” Abraham said of Shugart. “He had a lot of success in Puerto Rico in the short amount of time he had down there. It was a really good experience for him based on the conversations we had with him today.”

Shugart, who is listed at 5-foot-10 and 198 pounds, is a four-pitch pitcher who operates with a fastball that hovers around 93-95 mph and tops out at 97 mph, a 74-80 mph curveball, an 81-84 mph slider, and an 84-87 mph changeup, per his SoxProspects.com scouting report.

While he may have only been used as a starter to this point in his professional career, Shugart does have experience in the bullpen that goes beyond what he did in Puerto Rico.

To begin his career at Texas, the Bridge City native pitched out of the bullpen during both his freshman and sophomore seasons before moving to the Longhorns’ starting rotation in 2018.

As Abraham alluded to in his conversation with the media on Monday, the Red Sox value relievers who can provide the club with multiple innings out of the bullpen when needed.

Given his history as a starting pitcher, Shugart could potentially fit that mold if he is going to become a reliever on a full-time basis. With that being said, Shugart is projected by SoxProspects.com to begin the 2022 minor-league season in Double-A Portland’s bullpen.

(Picture of Chase Shugart via his Instagram)

How did Red Sox wind up signing Venezuelan shortstop prospect Marvin Alcantara? Eddie Romero explains

According to Baseball America, the Red Sox have signed 16 international free agents since the 2022 signing window opened last Saturday.

Among the 16 prospects signed thus far, Dominican shortstops Fraymi de Leon and Freili Encarnacion and Venezuelan catcher Johanfran Garcia stick out as the headliners since they received attention from either Baseball America or MLB Pipeline.

With that being said, though, there may be another shortstop the Red Sox signed out of Venezuela who is worthy of some recognition as well. His name? Marvin Alcantara.

In a recent conversation with The Athletic’s Chad Jennings, Red Sox executive vice president and assistant general manager Eddie Romero identified Alcantara as someone that was not necessarily getting a ton of attention from other teams, but was still doing some eye-opening things on the field.

More specifically, it was the team’s Venezuelan area scout — Alex Requena — who made the case for Boston to sign Alcantara. Requena, per Romero, saw that Alcantara was a confident infielder who made solid contact at the plate, was an average runner on the base paths, and had the ability to play shortstop and second base if needed.

“Just pounding the table for him,” Romero said of Requena’s interest in Alcantara when speaking with Jennings. “He’s one of these guys that the crosscheck group really didn’t get to see much, but he made it to signing day and our area scout was just like, ‘You need to sign this guy!’”

And so the Red Sox did sign Alcantara for a reported $30,000, according to MLB.com. The right-handed hitter is one of eight prospects Boston has added out of Venezuela so far this winter.

As noted by Jennings, however, the $30,000 Alcantara has reportedly signed for represents less than 0.6 percent of the $5,179,700 in signing bonus pool space the Sox have to work with this year. The signing period opened on January 15 and does not close until mid-December.

“The signing class isn’t made on January 15,” said Romero. “The signing class is really made throughout the year when you have some more of these flexible signings. … We hammer the passed over and the (overlooked players) just as much as we do trying to make sure we’re on top of the premium, priority players in each class.”

The Red Sox will hope the modest price they paid for Alcantara’s services will prove to be even more of a bargain in the long run. In the interim, the 17-year-old is projected by SoxProspects.com to begin the 2022 season — and his professional career — in the Dominican Summer League.

(Picture of Eddie Romero: Angela Rowlings/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

Red Sox first base coach Ramón Vázquez leads Criollos de Caguas to second straight Puerto Rican Winter League title

Red Sox first base coach Ramon Vazquez made some history on Thursday night by becoming just the third manager to ever win four titles in the Puerto Rican Winter League (Liga de Béisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente).

Vazquez’s Criollos de Caguas took down Indios de Mayaguez by a final score of 4-3 at Estadio Isidoro “Cholo” García on Thursday to win the best-of-seven championship series four games to one.

This marks the second straight year in which Caguas have come out on top in Puerto Rico. The back-to-back national titles brings their total up to 20, which is the most among teams in the LBPRC.

Alex Cora, of course, hails from Caguas, so it is safe to assume the Red Sox manager is proud of what his hometown team accomplished on Thursday.

Vazquez himself has been at the helm of Criollos for the most recent pair of those 20 championships. He previously won two titles as manager of Cangrejeros de Santurce in 2015-2016 and 2018-2019.

A veteran of nine major-league seasons, Vazquez originally joined Cora’s coaching staff in Boston in November 2017. After serving as a coach and interpreter through his first three years with the club, the Aibonito native was named quality control coach/interpreter upon Cora’s re-hiring in Nov. 2020.

Last season, Vazquez shifted from quality control coach to first base coach when it was revealed that unvaccinated individuals such as Tom Goodwin would not be granted on-field access during the playoffs.

