Jeter Downs, top Red Sox prospect, is a ‘workaholic,’ Alex Cora says; ‘His bat is going to play’

Jeter Downs collected his second home run of the spring in the Red Sox’ 7-3 loss to the Rays in Port Charlotte on Friday afternoon.

Starting at shortstop and batting out of the seven-hole, the 22-year-old infielder went 1-for-3 at the plate with a walk, a strikeout, and that aforementioned home run.

Downs’ homer came in the top half of the second, when with one out and a runner on first he took a 2-2 changeup at the bottom of the zone from Rays starter David Hess and clobbered it well over the left-center field wall.

Though the wind was blowing hard in that particular direction at Charlotte Sports Park, Downs’ display of power was impressive nonetheless.

“He does a good job of controlling the strike zone,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of Downs’ plate discipline. “He knows what he wants to do at the plate. Even in the last at-bat when he chased a pitch up, he knew right away he was out of the zone. “That’s something that we’ve been impressed [by].

Following Friday’s showing, Downs is now slashing .357/.500/.786 with a pair of homers and five RBI through his first 15 games and 18 plate appearances of Grapefruit League play while primarily playing shortstop.

A bruise to his left side suffered during a game against the Twins on March 14 resulted in Downs being held out of in-game action for a little more than week, but the Colombian-born prospect returned to action this past Monday and has gotten back into the swing of things.

Throughout the spring, Cora has not shied away from commending some of the organization’s top prospects — like Downs, catcher Connor Wong, and infielder Nick Yorke — for their ability to seemingly slow down what’s going on around them. He did more of the same while praising Downs on Friday.

“The bat will play,” said the Sox skipper. “He’s a good defender. I know he had that tough game the second game of spring training, but he’s a workaholic. One thing is for sure: He has a very slow pulse, and that helps him out. People might see him and they’ll be like, ‘Oh, low-energy guy. He’s not into it.’ That’s not the case.

“Offensively, he understands what he wants to do,” Cora added. “He understands the strike zone, and that’s why his bat is going to play.”

Downs, who like Cora has connections to the city of Miami, is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 2 prospect in the Sox’ farm system behind only Triston Casas.

Listed at 5-foot-11 and 193 pounds, the right-handed hitter was reassigned to the minor-leagues on March 12. He is projected to begin the year at the Red Sox’ alternate training site in Worcester.

Downs, of course, was one of three players the Sox acquired from the Dodgers in the blockbuster trade that sent Mookie Betts and David Price to Los Angeles last February — with Wong and outfielder Alex Verdugo being the other two.

Verdugo, the only one of the three with any major-league experience to this point, seemed impressed with what he has seen from both Downs and Wong at camp thus far when speaking with reporters earlier this week.

“They’re great players. Obviously, Downs, a middle infielder, and I love his swing,” Verdugo said this past Tuesday. “I think his swing is really good. I think it’s going to play in the big leagues. The same goes with Wong. Wong is a really good catcher and has a really good arm back there. He can fire it and he can swing it, too.

“With those guys, it’s obviously tough because last year we didn’t have a minor leagues,” he added. “They weren’t able to go to Pawtucket and put up big numbers or whatever it may be. It kind of hurts them a little bit but these are guys who are professionals. They’re working in the cage, talking to guys and trying to learn more and more so in the next two years — maybe this year, we never know — we’ll start seeing them come up.”

(Picture of Jeter Downs: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Red Sox prospect Connor Wong catching the eyes of Alex Cora at spring training

Red Sox catching prospect Connor Wong is a longshot to make the team’s Opening Day roster out of spring training next month.

As the third backstop on Boston’s catching depth chart, the 24-year-old is more likely to begin the year at the club’s alternate training site in Worcester before heading to Double-A Portland or Triple-A Worcester for the start of the 2021 minor-league season.

All that being said, nothing has stopped Wong from impressing his peers thus far at big-league camp in Fort Myers.

Despite collecting just one hit through his first 10 plate appearances of Grapefruit League play, the Houston-area native has drawn three walks, and that ability to be patient and slow the game down is something that has caught the attention of Red Sox manager Alex Cora.

“He’s a good player,” Cora said of Wong on Wednesday. “Very calm behind the plate. Very athletic. Seems like he and Jason [Varitek], they’ve been working hard on that setup on one knee. He’s made progress. I didn’t see him last year, but what I’ve seen is great. Like I’ve been saying: all these kids, Jeter [Downs], and Nick [Yorke], and Connor. There’s something about them that they’re very calm when they play the game.

“It’s like there’s no panic,” continued Cora. “Even his at-bats. He walks and he takes his time putting the bat down. There’s something good about them. They understand the game, they ask questions, and we have a good one.”

