Red Sox prospect Connor Wong catching the eyes of Alex Cora at spring training

Red Sox catching prospect Connor Wong is a longshot to make the team’s Opening Day roster out of spring training next month.

As the third backstop on Boston’s catching depth chart, the 24-year-old is more likely to begin the year at the club’s alternate training site in Worcester before heading to Double-A Portland or Triple-A Worcester for the start of the 2021 minor-league season.

All that being said, nothing has stopped Wong from impressing his peers thus far at big-league camp in Fort Myers.

Despite collecting just one hit through his first 10 plate appearances of Grapefruit League play, the Houston-area native has drawn three walks, and that ability to be patient and slow the game down is something that has caught the attention of Red Sox manager Alex Cora.

“He’s a good player,” Cora said of Wong on Wednesday. “Very calm behind the plate. Very athletic. Seems like he and Jason [Varitek], they’ve been working hard on that setup on one knee. He’s made progress. I didn’t see him last year, but what I’ve seen is great. Like I’ve been saying: all these kids, Jeter [Downs], and Nick [Yorke], and Connor. There’s something about them that they’re very calm when they play the game.

“It’s like there’s no panic,” continued Cora. “Even his at-bats. He walks and he takes his time putting the bat down. There’s something good about them. They understand the game, they ask questions, and we have a good one.”

The one hit Wong has recorded so far this spring came in the Red Sox’ Grapefruit League opener against the Twins on February 28.

The 6-foot-1, 181 lb. pounder took over behind the plate for Christian Vazquez in the bottom half of the third inning of that contest and picked up a one-out double in his first trip to the plate a half inning later.

He may have struck out in his second at-bat, but he played ‘outstanding’ defense in the process of doing so.

“He’s another guy that slows down the game,” Cora said of Wong back on March 1. “You could see yesterday, we had a bad inning and then he comes in and it’s kind of like a presence about him. He studies the game. He talks the game, which is very important for a catcher. Seems like he never panicked back there. He keeps working on that one-knee down stance. He has some really good hands.”

Wong, a right-handed hitter, was originally selected by the Dodgers in the third round of the 2017 amateur draft out of the University of Houston. His natural position in college was shortstop — not catcher — but he eventually moved behind the plate and has remained there.

While transitioning to catcher, though, Wong also saw playing time at second base and third base at Double-A Tulsa in 2019 before being part of the trade that sent Mookie Betts and David Price to Los Angeles and Alex Verdugo and Jeter Downs to Boston the following February.

The Dodgers have a history of converting position player prospects into full-time catchers. They’ve done so with Will Smith, who played a little bit of infield and outfield at the University of Louisville, and Austin Barnes, who has appeared in 195 total games at either second or third base at the minor-league level.

Cora recounted a conversation he had with the versatile Enrique Hernandez, who spent the last six seasons with the Dodgers before signing with the Red Sox over the winter, about Wong and Los Angeles’ ability to convert position players into catchers.

“A position player that’s a catcher now. It seems like it’s something they like on the West Coast with Smith and Barnes,” said the Sox skipper. “And this kid can do it, too. Good hands. Very smooth. And offensively, he understands what he can do. But, I really like the fact that communication is No. 1 for him in his defensive game. You see him in the dugout talking to Jason [Varitek], to the pitchers, and for a young guy to be able to do that right now is eye-opening. And it was fun to watch him perform yesterday.”

Going into the new season, Baseball America has Wong ranked as the No. 15 prospect in Boston’s farm system, which is the top rank among catchers in the organization.

Just last week, the folks over at Baseball America picked two potential breakout prospects from every team’s farm system for 2021. Along with 2019 second-round draft pick Matthew Lugo, Wong was the other Red Sox prospect chosen by the BA staff to break out this year.

“Wong was granted a reprieve of sorts when he was traded from the Dodgers to the Red Sox in the Mookie Betts’ trade,” they wrote. “Instead of being stuck behind Will Smith and Keibert Ruiz, he now has a clear path to a future MLB role as a well-rounded backup catcher who can play around the infield as well.”

