Red Sox make Will Venable hiring official, announce other coaching staff changes for 2021

Red Sox manager Alex Cora’s coaching staff for the upcoming 2021 season is now set.

While pitching coach Dave Bush, hitting coach Tim Hyers, assistant hitting coach Peter Fatse, first base coach Tom Goodwin, and third base coach Carlos Febles will retain the same roles they held this past season, changes have been made in other areas.

For starters, Will Venable has officially been named Red Sox bench coach after it was reported on Tuesday that he was going to get the job.

The former big-league outfielder had spent the previous three seasons as a first and third base coach with the Cubs, and he was one of several candidates who interviewed for Boston’s managerial opening last month.

That vacancy was ultimately filled by Cora, but the 38-year-old Venable now has the chance to strengthen his resume as a bench coach for the first time in his coaching career.

“Will is a bright, young mind that will add a lot to what is already a strong collection of coaches,” Cora said of Venable in a statement released by the team earlier Friday.

With Venable succeeding Jerry Narron, who succeeded Ron Roenicke, as bench coach, the Red Sox also named Jason Varitek as the club’s new game-planning coordinator.

For the past eight years, Varitek had been working for the Red Sox in a special assistant/catching coach capacity. He, like new quality control coach/interpreter Ramon Vazquez, will now step into more significant roles within the organization moving forward.

“I am also pleased that both Jason and Ramón will step forward and play larger roles for us,” Cora added.

Finally, Kevin Walker, who was named assistant pitching coach under Bush last October, has been named the Sox’ new bullpen coach. That position opened up when Craig Bjornson was let go by the club last month.

With his promotion, it would appear that the Red Sox could be in need of a new assistant pitching coach to take over for Walker unless they otherwise choose not to carry one next year.

That being said, Cora seems pleased with his new-look coaching staff as he prepares to embark on his second stint as Red Sox skipper.

“I am thrilled to have so many great baseball minds on our staff,” he said, “and I look forward to their contributions as we set out to achieve our goals.”

Red Sox believe top pitching prospects Bryan Mata, Connor Seabold will be big-league ready by next July

By this time Friday night, the Red Sox will have added six or seven minor-leaguers to their 40-man roster in order to protect said minor-leaguers from this year’s Rule 5 Draft in December.

Among the handful of eligible prospects who will presumably be added to Boston’s 40-man roster on Friday are right-handers Bryan Mata and Connor Seabold.

Mata, 21, is regarded by MLB Pipeline as the top pitching prospect and No. 4 overall prospect in Boston’s farm system. The Venezuela native spent the 2020 season at the Sox’ alternate training site in Pawtucket, and he really impressed there, according to Worcester Red Sox pitching coach Paul Abbott.

“I can’t say enough on this kid,” Abbott said of Mata back in October. “He’s as exciting, I think, as anybody in baseball. Top-shelf fastball, top-shelf slider. Curveball is above average. The changeup, too. It’s hard to squeeze all those pitches in when the first two are so dynamic. Young kid, got a little taste of Double-A last year and in the Fall League he did well, but this, for him… he got a ton of value out of this situation. His command wasn’t consistent enough. But a small little tweak in a low-stress environment like we were in allowed him to make some adjustments.”

Following his summer in Pawtucket, Mata was one of 62 players who took part in the Red Sox’ fall instructional league down in Fort Myers, though he did not see any in-game action, per SoxProspects.com’s Ian Cundall.

Seabold, meanwhile, also spent part of his summer working out at McCoy Stadium, but only after being acquired from the Phillies along with Nick Pivetta back in August.

The 24-year-old was originally selected by Philadelphia in the third round of the 2017 amateur draft out of Cal State Fullerton.

Boston dealt veteran relievers Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree in order to obtain both Seabold and Pivetta’s services, but that trade already looks like a win for chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom considering the fact that the pair of former Red Sox righties are currently free agents.

While working with Mata and the other pitchers present at the alternate training site for the latter half of the 2020 campaign, Seabold, too, drew attention from the likes of Abbott.