The one hit Wong has recorded so far this spring came in the Red Sox’ Grapefruit League opener against the Twins on February 28.

The 6-foot-1, 181 lb. pounder took over behind the plate for Christian Vazquez in the bottom half of the third inning of that contest and picked up a one-out double in his first trip to the plate a half inning later.

He may have struck out in his second at-bat, but he played ‘outstanding’ defense in the process of doing so.

“He’s another guy that slows down the game,” Cora said of Wong back on March 1. “You could see yesterday, we had a bad inning and then he comes in and it’s kind of like a presence about him. He studies the game. He talks the game, which is very important for a catcher. Seems like he never panicked back there. He keeps working on that one-knee down stance. He has some really good hands.”

Wong, a right-handed hitter, was originally selected by the Dodgers in the third round of the 2017 amateur draft out of the University of Houston. His natural position in college was shortstop — not catcher — but he eventually moved behind the plate and has remained there.

While transitioning to catcher, though, Wong also saw playing time at second base and third base at Double-A Tulsa in 2019 before being part of the trade that sent Mookie Betts and David Price to Los Angeles and Alex Verdugo and Jeter Downs to Boston the following February.

The Dodgers have a history of converting position player prospects into full-time catchers. They’ve done so with Will Smith, who played a little bit of infield and outfield at the University of Louisville, and Austin Barnes, who has appeared in 195 total games at either second or third base at the minor-league level.

Cora recounted a conversation he had with the versatile Enrique Hernandez, who spent the last six seasons with the Dodgers before signing with the Red Sox over the winter, about Wong and Los Angeles’ ability to convert position players into catchers.

“A position player that’s a catcher now. It seems like it’s something they like on the West Coast with Smith and Barnes,” said the Sox skipper. “And this kid can do it, too. Good hands. Very smooth. And offensively, he understands what he can do. But, I really like the fact that communication is No. 1 for him in his defensive game. You see him in the dugout talking to Jason [Varitek], to the pitchers, and for a young guy to be able to do that right now is eye-opening. And it was fun to watch him perform yesterday.”

Going into the new season, Baseball America has Wong ranked as the No. 15 prospect in Boston’s farm system, which is the top rank among catchers in the organization.

Just last week, the folks over at Baseball America picked two potential breakout prospects from every team’s farm system for 2021. Along with 2019 second-round draft pick Matthew Lugo, Wong was the other Red Sox prospect chosen by the BA staff to break out this year.

“Wong was granted a reprieve of sorts when he was traded from the Dodgers to the Red Sox in the Mookie Betts’ trade,” they wrote. “Instead of being stuck behind Will Smith and Keibert Ruiz, he now has a clear path to a future MLB role as a well-rounded backup catcher who can play around the infield as well.”

Added to the Sox’ 40-man roster last November, Wong is projected by both FanGraphs and MLB Pipeline to make his major-league debut at some point this season.

That would likely come in the event of an injury to one of Boston’s major-league catchers or when rosters expand to 28 players in September.

(Picture of Connor Wong: Pawtucket Red Sox)

Red Sox’ Nathan Eovaldi threw to catching prospect, fellow Houston-area native Connor Wong this offseason

Despite more than six years separating them in age, Red Sox right-hander Nathan Eovaldi (31) and catching prospect Connor Wong (24) actually have a lot in common.

They both hail from the Houston-area, they both received offers to play college baseball for Houston-area schools, they were both drafted by the Dodgers, they were both traded to the Red Sox at one point in their careers, and they are both currently on Boston’s 40-man roster.

With those connections in mind, it does not come as much of a surprise to learn that the pair have virtually become bullpen partners at this point.

The first instance of this arose shortly after spring training was shut down last March due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

At that time, as previously noted by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo, “Eovaldi returned home to Texas and completely shut down his throwing program for about a month. After ramping back up, he got together with Wong — a fellow Houston area resident — and was able to stretch himself out to five or six innings in simulated outings.”

Putting that work in during the shutdown surely helped Eovaldi put together a solid 2020 campaign in which he posted a 3.72 ERA over nine starts and 48 1/3 innings pitched and head into the offseason with a positive mindset.

Throughout this past offseason, the veteran righty again got together with Wong back home in Texas, as he told NESN’s Tom Caron on Thursday.

“Over the years, I’ve been able to acquire a pretty good workout setup in the garage and everything like that,” Eovaldi said. “So I’ve been able to get all my workouts done. And then this offseason as well, I was able to throw to Connor Wong a lot. So, that was nice having a solid catcher behind the plate and being able to work with him.”

Wong, who was part of the Mookie Betts trade with the Dodgers last February, was added to the Sox’ 40-man roster this past November in order to receive protection from the Rule 5 Draft.