Added to the Sox’ 40-man roster last November, Wong is projected by both FanGraphs and MLB Pipeline to make his major-league debut at some point this season.

That would likely come in the event of an injury to one of Boston’s major-league catchers or when rosters expand to 28 players in September.

(Picture of Connor Wong: Pawtucket Red Sox)

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)

A sampling of scouting reports — and more — on newest Red Sox catching prospect Ronaldo Hernández

In case you missed it, the Red Sox acquired catching prospect Ronaldo Hernandez and infield prospect Nick Sogard from the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday morning in exchange for left-hander Jeffrey Springs and right-hander Chris Mazza, as well as $100,000 in cash considerations.

Among the two minor-leaguers Boston received in this deal, Hernandez is without a doubt the most highly-touted.

The 23-year-old was originally signed by the Rays out of Colombia for $225,000 in 2014 and worked his way up to earning a spot on the club’s 40-man roster in November 2019 to avoid being eligible for the Rule 5 Draft.

Despite not getting to experience a minor-league season last year on account of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Hernandez did spend the entirety of the major-league season at the Rays’ alternate training site, so it is not like 2020 was a complete wash for him.

Having said that, the 6-foot-3, 23o pounder saw his offensive production decline the last time he took the field for organized minor-league action in 2019.

Compared to his 2018 slash line of .284/.339/.494 to go along with 21 home runs and 79 RBI over 109 games with Class-A Bowling Green, Hernandez posted a .265/.299/.397 slash while clubbing just nine homers and driving in 60 runs in 103 games with High-A Charlotte two years ago.

He did bounce back by producing an .894 OPS over 42 plate appearances in the Arizona Fall League after the season ended, but there still might be some lingering concerns there.

On the other side of the ball, Hernandez has thrown out 120 of the 288 (42%) of the base runners that attempted to steal against him over the course of his four-year professional career. He is also averaging more than 13 passed balls per season over that span.

Taking what he does offensively and defensively into consideration, here is a sampling of scouting reports from 2020 on Hernandez from various baseball outlets.

FanGraphs:

“If you just look at raw tools, Hernandez compares to Gary Sánchez and is not only a potential everyday catcher but one who might have real impact. He has big raw power and run-stopping, plus-plus arm strength, but his approach is bad (which might impede the power), and his swing only generates power in certain parts of the zone. He loads his hands very high and deep and then cuts down through the typical hitting zone, which causes Hernandez’s power to come toward the top of the zone and out in front when his swing starts to lift, making his point of impact of paramount importance to his power production… His defensive ability, specifically the receiving, might still be a problem and is part of why Kevan Smith was ahead of him on last year’s depth chart. He’s still a high-variance prospect with some flaws that may be exploited in a significant way at the big league level, but Hernandez has a shot to be an everyday player due to his power.”

MLB Pipeline:

“Hernández has a pair of plus tools in his raw power and arm strength, but he’s still learning the nuances of the game and seeking consistency on both sides of the ball. Big and strong, he makes hard contact with strength-driven bat speed and shows feel for finding the barrel thanks to good hand-eye coordination. That Hernández’s power plays almost entirely to his pull side during games speaks to his aggressive approach and leads some scouts to question his overall hitting ability. While he doesn’t strike out much, Hernández does chase contact too often and will need to adopt a more selective approach as he works his way through the Minors.

“A rocket, 70-grade arm and solid catch-and-throw skills help Hernández control the running game, and he’s thrown out 36 and 39 percent of base stealers, respectively, in his first two full-season campaigns. He’s improved as a receiver but still has a way to go to become average, and the same goes for Hernández’s blocking skills. Improving his body and conditioning should help with the latter, and the Rays expect some gains to occur naturally as Hernández gains much-needed experience behind the plate. If it all clicks for him, Hernández could develop into an average defensive catcher who hits for enough power to compensate for his lack of average and receiving issues.”