“His stuff across the board is probably middle of the road, or slightly above average,” Abbott said of the California native. “His changeup is not; his changeup is a top-of-the-food-chain type pitch. His fastball grades out, carries better and looks better than the velo. He’s got a little deception to him. He’s a grinder out there in the short time I saw him. Competes really well. We started developing a curveball with him, something a little slower and a little deeper than the slider. Another kid that needs to season a little bit, face some better hitters. He hasn’t been above Double-A. But I like his makeup and I like his pitchability. He’s a guy who can eat up some innings and give you some quality starts down the road.”

With Mata and Seabold both putting in quality efforts over the summer, the Red Sox obviously have high hopes for the pair of young hurlers. Combine that optimism with the notion that the two pitchers will be added to Boston’s 40-man roster on Friday, and they could very well be ready to make their major-league debuts sooner rather than later.

As a matter of fact, The Athletic’s Peter Gammons wrote Wednesday that, “the Red Sox believe that Byan Mata — who is 21 and was up to 99 [mph] in Pawtucket — will be up by July, as will Connor Seabold.”

What transpires in the spring — as well as how the Red Sox perform from a pitching perspective out of the gate next season — will likely serve as better indicators for what Mata and Seabold’s estimated time of arrival to the majors will look like.

Still, with all the uncertainties surrounding the Sox’ pitching staff moving forward, the emergences of Mata and Seabold will definitely provide some encouragement, and maybe even reassurance, for Bloom and Co. going into 2021.

Red Sox add free-agent outfielder Michael Gettys on minor-league deal, re-sign Emmanuel De Jesus

The Red Sox have signed free agent outfielder Michael Gettys to a minor-league contract, per Major League Baseball’s transaction wire.

Gettys, who turned 25 last month, had spent the previous seven seasons with the Padres organization after being selected by San Diego in the second round of the 2014 amateur draft.

A Georgia native, Gettys declared for free agency earlier in November after not being included in the Padres’ 60-man player pool at any point during the 2020 season.

Prior to 2020, Gettys had made it as far as Triple-A El Paso, where he posted a .256/.305/.517 slash line to go along with 31 home runs and 91 RBI over 128 games played in 2019. He also swiped 14 bases en route to being named an organization All-Star for San Diego.

As much as he thrived as a power hitter last year, Gettys also dealt with his fair share of strikeouts, too. In 551 plate appearances with El Paso, he whiffed 168 times, or in other words, a whopping 30.5% of the time.

In terms of defensive capabilities, the 6-foot-1, 217 lb. outfielder has experience playing all three outfield positions, so that versatility may have played a key role in his signing with the Red Sox.

By adding Gettys, the Sox have now acquired three former Padres prospects in some fashion within the last three months. Back in August, the club acquired infield prospect Hudson Potts and outfield prospect Jeisson Rosario from San Diego in exchange for first baseman Mitch Moreland.

Both Potts and Rosario are eligible for this December’s Rule 5 draft, as is Gettys. And although neither Potts nor Rosario have played above Double-A yet, Gettys has a solid track record at the Triple-A level, so he could very well start the 2021 campaign in Worcester depending on how things pan out in the spring.

On another note, the Red Sox also resigned left-hander Emmanuel De Jesus to a minor-league contract.

De Jesus, who turns 24 next month, originally signed with Boston as an international free agent out of Venezuela for $787,500 back in 2013.

The lanky southpaw most recently posted a 3.58 ERA over 24 starts and 130 2/3 innings pitched for High-A Salem in 2019. He, too, is Rule 5 eligible this winter.

Red Sox prospects: right-hander Aldo Ramirez, outfielder Gilberto Jimenez among top performers at fall instructs

Among the 62 minor-leaguers who attended the Red Sox’ fall instructional league from October 5 through November 12, right-hander Aldo Ramirez and outfielder Gilberto Jimenez stood out the most, according to SoxProspects.com’s director of scouting Ian Cundall.

Per Cundall, evaluators who had the chance to attend fall instructs reported that Ramirez “showed advanced feel and should stick as a starter,” while Jimenez “has filled out considerably” and “has started to drive the ball at the plate.

Aldo, 19, is regarded by SoxProspects as Boston’s sixth-ranked right-handed pitching prospect and 17th-ranked prospect overall.

