Red Sox expected to call up top catching prospect Ronaldo Hernández from Triple-A Worcester, per report

The Red Sox are expected to call up catching prospect Ronaldo Hernandez from Triple-A Worcester, reports Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com. As noted by Cotillo, Hernandez has been active on Instagram, sharing stories of people congratulating him on getting promoted.

The timing of Hernandez’s call-up is certainly interesting, as the Red Sox just recalled fellow catcher Connor Wong from Worcester after placing Kevin Plawecki on the COVID-19 related injured list due to a positive test ahead of Monday afternoon’s loss to the Twins at Fenway Park.

With that, it seems likely that Hernandez — who is already on Boston’s 40-man roster — could be replacing either Wong or Christian Vazquez on the major-league squad before Tuesday’s series opener against the Blue Jays.

Hernandez, 24, is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 27 prospect in Boston’s farm system, ranking tops among catchers in the organization. The Red Sox originally acquired the native Colombian (and infielder Nick Sogard) from the Rays in exchange for right-handers Chris Mazza and Jeffrey Springs last February.

After spending the majority of the 2021 campaign with Double-A Portland, Hernandez was promoted to Worcester in late September. He played winter ball in the Domincan Republic and broke camp this spring with the WooSox.

In seven games for the WooSox thus far, the right-handed hitter has gone 4-for-28 (.173) at the plate with two doubles, four RBIs, three runs scored, no walks, and eight strikeouts. He has also thrown out one of three base runners who have attempted to steal off him.

Listed at 6-foot-1 and 247 pounds, Hernandez is known more for his abilities as a slugger than a defensive stalwart behind the plate, though he does possess plus arm strength. Still, with just one minor-league option year remaining, this could prove to be a worthwhile opportunity for Hernandez, who is in line to become the first member of the 2022 Red Sox to make their big-league debut.

(Picture of Ronaldo Hernandez: Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images)

Latest Baseball America mock draft has Red Sox selecting Mississippi State catcher Logan Tanner with top pick

The 2022 MLB Draft may still be six months away, but it should now start to come into focus more with the college baseball season slated to begin next week.

With that, Baseball America released the first version of their 2022 mock draft on Thursday, and they have the Red Sox taking a college bat with their top pick.

Boston owns the 24th overall selection in this summer’s draft after finishing last season with the seventh-best (or 24th-worst) record in baseball. As of now, the club is projected to take Mississippi State University catcher Logan Tanner.

In explaining why he has the Sox going in this direction, Baseball America’s Carlos Collazo writes that he does not “have much feel for the Red Sox pick tendencies, especially in this range. They’ve taken prep infielders in each of the last three drafts but all of those picks are quite a bit different both in terms of bonus, draft position, and player profile.”

Collazo adds that at this point in the mock draft, Tanner is the best player available as he comes into the year regarded by Baseball America as its No. 17 draft-eligible prospect, which ranks third among catchers in the class.

Tanner, 21, is preparing for his junior season with Mississippi State. The right-handed hitting backstop is coming off a 2021 campaign in which he batted .287/.383/.525 with 13 doubles, 15 home runs, 53 RBIs, 45 runs scored, 39 walks, and 48 strikeouts over 67 games (285 plate appearances) while helping the Bulldogs win a national championship.

Defensively, Tanner made 57 appearances behind the plate as a sophomore and threw out 11 baserunners who attempted to steal off him. Per his Baseball America scouting report, the 6-foot, 215 pounder is “the top catch-and-throw backstop in the class. His arm is a clear tier ahead of most other catchers in the class, with double-plus grades and should allow him to keep the running game in check.”

MLB Pipeline, on the other hand, has Tanner listed as its 19th-ranked draft-eligible prospect, right behind his battery mate in right-hander Landon Sims.

In their evaluation of Tanner’s offensive approach, MLB Pipeline notes that the Lucedale, Miss. native’s “strength and bat speed give him legitimate power to all fields from the right side of the plate, and he might provide 20-25 homers per year if he can lift more balls in the air. He draws walks, makes contact and has done damage against quality pitching at the college level. He’s a well below-average runner but that’s excusable for a catcher.”

