Could Red Sox take enticing catching prospect Henry Davis with No. 4 pick in 2021 MLB Draft?

The 2021 MLB first-year player draft is set to begin in just under three months. In case you haven’t heard, the Red Sox will be making their top selection in the draft with the fourth overall pick after finishing with the fourth-worst record in baseball last season.

In his latest 2021 draft prospect rankings, The Athletic’s Keith Law listed University of Louisville catcher Henry Davis as his No. 4 draft-eligible prospect.

“Davis has mashed all year, with huge power and a patient eye, and he’s got a plus arm and enough receiving skills to stay behind the plate,” Law wrote earlier Thursday. “Joey Bart went second overall with less bat and more glove; I don’t think it’s a stretch to think Davis could be the first college position player taken.”

Davis, 21, is listed at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds. Through the Cardinals’ first 30 games of the season, the third-year sophomore is slashing an impressive .389/.514/.676 with eight home runs, 32 RBI, and an ACC-leading nine stolen bases. He has also thrown out 11 of the 20 baserunners who have attempted to steal against him.

In the history of the first-year player draft — which dates back to 1965 — the Red Sox have taken a catcher in the first round on just four separate occasions, most recently selecting Blake Swihart out of Cleveland High School (Rio Rancho, NM) with the 26th overall pick (compensation pick from the Rangers for Adrian Beltre) in 2011.

The last catcher who played his college baseball at Louisville to be selected in the first round of an amateur draft was the Dodgers’ Will Smith, whom Los Angeles took with the 32nd overall pick in 2016.

Since then, Smith has risen through the prospect ranks and has emerged as one of the top young catchers in the National League, if not all of baseball.

Coming into play on Thursday, the 26-year-old is slashing .261/.438/.652 with two home runs and four RBI through his first eight games of the 2021 campaign.

This is not to say that Davis should be compared to Smith at the moment. Both backstops may be right-handed hitters who attended the same school, but one is already establishing himself as an everyday big-leaguer while the other has yet to go pro.

That said, it is worth mentioning that the last University of Louisville catcher to be selected in the first round of the draft turned out to be someone with plenty of potential in the form of Smith.

As for how Davis — a native of Bedford, N.Y. who played for the Cape League’s Bourne Braves in 2019 — is viewed in the eyes of scouts, his MLB Pipeline scouting report goes as follows:

“Davis’ standout tool is his plus-plus arm strength, and he erased 34 percent of basestealers in his first two college seasons while also displaying quick footwork and good throwing accuracy. His receiving still needs a lot of work because it lacks consistency and he sometimes struggles to handle quality stuff, as evidenced by six passed balls in just 13 starts last spring. Though he has below-average speed and conceivably could try an outfield corner, his value comes from staying behind the plate, so he’ll have to improve. 

“While he doesn’t have a pretty right-handed swing, Davis makes it work at the plate and has a higher offensive ceiling than most catchers. He manages the strike zone well and makes repeated hard contact, even if his stroke lengthens and he gets a bit pull-happy at times. His strength and controlled aggression could produce 20 homers per season.”

Whoever the Red Sox take — whether it be Davis, Marcelo Mayer, Jack Leiter, or someone else — with their top selection in this summer’s draft, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, amateur scouting director Paul Toboni and Co. will have approximately $6.64 million in recommended slot value to spend on the No. 4 pick.

On a somewhat related note, The Baseball Prospect Journal’s Dan Zielinski III wrote back in January that during the offseason, Davis caught bullpens for Red Sox relievers Matt Barnes and Adam Ottavino.

(Picture of Henry Davis: Louisville Athletics)

Top Red Sox pitching prospect Bryan Mata undergoes Tommy John surgery

Top Red Sox pitching prospect Bryan Mata has undergone Tommy John surgery, the team announced Wednesday. The procedure was done by Dr. Neal ElAttrache at the Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, Calif. on Tuesday.

Mata, who turns 22 next month, is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 4 prospect in Boston’s farm system, ranking tops among pitchers in the organization.

The young right-hander was added to the Red Sox’ 40-man roster in November 2019 and — after spending 2020 at the Sox’ alternate training site and fall instructional league — came into the 2021 season with the chance to make his big-league debut later in the year.

During the early stages of spring training, though, Mata experienced soreness behind his right triceps and would later be diagnosed with a slightly torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his right elbow.