Baseball America:

“Hernandez’s 2018 breakout season with low Class A Bowling Green has started to fade into the background, but his trade in a swap for a designated for assignment player is still a surprisingly low return for a catcher with significant power potential. Hernandez was not a particularly good fit in a Rays organization that emphasizes receiving ability far above offensive contributions from its catchers.

“Hernandez struggles as a future fringe-average receiver and will have to improve in this facet of the game to earn an everyday role in the majors. His power comes from a very pull-heavy approach that may be exploited by more advanced pitchers. That said, Hernandez has plus power and a plus arm and he’s only 23, so he has a chance to refine some of his current issues. He’s a very useful addition to the Red Sox farm system as a catcher to develop. And if MLB eventually goes to computerized ball-strike calls, his biggest liabilities will largely diminish. Hernandez had to be added to the 40-man roster before the 2020 season and has used one option. He will head into 2021 having not played above high Class A.”

Hernandez was regarded by Baseball America as the Rays’ No. 13 prospect headed into the 2020 season.

According to SoxProspects.com’s Chris Hatfield, the young backstop will likely rank somewhere between No. 11 and No. 2o in regards to the site’s ranking of the Red Sox’ top prospects.

That in turn, would make Hernandez one of, if not the top catching prospect in Boston’s farm system, as noted by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.

On the subject of Red Sox minor-league catchers, Hernandez will join a position group that includes the likes of Connor Wong (also on the 40-man), Jhonny Pereda, Roldani Baldwin, Kole Cottam, Chris Hermann, Jhonny Pereda, and Austin Rei at major-league camp the onset of spring training.

It’s already been said, but in a matter of 12-plus months, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. have seemingly transformed the organization’s catching depth from an area of weakness to an area of strength. Not too shabby.

(Picture of Ronaldo Hernandez: Eric Espada/Getty Images)

Red Sox sign veteran catcher Chris Herrmann to minor-league deal, per report

The Red Sox have signed veteran catcher Chris Herrmann to a minor-league contract, according to @iTalkStudiosYT on Twitter and confirmed by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo. The deal includes an invite to major-league spring training.

Herrmann, 33, spent the majority of the 2020 season at the Giants’ alternate training site after signing a minor-league pact with the club in late July.

For his big-league career, which spans parts of eight seasons with four teams (Twins, Diamondbacks, Mariners, Athletics), the Texas native owns a lifetime .205/.282/.344 slash line to go along with 25 home runs and 103 RBI over 370 total games played, more than half of which came with Arizona in 2016-2017.

While primarily a catcher, Herrmann — a product of the University of Miami and former 2009 sixth-round draft pick of the Twins — does have limited experience at first base as well as all three outfield positions.

In signing a minor-league contract with the Sox, the 6-foot, 200 lb. backstop will join a catching mix at big-league camp in Fort Myers that includes the likes of Christian Vazquez, Kevin Plawecki, Connor Wong, Jhonny Pereda, and Roldani Baldwin.

Leading up to the start of spring training, it seemed like Boston was primed to add a veteran catcher in some capacity to fill the void left behind by Jett Bandy and Juan Centeno, and they have now done that by inking Herrmann for the 2021 season.

So far this offseason, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. have either signed or re-signed the following players to minor-league deals:

C Roldani Baldwin
C Jhonny Pereda
C Chris Herrmann
1B Joey Meneses
1B Josh Ockimey
INF Jack Lopez
INF Jeremy Rivera
OF Cesar Puello
OF Michael Gettys
OF Johan Mieses
LHP Emmanuel De Jesus
LHP Stephen Gonsalves
RHP Kevin McCarthy
RHP Seth Blair
RHP Raynel Espinal
RHP Caleb Simpson
RHP Zack Kelly
RHP Jose Disla
RHP Daniel Gossett
RHP Zac Grotz
RHP Jose Adames
RHP Matt Carasiti

(Picture of Chris Herrmann: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Red Sox catching prospect Jhonny Pereda takes home Venezuelan winter ball Rookie of the Year honors

Red Sox catching prospect Jhonny Pereda took home Rookie of the Year honors in the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League Saturday night.

