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.

 

Red Sox’ Jonathan Lucroy Clears Waivers, Gets Outrighted to Club’s Alternate Training Site in Pawtucket

Three days after being designated for assignment by the Red Sox, veteran catcher Jonathan Lucroy cleared waivers and was subsequently outrighted to the club’s alternate training site in Pawtucket on Saturday.

Lucroy, 34, originally inked a minor-league deal with Boston back in February and was one of three backstops to make the club’s Opening Day roster late last month.

That being said, even despite enjoying a fair amount of success during spring training and Summer Camp, Lucroy got the short end of the stick in terms of playing time behind Christian Vazquez, as Kevin Plawecki emerged as the Sox’ true backup.

Prior to getting DFA’d, the two-time All-Star appeared in just one regular season game for Boston as a defensive replacement on Opening Day and never got an at-bat.

Now, after no other team put in a claim for him, Lucroy will remain with the Sox organization as serviceable roster depth at the catching position if he so chooses. Of course, seeing how he has accrued more than nine years of major-league service time, it would not shock me if Lucroy has the choice to become a free agent, either. We’ll have to wait and see on that.

For the time being, as the above tweet states, the Red Sox have 60 players in their 60-man club player pool.

Red Sox’ Christian Vazquez Emerging as One of Baseball’s Best Catchers

As the Red Sox have put together their first winning streak of the 2020 season over the past two games, Christian Vazquez has emerged as one of the more daunting figures in Boston’s everyday lineup.

In their last two victories over the New York Mets, the Sox have plated 10 total runs. Vazquez, by himself, is responsible for exactly 60% of that offensive production.

While playing at Citi Field for the first time in his major-league career, the 29-year-old went 4-for-8 (.500) with three home runs, six RBI, and three runs scored.

It’s a small sample size, sure, but when taking into consideration what he did at the plate last season and what he’s doing at the plate thus far in 2020, it’s becoming more and more apparent that Vazquez is emerging as one of the backstops in all of baseball. His manager Ron Roenicke said as much earlier this week..

“As a catcher, he’s really got to be up there at the top at what they do and the offensive part,” Roenicke said in regards to Vazquez via Zoom on Wednesday. “I know (Buster) Posey has always been one of those guys and (J.T.) Realmuto is one of those guys. And it used to be (Yadier) Molina. So Vazquez has put himself in a category with the best catchers. Defensively we know he does a good job. Offensively, last year, I thought he really stepped it up, showed us what he can do and he’s looking right now like he’s going to be that type of player again. So great for him.”

Vazquez himself has an adequate reason for upping his offensive game. Following a two-homer performance against the Metropolitans on Thursday, the Puerto Rican national recalled how he was once viewed as a defense-first catcher and how he wanted to prove that stereotype wrong beginning last year.

“I was tired of hitting ninth,” said Vazquez. “I want to be a different player. I want to feel like I’m helping the team both ways, hitting and catching. I’m trying to do my best.”

In addition to crushing two big flies off Mets starter Steven Matz on Thursday, Vazquez also helped Red Sox starter Martin Perez out by nabbing Michael Conforto at second on a failed stolen base attempt in the second inning. That play, as well as calling a fairly good game behind the plate, also got the attention of Roenicke.

“He’s doing both things,” the Sox skipper said Thursday. “Called a really nice game, blocked well, the throw from his knees to throw out the baserunner and obviously, the offense. We’ll keep him out there. As long as he’s catching like this and he’s feeling strong, we’ll keep putting him out there.”

According to FanGraphs‘ 2020 leaderboards, Vazquez leads all major-league catchers in fWAR (0.7) just about a full week into the new season. Again, it’s a small sample size and it’s also early, but it just goes to show that Vazquez could be among baseball’s elite behind the plate. Only time will tell if he is able to keep it up.

Red Sox to Add Chris Mazza, Remove Jonathan Lucroy From Roster Ahead of Wednesday’s Series Opener Against Mets

UPDATE: Jonathan Lucroy has been designated for assignment.