As Opening Day for the college baseball season approaches, Tanner has been named to the preseason All-SEC first team and Perfect Game’s preseason All-America third team.

If the Red Sox were to select Tanner in this year’s draft, it would mark the first time since 2011 in which they used a first-round pick on a catcher (Blake Swihart). As Collazo previously alluded to, Boston has used its last three first-round selections on prep infielders in shortstop Marcelo Mayer (2021), second baseman Nick Yorke (2020), and first baseman Triston Casas (2018). They were without a first-rounder in 2019.

Last July marked the second time straight year the Red Sox had chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and amateur scouting director Paul Toboni orchestrating the club’s draft efforts.

Of the 20 players Boston selected in 2021, only one — Nathan Hickey — was a catcher. Hickey, like Tanner, played his college ball in the SEC for the University of Florida.

According to one scout, Tanner would surpass Hickey and emerge as the top catching prospect in Boston’s farm system if he were to join the Red Sox this summer.

All that being said, who the Sox take in this year’s draft has yet to be determined and plenty can change once the high school and college baseball seasons get rolling in the spring.

(Picture of Logan Tanner: Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

Red Sox re-sign versatile catcher Roldani Baldwin to minor-league deal for 2022 season

The Red Sox have brought back catcher Roldani Baldwin on a minor-league contract for the 2022 season, per the team’s transaction log. The deal also includes an invite to major-league spring training.

Baldwin, who turns 26 next month, returns to the organization he began his career with after originally signing with Boston as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic in November 2013.

Most recently, Baldwin spent the entirety of the 2021 season with Double-A Portland, though he did spend one day on Triple-A Worcester’s roster in August. Regardless of that, the right-handed hitting backstop slashed .242/.321/.389 with eight doubles, one triple, four home runs, 18 RBIs, 18 runs scored, one stolen base, 13 walks, and 61 strikeouts over 45 games (168 plate appearances) for the Sea Dogs.

One of the reasons Baldwin appeared in just 45 minor-league games last year was because he missed nearly two weeks of action while on the injured list. Another reason is that he had to step away from affiliated ball in order to help his native Dominican Republic win a bronze medal in last summer’s Tokyo Olympics.

Defensively, Baldwin has primarily been used as either a catcher or third baseman throughout his professional career. In 2021, however, the 5-foot-11, 211 pounder not only saw time behind the plate and at the hot corner, but he also logged 47 innings at second base, and nine innings in left field.

This off-season, Baldwin spent part of his winter playing for Tigres del Licey of the Dominican Winter League. There, the 25-year-old slashed .412/.500/.529 with a pair of doubles and two runs scored over the course of a brief seven-game sample that consisted of 20 plate appearances as well as seven appearances (five starts) at catcher.

Coming into the 2022 season, Baldwin has apparently been assigned to Portland and represents some experienced catching depth the Red Sox will have available to them in the upper minors.

As SoxProspects.com’s Chris Hatfield alluded to on Twitter, the addition of Baldwin does have some significance considering the fact the MLB lockout remains unresolved.

If the lockout continues into the spring, the Red Sox would not be able to assign prospects on their 40-man roster — such as catchers Connor Wong and Ronaldo Hernandez — to minor-league affiliates when the season begins in April.

With that being said, Hatfield notes that Boston could sign players like Baldwin to minor-league deals so that they can cover for those prospects affected by the lockout.

In addition to Wong and Hernandez, other prospects the Red Sox have on their 40-man roster include pitchers Eduard Bazardo, Brayan Bello, Kutter Crawford, Jay Groome, Connor Seabold, Josh Winckowski, Jeter Downs, Hudson Potts, Jarren Duran, and Jeisson Rosario.

(Picture of Roldani Baldwin: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Red Sox’ Nathan Hickey quickly emerging as one of top catching prospects in Boston’s farm system

The Red Sox have an extensive history when it comes to drafting amateur prospects out of the University of Florida.