The 24-year-old, playing for Leones del Caracas, slashed an impressive .338/.421/.421 to go along with one home run and 16 RBI over 39 games and 153 plate appearances this season, which ended on January 10.

He also threw out six of a possible 13 runners on the base paths, which translates to a 46% success rate.

Pereda received 37 of 50 possible first-place votes in the league’s MVP race while also finishing with 205 voting points, 105 more than the runner-up.

“This makes me very happy because last year was a strong year because of the virus. There were no minor-leagues and that affected many players, both me and many, because there was no season,” Pereda said (in Spanish) of winning the award. “But I kept working to come to Venezuela. Thank God and Leones, who gave me the opportunity to play here.”

The Red Sox originally acquired Pereda from the Cubs back in March as the player to be named later in a January trade that involved right-hander Travis Lakins.

The club briefly released the Venezuelan from his contract on July 15 only to re-sign him to a two-year minor-league deal on July 17 and promptly add him to their 60-man player pool. He would go on to spend the rest of the summer at the alternate training site in Pawtucket.

After baseball activities ended at the alternate training site in late September, Pereda did not attend the Red Sox’ fall instructional league in Fort Myers, but he did receive an invite to major-league spring training in December.

In addition to his catching abilities that netted him a minor-league Gold Glove Award in 2019, the right-handed hitting backstop can play a little first base as well, as evidenced by what he did this winter.

Going into spring training next month, Pereda should figure to be an intriguing component of the Red Sox’ catching depth equation given the fact Deivy Grullon was lost on a waiver claim by the Cincinnati Reds in December.

As of this writing, the 6-foot-1, 202 lb. catcher is Boston’s top backstop not included on their 40-man roster, according to SoxProspects.com’s depth charts.

Pereda, along with fellow catching prospect Connor Wong, is expected to begin the 2021 minor-league season with Triple-A Pawtucket.

“I know that this season here in Venezuela will help me. It gave me many experiences that I will put into practice in the training field,” said Pereda (in Spanish) of his time in his home country. “I played with a very experienced team. I had teammates who have played in the major-leagues, who have been in pro ball for many years and I always tried to listen to what they talked about baseball, and those little details that can help me.”

(Picture of Jhonny Pereda: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Former Red Sox catcher Deivy Grullón claimed off waivers by Reds

Before signing right-hander Matt Andriese to a one-year deal on Wednesday, the Red Sox needed to clear a spot on their 40-man roster, which at the time was at full capacity.

Well, it turns out they accomplished this by placing catcher Deivy Grullon on waivers recently, and he was claimed off waivers by the Reds on Wednesday.

The 24-year-old backstop appeared in just one game for Boston this past season after getting picked up off waivers from the Phillies in early September.

In that one game, which came against Philadelphia in the nightcap of a day-night doubleheader on September 8, the Dominican national went 1-for-3 at the plate with one walk, one RBI, and one strikeout while catching all seven innings.

Grullon was subsequently optioned back down to the alternate training site the following day, where he spent the rest of the season before returning to the Dominican Republic to play for Aguilas Cibaenas of the Dominican winter league.

Since reporting back home, Grullon has struggled a bit on both sides of the ball, as noted by SoxProspects.com’s Chris Hatfield.

With the Reds, Grullon will presumably slide behind Tucker Barnhart and Tyler Stephenson in terms of catching depth. He has two minor-league options remaining on his current contract.

As for how this affects the Red Sox, catching prospect Connor Wong is now without a doubt the No. 3 backstop on Boston’s 40-man roster behind Christian Vazquez and Kevin Plawecki.

The 24-year-old was added to the 40-man in late November and is projected to begin the 2021 season with Triple-A Worcester.

Red Sox catching prospect Connor Wong ‘made a lot of progress’ in 2020, Jason Varitek says

Of the three players the Red Sox acquired from the Dodgers in the infamous Mookie Betts trade back in February, catching prospect Connor Wong is undoubtedly the least well-known and the least heralded.

