Longtime Red Sox farmhand Jantzen Witte signs minor-league deal with Mariners

Lost in the madness that saw Francisco Lindor get traded to the Mets and Tomoyuki Sugano return to Japan, former Red Sox farmhand Jantzen Witte signed a minor-league contract with the Seattle Mariners on Thursday night.

Witte, who turned 31 on Monday, was originally selected by Boston in the 24th round of the 2013 amateur draft out of Texas Christian University.

Before the 2020 minor-league season was lost due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the infielder had put together a solid 2019 campaign between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket.

Over 118 total games with both clubs, Witte posted a .271/.333/.390 slash line to go along with nine home runs and 51 RBI on the year while seeing time at first base, second base, third base, left field, and even an inning of mop-up duty on the mound.

Perhaps even more important than his play on the field, though, is the fact that the Dallas-area native had proven to be a vital veteran presence for some of the organization’s younger minor-leaguers. And he did so while seemingly being on the cusp of getting called up to the majors.

The Athletic’s Chad Jennings highlighted this trait of Witte’s in a fascinating story back in March, in the middle of the first version of spring training.

“He’s a freaking really good player,” Red Sox prospect Bobby Dalbec said of Witte, his spring training roommate, when speaking to Jennings. “And he’s a glue guy for a clubhouse. So, those guys are special … He’s a really good balance of care-free, but still getting his shit done when he needs to get his shit done. Never says a mean thing.”

In addition to Dalbec, Sox minor-leaguers such as Josh Ockimey, C.J. Chatham, and Chad De La Guerra, all of whom have shared the infield with Witte at one point in their professional careers, had positive things to say about their teammate as well.

Ockimey: “(Coaches) always talk about how to be a professional. But it’s different when you have a guy like him to show you how to be a professional.”

Chatham: “He’s the guy you go to when you’re not sure if something is right or wrong. There’s little things in baseball that can annoy people that (you don’t know) when you’re young. You just ask him, and he always has the right answer.”

De La Guerra: “I think he’s probably the biggest clubhouse guy, the most important one, for Pawtucket. He’s super popular. I think everybody sees him the same way. He’s just one of those guys. He’s probably even seen the same as the coaching staff. There’s no difference.”

Before becoming a minor-league free agent in November, Witte was one of the last members of the Red Sox’ 2013 draft class who was still with the organization, as noted by SoxProspects.com’s Chris Hatfield.

Witte originally signed with Boston for significantly less than $100,000 as a fifth-year senior out of TCU. He appeared in 661 games across six minor-league levels spanning seven seasons as a member of the Red Sox.

All the best to Witte as he embarks on this new chapter of his career with the Mariners. It would appear that he will have the opportunity to remain in the game even after his playing days come to an end.

(Photo of Jantzen Witte: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Could Red Sox trade Bobby Dalbec in order to upgrade pitching staff?

Could the Red Sox trade power-hitting prospect Bobby Dalbec sometime between now and next season’s trade deadline?

After putting up ridiculous home run numbers in his inaugural season with Boston this year, Dalbec being dealt seems unlikely. However, in a recent article for MLB.com, MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis, Jonathan Mayo, and Mike Rosenbaum identified the 25-year-old as a prospect the Sox could trade:

Dalbec’s power, arm and third-base defense are assets, and he homered eight times in 80 at-bats during his big league debut this summer. He could be part of the Red Sox’s future, but he’s also blocked by Rafael Devers at third base and could be used to acquire some much-needed pitching.

Called up from the alternate training site in late August, Dalbec burst onto the scene at the major-league level almost immediately. In 23 games played, the former fourth-round draft pick slashed .263/.359/.600 (152 wRC+) to go along with eight home runs and 16 RBI over 92 plate appearances. In terms of isolated power (.338), he was the Sox’ most dangerous hitter from August 30 through the end of September, per FanGraphs.

All that being said, Dalbec’s success didn’t come without its deterrents. The University of Arizona product punched out 39 times in his 92 plate appearances (42.4 K%), good for the highest strikeout rate among qualified major-league rookies. He still managed to boast a .359 on-base percentage despite all the swings-and-misses, but those strikeout numbers are nonetheless still concerning.

Seeing how this was his first taste of Major League Baseball, the Red Sox could sell high on Dalbec this winter if they so choose. As mentioned in the excerpt above, the right-handed hitting infielde is naturally a third baseman, and he is currently blocked at that position by Rafael Devers, hence the move over to first base.

Of course, one could make the argument that Dalbec established himself as Boston’s everyday first baseman moving forward thanks to what he did at the plate this past season.