Because of that ailment, the 6-foot-3, 227 pound hurler was shut down for an extended period of time as the Sox initially opted for treatment as opposed to surgery.

After a few weeks of rest, Mata was able to restart his throwing program earlier this month, but must have suffered a recent setback and — as noted by MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith — “was shut down again sometime in the past seven days.”

Originally signed by the Sox out of Venezuela for just $25,000 back in January 2016, Mata has compiled a career 3.40 ERA and 1.35 WHIP over 69 starts and 315 total innings of work across four minor-league levels since making his pro debut. The highest level he has reached thus far is Double-A Portland.

Per his SoxProspects.com scouting report, Mata’s pitch mix consists of a 94-96 mph fastball that sat at 96-97 mph at the alternate site last year, an 86-90 mph slider, a 78-80 mph curveball, and an 84-86 mph changeup.

Pitchers typically take anywhere between 12 to 15 months to recover from Tommy John surgery, so it’s likely Mata will not be making his return to the field until sometime next summer at the earliest.

(Picture of Bryan Mata: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox outfield prospect Armando Sierra could prove to be underrated member of team’s 2021 international signing class

The Red Sox made a splash in the international free-agent market this winter by signing Dominican outfield prospect Miguel Bleis for $1.5 million back in January.

Appearing on the SoxProspects.com podcast with Chris Hatfield and Ian Cundall in February, Red Sox executive vice president and assistant general manager Eddie Romero described Bleis as a “premium centerfield talent” who has “got all five tools” in addition to “surprising power” and “an absolute hose of an arm.”

While Bleis has stolen the headlines and has already shot up the prospect charts (Boston’s No. 22 prospect according to Baseball America), there is another 17-year-old outfielder the Sox signed out of the Dominican who deserves some attention as well.

That outfield prospect’s name? Armando Sierra, who hails from the same city as fellow outfielder Gilberto Jimenez and right-hander Denyi Reyes (San Cristobal).

In his review of what the Red Sox have done thus far during the 2021 international signing period, Baseball America’s Ben Badler identified Sierra as his ‘sleeper [to] watch.’

“Armando Sierra is a corner outfielder from the Dominican Republic with a chance to hit and hit for power,” Badler wrote of the right-handed hitter last week. “He’s a physically imposing 6-foot-3, 210 pounds with an advanced approach to hitting for his age, keeping the bat head in the hitting zone for a long time that helps him drive the ball with power to all fields. He’s a limited runner whose offensive game will drive his value.” 

Sierra, who signed with the Sox for a bonus of $150,000 on January 15, does not turn 18 until next January.

“Armando was a player we scouted later on in his signing year. After scouting him a few times, he stood out for his strong frame and his power,” Romero recently told BloggingtheRedSox.com via email. “As we continued to see him, it became apparent that not only did he have above average power for his signing class, but he also was developing a stronger approach.

“Since his signing, Sierra has lost close to 20 pounds while gaining muscle working out at our academy,” added Romero. “He continues to improve defensively and is also featuring an above average arm (which was not the case during his scouting trials).”

The young outfielder will likely begin the 2021 minor-league season with one of the Red Sox’ rookie-level, Dominican Summer League teams. In fact, as Romero indicated, he’s already training at the team’s Dominican academy in El Toro, a town just outside of Santo Domingo.

Other recent Red Sox international signees highlighted by Badler include catcher Enderso Lira, right-handers Alvaro Mejias and Jedixson Paez, and shortstops Luis Ravelo and Ahbram Liendo.

(Picture of Chaim Bloom: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Could Red Sox take exciting shortstop prospect Marcelo Mayer with No. 4 pick in 2021 MLB Draft?

The 2021 MLB Draft is still over three months away, but with the college and high school baseball seasons in full swing across the country, some prospects are beginning to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.

The Red Sox will be making their top selection in this year’s draft with the fourth overall pick, marking the first time since 1967 that the club has made its first pick that early in a draft.

Because they will make their first selection so early on in the draft process this summer, the Sox will surely have their pick of prospects to choose from outside of the players who will be taken by the Pirates, Rangers, and Tigers at picks 1, 2, and 3.

“Right now, at this point in the process, we would be scouting everyone just as hard as we possibly could,” Red Sox area scout Danny Watkins explained last month on Podding the Red Sox: A BloggingtheRedSox.com Podcast.