Dating back to the 2012 draft, the Sox have selected 12 players from Florida. Of that group of Gators, four (Austin Maddox, Brian Johnson, Bobby Poyner, and Shaun Anderson) went on to make it to the major-leagues.

Most recently, Boston selected Florida outfielder Jud Fabian and Florida catcher Nathan Hickey with its second- and fifth-round picks in last summer’s draft, respectively.

While Fabian ultimately made the decision to return to Gainesville for his senior season, Hickey wound up signing with the Red Sox for an over-slot deal of $1 million last July.

Upon inking his first professional contract, Hickey — a native of Jacksonville — reported to Fort Myers to begin his debut season with the rookie-level Florida Complex League Red Sox.

Across eight games in the FCL, the left-handed hitting backstop slashed .250/.429/.350 (124 wRC+) to go along with two doubles, one RBI, four runs scored, six walks, and eight strikeouts over 28 plate appearances before earning a promotion to Low-A Salem on August 27.

Hickey appeared in two games on Aug. 27 and 28, but was placed on the temporary inactive list on September 5. After a near-two-week hiatus, the 22-year-old returned to the field and made his final appearance of the season for Salem on Sept. 17. All told, he went 1-for-8 at the plate in his first exposure to the Low-A level.

Shortly after the conclusion of the minor-league season, it was revealed that Hickey’s father, Mark, passed away in early October.

On the heels of what was presumably an emotional 2021, Hickey comes into 2022 regarded by MLB Pipeline as the No. 19 prospect in Boston’s farm system — which ranks tops among catchers in the organization.

Per his MLB Pipeline scouting report, Hickey’s best carrying tool is his raw power. He also utilizes “a mature approach at the plate” that could help him “develop into a solid hitter, though his swing can get long and too uphill at times.”

That being said, Hickey also comes with some questions in regards to his defensive abilities behind the plate. The 6-foot, 210 pounder’s “receiving and blocking will have to improve significantly, and his solid arm strength plays down and resulted in 39 steals in 41 attempts against him during the spring.”

On that note, Hickey does have experience at other positions besides catcher. He saw time at both corner infield positions with the Gators in the spring before catching a total of five games between the FCL and Low-A over the summer.

Whether Hickey — who does not turn 23 until November — is able to stick at catcher has yet to be determined. He does however have an appealing offensive profile, and that should only help him in the long run.

Going off of SoxProspects.com’s roster projections, Hickey is slated to begin the 2022 campaign where he left off in 2021: with Salem. He will likely have a chance to earn a midseason promotion to High-A Greenville depending on the kind of start he gets off to.

(Picture of Nathan Hickey: Bryan Green/Flickr)

 

Former Red Sox catcher Jhonny Pereda signs minor-league deal with Giants

Former Red Sox catcher Jhonny Pereda has signed a minor-league deal with the Giants, per MLB.com.

Pereda, 25, was originally acquired by the Sox last March as the player to be named later in the trade that sent right-hander Travis Lakins to the Cubs last January.

After getting released and re-upping with Boston on a two-year minors pact last July, Pereda spent the entirety of the compressed 2020 season at the club’s alternate training site in Pawtucket.

This past season, the Venezuelan backstop began the year with Double-A Portland before earning a midsummer promotion to Triple-A Worcester in late July.

Between the two affiliates, the right-handed hitting Pereda batted .246/.343/.325 with 14 doubles, one triple, 20 RBIs, 22 runs scored, one stolen base, 31 walks, and 27 strikeouts across 64 games (237 plate appearances) in 2021. He also threw out 13 of the 42 (31%) base runners who attempted to steal against him.

Originally signed by the Cubs as an international free agent in 2013, Pereda has spent the last two off-seasons playing for Leones del Caracas of the Venezuelan Winter League. After taking home Rookie of the Year honors last year, the 6-foot-1, 202 pounder came into play Saturday boasting a .793 OPS in 22 games (82 plate appearances) for Caracas.

While Pereda does have some intriguing qualities, such as the ability to play first base, the Red Sox must have felt comfortable letting him walk away in free agency considering how deep they are at catcher currently.