Goodwin, who had served as Boston’s first base coach since 2018, was relieved of his duties in October. Two months later, the Red Sox announced that Vazquez would be taking over as first base coach on a full-time basis and that he would also be responsible for coordinating the team’s base-running instruction.

Now 45 years old, Vazquez is about to embark upon his fifth season as an integral member of the Red Sox coaching staff. Before that, though, he will be representing his home island of Puerto Rico in the 2022 Caribbean Series.

The tournament, which begins next Friday and runs through February 3, will feature winter league champions from Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Panama, Colombia, and host nation Dominican Republic.

Criollos de Caguas have won five Caribbean Series titles in their storied history. They most recently finished as the runner-ups behind Aguilas Cibaenas of the Dominican Winter League last year.

(Picture of Ramon Vazquez: Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

Red Sox’ Brayan Bello nearly made Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list

Four Red Sox prospects were included in Baseball America’s top 100 rankings heading into the 2022 season earlier this week. It turns out another Sox prospect nearly made the cut and joined the likes of Marcelo Mayer, Triston Casas, Nick Yorke, and Jarren Duran as well.

According to Baseball America’s Geoff Pontes, Red Sox pitching prospect Brayan Bello was one of 15 minor-leaguers who finished just outside the publication’s top 100 list.

Bello, 22, is undoubtedly the top pitching prospect in Boston’s farm system and comes into the 2022 season ranked by Baseball America as the No. 5 overall prospect in the organization.

Last spring, Bello broke minor-league camp as a member of High-A Greenville’s starting rotation. The young right-hander posted a 2.27 ERA and 2.82 FIP to go along with 45 strikeouts to seven walks over six starts (31 2/3 innings pitched) for the Drive before earning a promotion to Double-A Portland in early June.

With the Sea Dogs, Bello pitched to the tune of a 4.66 ERA — but much more respectable 3.12 FIP — while recording 87 strikeouts and 24 walks across 15 starts spanning 63 2/3 innings of work. He also represented the Red Sox in the All-Star Futures Game at Coors Field in July and was later named the team’s minor-league starting pitcher of the year.

Originally signed out of the Dominican Republic for just $28,000 back in 2017, Bello was recently identified by MLB Pipeline as the top international prospect in Boston’s ranks.

As Pontes wrote on Friday, “few pitchers on the Top 100 miss as many bats with their secondaries as Bello. Both his plus slider and developing changeup generate whiffs at a plus rate, and his four-seam fastball sits 95-98 mph consistently. A true power pitcher, Bello fits into the tweener profile of a starting pitching prospect that could excel in a high-leverage bullpen role.”

Bello, who is listed at 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds, will turn 23 years old in May. He was added to the Sox’ 40-man roster in November in order to receive protection from the Rule 5 Draft, but has not been allowed to be in contact with the club due to the MLB lockout.

That being said, Bello is projected to begin the 2022 campaign with Portland, though “a late-season major league debut with the Red Sox is very much a possibility.” On top of that, Pontes hints that the Samana native could pitch his way into BA’s top 100 if he continues to refine his command.

Besides Bello, other Red Sox prospects who could land on Baseball America’s top 100 list this year include fellow right-handers Josh Winckowski and Wilkelman Gonzalez and infielders Blaze Jordan and Jeter Downs.

(Picture of Brayan Bello: Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

Red Sox unveil roster for Winter Warm-Up minicamp in Fort Myers; Triston Casas and Nick Yorke among prospects who will be in attendance

Beginning next week, the Red Sox will be running a minicamp for minor-leaguers who are not currently on the club’s 40-man roster.

This mini-camp, which is otherwise known as the Winter Warm-Up, essentially serves as precursor to spring training. It will consist of strength training, conditioning, and on- and off-field instruction and will be held at the Fenway South complex in Fort Myers.

On Thursday evening, the Sox revealed who will be attending this mini-camp. The contingent heading down to Southwest Florida consists of 28 players — 12 pitchers, four catchers, nine infielders, and three outfielders.

Breaking down the 28-man pool even further, the pitchers who will be participating include left-handers Brendan Cellucci, Austin Lambright, Chris Murphy, Brandon Walter, and Jeremy Wu-Yelland, and right-handers Michael Feliz, Franklin German, Brian Keller, Zack Kelly, A.J. Politi, Chase Shugart, and Thaddeus Ward.

The group of catchers attending includes Kole Cottam, Jaxx Groshans, Nathan Hickey, and Stephen Scott. The infielders who will be going are Alex Binelas, Brainer Bonaci, Triston Casas, David Hamilton, Blaze Jordan, Christian Koss, Matthew Lugo, Ceddanne Rafaela, and Nick Yorke.

The outfield composition, on the other hand, will be made up of the likes of Tyler Dearden, Nick Decker, and Gilberto Jimenez.