Earlier this week, MLB.com’s Jim Callis wrote that “it’s very possible that” Vanderbilt’s Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter and Dallas Jesuit High School shortstop Jordan Lawler could be the first three players off the board in July.

That would lead up to the Sox making their first pick at No. 4, and the best player available in this scenario would be none other than Eastlake High School (Calif.) shortstop Marcelo Mayer.

In their most recent top-300 draft rankings, Baseball America had Mayer listed as their fourth-ranked draft-eligible prospect behind only Rocker, Leiter, and Lawler.

“Mayer started getting attention from scouts at Eastlake as a freshman, where he showed a smooth left-handed stick at the plate and advanced defensive actions up the middle,” BA’s Carlos Collazo wrote of the 18-year-old infielder. “Mayer is arguably the top defensive shortstop in a class that is deep at the position. He glides around the infield dirt with silky smooth actions and has the hands, footwork and arm strength to stick at the position long term. He always seems to slow the game down, and has no problem throwing from multiple angles with an accurate arm.

“Mayer also has upside offensively,” Collazo added. “He has fringe-average power now, but evaluators believe he could tap into above-average power down the line and he controls the zone well with a swing that’s leveraged for fly balls.”

Mayer, who does not turn 19 until December, is listed at 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds. As of April 7, the Southern California commit was slashing .381/.600/.761 with two home runs, 11 RBI, and six stolen bases through his first eight games of the year for Eastlake, per MaxPreps.

As their fourth-ranked draft prospect, Baseball America also had Mayer going to the Red Sox at No. 4 in their most recent mock draft from March 29.

“It seems like Mayer is the clear No. 4 after the top trio of players on the board,” Collazo wrote of the California native. “Whether he is in the mix of the top tier or just on the cusp of joining that top tier is still to be determined. Some scouts believe he has a chance to be the best pure hitter in the draft — college or high school — and with an impressive glove at a premium position, that gives him a two-way toolset that shouldn’t last long on the board.”

Collazo added that “at the moment, it seems like the ‘place to pick’ in this year’s draft class is either No. 3 or 4.”

Last year, in Chaim Bloom’s first draft as Red Sox chief baseball officer, Boston had to wait until pick No. 17 to make their first pick. This year, that wait will be a lot shorter.

“You don’t have control over who’s picked ahead of you at 17,” Red Sox amateur scouting director Paul Toboni told The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier last month. “You’ve got to cover a wider pool of players. This year, we get to make the decision: Let’s figure out who is in our top five, six, seven, eight — whatever number you want to throw out — and scout those players really, really hard.”

The Sox will have more of a chance to get a look at Mayer — as well as the other top high school talent expected to comprise this year’s draft class — at the first-ever MLB Draft Combine, which is slated to take place in Cary, N.C. from June 20 through June 28.

Per Collazo, the combine will feature “the top 88 high school players eligible for the 2021 draft,” all of whom will partake in an eight-game tournament as well as a “pro-style workout.”

Also, for what it’s worth, the recommended slot value assigned to the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft is approximately $6.64 million.

(Picture of Marcelo Mayer: Bodie De Silva, SBLive)

Red Sox option Tanner Houck to Worcester: Chaim Bloom says rookie right-hander ‘is a capable major-league starting pitcher right now, but that doesn’t mean he’s a finished product’

The Red Sox optioning rookie right-hander Tanner Houck to the alternate training site in Worcester on Wednesday did not come as much of a surprise.

With Eduardo Rodriguez set to make his season debut against the Orioles on Thursday, the Sox needed to open up a roster spot in order to activate the left-hander from the injured list.

Considering the fact that Houck has minor-league options and Boston’s starting rotation already consists of Nathan Eovaldi, Garrett Richards, Nick Pivetta, and Martin Perez, optioning the young righty seemed like the most logical step to take so that Rodriguez could be slotted back into the rotation.

Since being called up by the Red Sox for the first time last September, Houck has posted a 1.17 ERA and 2.51 FIP over five outings (four starts) and 23 innings pitched. That includes his first start of the 2021 season against the Orioles over the weekend in which he gave up three runs (two earned) over five innings as well as a relief appearance in the 11th inning of Tuesday’s contest against the Rays in which he allowed one unearned run in one inning of work.

To say the 24-year-old out of Collinsville, Ill. has gotten his big-league career off to an impressive start would be an understatement, but the Sox still feel as though there are some things he can improve upon.