With Dalbec, there comes roster flexibility as well, or more specifically, the ability to play both corner infield positions at a quality level defensively. Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said as much about Dalbec last month.

“With Bobby, we want to be able to maintain his ability to play both [corner infield] positions,” said Bloom. “I think the versatility is going to be great for him. That could be important on day one or it could be important in a year or two years. The fact that he is capable [of playing third] is huge. You never want somebody who has the ability to play other positions to be pigeonholed at first base.”

It would appear that Bloom is high on Dalbec, who will enter the 2021 season looking to graduate from his top prospect status.

The Red Sox may be a team in need of starting pitching and bullpen help, that much is true. But is it worth subtracting from the major-league roster in order to make that happen? Is filling one hole in the club’s roster makeup worth creating another one?

Sure, there are options, internal and external, who could take Dalbec’s place and play first base for the Sox. However, as the team enters the next stage of its rebuild/transition process under Bloom, Dalbec should be the primary guy at that position for 2021 and maybe even beyond.

Red Sox’ Chaim Bloom values Bobby Dalbec’s versatility, is still confident in Rafael Devers’ defensive abilities at third base

Since making his major-league debut in 2017, Rafael Devers has tried to prove that he is capable of being a competent third baseman defensively, but has struggled thus far in doing so.

This past season alone, the 24-year-old logged 475 innings at the hot corner and was worth -6 defensive runs saved (DRS), the worst mark among qualified American League third baseman, according to FanGraphs.

Devers’ defensive difficulties have led to speculation that the Dominican-born slugger could eventually move over to first base, especially now with the emergence of Bobby Dalbec.

Dalbec, who was called up for the first time in late August and saw the majority of his playing time come at first, is capable of playing both corner infield positions adequately, and the Red Sox certainly value his versatility moving forward.

That being said, don’t expect Devers and Dalbec to swap primary positions anytime soon, as Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom still has faith in the former’s abilities with the glove.

“We know Raffy is capable of a lot more than he showed in 2020,” Bloom said when speaking to reporters via Zoom Wednesday. “I think he knows that. Everybody who has seen him knows that. You guys know the bond Alex [Cora] has with him, and that is already something we’ve discussed in making sure that we’re doing everything we can to help him be in position to play a really good third base, as he has done in the past.

“I think the early indications, from the offseason, are that Raffy is preparing himself to do that,” added Bloom. “It was obviously a tough summer. The way the season started back up, he never really got going — he was never really in-sync defensively. He knows that, and now with an offseason ahead of us, we’re really optimistic that he’s going to come into the spring looking very different.”

Despite the hardships Devers endured at third base this past season, he still enjoyed moderate success at the plate as highlighted by his .845 OPS for the month of September.

With Cora back in the fold as Red Sox manager, Devers could in theory return to his 2019 form in which he led the American League in doubles (54) and total bases (359) while finishing 12th in MVP voting.

As for Dalbec, here’s what Bloom had to say about the 25-year-old former top prospect who looks primed to make his first career Opening Day roster next spring:

“With Bobby, we want to be able to maintain his ability to play both [corner infield] positions. I think the versatility is going to be great for him. That could be important on day one or it could be important in a year or two years. The fact that he is capable [of playing third] is huge. You never want somebody who has the ability to play other positions to be pigeonholed at first base.”

Per FanGraphs, Dalbec accrued 175 2/3 innings at first base and 15 innings at third base over the course of his rookie season. The former fourth-round draft pick made three errors, all of which came at first. He also hit eight home runs in 23 games, which equates to 56 homers over 162 contests.

Red Sox Rookie Bobby Dalbec Has Call of Duty To Thank for Tight Relationship With J.D. Martinez

J.D. Martinez is leaning towards not opting out of his current contract and remaining with the Red Sox for the 2021 season. The 33-year-old slugger made that much clear when speaking to reporters via Zoom on Friday.

While alluding to the notion that he will remain with the Sox next year, Martinez also had some kind words for a teammate who could emerge as a legitimate major-league slugger himself. That teammate’s name? Bobby Dalbec.

“He’s definitely got some tools,” Martinez said of the 25-year-old rookie. “He’s a really good kid, always asking questions, very humble, very quiet. He’s got a lot of power. I could see him being an impact [bat] in this lineup for the future, definitely sticking around.”

After making his big-league debut at the end of August, Dalbec came into Saturday with a .274/.361/.603 slash line to go along with seven home runs and 14 RBI through 21 games and 83 plate appearances thus far.