Alex Verdugo — the headliner of the deal for Boston — has the makings to be an All-Star caliber major-league outfielder, Jeter Downs is the organization’s top prospect, and then there’s Wong.

This isn’t to say the 24-year-old is not a talented prospect, because he is. So much so that MLB Pipeline has him ranked as the top catching prospect in the Sox’ farm system.

In his last minor-league season with the Dodgers in 2019, Wong posted a solid .281/.336/.541 to go along with 24 home runs and 82 RBI over 111 total games played between High-A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Tulsa.

The majority of Wong’s playing time last year came behind the plate, but he also proved capable of playing multiple positions around the infield, which is something he did quite frequently at the University of Houston since he was originally recruited as a shortstop.

Despite that added dose of versatility, the Red Sox still view the 2017 third-round pick as a catcher primarily. Newly-promoted game planning coordinator and former Sox backstop Jason Varitek made that much clear when speaking with The Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham last week.

“I saw him a lot, from spring training and spring training 2.0, and probably three weeks when he was on the taxi squad and around the team,” Varitek said of Wong. “He works extremely hard. He didn’t get in any [major-league] games, but he showed his abilities and made a lot of progress. He can play other positions, but I think he’s a catcher. There’s a lot there we can work with.”

Indeed, Wong did not appear in any games for Boston this past season, but as noted by Varitek, he still spent plenty of time around the club during spring training as well as parts of the summer and fall on account of being included on the 60-man player pool for the entirety of the 2020 campaign.

On top of that, the Houston native was added to the Sox’ 40-man roster earlier this month, so it would appear he is primed to make his major-league debut sooner rather than later.

With Wong being added to the 40-man, the Red Sox currently have four catchers — Wong, Deivy Grullon, Kevin Plawecki, and Christian Vazquez — on their major-league roster.

What Red Sox Do at Catcher This Offseason Should Be Fascinating

Using FanGraphs’ WAR metric, the Red Sox had one of the best catching groups in the American League in 2020 (1.7 fWAR), trailing only the White Sox (3.0 fWAR) and Royals (2.7 fWAR) for the league lead in that category.

The two backstops who saw just about all the playing time behind the plate for Boston this past season — Christian Vazquez and Kevin Plawecki — both put together solid campaigns in their own right.

Vazquez, 30, clubbed seven home runs in 47 games in addition to posting a wRC+ of 115 and leading all major-league catchers in FanGraphs’ Defense metric (8.3).

Plawecki, meanwhile, emerged as quite the serviceable backup with his new club as the 29-year-old slashed .341/.393/.463 with one homer and 17 RBI over 24 games and 89 plate appearances.

Excluding Jonathan Lucroy, who was released in September, the only other true catcher to see playing time for the Sox in 2020 was Deivy Grullon.

The 24-year-old out of the Dominican Republic was claimed off waivers by Boston from the Phillies on September 3 and only managed to appear in one game as the Red Sox’ 29th man in a doubleheader against Philadelphia on September 8.

Grullon went 1-for-3 with a walk and run driven in during the nightcap of that twin bill against his former team before he was optioned back down to the alternate training site in Pawtucket. SoxProspects currently lists Grullon as the Red Sox’ 30th-ranked prospect.

All three of Vazquez, Plawecki, and Grullon are already on Boston’s 40-man roster, but another backstop is expected to be added to said roster in the coming weeks. His name? Connor Wong.

One of the three players acquired from the Dodgers in the Mookie Betts/David Price trade from this past February, the 24-year-old Wong is eligible for this winter’s Rule 5 Draft, which means he would have to be added to Boston’s 40-man roster before November 20 in order to be protected from that.

Wong being added to the 40-man seems just about imminent at this point. Not only does the former third-round pick offer some versatility at different infield positions, according to The Athletic’s Peter Gammons, he also is “considered by [Jason] Varitek and their organization as a rising elite pitcher-first catcher.” On top of that, as noted by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo, “the Sox didn’t acquire [Wong] just to risk losing him.”

