Red Sox sign University of Connecticut catcher Matt Donlan

The Red Sox have agreed to terms with undrafted University of Connecticut catcher Matt Donlan, the school announced following the conclusion of Tuesday’s draft.

Donlan, 22, was not regarded as one of the top catching prospects in this year’s draft class. As a non-drafted free-agent, the Connecticut native can sign with Boston for up to $125,000.

After beginning his collegiate career at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass., Donlan transferred to UCONN, but was not eligible to play in 2021. So, in his one season with the Huskies, the right-handed hitter batted .260/.375/.489 with 14 doubles, 12 home runs, 60 RBIs, 47 runs scored, three stolen bases, 27 walks, and 55 strikeouts over 61 games spanning 265 plate appearances.

From behind the plate, Donlan — equipped with a strong arm — threw out 22 of the 42 base runners who attempted to steal off him this spring. In terms of accolades, the 6-foot-3, 213-pound backstop earned First Team All-Big East and College Park Regional Most Outstanding Player honors for his performance in both the regular and postseason.

Donlan, who turns 23 in November, will likely begin his pro career in the rookie-level Florida Complex League upon officially putting pen to paper. Other Red Sox catching prospects who are currently down in Fort Myers include Enderso Lira, Daniel McElveny, and Diego Viloria, among others.

(Picture of Matt Donlan: University of Connecticut Athletics)

Red Sox select Randleman High School catcher Brooks Brannon with ninth-round pick in 2022 MLB Draft

With the 279th overall pick in the 2022 MLB first-year player draft, the Red Sox selected Randleman High School (N.C.) catcher Brooks Brannon.

Brannon, 18, is regarded by Baseball America as the No. 155 prospect in this year’s draft class. The right-handed hitting backstop is currently committed to play college baseball at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

As a highly-touted senior at Randleman, Brannon batted a ridiculous .609/.644/1.330 with 17 doubles, three triples, 20 home runs, 91 RBIs, 44 runs scored, two stolen bases, 16 walks, and 15 strikeouts over 34 games (135 plate appearances) for the Tigers.

Listed at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, Brannon “is close to physically maxed out,” according to his Baseball America scouting report. He “has plus raw power in the tank and swings like someone who knows he does — constantly looking to do damage. He wasn’t on the summer showcase circuit and so scouts don’t have much track record with him facing high-end velocity, and he has also expanded the zone and swung and missed at times with noncompetitive swings against below-average secondaries.”

Defensively, Brannon “shows above-average arm strength and clocked pop times around 1.95 seconds last fall, but he needs to improve his actions behind the plate as both a receiver and pitch blocker. There are tools here for Brannon to be an impactful player, but he needs to iron out some of the details of his game to fully capitalize on them.”

Considering that Brannon — who does not turn 19 until next May — is committed to a well-regarded school like North Carolina, it may take the Red Sox some effort to sway him away from Chapel Hill.

The recommended slot value for the 279th pick in the 2022 draft comes in at $158,100, so Boston could be looking to sign Brannon to an over-slot deal of some sorts.

“We were surprised to see him get that far,” Red Sox director of amateur scouting Paul Toboni said of Brannon on Monday, via MLB.com’s Julia Kreuz. “We think so highly of the baseball player and the person, we were beyond thrilled to see him staring at us at that point of the draft.”

(Picture of Brooks Brannon: Randleman High School head coach Jake Smith)

Red Sox catching prospect Nathan Hickey has homered 3 times in last 3 games for Low-A Salem

Another member of the Salem Red Sox who has been tearing it up at the plate as of late is catcher Nathan Hickey.

In Salem’s 8-7 loss to the Fredericksburg Nationals at Carilion Clinic Field on Tuesday night, Hickey — batting cleanup — went 1-for-4 with two RBIs, two runs scored, two strikeouts, and one walk.

His lone hit was a clutch game-tying, two-run home run in the ninth inning. Although Salem ultimately fell to Fredericksburg in extras, Hickey extended his hitting streak to six consecutive games and is continuing on with a productive month of June.

Since the calendar flipped from May, Hickey is batting a stout .295/.418/.614 with five doubles, three home runs, 18 RBIs, 10 runs scored, 10 walks, and 11 strikeouts over his last 12 games and 55 trips to the plate.