“Tanner pitched great, both in his start and his appearance out of the bullpen,” chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom told The Boston Herald’s Jason Mastrodonato on Wednesday. “Simply put, this is about depth. We’re fortunate to have five guys we feel are good and capable major league starters. Tanner, we feel, is a sixth. We want to keep them all starting and keep them all pitching.”

Bloom acknowledged that while Boston’s starting rotation is set for the time being, injuries are inevitable and having Houck available to come up from Worcester could prove to be extremely valuable.

While Houck will be limited to just throwing bullpen sessions and in simulated games at Polar Park for the time being before the minor-league season begins next month, one aspect of his game the Sox would like to see the former first-round pick build on is continuing to develop a third pitch.

That third pitch, a splitter, is one that is still relatively new to the 6-foot-5, 218 pound hurler. Of the 100 pitches the righty has thrown so far this season, only three have been splitters.

“I think Tanner Houck is a capable major league starting pitcher right now, but that doesn’t mean he’s a finished product,” Bloom told Mastrodonato. “We know his ceiling could be even higher if he gets really comfortable with a third pitch. We know he can get lefties out, executing the fastball and slider the way he has in his big league starts, but if he can get more comfortable with that splitter, he’ll be even better. While he’s in Worcester, it’ll be easier to work on that than it would be while he’s pitching in a close game at the big league level.”

To put it simply, Houck is still “a work in progress” in the Red Sox’ eyes.. The hope is that he will be able to make more developmental strides while at the alternate site before being called upon once again.

“Keep working on his craft, on his pitches,” Red Sox manager Alex said in regards to what Houck can do to improve in Worcester. “Keep throwing strikes. Keep developing his secondary pitches. And just be ready. That’s all he needs to do. Where we’re at right now, we knew that this was going to happen. You look at the guys that have pitched for us, they’ve done an amazing job. And the difference between this team and last year — and even 2019 — we’re a lot deeper.

“He was a professional when we talked to him,” Cora continued. “He understands. Whenever we need him, he’ll be here and he’ll perform.”

(Picture of Tanner Houck: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox option rookie right-hander Tanner Houck to alternate training site

The Red Sox have optioned rookie right-hander Tanner Houck to their alternate training site in Worcester, the team announced prior to Wednesday’s game against the Rays.

The move to option Houck comes as no surprise with Eduardo Rodriguez slated to be activated from the injured list and make his first start of the season against the Orioles on Thursday.

Houck, who turns 25 in June, was initially slated to open the year at the Sox’ alternate training site out of spring training, but Rodriguez being placed on the IL due to elbow inflammation led to the righty breaking camp as the team’s No. 2 starter.

In his first start of the season, which came against Baltimore this past Saturday, Houck yielded three runs — two of which were earned — on six hits, one walk, and eight strikeouts over five innings of work.

He also allowed one unearned run while working the 11th inning of Tuesday’s 6-5, extra-innings win over Tampa Bay.

Since making his major-league debut last September, the former first-round draft pick has posted a 1.17 ERA, a 2.51 FIP, and a 31:10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in five outings (four starts) spanning 23 innings pitched for the Sox.

Despite the success Houck has been enjoying at the big-league level thus far, the Red Sox still feel like the 6-foot-5, 218 pound hurler has some work to do in regards to his development. A prime example of this would be to continue working on his third pitch: a splitter.

“It all depends on what you mean check all the boxes,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters Tuesday (including MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo) in regards to why Houck was going to be sent down. “You can be successful here but that doesn’t mean you have checked all your boxes from our end. And you can keep getting better.”

Another reason why the Sox are sending down Houck is because of the starters they already have on their roster.

With Rodriguez set to make his return to the mound on Thursday, Boston’s starting rotation will consist of Nathan Eovaldi, Rodriguez, Garrett Richards, Nick Pivetta, and Martin Perez.

Because Cora and Co. are not currently considering the use of a six-man rotation, Houck becomes the odd man out and will instead serve as rotation depth in Worcester.

Per Cotillo, “the expectation is that Houck will come up and start games later in the year if one of the veteran starters is injured or struggles.”

Until then, he will be limited to simulated games and bullpen sessions at the alternate site at Polar Park before the Worcester Red Sox begin their season in May.