The native of Mexico was signed from Rieleros de Aguascalientes of the Mexican League for $550,00 back in April 2018, with Sotero Torres, Eddie Romero, and Todd Claus being the scouts responsible for his signing.

Since that time, Ramirez most recently got a full season’s work in 2019 while spending time at short-season Lowell.

In 14 appearances (13 starts) for the Spinners, Ramirez posted a 3.94 ERA and a 2.95 xFIP over 61 2/3 innings of work. The 2020 minor-league season was, of course, a wash due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Per his SoxProspects scouting report, the 6-foot, 180 lb. righty works with a three-pitch mix that consists of a 91-95 mph fastball, a 77-80 mph curveball, and a 86-88 mph changeup with “splitterish movement.”

Typically pitching from a three-quarters arm slot, Ramirez currently projects to be a back-end of the rotation starting pitcher at the big-league level. At such a young age, though, he still has plenty of time to improve and further develop his craft before becoming Rule 5 eligible in 2022.

Jimenez, meanwhile, stood out as the best position player at fall instructs, and it’s easy to see why considering the 20-year-old is regarded by MLB Pipeline as the Red Sox’ top outfield prospect.

The speedster was signed out of the Dominican Republic for just $10,000 by Romero and Manny Nanita back in August 2017.

That investment has proven to pay off for the Red Sox in a tremendous way thus far, as Jimenez is without a doubt one of the more exciting players in the club’s minor-league pipeline.

On top of his 80-grade speed tool, the highest mark in the system according to FanGraphs, Jimenez has proven to be an on-base machine.

With short-season Lowell in 2019, the switch-hitting outfielder won the New York-Penn League batting title by slashing .359/.393/.470 to go along with three home runs, 19 RBI, and 14 stolen bases over 59 games played.

The one downside to Jimenez’s performance last year was that he primarily relied on his speed to turn groundballs into base hits, meaning he did not get the ball in the air all that much.

Despite that lone deterrent, Jimenez does have quick hands and plus bat speed to show for it. As mentioned above, he has also apparently filled out this year to the point where he is “now built like a running back.”

With that additional muscle, Jimenez has begun to show some flashes of power from the right side of the plate, which is the side of the plate he primarily hit from until converting into a switch-hitter in 2017.

Jimenez will become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft next winter, meaning there is a very good chance he will be added to the Red Sox’ 40-man roster within the next 12-plus months.

As you may have already guessed upon reading this report, Jimenez has plenty of potential, and like Ramirez, plenty of room to grow as a player, too.

Neither Ramirez nor Jimenez were included in the Red Sox’ 60-man player pool this past season, so the fall instructional league provided the club with its first real opportunity since March to check in on many of its coveted prospects.

Information from FanGraphs, MLB Pipeline, and SoxProspects.com was used in this article.

Red Sox expected to name Will Venable as next bench coach, per report

The Red Sox are expected to name Will Venable as their next bench coach, according to MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.

Per Cotillo, “the team has not confirmed the move but it is expected to be finalized in the coming days.”

Venable, who recently turned 38, has spent the last three seasons with the Cubs as both a first and third base coach. He was one of several candidates who interviewed for Boston’s managerial opening last month, but that position was ultimately retained by Alex Cora.

At the time of Cora’s rehiring, it appeared as though the Sox skipper would elevate someone from his coaching staff, such as Carlos Febles or Ramon Vazquez, to bench coach, but that now appears extremely unlikely given Tuesday’s news.

In Venable, the Red Sox do not get a bench coach with prior big-league managerial experience, as was the case with Cora’s first bench coach in Ron Roenicke. They do however get someone who, like Cora and Roenicke, has experience playing in the majors.

That being the case because over the course of a nine-year big-league career, Venable racked up 707 hits while playing for three different teams in the Padres, Rangers, and Dodgers from 2008 until 2016.

A native of California, Venable was taken by San Diego in the seventh round of the 2005 amateur draft after excelling as a two-sport athlete in both basketball and baseball at Princeton University.

Given the fact that he has been considered for other managerial openings in the past, one would have to assume Venable will use this opportunity with the Red Sox to further strengthen his resume moving forward.