So here we have four appealing catchers, all of whom are already within the organization, which means we have not even touched upon catchers from outside the organization who could join the Red Sox in 2021.

One name in particular that comes to mind here would be none other than J.T. Realmuto, who is set to become a free agent for the first time in his career this winter.

Often regarded as the best catcher in baseball (BCIB), Realmuto would be quite the get for Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. The 29-year-old is coming off a 2020 campaign with the Phillies in which he posted a .266/.349/.491 slash line to go along with 11 home runs and 32 RBI over 47 games played.

In addition to his superb offensive efforts, Realmuto is quite the defensive backstop as well, especially when it comes to pitch framing and throwing out runners. Just last year, the Oklahoma native threw out 47% of the runners who tried to steal against him, which was the best caught-stealing rate in baseball.

Even if the Phillies prioritize getting Realmuto to sign a new contract to keep him in Philadelphia, there may only be a handful of clubs who would be able to spend big on someone of Realmuto’s caliber coming off this pandemic-induced, 60-game season. The Red Sox would obviously be one of those clubs.

Of course, the Sox adding Realmuto only makes sense if Vazquez is not in Bloom’s future plans. The Puerto Rico native, who is signed through 2021 and has a team option attached for 2022, was linked to the Rays in the days leading up to the 2020 trade deadline back in August, but nothing ever came out of those rumored talks. Still, as again noted by Cotillo, Boston dealing Vazquez this winter “could definitely happen.”

As currently constructed, Vazquez and Plawecki stand as the Red Sox’ top two catchers at the major-league level, while the likes of Grullon and Wong could both begin the 2021 season at Triple-A Worcester.

Realmuto landing with Boston seems more of a long shot than anything right now, but things could obviously change as the offseason progresses.

Red Sox’ Jonathan Lucroy Embracing ‘Dad’ Role While Working With Younger Players in Pawtucket

Upon signing a minor-league contract with the Red Sox back in February, veteran catcher Jonathan Lucroy looked to get his career back on track with a new club.

Initially, the 34-year-old took the first steps towards revitalizing his career when he was one of three backstops to make Boston’s Opening Day roster last month. However, Lucroy’s first stint with the Sox did not last all that long, as he was designated for assignment on July 29 after getting just one major-league at-bat and was subsequently outrighted to the club’s alternate training site in Pawtucket on August 1.

Since that time, Lucroy has been consistently working out at McCoy Stadium and is waiting for his chance to get back to the majors. Whether that is with the Red Sox or another club really does not matter.

“I cleared waivers, so there were no other teams that claimed me. That means no one wanted me,” he said during a Zoom call Friday. “That doesn’t mean that that can’t happen still. I’m here to continue to play games and continue to work to get better. If the Red Sox need me, I’ll be available. If another team needs me, then I’m sure we can figure something out where I can go play for them. It’s just a matter of opportunity and improving upon my game here. That’s all I’m worried about. I’m just happy to have a place to play and happy to have a place where I can work to improve.”

In the meantime, with all the knowledge and wisdom he has gained in 10-plus big-league seasons, Lucroy has embraced a mentorship role in Pawtucket while surrounded by younger players who eager to absorb as much information as possible.

“I try to leave myself open and I’ve told guys ‘Hey, I don’t want to smother anybody or try to force myself on people,'” said the veteran backstop. “I want them to come and ask me first. Like, if I see someone on the field I’ll say something to him once and leave it alone. But, I don’t want to go and just try and be all over them. They’ve been making fun of me, they call me ‘Dad’ in there. It’s just little things here and there. If guys want to come talk to me about anything, I’ll do my best to help them anyway I can.”

If for whatever reason the Red Sox find themselves in a position where Lucroy could get another crack of things in the majors this season, the two-time All-Star would again have to be added to Boston’s 40-man roster in order to make that happen.