On the 2022 campaign — which is also his first full professional season — as a whole, the left-handed hitter has slashed .278/.437/.526 to go along with 12 doubles, seven homers, 39 runs driven in, 30 runs scored, 38 walks, and 37 punchouts across 39 games (174 plate appearances) with Salem.

Among qualified Carolina League Hitters, Hickey ranks 16th in batting average, third in on-base percentage, fifth in slugging percentage, fourth in OPS (.963), fifth in isolated power (.248), and second in walk rate (21.8%), per MiLB.com’s leaderboards.

Defensively, Hickey has unsurprisingly seen all his playing time this season come behind the plate when not serving as Salem’s designated hitter. The 6-foot, 210 pound backstop has now logged 209 2/3 innings behind the plate in 2022 and has allowed six passed balls while throwing out three of a possible 34 base stealers.

Hickey, 22, was selected by the Red Sox in the fifth round of last year’s amateur draft out of the University of Florida. Unlike his college teammate Jud Fabian, the former Gator signed with the club for $1 million last August.

A native of Jacksonville, Fla. himself, Hickey is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 23 prospect in Boston’s farm system, which ranks tops among catchers in the organization.

Per his Baseball America scouting report, which was written by The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier, Hickey is “far from a sure bet to stay behind the plate, where he lacks agility and technical polish when both receiving and blocking. While he has solid arm strength, he ended his 2021 college season at third base.”

Speier also noted that Hickey, who does not turn 23 until November, “may move more deliberately than other college players with his offensive profile given the need to develop behind the plate, but he’ll be given every chance to develop into a bat-first everyday catcher. If he can’t stay at the position, he could fit in a corner.”

Taking that into consideration, it remains to be seen if Hickey will work his way to High-A Greenville at some point this summer or will instead stick with Salem for the rest of the season. Only time will tell.

(Picture of Nathan Hickey: Gary Streiffer/Flickr)

Red Sox catching prospect Ronaldo Hernández heating up at the plate with Triple-A Worcester

It was a slow start to the season for Ronaldo Hernandez, but the Red Sox catching prospect has picked things up as of late for Triple-A Worcester.

In the WooSox’ most-recent series against the Lehigh Valley IronPigs in Allentown, Pa., Hernandez went a ridiculous 13-for-22 (.591) at the plate with three doubles, two home runs, seven RBIs, six runs scored, one walk, and two strikeouts over five games and 24 plate appearances.

Hernandez very well could have been named International League Player of the Week were it not for the efforts of Royals prospect Vinnie Pasquantino, who had quite the week himself for the Omaha Storm Chasers.

Regardless of that, Hernandez has seen his stock rise lately for good reason. After struggling to the tune of a .132/.132/.245 slash line (-9 wRC+) in April, the right-handed hitting 24-year-old comes into the final day of May batting a stout .309/.367/.491 (131 wRC+) with six extra-base hits, eight RBIs, eight runs scored, four walks, and 17 strikeouts across his last 15 games and 62 trips to the plate.

This is Hernandez’s first full season with Worcester after he was promoted there from Double-A Portland last September. One of four catchers on the WooSox’ active roster, the 6-foot-1, 247 pound backstop has logged 189 innings behind the plate thus far while throwing out five of the 28 base runners who have attempted to steal off him.

The Red Sox originally acquired Hernandez and fellow prospect Nick Sogard from the Rays last February in exchange for pitchers Chris Mazza and Jeffrey Springs. Since then, the native Colombian has been regarded by publications such as Baseball America as one of the top two catching prospects in Boston’s farm system alongside Connor Wong.

While Wong has appeared in eight games for the Sox over the last two seasons, Hernandez has not gotten that same opportunity. Hernandez spent one day on Boston’s major-league roster last month, but he did not get into a game and was quickly optioned back down to Worcester when Christian Vazquez returned from the COVID-19 related injured list.

As a member of the Red Sox’ 40-man roster, Hernandez can easily be shuttled between Boston and Worcester this season when the need arises. That being said, it definitely seems as though Hernandez is squarely behind Wong (also on the 40-man) as far as the big-league club’s catching depth is concerned.