On another note, it should be fascinating to see how Cora interacts with and uses Venable now that he has a bench coach younger than he is.

Dustin Pedroia’s Red Sox career could be nearing its conclusion

Dustin Pedroia’s time on the Red Sox’ 40-man roster could be coming to an end relatively soon.

The 37-year-old second baseman was activated from the 60-day injured list along with five others late last month, which brought Boston’s 40-man roster up to 37 players.

Clubs have until this coming Friday, November 20, to protect Rule 5-eiligible minor-leaguers from this year’s Rule 5 Draft, or in other words, add them to their 40-man roster.

As currently constructed, the Sox have three open slots on their 40-man with upwards of 50 prospects in need of Rule-5 protection. Obviously, the math does not check out here, and the majority of those 50-plus minor-leaguers will be exposed to the Rule 5 Draft come December.

There are however a select handful of Red Sox prospects who will need to be protected, as they are regarded as some of the more promising young players in the club’s minor-league pipeline.

Left-hander Jay Groome, right-hander Bryan Mata, infielder Hudson Potts, outfielder Jeisson Rosario, right-hander Connor Seabold, and catcher Connor Wong are the six key prospects in this scenario.

Groome and Mata, both of whom signed with the Red Sox in 2016, are regarded by MLB Pipeline as the top two active pitching prospects in Boston’s farm system.

The other four — Potts, Rosario, Seabold, and Wong — have all been acquired by the Sox via trade(s) within the last 12 months, so it’s highly unlikely the club would want to risk losing any of them.

There could be other, lesser-known minor-leaguers the Sox consider worthy of a 40-man roster spot, as was the case with lefty Kyle Hart last year. But, for the sake of this exercise, let’s assume that the Red Sox have six players they would like to add to the 40-man with only three vacancies to work with.

This means that, in some capacity, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom will presumably look to reshuffle his team’s 40-man roster between now and Friday.

Players who are currently on the 40-man could either get traded, designated, or outrighted within the next five days, but those same players could also help another team if they wind up in the right situation.

There is plenty of risk involved in this process, but there is one route Bloom and Co. could take that could help mitigate that risk just a little bit. That being, take Pedroia, among others off the 40-man roster.

The Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham reported last month that Pedroia and the Red Sox “are prepared to talk soon about a mutual understanding that would end his playing career.”

Though WEEI’s Rob Bradford later added on to that report by stating that “nothing” had yet to have been discussed between the two sides, a mutual agreement of some sorts here certainly makes sense from the Red Sox’ point of view.

Pedroia, a former MVP, has played in just nine total games over the last three seasons on account of issues with his left knee. He’s undergone three knee surgeries since 2017.

As he enters the final year of the eight-year, $110 million contract extension he signed with Boston back in 2013, it appears that the former second-round draft pick will be unable to play in 2021, or again, on account of how inactive he has been recently.

With that in mind, the Sox may look to reach some sort of settlement with Pedroia so that they can get out from some of the $12 million they owe him next year while also freeing up a 40-man roster spot for someone who can consistently contribute.

This is not exactly a fun scenario to consider, as Pedroia has proven to be one of the Red Sox’ undisputed leaders and all-time greats in his 15 or so years with the club, but it may be time to move on and have the four-time Gold Glover transition to a front office or coaching role within the organization, if possible.

Red Sox general manager Brian O’Halloran addressed this very issue in September, and he emphasized the notion that Pedroia will have a say in what the future holds for him as a Red Sox.

“I don’t think that any one particular roster spot is something I would focus on as a problem and certainly not when it’s Dustin Pedroia,” O’Halloran said. “We’re going to talk to Dustin and he’s obviously going to have the most say in where things go from here. No. 1 is making sure he’s as healthy as he can be for the rest of his life, really. And certainly we want to talk to him and see how he’s feeling and see where he wants to go from here.”

In short, Friday’s Rule 5 deadline will serve as a key indicator for where the Red Sox currently stand with Pedroia and the four-time All-Star’s status moving forward.

Other players are likely to get moved around, too, but Pedroia is without a doubt the most significant figure whose spot on Boston’s 40-man roster could be in jeopardy. We will have to wait and see what Bloom and Co. have in store.