(Picture of Tanner Houck: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Red Sox recall Tanner Houck from alternate training site; right-hander will start against Orioles on Saturday; ‘He’s in a good position now to come here and contribute,’ Alex Cora says

Throughout the 2019 and 2020 seasons, the Red Sox did not have the starting rotation depth they have now as they prepare to embark upon the 2021 campaign.

That much was made clear when upon placing left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez on the 10-day injured list due to left elbow inflammation on Thursday, the club recalled right-hander Tanner Houck from its alternate training site.

Houck, currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 8 prospect in Boston’s farm system, had an up-and-down spring for the Sox, posting a 5.04 ERA over four outings — two of which were starts — and 10 2/3 innings pitched in Grapefruit League play.

The 24-year-old hurler had come into big-league camp vying for a spot in the Red Sox’ Opening Day starting rotation after impressing in a brief cameo (0.53 ERA in three starts) with the club last September.

“I still remember him pitching last year and reading about how he’s supposed to be on the Opening Day roster next year, and he was going to help us — or that point them — out to be better,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of Houck on Thursday. “Well, you know what? He was going to start the year in Triple-A. And right away, we need a guy, and it’s Tanner Houck. So, I think that’s a lot better than what happened in ’19 and obviously what happened in ’20.”

Houck’s best outing of the spring was actually his very last one, and his first after being optioned to the alternate site nearly two weeks prior.

Working against the Braves in North Port on March 29, the 6-foot-5, 230 pound righty tossed 4 1/3 scoreless frames while scattering just two hits and one walk to go along with six strikeouts on the afternoon.

“Just watching him pitch the last one, him knowing the situation, you could tell he breathed,” Cora said. “It felt like, early in camp he was trying to impress someone. I told him before it started, ‘You just go out there and pitch.’ But the velocity was way up, he was out of his delivery. We haven’t talked about it, but he felt like he was off.

“The last one, he was under control, just throwing his sinker, and his four-seamer up, and the slider,” added Cora. “That was a good lineup, too. And there were some bad swings. But I think the comfort level — and it’s not that he was uncomfortable early on — but he was trying to do more, and that’s part of the learning process.”

Houck may have not been in Boston’s original starting rotation plans as of two weeks ago, but circumstances change and the former first-round draft pick is now scheduled to make his first start of the season against the Orioles at Fenway Park on Saturday.

Upon getting called up for the first time last year, Houck was unable to have any of his family in the stands to watch him pitch on account of COVID-19 protocols. That will change this weekend, as a few of the former Missouri Tiger’s relatives will be on hand to watch him pitch in-person for the first time in quite a while.

“He’s going to be excited on Saturday because he’s going to pitch in front of his family for the first time as a big-leaguer,” said Cora. “But I think he’s in a good position now to come here and contribute.”

Houck will be matched up against Orioles right-hander Matt Harvey on Saturday afternoon. First pitch is scheduled for 1:10 p.m. eastern time on NESN.

(Picture of Tanner Houck: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox place Eduardo Rodriguez on injured list; Alex Cora hopeful left-hander will be able to rejoin team ‘sooner rather than later. And sooner is like next week’

To nobody’s surprise, the Red Sox placed left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez on the 10-day injured list on Thursday due to left elbow inflammation.

The soon-to-be 28-year-old hurler was originally slated to start on Opening Day for the Sox in their first game of the year against the Orioles, but was scratched from said start after suffering a “dead arm” in the last week of spring training.

Now that he has been placed on the injured list — which was actually backdated to March 29 — the hope is that Rodriguez will be be able to return to the mound in the very near future.

“Him going on the IL is nothing long-term,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said about Rodriguez earlier Thursday. “It’s just [that] we ran out of time to build him up. The hope is for him to rejoin us sooner rather than later. And sooner is like next week.”

Rodriguez will head to Worcester on Friday to throw a simulated game at the Sox’ alternate training site at Polar Park.

Though Cora was unsure of how many innings or pitches Rodriguez would throw in that simulated game, he did place an emphasis on the Venezuelan southpaw’s health in the midst of this latest setback.

“We’ll build him up and see how it goes,” said the Sox skipper. “Like the whole week, the next day is the most important day. Hopefully he’s OK. The goal is for him is to be with us hopefully next week.”

Because his stint on the injured list was backdated to this past Monday, Rodriguez could be activated from the IL as soon as April 8, which — as noted by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo — would line him up to get the starting nod against the Orioles in the Red Sox’ road opener in Baltimore.