With Christian Vazquez and Kevin Plawecki in line to once again be Boston’s top two catchers entering 2022, the Sox also have catching prospects Connor Wong and Ronaldo Hernandez on their 40-man roster.

Behind those four, Kole Cottam, Elih Marrero, Jaxx Groshans, and 2021 fifth-round draft selection Nathan Hickey are among the other well-known catching prospects within the organization.

(Picture of Jhonny Pereda: Katie Morrison/MassLive)

Red Sox’ decision to pick up Christian Vázquez’s 2022 team option was ‘not a no-brainer’, per report

The Red Sox may have exercised Christian Vazquez’s club option for the 2022 season back in November, but it apparently was not a simple decision for the team to make.

As part of the three-year, $13.35 million contract extension Vazquez signed with the Sox before the 2018 season, there was a team option attached for a potential fourth year in 2022.

The value of that option was dependent on the number of plate appearances Vazquez accrued during the 2020 and 2021 campaigns. Since he fell short of the threshold he needed to reach, the veteran catcher’s option for 2022 decreased from $8 million to $7 million.

Coming off a season in which he batted .258/.308/.352 with 23 doubles, one triple, six home runs, 49 RBIs, 51 runs scored, eight stolen bases, 33 walks, and 84 strikeouts over 138 games (498 plate appearances) while leading all big-league backstops in innings caught (1,051 1/3), the Red Sox were put in a position where they had to decide if they wanted Vazquez back for $7 million.

Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. ultimately decided on having Vazquez return for 2022, but that resolution may not have been reached unanimously within the organization.

According to MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo, “sources indicate the decision to pick up Vázquez’s $7 million option was not a no-brainer, and that there was internal debate over whether he was worth that salary after a down year in 2021.”

The idea that Boston would decline Vazquez’s option and allow the 31-year-old to become a free agent can be backed up by a recent report from the Miami Herlad which states that the Red Sox made an offer “and at one point thought they had a deal” to acquire Gold Glove Catcher Jacob Stallings from the Pirates.

Stallings, who was dealt from the Marlins to the Pirates in late November, is slightly older than Vazquez as he turns 32 next week. He was also the best catcher in baseball this season when it comes to Defensive Runs Saved (21) and is under team control through the end of the 2024 season.

Because of the Sox’ reported interest in a controllable backstop such as Stallings, Cotillo writes that it would not be surprising if “the Red Sox make a surprising move to upgrade at catcher — and add a controllable player — sooner rather than later.”

At present, the Red Sox have four catchers on their 40-man roster between Vazquez, Kevin Plawecki, and prospects like Connor Wong and Ronaldo Hernandez.

Although Vazquez and Plawecki are seemingly locked in to begin 2022 as Boston’s top two catchers with Wong and Hernandez waiting in the wings at Triple-A Worcester, the expectation seems to be that Bloom and his staff are not done adding.

Once the Major League Baseball lockout ends and the transaction freeze is lifted, it appears as though the Red Sox will continue to explore upgrading at catcher. And while the free-agent market may be decimated in that department, the trade market certainly is not.

The Padres, as noted by Cotillo, also have four catchers on their 40-man roster in Jorge Alfaro, Luis Campusano, Victor Caratini, and Austin Nola. The Athletics, who are expected to tear down their roster once the lockout is lifted, represent another intriguing match since they could offer Sean Murphy.

Murphy, 27, won the Gold Glove Award for American League catchers this season and is not slated to hit free agency until after 2025. His asking price would presumably be high, but it could be something worth exploring for the Red Sox.

(Picture of Christian Vazquez: Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

Red Sox catching prospect Ronaldo Hernández has been red-hot at the plate for Double-A Portland

After a torrid month of July, Red Sox catching prospect Ronaldo Hernandez got his August off to a solid start for Double-A Portland on Sunday.

Though the Sea Dogs ultimately fell to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats by a final score of 7-6 at Hadlock Field, Hernandez certainly did his part to prevent that from happening.

Starting at designated hitter and batting out of the six-hole, the 23-year-old went 2-for-4 with a two-run home run and two runs scored on the afternoon.