Red Sox free agency rumors: Astros prioritizing signing Jackie Bradley Jr., per report

The Astros are reportedly interested in signing free-agent outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. — so much so that the club is making it a priority — per MLB Network’s Peter Gammons.

Bradley Jr., 30, declared for free agency late last month after spending the first eight years of his major-league career in Boston.

The former first-round draft pick is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to net himself a two-year deal worth somewhere around $16 million this winter, with the ‘Stros being the favorite to acquire his services.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, are reportedly interested in bringing back Bradley Jr. “for the 2021 season and beyond,” according to WEEI’s Rob Bradford.

In his eighth season with the Sox this year, Bradley Jr. put up quality numbers, slashing .283/.364/.540 to go along with seven home runs and 22 RBI over 55 games played.

While producing at the plate at that impressive level, the 2018 Gold Glover also provided superb defense in center field, ranking second among major-league centerfielders in outs above average (7), per Statcast.

That defensive prowess of Bradley Jr.’s, as noted by Gammons in the above tweet, has become quite significant for the Red Sox and Red Sox pitching over the years.

Going back to the start of the 2016 campaign, when Bradley Jr. essentially established himself as Boston’s everyday centerfielder, the Sox have had the sixth-best centerfield defense in baseball in terms of Ultimate Zone Rating (18.1).

Given the possibility that Bradley Jr. could depart for Houston or elsewhere this winter, the Red Sox would be faced with the reality that without Bradley Jr. manning center field on a regular basis, the club’s pitching could struggle as a result. That being the case because the flashy outfielder is capable of turning potential extra-base hits into outs at a moment’s notice.

With this in mind, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom addressed the team’s outlook for its outfield alignment going into 2021 when speaking with reporters earlier this week.

“I think we have guys on this club who are capable of playing center field,” Bloom said Wednesday via Zoom. “But we certainly would like to be in as strong of a defensive position as you can. We know we play in a ballpark where you basically have two center fields here in Fenway Park. So we want to be mindful of that.

“We’d certainly like to have as strong of a defensive outfield as possible,” he added. “And a lot of that is contingent on having multiple guys who can play center field.”

Whether it be Bradley Jr., a free-agency or trade acquisition, or one or several internal candidates, Bloom and Co. have to determine what the Red Sox will do at center field moving forward. They do not have a great deal of time to do that if Bradley Jr.’s market is indeed heating up.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora hoping Xander Bogaerts can become ‘elite defender’ at shortstop

Xander Bogaerts has proven to be one of the best shortstops in all of baseball in recent years, but that’s not stopping Red Sox manager Alex Cora from wanting more out of the 28-year-old moving forward.

Bogaerts just wrapped up a 2020 campaign in which he finished 17th in American League MVP voting thanks to putting up a .300/.364/.502 slash line to go along with 11 home runs and 28 RBI over 56 games played.

Impressive offensive production, per usual. However, the Aruban-born infielder put up rather unimpressive defensive numbers, as has been the trend since he made his first career Opening Day roster back in 2014.

Among 20 qualified major-league shortstops this past season, Bogaerts ranked 19th in Defensive Runs Saved (-5), which essentially means he cost the Red Sox five runs, and 13th in Ultimate Zone Rating (0.3).

Going back to 2014, the two-time All-Star has posted negative DRS totals in each of his last seven seasons with Boston, per FanGraphs.

The Red Sox, with Cora back at the helm, would like to see Bogaerts put it all together and become just as adequate with the glove as he is with the bat in his hands.

“Xander, for instance, when you talk about about the shortstops around the league and now you add [Corey] Seager to that equation, he’s up there with them,” Cora said of Bogaerts when speaking with NESN’s Tom Caron earlier this week. “Maybe the next step for us is to push Xander to be a better defender — and he’s not a bad defender — but to become an elite defender.”

This isn’t the first time Cora has brought up Bogaerts’ need to improve defensively, either. The Sox skipper said something along these same lines at least year’s winter meetings in San Diego.

Now that he is back, perhaps Cora will get on his shortstop in a similar fashion to the way he got on Rafael Devers in 2019. Of course, Devers has his own defensive kinks to work out, and Cora spoke about that process with Caron, too.