Hernandez, who does not turn 25 until November, has just one minor-league option remaining. So, if he remains in the organization throughout the off-season and into the spring, he will need to make the Sox’ 2023 Opening Day roster or will otherwise lose his 40-man spot since he will then be out of options.

With that, the 2022 season obviously holds some significance for Hernandez, who is represented by CAA Sports. On top of that, both Vazquez and Kevin Plawecki can become free-agents at the end of the year.

In short, Hernandez has but a few months to show he has what it takes to stick in the major-leagues. Offense has always been his calling card, so he will need to continue to hone his skills as a defender if he intends to stay behind the plate for the long haul.

(Picture of Ronaldo Hernandez: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

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)

New Podding the Red Sox episode: Red Sox catching prospect Kole Cottam joins the show

On this week’s installment of Podding the Red Sox: A BloggingtheRedSox.com Podcast, I am joined by Red Sox catching prospect Kole Cottam.

Cottam, 24, was originally selected by the Red Sox in the fourth round of the 2018 amateur draft out of the University of Kentucky. The right-handed batting backstop spent the 2021 season between High-A Greenville and Double A-Portland and was also named an Arizona Fall League All-Star.

Among the topics Kole and I discussed were his days at Kentucky and his summer on Cape Cod in 2017, where he was when he found out he was getting drafted by the Red Sox in 2018, how he fared during the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020, a recap of his 2021 season, his thoughts on playing in the Arizona Fall League, the popularity the one-knee catching stance and his mustache, where he is at with two weeks to go until the start of the 2022 season, and much more!

The episode is available to listen to on iTunes and Spotify, among other platforms.

My thanks to Kole for taking some time out of his spring training schedule to have an insightful conversation with yours truly. You can follow Kole on Twitter (@Kole_Cotton13) by clicking here and on Instagram (@KoleCottam13) by clicking here.

Thank you for listening and we will see you next time! Please make sure to subscribe and leave a five-star review if you can!

(Picture of Kole Cottam: Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Don’t forget about Red Sox catching prospect Kole Cottam

When it comes to how the Red Sox view the catching position in the long-term, they already have some intriguing prospects on the 40-man roster in Connor Wong and Ronaldo Hernandez. Boston also used a fifth-round pick on former University of Florida catcher Nathan Hickey in last year’s draft.

With that being said, do not forget about fellow backstop and SEC alumnus Kole Cottam, who the Sox originally selected in the fourth round of the 2018 amateur draft out of the University of Kentucky.

Cottam, who turns 25 in May, may not be one of the more well-known catching prospects in baseball. Still, the Tennessee native is coming off a 2021 season that was inarguably productive.

After the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out Minor League Baseball in 2020, Cottam broke camp last spring with High-A Greenville. The right-handed hitter proceeded to bat a stout .276/.386/.487 (135 wRC+) with 13 doubles, one triple, six home runs, 24 RBIs, 22 runs scored, 25 walks, and 64 strikeouts over 46 games (190 plate appearances) for the Drive.

On July 29, the Red Sox promoted Cottam to Double-A Portland, where he slashed .282/.337/.526 to go along with five doubles, one triple, four homers, nine runs driven in, 11 runs scored, three walks, and 33 strikeouts across 25 games (98 plate appearances) with the Sea Dogs.

Though Cottam’s walk rate fell and strikeout rate increased upon his promotion to Portland, he still finished the year with a .871 OPS and 133 wRC+, meaning he created 33% more runs than the average hitter in 2021.

Defensively, Cottam logged a total of 439 innings behind the plate with the Drive and Sea Dogs last year. The 6-foot-3, 235 pounder threw out eight of a possible 50 base stealers and also saw some time at first base with Portland.

While the Double-A season may have concluded in September, Cottam’s year was not done. He was one of eight Red Sox prospects who made the trek out west to play in the Arizona Fall League.

Suiting up for the Scottsdale Scorpions, Cottam and his moustache crushed three homers, collected 10 RBIs, and posted an OPS of .866 in 15 games. He was named an Arizona Fall League All-Star alongside teammate Triston Casas in November.

Shortly after the AFL season came to a close, Cottam very well could have been added to Boston’s 40-man roster in order to receive protection from the Rule 5 Draft. The Red Sox, however, elected to not include the 24-year-old.