In those 83 plate appearances, the University of Arizona product has struck out 43.4% of the time, which according to FanGraphs is the highest rate among American League rookies who have accrued at least 80 trips to the plate. Getting that strikeout rate down is something Dalbec will need to improve upon as he prepares for his first full major-league season, and Martinez knows that.

“He’s going to have to make adjustments,” Martinez added. “I know he is, just because that’s the league. Once this league makes adjustments on you, that’s the biggest test, if the hitter can make the adjustment back. That’s when you find out, to me personally, if guys can stick around in the big leagues or not.”

Despite punching out at a rather high clip, Dalbec still manages to get on base frequently, as his walk rate (10.8%) and on-base percentage (.361) ranks fifth among AL rookies with 80 or more PAs this season.

“Talent-wise, I don’t see any reason why [Dalbec] can’t be an impact bat,” said Martinez. “You see what he’s been able to do in a short period of time.”

In his brief stint with Boston since his promotion on August 30, Dalbec has made sure to absorb as much useful information from veterans like Martinez, which is something he started doing while at Triple-A Pawtucket in 2019.

“We always talk,” Martinez said in regards to his relationship with Dalbec. “We got close because we used to play Call of Duty together. We used to play Zombies on Call of Duty all the time… and he’d always ask me questions while we played video games. Once he came up here, or even when he was in Triple-A, he would text me about stuff he was struggling with, certain pitchers, certain pitch types, he would talk to me. Up here, it’s been kind of the same thing. He comes to me about pitchers all the time and what I think about certain moves, what I think about certain ideas.”

If Martinez does indeed remain with the Red Sox going into the 2021 campaign, how he interacts with and/or mentors Dalbec certainly could be something to keep an eye on as soon as spring training begins in February.

Red Sox Call up Top Prospect Bobby Dalbec From Pawtucket

In the wake of trading Mitch Moreland to the Padres, the Red Sox are calling up top prospect Bobby Dalbec, manager Ron Roenicke announced Sunday.

Dalbec, who is regarded by MLB Pipeline as Boston’s No. 3 prospect behind only Jeter Downs and Triston Casas, could be in Sunday’s starting lineup against the Nationals depending on what time he arrives at Fenway Park from Pawtucket.

The 25-year-old corner infielder was originally drafted by Boston in the fourth round of the 2016 amateur draft out of the University of Arizona and in that time has established himself as one of the most dangerous power hitters in the organization.

In 135 games between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket last season, Dalbec slashed .239/.356/.460 while clubbing 27 home runs and collecting 73 RBI. As was the case when he was in the minor-leagues, the Washington native will be competing with Michael Chavis for playing time at first base. Roenicke is very much looking forward to that.

“I think it’s really important to see the possibility of what the future could look like,” Roenicke said of Dalbec. “Getting Bobby up here, who has been a guy who has been on our radar for a long time as one of our top prospects. Knowing the upside to what we think this guy can become. I think it’s important to see him, to see what he can do, and for him also to get comfortable with being in the big leagues. It’s still a weird atmosphere. It’s not the same as it was. I still think the atmosphere, knowing you’re in the big leagues will be important to him.”

Could Michael Chavis Be at Risk of Losing Spot on Red Sox Roster?

Major-league rosters across baseball on Thursday will shrink down from 30 players to 28 players for the remainder of the 2020 season, meaning most clubs will have to demote two players from their active rosters within the next 24 hours.

The Red Sox, of course, are no exception to this rule, and will be subject to doing the same on Thursday, which just so happens to be an off-day for the last-place club.

That being said, a team averaging just over 4.2 runs per game through its first 11 games of the season may be willing to shake things up offensively, and in order to do that, a player struggling at the plate may have to take a back seat for the time being. That player, in this scenario, is Michael Chavis.

Fresh off making his first career Opening Day roster last month, Chavis has gotten his first full season in the majors off to a dreadful start. Through seven games played, six of which have been starts, the 24-year-old is 3-for-his-first-21 at the plate, resulting in a dismal .143/.182/.286 slash line to go along with just one home run and one RBI thus far.

In those 21 at-bats, or 22 plate appearances to be more specific, Chavis has struck out nearly 41% of the time, which according to FanGraphs is the sixth-highest mark in the American League among hitters who have accrued at least 20 plate appearances at this point in the season.

On top of that, the former first-round pick has the second-highest swing-and-miss rate (22.5%) in the junior circuit behind only White Sox rookie phenom Luis Robert (26.2%).

Long story short, Chavis, who still has three minor-league options remaining on his current contract, seems like the “perfect” candidate to get sent down to the Red Sox’ alternate training site in Pawtucket so that he can sort some things out in a less stressful environment.