“With Raffy, we know what we have to work with,” he said. Expect both Bogaerts and Devers to be a focal point at the start of spring training in February.

Red Sox sign former Royals right-hander Kevin McCarthy to minor-league deal, per report

The Red Sox have signed free-agent right-hander Kevin McCarthy to a minor-league contract, according to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale.

Per Nightengale, McCarthy can make up to $825,000 if he makes Boston’s major-league roster.

The 28-year-old has spent the past five seasons with the Royals after being taken by the club in the 16th round of the 2013 amateur draft out of Marist College.

Most recently, the New York native appeared in just five games for Kansas City in 2020, allowing three earned runs over six innings pitched (4.50 ERA) before getting outrighted off the Royals’ 40-man roster last month.

Instead of accepting a minor-league assignment, McCarthy opted for free agency, and it only took him a little under two weeks to be scooped up by another team, albeit on a minor-league pact.

Prior to the 2020 season, McCarthy had proven to be a capable major-league reliever with the Royals. From 2016-2019, the righty posted a 3.78 ERA and 4.04 FIP over 164 appearances and 185 2/3 innings of work.

With those numbers in mind, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom is presumably hopeful that McCarthy can revert back to that adequate form he had displayed in Kansas City with a new organization.

McCarthy, who turns 29 in February, will likely get a shot at making the Sox’ Opening Day roster if he impresses enough out of the bullpen this coming spring. We will have to wait and see on that.

On another note, McCarthy’s Twitter handle is @KMAC_n_cheez15, so that’s cool.

Red Sox’ Chaim Bloom values Bobby Dalbec’s versatility, is still confident in Rafael Devers’ defensive abilities at third base

Since making his major-league debut in 2017, Rafael Devers has tried to prove that he is capable of being a competent third baseman defensively, but has struggled thus far in doing so.

This past season alone, the 24-year-old logged 475 innings at the hot corner and was worth -6 defensive runs saved (DRS), the worst mark among qualified American League third baseman, according to FanGraphs.

Devers’ defensive difficulties have led to speculation that the Dominican-born slugger could eventually move over to first base, especially now with the emergence of Bobby Dalbec.

Dalbec, who was called up for the first time in late August and saw the majority of his playing time come at first, is capable of playing both corner infield positions adequately, and the Red Sox certainly value his versatility moving forward.

That being said, don’t expect Devers and Dalbec to swap primary positions anytime soon, as Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom still has faith in the former’s abilities with the glove.

“We know Raffy is capable of a lot more than he showed in 2020,” Bloom said when speaking to reporters via Zoom Wednesday. “I think he knows that. Everybody who has seen him knows that. You guys know the bond Alex [Cora] has with him, and that is already something we’ve discussed in making sure that we’re doing everything we can to help him be in position to play a really good third base, as he has done in the past.

“I think the early indications, from the offseason, are that Raffy is preparing himself to do that,” added Bloom. “It was obviously a tough summer. The way the season started back up, he never really got going — he was never really in-sync defensively. He knows that, and now with an offseason ahead of us, we’re really optimistic that he’s going to come into the spring looking very different.”

Despite the hardships Devers endured at third base this past season, he still enjoyed moderate success at the plate as highlighted by his .845 OPS for the month of September.

With Cora back in the fold as Red Sox manager, Devers could in theory return to his 2019 form in which he led the American League in doubles (54) and total bases (359) while finishing 12th in MVP voting.

As for Dalbec, here’s what Bloom had to say about the 25-year-old former top prospect who looks primed to make his first career Opening Day roster next spring:

“With Bobby, we want to be able to maintain his ability to play both [corner infield] positions. I think the versatility is going to be great for him. That could be important on day one or it could be important in a year or two years. The fact that he is capable [of playing third] is huge. You never want somebody who has the ability to play other positions to be pigeonholed at first base.”

Per FanGraphs, Dalbec accrued 175 2/3 innings at first base and 15 innings at third base over the course of his rookie season. The former fourth-round draft pick made three errors, all of which came at first. He also hit eight home runs in 23 games, which equates to 56 homers over 162 contests.