At the time that decision was made, it’s safe to assume Cottam was disappointed with the news. That said, not being added to the 40-man allowed Cottam to stay in contact with Sox coaches throughout the lockout and participate in the team’s Winter Warm-Up program in January.

Not being on the club’s 40-man roster also allowed Cottam to report to minor-league spring training in Fort Myers earlier this month. When the lockout ended, he was one of 12 minor-leaguers who received an invite to big-league camp this past Thursday.

As he takes part in major-league spring training for a second consecutive year, Cottam enters the 2022 season ranked by SoxProspects.com as the No. 56 prospect in the organization.

The former Kentucky Wildcat is projected by the site to return to Portland for the start of the upcoming campaign, though it would not be surprising to see him earn a promotion to Triple-A Worcester at some point this year.

(Picture of Kole Cottam: Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox)

Could Red Sox catching prospect Diego Viloria surprise people in the Florida Complex League in 2022?

Red Sox catching prospect Diego Viloria celebrated his 19th birthday on Wednesday. The Venezuelan-born backstop originally signed with Boston for $25,000 as an international free agent in July 2019.

Since he was still a ways away from turning 17 at that time, Viloria spent the rest of the 2019 season playing in the unofficial Tricky League down on the Dominican Republic.

The Tricky League is considered unofficial since there are no league standings or playoffs. Statistics are tracked by teams but are not made available to the public, meaning the true purpose of the league — as Baseball America’s Ben Badler put it — is “for teams to get their (latest) signings playing in games as soon as possible.”

Because the Trickly League is not official, Viloria had his first true taste of pro ball taken away from him when the 2020 minor-league season was cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rather than getting to play in the Dominican that summer, Viloria — like many minor-leaguers — returned to his home country to wait out the pandemic. After that lengthy shutdown period, Viloria flew back to the DR last July and was finally on the cusp of his making his professional debut.

Upon arriving at the Red Sox’ academy outside of Santo Domingo, Viloria was assigned to the club’s Dominican Summer League Blue affiliate and debuted for the team on July 15. He picked up his first hit as a pro four days later.

On the 2021 campaign as a whole, Viloria appeared in a total of 25 games — all at catcher. Over the course of those 25 contests, the right-handed hitter batted a stout .278/.358/.361 (109 wRC+) to go along with two doubles, two triples, eight RBIs, 12 runs scored, two stolen bases, four walks, and 13 strikeouts across 81 plate appearances.

Defensively, Viloria mainly split time behind the plate with fellow Venezuelan and 2019 signee Rivaldo Avila for the DSL Red Sox Blue. When he was back there, though, the 5-foot-10, 165 pounder logged 176 2/3 innings and threw out 10 of the 26 (or 38%) of the base runners who attempted to steal against him.

On the scouting front, there does not appear to be too much information available on Viloria, though it seems like arm strength could understandably be one of his standout tools.

At present, Viloria in not regarded by any major publication as one of the top catching prospects in Boston’s farm system on account of the fact he is currently sitting behind the likes of Connor Wong, Ronaldo Hernandez, Kole Cottam, Jaxx Groshans, and Enderso Lira in the organizational depth chart.

That being said, Viloria is projected by SoxProspects.com to begin the 2022 season with the rookie-level Florida Complex League Red Sox. The Caracas native is already in Fort Myers for minor-league spring training, so it should be interesting to see if he can continue to develop and make his impact felt in the United States.

(Picture of Diego Viloria via his Instagram)

Red Sox sign Venezuelan catching prospect Johanfran Garcia

Saturday marked the opening of the 2021-2022 international signing window across Major League Baseball. The Red Sox have been as active as any team and have signed six players thus far, according to Baseball America signing agreement tracker.

Of those six players, catching prospect Johanfran Garcia may stand out above the rest.

Garcia, who turned 17 last month, will sign with Boston for approximately $650,000, per MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez. The native of Venezuela is the younger brother of Red Sox outfield prospect Jhostynxon Garcia, who originally signed with the club in July 2019.

Listed at 6-foot and 205 pounds, Garcia came into 2022 regarded by MLB Pipeline as the No. 34 overall prospect in this year’s class, ranking fifth among catchers in the publication’s top-50 list.