In the meantime, the Sox have some things to figure out themselves in terms of roster construction at the major-league level. Top prospect Bobby Dalbec, who has fully recovered from his asymptomatic bout with COVID-19, is “swinging the bat better all the time” while playing in intrasquad games in Pawtucket, according to Boston manager Ron Roenicke.

“[It’s] still hard to tell because they aren’t real games that they’re playing in,” Roenicke said of Dalbec’s performance. “We just get reports on how he does and hopefully that translates into, if you need to, good at-bats in the game.”

Swapping Chavis for Dalbec does not seem too far out of the realm of possibilities for the Sox seeing how the latter can play both corner infield positions relatively well. Then again, a straight swap wouldn’t mean as much with roster sizes shrinking down to 28 players on Thursday.

All in all, whether it is Chavis or another pair of players that get demoted, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. certainly have their work cut out for them over the next few hours.

Red Sox Top Prospect Bobby Dalbec Joins Club’s Taxi Squad in Tampa Bay for Series Against Rays

Top prospect Bobby Dalbec has joined the Red Sox for the final leg of their seven-game road trip in Tampa Bay this week, although the 25-year-old will be part of the club’s taxi squad, not their active roster, according to ABC6’s Ian Steele and The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier.

This news comes as Dalbec was not present at the Sox’ alternate training site in Pawtucket on Monday, as he was likely on a flight to St. Petersburg instead.

Regarded by MLB Pipeline as Boston’s No. 3 prospect, the 6-foot-4, 227 lb. corner infielder was cleared to return to baseball activities last month after a bout with COVID-19 in which he never experienced any symptoms. He was added to the Sox’ 60-man player pool on July 17 and unlike Darwinzon Hernandez, Eduardo Rodriguez, or Josh Taylor, avoided a stint on the injured list.

Originally taken by the Sox in the fourth round of the 2016 amateur draft out of The University of Arizona, Dalbec, a native of Washington state, has emerged as one of the top power-hitting prospects in the organization. Just last season, he slugged 27 home runs in 135 total games between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket.

Already a member of Boston’s 40-man roster, Dalbec will not accrue any service time while he is “up” with the club’s taxi squad, but as was the case last September, the right-handed hitter will be able to familiarize himself with the big-league environment once more.

He’ll have to wait a little bit longer to make his major-league debut, but I would have to think Dalbec’s time is coming relatively soon.

Top Red Sox Pitching Prospect Bryan Mata Impresses in Sim Game in Pawtucket

Before the Red Sox endured more pitching troubles in a 5-1 loss to the Yankees on Friday night, one of the organization’s top pitching prospects impressed in a simulated game that took place about 180 miles northeast of Yankee Stadium at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, RI.

There, at the Sox’ alternate training site, Bryan Mata recorded three strikeouts (two looking, one swinging) and one walk over two scoreless innings of work against other players in Boston’s 60-man player pool.

Per SoxProspects’ Ian Cundall, the 21-year-old right-hander “faced seven hitters overall” while “mix[ing] in all of his pitches.”

Bobby Dalbec, another top prospect in Boston’s farm system and a member of the player pool, was on hand to watch Mata work. And although the 25-year-old slugger did not hit against him on Friday, he did say that Mata “had electric stuff.”

Regarded by MLB Pipeline as Boston’s top pitching prospect and No. 4 overall prospect, Mata originally signed with the Sox for $25,000 out of Venezuela as a 16-year-old back in January 2016.

Between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland last season, Mata posted a 3.43 ERA and .237 batting average against over 21 games started and 105 total innings of work.

At one time Boston’s lone representative in the 2018 All-Star Futures Game in Washington, D.C., Mata has filled out considerably since then and is now listed at 6-foot-3 and 240 lbs.

Based off his SoxProspects scouting report, the righty throws from a three-quarters arm slot and works with a pitch mix that includes a 94-96 mph fastball that tops out at 98 mph, an 86-90 mph cutter, a 78-80 mph curveball, and an 84-86 mph changeup.

Given the current state Red Sox pitching is in at the major-league level, Mata is one of several potential candidates who could start games for Boston at some point this season. Of course, like fellow right-handed prospect Tanner Houck, he would need to be added to the Sox’ 40-man roster before that can happen.

Still, as is the case with Houck, Mata is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft later this year, so he would need to be added to Boston’s 40-man roster by late November in order to be protected from that.

With that in mind, if the Red Sox are out of contention come late August or early September, it may be in Chaim Bloom and Co.’s best interest to give guys like Mata, Houck, and even Kyle Hart, who is on the 40-man roster, looks at the big-league level.