The tw0-run homer, which came off Fisher Cats reliever Graham Spraker, was Hernandez’s 11th big fly of the year and it cut Portland’s deficit down to two runs at 7-5. Tanner Nishikoa followed with a solo shot of his own to make it a one-run game, but New Hampshire was ultimately able to hold and take the series finale in a close contest.

Hernandez’s two-hit outing raised his batting line on the season to a respectable .252/.296/.467 (103 wRC+) to go along with 12 doubles, 11 home runs, 25 RBI, 24 runs scored, eight strikeouts across 59 games (223 plate appearances) on the year.

The Red Sox originally acquired Hernandez — as well as infield prospect Nick Sogard — from the Rays back in February in exchange for relievers Chris Mazza and Jeffrey Springs as well as cash considerations.

Hernandez, who does not turn 24 until November, signed with Tampa Bay for $225,000 as an international free agent out of Colombia during the 2014 signing period.

After five years in the organization, the Rays added Hernandez to their 40-man roster in November 2019 in order to protect him from that winter’s Rule 5 Draft, though he did not play another game in their system after that (but spent time on the club’s taxi squad and postseason player pool) with the 2020 minor-league season being cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since he was a member of Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster at the time of the four-player trade from this past February, Hernandez immediately joined Boston’s 40-man roster and received an invite to major-league spring training as a result.

The right-handed hitting backstop was optioned to the Sox’ alternate training site in early March and later began the 2021 minor-league campaign with Portland.

Through his first several weeks as a member of the Sea Dogs, Hernandez — for the most part struggled — as he hit just .210/.248/.384 (67 wRC+) over 138 trips to the plate from the beginning of May until the end of June.

As soon as the calendar flipped to July, however, Hernandez seemed to turn a corner offensively, and it started with a three-hit performance against the Fisher Cats in Manchester on July 4.

Over the next four weeks, Hernandez simply lit it up at the plate. In five games between the Reading Fightin Phils from July 13-18, he amassed a total of eight hits while boasting an OPS of 1.318 thanks to putting together three multi-hit outings.

By the time the month of July came to a close over the weekend, not only had Hernandez not been traded, but he also posted a stellar .324/.378/.588 slash line (158 wRC+) in addition to clubbing four homers, driving in 13 runs, and scoring 11 of his own over his last 22 games and 68 plate appearances dating back to July 1.

Among Double-A Northeast catchers with at least 50 at-bats over the course of July, Hernandez ranked first in batting average, first in on-base percentage, first in slugging percentage, first in OPS, tied-first in hits (22), second in doubles (6), tied-second in home runs, and second in RBI.

On the other side of the ball, it appears as though Hernandez still has room to develop when it comes to what he does defensively. So far this season, the 6-foot-1, 237 pound backstop has committed six errors while allowing 10 passed balls to elude him while behind the plate. He has also thrown out 13 of 49 (26.5%) runners attempting to steal off him.

Per his Baseball America scouting report, “Hernandez has a plus arm behind the plate and moves well for a big catcher, but his receiving is fringe-average and needs to continue to improve.”

Regarded by Baseball America as the No. 13 prospect in Boston’s farm system — which ranks tops among catchers in the system, Hernandez is currently one of four backstops on the Sox’ 40-man roster alongside veterans like Christian Vazquez and Kevin Plawecki and fellow prospect Connor Wong.

Given his standing on the Red Sox’ 40-man roster, one has to wonder if Hernandez could be in line for a promotion to Triple-A Worcester before season’s end if he continues to produce at a consistent level.

Not only would promoting Hernandez to the WooSox give the Red Sox a chance to evaluate how the young backstop adjusts to a new level of competition and new pitching staff, it would also grant them the opportunity to see if Hernandez is worthy of his 40-man spot, or if it would be better suited for another prospect in need of protection from December’s Rule 5 Draft.

(Picture of Ronaldo Hernandez: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

MLB Pipeline’s latest 2021 mock draft has Red Sox selecting Louisville catcher Henry Davis with top pick

In his latest mock draft for MLB Pipeline, MLB.com’s Jim Callis has the Red Sox selecting University of Louisville catcher Henry Davis with the fourth overall pick in the 2021 first-year player draft, which begins in just over six weeks.