The right-handed hitting backstop is currently regarded by SoxProspects.com as the organization’s No. 22 prospect, ranking second among catchers behind only the recently-acquired Ronaldo Hernandez.

He is currently one of nine catchers (including Kevin Plawecki) at major-league camp in Fort Myers and is projected to begin the 2021 season with Double-A Portland.

As for Eovaldi, the 6-foot-2, 217 lb. hurler is about to embark upon his third full season with the Red Sox and is feeling confident going into a year that could be full of uncertainties, especially for pitchers.

“It’s kind of the unknown for everybody right now,” he said. “A lot of guys weren’t able to get the normal innings that they normally do. We haven’t talked too much about inning limits or control like that yet. And I feel really good coming into spring training. My body feels great, my arm feels fresh, so I’m definitely excited to see what we got.”

As previously mentioned, Eovaldi made just nine starts last year on account of missing a few weeks of action from late August until mid-September due to a right calf strain. But, even while being somewhat limited, the flame-throwing righty put up some of the best numbers of his career in regards to strikeout rate (26.1%), walk rate (3.5%) and swinging-strike percentage (13%).

“I go out there and I try to attack the strike zone,” stated Eovaldi. “I feel like a lot of the times I get behind guys too often and then I have to battle back, and then there’s long at-bats, which end up resulting in walks or hits. So, trying to attack the strike zone, get that first-pitch strike, and stay in the aggressive mode. I think, too, over time you just get to learn your mechanics a little bit better. You find what’s working for you. And then for me, being able to work with [pitching coach Dave Bush, assistant pitching coach-turned-bullpen coach Kevin Walker, and former bullpen coach Craig Bjornson] last year, just really working on my mechanics. And finding what works the best for me was the key to limit my walks.”

In order to replicate the same sort of success he enjoyed last year, Eovaldi will have plenty of work to do over these next few weeks in Fort Myers. He’s been limiting himself to some degree thus far, but that will soon come to an end with Opening Day just less than six weeks away.

“Arm’s ready to go. It feels great. I’ve been trying to control myself out there in the bullpen sessions, hold back a little bit, but we’re going to start ramping it up here soon,” he said.

(Picture of Nathan Eovaldi: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

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)

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.

Red Sox add top pitching prospect Bryan Mata, 6 others to 40-man roster ahead of Rule 5 Draft

The Red Sox added seven minor-leaguers to their 40-man roster on Friday in order to protect them from being eligible for this December’s Rule 5 Draft.

Right-handers Bryan Mata, Connor Seabold, and Eduard Bazardo, left-hander Jay Groome, catcher Connor Wong, infielder Hudson Potts, and outfielder Jeisson Rosario were all added to Boston’s 40-man roster.

Going into Friday, the Sox’ 40-man roster was at 36 players, meaning three players had to be removed in order to make room for the seven names mentioned above.

The three players removed from Boston’s 40-man roster on Friday were left-handers Kyle Hart and Matt Hall, and right-hander Ryan Weber. Hart has been outrighted to Triple-A Worcester, while Hall and Weber were designated for assignment.

Both Hart and Hall made their Red Sox debuts in 2020, and both struggled mightily in limited action.

In what was his first taste of the big-leagues, the soon-to-be 27-year-old Hart allowed 15 runs (13 earned) on 17 hits and 10 walks over just nine innings pitched through his first three starts after getting called up in mid-August.

A demotion to the bullpen did not do any wonders for the former 19th-round draft pick either, as he surrendered six earned runs over two innings of relief against the Braves on September 1 before his season came to an end a day later due to a left hip impingement.

Hall, meanwhile, was acquired by Boston in a trade that sent minor-league catcher Jhon Nunez to the Tigers back in January.

The 27-year-old looked impressive at summer camp, but that did not translate well to his first season with the Sox.

Making just four appearances (one start), the southpaw posted a dismal 18.69 ERA and 7.92 FIP in 8 2/3 innings of work.

As for Weber, this comes as somewhat of a surprise considering the notion that the Red Sox have always seemingly been high on him as well as the fact that he held opponents to a .656 OPS against over his last 14 outings (two starts) of the year.

Still, the 30-year-old hurler’s 2020 season had plenty of down moments as well, and it appears that Boston no longer deems him worthy of a 40-man roster spot.

Because they were designated for assignment, Hall and Weber will have to clear waivers if they are return to the Red Sox in a lesser capacity unless they opt for free agency instead.

So, the removals of Hart, Hall, and Weber decreased the Sox’ 40-man roster size to 33, thus opening the gateway for all seven of Bazardo, Groome, Mata, Potts, Rosario, Seabold, and Wong to be added Friday evening.