Rodriguez, who missed all of 2020 due to a heart condition as a result of contracting COVID-19 over the summer, has not pitched on a big-league mound since September 2019. While he is surely anxious to get back out there as soon as possible, he also understands that he needs to be at his best health-wise before returning to action.

“I’m going to go out there when I’m 100%,” Rodriguez said last weekend. “That’s why we sat together and made the decision. I want to go out there and compete and not think, ‘Oh, my shoulder’ and all that and miss my spots.”

The start of the 2021 season, which for the Red Sox was pushed back from Thursday to Friday, will mark the second consecutive year in which Rodriguez was supposed to be Boston’s Opening Day starter but ultimately was not.

A bout with COVID-19 prevented that from happening last summer, and a bout with left elbow inflammation is preventing that from happening this spring.

“It sucks for him because going into ‘20 he was supposed to be the Opening Day starter,” Cora said of the 6-foot-2, 231 pounder back on March 26. “Going into ‘21, we announced it and now he’s not. But I told him yesterday, I said, ‘Hey, man. The way you throw the ball, the way your career is going, at one point in your career you will be an Opening Day starter. Maybe more than once.’ So he took it as a professional. With him, I think the communication is very clear. It’s very genuine. And for him to accept it and think about the future and not the first game of the season, it is a testament to who he is right now as a pitcher, as a person, as a leader in this team.”

(Picture of Eduardo Rodriguez: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo talks hitting out of the two-hole, moving around the outfield

When Alex Verdugo emerged as the primary leadoff hitter for the Red Sox last August, he settled into the role nicely.

On the 2020 campaign as a whole, the 24-year-old outfielder slashed .304/.362/.442 with 13 doubles, two home runs, eight RBI, three stolen bases, and 12 walks in 152 plate appearances out of the No. 1 spot in Boston’s lineup.

Because he held his own in the leadoff spot in his first year with the Sox, it certainly appeared as though Verdugo had a decent chance to retain that role heading into the 2021 season. That is, until the Red Sox signed veteran utilityman Kiké Hernandez — Verdugo’s former teammate with the Dodgers — to a two-year, $14 million deal in February.

Since then, Red Sox manager Alex Cora had challenged Hernandez — who hit leadoff 88 times over six seasons in Los Angeles — to earn the role of Boston’s leadoff hitter this spring and the 29-year-old responded by clubbing three homers and posting a 1.042 OPS in Grapefruit League play.

With that in mind, it seems likely that Hernandez will bat leadoff for Boston in the club’s Opening Day contest against the Orioles on Thursday afternoon, while Verdugo will slide down to the two-hole.

While some may view this as a demotion of sorts for Verdugo, the left-handed hitter actually prefers batting out of the two-hole, as he explained during an appearance on WEEI’s Ordway, Merloni, and Fauria on Wednesday afternoon.

“I actually love the two-hole. I love it,” Verdugo said when asked which spot in the lineup he favors most. “I think the two-hole has always been a super comfortable spot for me to hit. Obviously, I didn’t mind if I led off this year or not but it’s just something that I think [Cora] wanted to give a go and try. I like it. I really do. I like the lineup. I like the depth that we have from 1-9. And I think wherever we hit, I hit, I think it’s all going to benefit us.”

Last season, Verdugo hit out of the No. 2 spot on just two separate occasions for former Sox skipper Ron Roenicke. He went 2-for-8 at the plate with a walk, an RBI, and a run in those two appearances.

For his career, the former second-round draft pick owns a lifetime .267/.301/.474 slash line to go along with seven home runs and 14 RBI in 144 plate appearances when serving as his team’s two-hole hitter.

Verdugo also discussed the role he expects to play in the Red Sox outfield this season. He explained that while he anticipates seeing the majority of his playing time come in center field, he is also aware that he could see time in right field as well depending on where the Red Sox are playing on a particular day or night.

In assuming more responsibility in center field, Verdugo will be taking over for former Red Sox outfielder and Gold Glove award winner Jackie Bradley Jr., who established himself as arguably the best defensive centerfielder in franchise history before signing with the Brewers earlier this month.

Bradley Jr. was someone who made a habit of making hard-to-make catches look routine in his eight seasons patrolling center field for the Sox from 2013-2020.