Prior to projecting prep shortstop Marcelo Mayer to go to the Pirates at No. 1, Vanderbilt right-hander Jack Leiter to fall to the Rangers at No. 2, and high school shortstop Jordan Lawlar to go to the Tigers at No. 3, Callis did note that “who will go where in the first round remains quite fluid” as “there aren’t 29 consensus first-round talents for 29 first-round picks.”

The Red Sox will be making a top-five pick in this summer’s draft for just the third time in franchise history and for the first time since 1967, when they selected right-hander Mike Garman third overall.

When it came time for the Sox to make their first selection in this latest mock draft, Callis had them take the first catcher off the board in Davis as opposed to someone like Vanderbilt’s Kumar Rocker or Winder-Barrow High School’s Brady House.

“The Red Sox feel like the absolute floor for Leiter, who probably won’t get to them,” Callis wrote on Wednesday. “Davis is the best college position player available, the high school shortstops also would be attractive and there are rumblings Boston could cut a deal with a lesser college bat to save money to spend big later.”

Davis, 21, is currently regarded by Baseball America as the fifth-ranked prospect in this year’s draft class, which is tops among both catchers and college position players.

While Louisville was eliminated from the ACC tournament on Thursday, Davis’ 2021 season with the Cardinals has been nothing to scoff at.

Coming into play on Thursday, the third-year sophomore was slashing an absurd .367/.484/.655 to go along with 14 home runs, 46 RBI, 10 stolen bases, 31 walks, and 23 strikeouts over 46 games played and 221 plate appearances. He also threw out 13 of the 28 baserunners who have attempted to steal against him.

Davis, who spent the summer of 2019 playing for the Bourne Braves of the Cape Cod Baseball League, is listed at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds. The right-handed hitter’s Baseball America scouting report goes as follows:

“Davis was one of the hardest-throwing catchers in the 2018 draft class as a high schooler, with a 70-grade cannon for an arm, but questions about his offensive game allowed him to make it to campus at Louisville. He acquitted himself well as a freshman, hitting .280/.345/.386 with 13 walks and 18 strikeouts and was off to an even better start in 2020. Through 14 games Davis hit as many home runs (three) as he did through 45 games during his freshman season. If scouts continue to feel comfortable with Davis’ bat during the 2021 season he could find himself going on the first day of the draft, as he controls the zone well, brings some pop to the pull-side and has gotten more fluid in his actions at the plate.

“Defensively, Davis’ arm jumps off the page, and he’s an athletic and efficient thrower, though he struggled with his blocking initially. Davis had seven passed balls in 2019 and six in 2020, though coaches praise his work ethic and believe he’s improved in that area of his game. MLB teams love athletic collegiate catchers with a track record of hitting and as a .303/.381/.463 career hitter with one explosive tool in his arm strength, he’ll get plenty of attention [this] spring.”

A native of Bedford, N.Y. and a product of Fox Lane High School, Davis spent part of this past offseason catching bullpens for Red Sox relievers Matt Barnes and Adam Ottavino. Barnes, who hails from Connecticut, recently told The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier that the young backstop “has an absolute cannon.”

The Red Sox taking Davis with their top pick come July 11 would be somewhat of a rare occurrence considering the fact that the club has selected just four catchers — with Blake Swihart being the latest — in the first round of the amateur draft since its inception in 1965.

Whoever Boston selects at No. 4 this summer, one thing is for certain: the fourth overall choice comes with a recommended value of $6.664 million. Put another way, the Sox could spend up to that dollar figure to sign whoever they take there.

That being said, there remains a possibility that the Red Sox could — as Callis put it — “cut a deal with a lesser college bat to save money to spend big later.”

The very same thing happened last June when Boston selected prep infielder Nick Yorke in the first round and later signed him to a below-slot deal. This allowed the club to invest more in third-round pick Blaze Jordan, another high schooler, and sign him to an above-slot deal.

(Picture of Henry Davis: Louisville Athletics)

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)