Of these 28 players, Feliz is the only one with prior major-league experience. The Red Sox re-signed the right-handed reliever to a minor-league deal back in December and invited him to big-league spring training. The same can be said for a fellow righty in Kelly as well.

Additionally, four of the players identified above (excluding Feliz) were acquired by the Red Sox just last month. Binelas and Hamilton were the two prospects Boston picked up alongside Jackie Bradley Jr. in the trade that sent Hunter Renfroe to the Brewers, and Lambright and Keller were the two pitchers they selected in the minor-league phase of the Rule 5 Draft.

Besides that, the likes of Casas, Jordan, Yorke, and Jimenez represent just a few of the well-regarded prospects in the Red Sox farm system who will be at this minicamp.

As noted by SoxProspects.com’s Chris Hatfield, the idea of the Winter Warm-up is to include players who have already made it to full-season ball, which is why someone like Marcelo Mayer — who only played in the Florida Complex League last year — was not included.

On top of that, prospects on Boston’s 40-man roster — such as Brayan Bello, Kutter Crawford, Jay Groome, Bryan Mata, Connor Seabold, Josh Winckowski, Ronaldo Hernandez, Connor Wong, Jeter Downs, Hudson Potts, Jarren Duran, and Jeisson Rosario — cannot attend on account of the MLB lockout.

With that being said, The Athletic’s Jen McCaffrey writes that the group of players who will be in Fort Myers will be receiving on-hand instruction from the Red Sox’ minor-league coaching and player development staff.

Katie Krall, who was recently hired as a development coach for the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs, will be among the staff members in attendance as they plan ahead for the 2022 season.

(Picture of Triston Casas: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Former Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo signs minor-league deal with Nationals

Former Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo is returning to the United States, as he has signed a minor-league contract with the Washington Nationals, per the team’s transaction log. It does not appear as though the deal includes an invite to major-league spring training.

Castillo, 34, spent the 2021 season in Japan after signing a one-year, $650,000 contract with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball last January.

In 33 games with the Golden Eagles, the right-handed hitter batted .225/.282/.276 with one double, one home run, three RBIs, four runs scored, four walks, and 17 strikeouts over 76 plate appearances. He also appeared in 17 games with Rakuten’s farm team of Japan’s Eastern League.

More recently, Castillo suited up for Naranjeros de Hermosillo of the Mexican Pacific Winter League this off-season and posted an OPS of .727 in 13 games (60 plate appearances) with the club.

A native of Ciego de Avila, Cuba, Castillo famously signed with the Red Sox as a highly-coveted international free agent in August 2014. Touted as one of the top players available at the time, Castillo — then 27 years old — inked a lucrative seven-year, $72.5 million deal with Boston.

That blockbuster contract proved to not work out for both player and team. Castillo debuted for the Sox in late September of the 2014 season and showed promise by slashing .333/.400/.528 with two homers and six RBIs over the course of a brief 10-game sample.

The following year, Castillo was recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket for the first time in late May. He was sent back down in June, but spent the rest of the season in the majors after getting called up again in late July, though he did so while struggling to the tune of a .647 OPS.

Less than halfway into the 2016 campaign, Castillo was outrighted off Boston’s 40-man roster on June 20 after clearing waivers. He made his first Opening Day roster and appeared in just nine games with the Sox that season. It goes without saying that the decision to take him off the 40-man roster was an impactful one.

That being the case because Castillo played out the rest of his contract in the minor-leagues as a result of Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement at that time. Since he was not on the 40-man roster, Castillo’s salary did not count against the Red Sox’ luxury tax threshold. Were he to be added to the 40-man again, the remainder of his contract would then count against the threshold.

Financially speaking, having Castillo on the 40-man roster was not in the Sox’ best interest. And despite providing solid production for the PawSox and receiving regular invites to big-league camp in the spring, Castillo became a free agent at the conclusion of the 2020 season after going more than four years without an MLB plate appearance.

All told, Castillo hit an underwhelming .262/.301/.379 to go along with 12 doubles, two triples, seven home runs, 35 RBIs, 45 runs scored, seven stolen bases, 16 walks, and 63 strikeouts across 99 games (337 plate appearances) in his three seasons with the Red Sox.

Now, Castillo will look to find his footing in the United States once more. The 5-foot-9, 205 pounder turns 35 in July and could provide the Nationals with some intriguing veteran outfield depth in the upper-minors for the 2022 season.

(Picture of Rusney Castillo: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

4 Red Sox prospects recognized in Baseball America’s top 100 rankings heading into 2022 season

The Red Sox have four of the top 100 prospects in baseball, according to the preseason rankings Baseball America released on Wednesday.