On the 20-80 scouting scale, MLB Pipeline grades the right-handed hitting backstop’s hit tool at 50, his power tool at 55, his run tool at 45, and his arm tool at 50.

“Garcia is built like Yadier Molina,” his MLB Pipeline scouting report reads. “He’s husky, strong and extremely durable. And while he could eventually develop into an all-around defender like Yadier, Garcia is better known for his bat over his defense at this stage of his career.

“The teen simply has a great feel for hitting and performs well at the plate in games and showcases,” it continues. “He has displayed the ability to spray the ball all over the field with authority and has what has been described as ‘sneaky’ pull power to his pull side.

“He’s no slouch on defense. He has average hands and projects to have an average arm. He moves well behind the plate and continues to work on his blocking and receiving skills.” 

In addition to Garcia, the Red Sox have also inked shortstops Fraymi De Leon, Freili Encarnacion, Jancel Santana, Yosander Asencio (Dominican Republic), and Marvin Alcantara (Venezuela), outfielder Natanael Yuten (Dominican Republic), left-hander Inmer Lobo (Venezuela) and right-handers Willian Colmenares and Denison Sanchez (Venezuela).

Boston has $5,179,700 to work with in terms of their international amateur bonus pool. Any player they sign for $10,000 or less does not count against the cap as this year’s signing window runs through December 15.

(Picture of JetBlue Park: Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Red Sox catching prospect Enderso Lira ‘showed promise both offensively and defensively’ in Dominican Summer League last year

Of the 30 free agents the Red Sox have signed during the 2020-2021 international signing period, only one is listed as a catcher.

That catching prospect would be none other than Enderso Lira, who signed with Boston for approximately $850,000 last winter, making him the second-highest paid member of the club’s international signing class behind only Miguel Bleis.

At the time of his signing, Lira — then 17 — was heralded by Baseball America as one of the top young catchers to come out of Venezuela. With the help of signing scout Angel Escobar, he officially inked his first professional contract on January 15 and subsequently made his way to the Sox’ Dominican academy in El Toro.

A little less than six months after signing, Lira made his pro debut in the Dominican Summer League on July 13 — batting third and starting behind the plate for the DSL Red Sox Red affiliate in their contest against the DSL Royals Blue.

From that point forward, the right-handed hitting backstop proceeded to slash .246/.414/.336 with seven doubles, three triples, 15 RBIs, 16 runs scored, one stolen base, 32 walks, and 18 strikeouts over 41 games spanning 162 plate appearances.

Among hitters in the Dominican Summer League who made at least 160 trips to the plate last year, Lira ranked 10th in walk percentage (19.8%), 17th in strikeout percentage (11.1%), 26th in on-base percentage, and 57th in wRC+ (125), per FanGraphs.

Defensively, 32 of Lira’s 41 appearances last season came at catcher. In the process of logging 246 2/3 innings behind the plate, the San Felipe native was credited with 225 putouts, 34 assists, eight errors committed, three double plays turned, and four passed balls allowed. He also threw out 27 of the 70 (39%) of the base runners who attempted to steal against him.

Listed at 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, Lira — like most prospects his age — still has plenty of room to grow both on and off the field. The 18-year-old is currently regarded by SoxProspects.com as the No. 32 prospect in Boston’s farm system, which ranks fourth among catchers in the organization.

Back in September, SoxProspects.com’s director of scouting Ian Cundall identified Lira as “the most intriguing position player prospect in the DSL” besides the aforementioned Bleis.

“Lira has a great frame for a catcher, with projection remaining, and is athletic enough that one scout suggested to me he could even handle third base if he outgrows catcher,” Cundall wrote. “He has looked good behind the plate though and has an above-average arm already.

“Offensively, he has a very advanced approach for his age,” added Cundall. “His swing is short and direct, and he has quick hands. Right now, he mostly hits hard line drives, but he should grow into some power in the future, especially given his frame.”

As alluded to by Cundall, the Red Sox have had a tough time as of late when it comes to developing catchers. The additions of Lira and 2021 fifth-round draft pick Nathan Hickey could change the club’s fortunes in that area, though.

On that note, Lira — who does not turn 19 until October — is projected by SoxProspects.com to begin the 2022 season as the Sox’ top backstop in the Florida Complex League.

(Picture of Enderso Lira via his Instagram)