Red Sox Relievers Darwniznon Hernandez, Josh Taylor ‘Still a Ways Away’ From Returning After COVID-19 Bouts

Red Sox left-handed relievers Darwinzon Hernandez and Josh Taylor are not close to returning to the team anytime soon, manager Ron Roenicke said Wednesday on his weekly segment with WEEI’s Ordway, Merloni, and Fauria.

Hernandez and Taylor both tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month and were placed on the 10-day injured list along with fellow southpaw Eduardo Rodriguez on July 14.

Top prospect Bobby Dalbec, who also tested positive for the virus, was cleared to return two weekends ago and avoided a stint on the injured list.

Both relievers were cleared to return to baseball activities earlier this week, but neither have been able to put together a lengthy bullpen session to this point.

“They are gassed after 20 pitches” Roenicke said of Hernandez and Taylor on Wednesday. “It tells me that they are still a ways away. It would be nice, knowing they are relievers, you don’t have to have the build up with the innings, but you still need to build them up enough to where they pitch one inning, they can come back the next night or the night after, and they’re not there right now.”

Added the Sox skipper: “The velocity that these guys depend on…right now, they don’t have that same stuff. So, it could be a while. We’re certainly trying to get them back as soon as we can, but that physical part of it, we want to do right by them.”

Hernandez and Taylor proved to be key cogs out of the Red Sox bullpen during their rookie seasons in 2019. The former, who turned 23 in December, posted a 3.95 ERA and .721 OPS against over 28 appearances and 27 1/3 innings of work as a reliever, while the latter, who turned 27 in March, posted a 3.11 ERA and .638 OPS against over 51 appearances and 46 1/3 innings of work as a reliever.

In terms of preparedness, Hernandez is likely closer to in-game action than Taylor is seeing how he was able to throw while self-isolating at his home in Venezuela, while Taylor had to self-isolate in a Boston hotel room.

 

Eduardo Rodriguez Tweets ‘I’m Back’ as He Joins Red Sox at Summer Camp

A la Michael Jordan announcing his return to the NBA in 1995, Red Sox left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez announced his return to baseball on Saturday with two simple words: “I’m back.”

Albeit Rodriguez announced his return via Twitter rather than a press release and was not coming out of retirement but rather a bout with coronavirus, it was still encouraging to see that the 27-year-old is indeed back in Boston and will report to Summer Camp at Fenway Park on Saturday.

Per Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke, the plan for Rodriguez, as well as fellow left-hander Josh Taylor, is to simply “just play catch” Saturday while also “try[ing] to slowly get them back into where they need to be and to evaluate where they are.”

Rodriguez and Taylor were two of four Sox players who, at least publicly, tested positive for COVID-19, with Bobby Dalbec and Darwinzon Hernandez being the other two.

Dalbec was cleared to return to baseball activities last weekend, but it’s been a different story for the trio of southpaws as they were all placed on the 10-day injured list this past Tuesday.

That being said, all three have in Boston for at least the last 24-48 hours, with Hernandez flying in from Venezuela on Thursday night and Rodriguez flying in from Miami on Friday all while Taylor has been self-isolating in a hotel in the city.

Because Taylor was stuck in a hotel room while Hernandez and Rodriguez could at least throw at their respective homes, Roenicke has some concerns about where the lefty reliever stands in terms of being prepared for the upcoming season.

“I’m a little bit more concerned about him because he was stuck in that hotel room and not throwing at all other than maybe throwing into a pillow or a mattress or whatever he’s doing,” Roenicke said of Taylor via Zoom. “So we really need to keep our eyes on him and make sure he’s ready when we activate him.”

As for Rodriguez, the Venezuela native was originally supposed to be Boston’s Opening Day starter, but that responsibility has since been handed over to Nathan Eovaldi now that Rodriguez will begin the season on the IL. That does not necessarily mean that the 19-game winner from a year ago will miss too much time though, according to Roenicke.

“When [Rodriguez is] ready, when he starts throwing his bullpens — he’ll do some up and down bullpens — and when (pitching coach) Dave (Bush) thinks he’s ready we’ll start doing the simulated games and the live BPs,” said the Sox skipper. “Doesn’t mean he has to get his pitch count up to 85 or anything. If he’s feeling good and we think we can do this in-season, maybe he throws four innings (in a real game) and we think his four innings are going to be better than somebody else’s.”

Because of how “unsettled” their starting rotation is, as chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom put it, Rodriguez would certainly be a welcome addition to the Sox’ pitching staff whenever he is ready to return to game action.