Of the 100 players who were selected, Red Sox prospects such as shortstop Marcelo Mayer (No. 15), first baseman Triston Casas (No. 19), second baseman Nick Yorke (No. 31), and outfielder Jarren Duran (No. 91) all made the cut.

Mayer, 19, was Boston’s top selection in last summer’s draft. The Eastlake High School (Chula Vista, Calif.) product was taken with the fourth overall pick and ultimately signed with the Sox for $6.64 million as opposed to honoring his commitment to the University of Southern California.

After being assigned to the rookie-level Florida Complex League Red Sox out of the gate, Mayer got his pro career off to a solid start. The right-handed hitting infielder slashed .275/.377/.440 with four doubles, one triple, three home runs, 17 RBIs, 25 runs scored, seven stolen bases, 15 walks, and 27 strikeouts over 26 games (107 plate appearances) in the FCL.

Casas, 22, became Boston’s top selection in the 2018 draft when the club took him with the 26th overall pick out of American Heritage High School (Plantation, Fla.).

The 2021 season proved to be an eventful one for Casas, who played at two different minor-league levels, for Team USA in the Tokyo Olympics, and for the Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona Fall League.

Between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Worcester last year, the left-handed slugger batted a stout .279/.394/.484 to go along with 15 doubles, three triples, 14 home runs, 59 RBIs, 63 runs scored, seven stolen bases, 57 walks, and 71 strikeouts over 86 games spanning 371 trips to the plate. Elsewhere, he was recognized as the top first baseman in the Summer Games as well as an Arizona Fall League All-Star.

This is not the first time Casas has been recognized by Baseball America as one of the game’s top prospect. In fact, the 6-foot-4, 252 pounder has effectively been one of — if not the best prospect in the Sox’ farm system since joining the organization and could very well make his big-league debut at some point in 2022.

The same cannot be said for Yorke, who is fresh off his first full season in pro ball after being taken by the Red Sox with the 17th overall selection in the shortened 2020 draft out of Archbishop Mitty High School (San Jose, Calif).

At that time, Boston’s selection of Yorke was met with much surprise since the infielder was not regarded as one of the country’s top draft-eligible prospects. It now appears as though the Red Sox made a smart decision by drafting Yorke when they did.

After drawing praise from the likes of Alex Cora throughout spring training, Yorke initially got off to a slow start with Low-A Salem, but he turned things around and wound up tearing the cover off the ball across both Class-A levels in 2021.

In 97 total games between Salem and High-A Greenville, the right-handed hitting 19-year-old slashed a scorching .325/.412/.516 with 20 doubles, five triples, 14 homers, 62 runs driven in, 76 runs scored, 13 stolen bases, 52 walks, and 69 strikeouts over 442 plate appearances.

Finally, we arrive at Duran, the lone Red Sox prospect on this last who was not selected by the club in the first round of his respective draft. He was instead taken in the seventh round of the 2018 draft and opened the 2021 season in Worcester.

Duran got off to a hot start with the WooSox as he batted .270/.365/.561 (144 wRC+) through his first 46 games (219 plate appearances at the Triple-A level. That impressive stretch resulted in his first big-league call-up in mid-July, though he struggled to make the most of that opportunity.

In his two stints with the Red Sox, the speedy 25-year-old hit an underwhelming .215/.241/.336 with three doubles, two triples, two home runs, 10 RBI, 17 runs scored, two stolen bases, four walks, and 40 strikeouts over 33 games and 112 plate appearances. He was placed on the COVID-19 related injured list on September 3 after testing positive for the virus and did not appear in another major-league contest.

Despite the disappointing debut, there is still plenty of upside with Duran, and his speed has plenty to do with that. With that being said though, the Red Sox’ outfield picture is already quite crowded at the moment, so it may be difficult for the left-handed hitter to find consistent playing time in Boston to begin the 2022 season.

According to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier, this is the first time since 2016 in which Baseball America has included at least four Red Sox prospects in its preseason top-100 list. Heading into the 2016 season, the likes of Yoan Moncada, Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, Anderson Espinoza, and Michael Kopech were among the publication’s top 100.

The fact that the Red Sox have as many as four prospects featured in Baseball America’s top-100 list speaks to how much the team’s farm system has improved since Chaim Bloom was named chief baseball officer in October 2019.

Given how all four of Mayer, Casas, Yorke, and Duran were drafted by the Sox, it also speaks to how well-run the club’s amateur scouting department is run. Vice president of scouting Mike Rikard can be credited with the selections of Casas and Duran, while director of amateur scouting Paul Toboni can be credited with the selections of Mayer and Yorke.

Of course, the area scouts who initially scouted these prospects when they were still amateurs deserve recognition as well. J.J. Altobelli is credited with signing Mayer, Willie Romay is credited with signing Casas, Josh Labandeira is credited with signing Yorke, and Justin Horowitz is credited with signing Duran.

(Picture of Marcelo Mayer: John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)