For Verdugo, who only logged eight innings in center field last season, those are certainly sizable shoes to fill, but the Arizona native is not worrying about that too much.

“To me, it’s another outfield position,” Verdugo said in regards to center field. “Everybody talks about how you have to be the fastest guy, all that. I don’t believe in that. I don’t think you have to. I think it’s about your initial jumps, your reactions, and your routes to the ball. I feel like I have good instincts out there. And for the most part, I can read a hitter’s swing pretty well and know what our pitcher is trying to do and have a good idea of where I need to be.

“I don’t have a problem with bouncing around. Right, left, center, or any of it,” he added. “When I get out there, the only priority is to catch the ball and run it down.”

In his last season with the Dodgers in 2019, the left-handed throwing Verdugo played 61 games and logged 475 2/3 innings in center field.

Over the course of those 61 contests in center, the 6-foot, 205 pounder was worth positive-4 defensive runs saved while posting an ultimate zone rating (UZR) of 1.1, which translates to an UZR of 3.6 over 150 defensive games, per FanGraphs.

Verdugo was also worth zero outs above average over that same span, per Baseball Savant, which essentially means he was average defensively at that position two years ago.

(Picture of Alex Verdugo: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Jackie Bradley Jr. reflects on time with Red Sox in heartfelt Players’ Tribune piece: ‘It was an honor’

Upon signing with the Milwaukee Brewers earlier this month, former Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. did not rush to social media to bid farewell to the organization he had spent the first 10 years of his professional career with.

“I don’t want it to just be some short thing,” he said back on March 8. “The years that you invest and put in, I don’t think it would justice for me to just give a little tidbit over this. I will gather my thoughts and emotions and be able to put it into words soon.”

On Wednesday, the final day before the start of the 2021 regular season, Bradley Jr. put his thoughts and emotions into words via an essay, as the soon-to-be 31-year-old penned a heartfelt piece for The Players’ Tribune titled: ‘Dear Red Sox Nation.’

In 288 words, the former first-round draft pick-turned-top prospect-turned Gold Glove-caliber centerfielder reflected on the ups and downs he experienced in his time with the Sox and how special it was to make his first Opening Day roster in 2013.

“April 1, 2013 — eight years ago, tomorrow — was the beginning of a new chapter for my career,” Bradley Jr. wrote. “It’s one that would be filled with hardships and triumphs, but most importantly growth. From the Merloni Shuttle to the duck boat parades; from hitting slumps to hitting streaks; from All-Star Games to Gold Gloves; and from last-place finishes to World Series championships … my baseball career in New England has been one that’s challenged me to always be present in the moment. 

“And to always be better than the day before.”

Over the course of eight big-league seasons with the Red Sox, Bradley Jr.’s accolades include putting together a 29-game hitting streak and making his first All-Star team in 2016, winning ALCS MVP and his first World Series and Gold Glove award in 2018, and quite frankly establishing himself as one of, if not the best defensive outfielder in baseball.

“These memories and accomplishments would not have been possible without God, hard work, dedication, family, friends, teammates, coaches, and support staff,” he added. “The relationships I’ve made over the years, both on and off the field, have helped me to become the player and person I am today — and I’m so grateful for that.”

One relationship Bradley Jr. made while in Boston was with Alex Cora, who managed the Gold Glover in 2018 and 2019. And while Cora was not surprised by Bradley Jr. signing elsewhere, he will miss the player he had gotten to known in more than just an on-the-field capacity.

“Solid player, better person,” Cora said of Bradley Jr. earlier this month. “Very consistent at everything he did. It was a pleasure to have him in the clubhouse, to know him off the field and get to know his family. An outstanding kid. He did some great things while he was here. He was amazing in 2018.

“He has a fan from afar,” added the Sox skipper. “I’ll be paying attention. Off the field, we’re going to keep having a relationship.”

Bradley Jr.’s deal with the Brewers will net the Virginia native $13 million in 2021. It also includes a $11 million player option for a potential second year in 2022, though Bradley Jr. could hit the open market once again this winter if he so chooses.

As Bradley Jr. prepares to embark on a new journey in Milwaukee — playing alongside the likes of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Can — he will also be sure to cherish the memories he made in Boston from here on out.

“So before each of us officially turns the page to our next chapter, I just wanted to say: Red Sox Nation, thank you,” Bradley Jr. wrote. “It was an honor.”

(Picture of Jackie Bradley Jr.: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)