Before taking on the Mets in Queens on Wednesday, the Red Sox will be recalling right-hander Chris Mazza from the club’s alternate training site in Pawtucket, according to The Athletic’s Chad Jennings and Ken Rosenthal. In order to make this happen, veteran catcher Jonathan Lucroy will be removed from the Sox’ 30-man roster.

A somewhat surprising move considering the player taken off the roster, but on a team that needs plenty of pitching help at the moment, removing another catcher in Lucroy for a fresh arm in Mazza makes plenty of sense for the Red Sox.

Starting with Mazza, the 30-year-old right-hander was left off Boston’s Opening Day squad earlier this month, nearly seven months after he was claimed off waivers from the Mets back in December.

Throughout Summer Camp workouts at Fenway Park, Mazza looked like a potential candidate to open games for the Sox, but instead of including him on the Opening Day roster, the club opted for more unproven pitchers like Dylan Covey or Phillips Valdez instead.

Now, after joining the Sox in New York for this upcoming road trip, Mazza will get the chance to prove he belongs with his new team. He only has nine career major-league relief appearances under his belt, all of which came with the Mets last season.

As for Lucroy, the 34-year-old backstop made the Sox’ Opening Day roster as the club’s third catcher but only got into one game as a defensive replacement against Baltimore last Friday, and as Jennings mentions in the tweet above, never got an at-bat.

At the time he signed a minor-league deal with Boston back in February, it appeared as though Lucroy could legitimately contend with Kevin Plawecki for the Red Sox’ backup catcher spot behind Christian Vazquez.

Both Lucroy and Plawecki were impressive during the spring, and because of the 30-man rosters for the first two weeks of the season that were implemented as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Red Sox were able to carry all three backstops on their Opening Day squad.

But, as SoxProspects’ Ian Cundall notes, “It didn’t make much sense to carry three catchers when you can have one on the taxi squad, who doesn’t take up a roster spot. With the Red Sox pitching struggles, another arm is much more useful at this point.”

Former Brewers and Angels catcher Jett Bandy will now be the third catcher on the Sox’ taxi squad and will not take up a roster spot in doing so.

Following Wednesday’s moves, the Red Sox could have an open spot on their 40-man roster depending on what happens with Lucroy. Perhaps they could use that opening on someone like Tanner Houck?

Catcher Jett Bandy to Join Red Sox in New York as Part of Club’s Taxi Squad

Veteran catcher Jett Bandy will be joining the Red Sox as a non-roster taxi squad player in New York for the first leg of the club’s upcoming seven-game road trip, manager Ron Roenicke announced following Tuesday night’s 8-3 loss to the Mets.

Per Roenicke, Bandy will be the lone member of the Sox’ taxi squad while the team plays the Mets and Yankees if all goes according to plan. From there, two more players would join the club’s taxi squad for next week’s two-game series against the Rays in St. Petersburg.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, major-league teams this season are allowed to bring a three-man taxi squad with them for all road trips. One of these three players must be a catcher, while the other two can be pitchers or position players. That way, an infected or injured player could be replaced rather easily.

As noted by MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, “these three players will be permitted to work out with the team on the road, while the catcher will also be allowed to serve as a bullpen catcher. At the end of the road trip, Taxi Squad players will return to the team’s Alternate Training Site, though the catcher will be permitted to stay with the team as a bullpen catcher for home games.”

In Bandy’s case, the 30-year-old backstop inked a minor-league deal with Boston back in December and was added to the club’s initial 60-man Summer Camp player pool last month.

Across four big-league seasons played with the Angels and Brewers, the California native owns a career .218/.282/.365 slash line to go along with 16 home runs and 45 RBI over 156 total games played from September 14, 2015 until May 23, 2018.

Roenicke was Bandy’s third base coach for a little while there when the two were in Los Angeles.

A former 31st-round pick of the Angels in the 2011 amateur draft out of the University of Arizona, Bandy will not accrue any service time while a member of the Red Sox’ taxi squad, but he will get $108.50 per day, the major-league allowance, on top of his minor-league salary as long as he is “up” with the big-league club.