Groome, Mata, Potts, Rosario, Seabold, and Wong were all expected to be protected from this winter’s Rule 5 Draft, leaving Bazardo as the most interesting addition listed here.

The 25-year-old was actually eligible for last year’s Rule 5 Draft, too, but he did not get selected.

Despite not being added to the Sox’ 60-man player pool at any point in time this past season, Bazardo impressed enough at fall instructs to earn himself a spot on the 40-man.

The Venezuela native originally signed with Boston for just $8,000 as an international free agent in 2014.

Most recently, he posted a 2.21 ERA and .206 batting average against in 38 total relief appearances and 73 1/3 innings pitched between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland in 2019.

Listed at 6-foot and 155 lbs., Bazardo could very well make his major-league debut out of the Red Sox bullpen at some point next season. He certainly will be one of the more fascinating hurlers to monitor during spring training once camp breaks in February.

With Friday’s round of transactions complete, the Red Sox’ 40-man roster is now at full capacity at 40 players. That does not mean that chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. will continue to make moves, though, as this could make for an eventful winter depending on how the free agent and trade market plays out.

Long story short, Bloom and the Red Sox are not close to done in terms of 2021 roster construction. There will be plenty more to come.

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 Top Pitching Prospect Jay Groome Faces Live Hitters at McCoy Stadium

For the first time since being added to the Red Sox’ 60-man player pool last month, Jay Groome, the club’s top left-handed pitching prospect, faced live hitters at McCoy Stadium earlier Tuesday morning.

Getting some work in during a live batting practice session, Groome threw 25-30 pitches and faced the likes of other top prospects in the organization such as Jarren Duran, Jeter Downs, and Connor Wong, as well as Jhonny Pereda, and reached 94 mph with his fastball while also mixing in his curveball and changeup.

There were no umpires and very few fielders around him, but as WEEI’s Rob Bradford puts it, “Tuesday represented a big step forward” for Groome.

Turning 22 years old later this month, the New Jersey native was originally taken by Boston with the 12th overall pick in the 2016 amateur draft out of Barnegat High School and later signed for $3.65 million.

Since that time, though, Groome has only made 20 professional starts across three minor-league levels as he has been hampered with different arm ailments, most recently undergoing Tommy John surgery in May 2018.

Upon recovering from TJS, the 6-foot-6 southpaw was able to make three starts with the Gulf Coast League Red Sox and short-season Lowell Spinners last year, and now, he’s inching closer to appearing in a simulated game in Pawtucket.

Of course, under normal circumstances, Groome would likely be pushing for a promotion to Double-A Portland right about now, but because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the hurler’s development path has certainly been disrupted.

PawSox pitching coach Paul Abbott said as much about Groome when speaking to reporters via Zoom on Tuesday.

“Obviously he needs to log innings,” stated Abbott. “He’s missed some valuable development periods for him to get on the mound and learn how to pitch as you go every step of the way.  Here’s a way how everything is looking, how everything is working so we have a good, solid idea going into spring training next year.”

With that in mind, the plan over the next six weeks is to see how Groome handles facing different levels of hitters so that the Red Sox have a good idea on where he will be at going into spring training next year.

Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom Says Club’s Long-Term Goals Outweigh ‘Any One Player, Any One Decision’

It has been nearly two weeks since Mookie Betts signed a 12-year, $365 million contract extension with Dodgers, and for Red Sox fans, it hurts knowing the 27-year-old will likely finish his Hall of Fame career in Los Angeles.

Even after getting dealt to the Dodgers along with David Price back in February, some still held out hope that Betts would re-sign with Boston this winter seeing how locked in he appeared to be on becoming a free agent while still with the Red Sox.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, though, Betts’ outlook likely changed when considering the possibility that clubs could be strapped for cash or unwilling to spend on big-money free agents this offseason, so he took the best deal that was in front of him. That being a record-setting $365 million deal that included a $65 million signing bonus up front.

The man who traded Betts, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, had been on the job for less than four months when the blockbuster five-player swap with Los Angeles was at last finalized on February 10.

As you may recall, the Sox got back outfielder Alex Verdugo as well as infield prospect Jeter Downs and catching prospect Connor Wong in exchange for Betts and Price. That may be a nice enough return, but losing a player of Betts’ caliber still hurts, even for someone like Bloom who did not even know him that well.

When speaking with ESPN’s Joon Lee recently, Bloom said as much, stating that, “I didn’t get to know him obviously that well in my time in the organization, but certainly know how great a player he is. And even in just the short time I got to know him, I got to see why everybody thinks so highly of him.”

On top of that, Bloom also congratulated Betts on his extension with the Dodgers.

“He is a wonderful person, great teammate, great player and I’m very, very happy for him,” he added.

As happy as Bloom may be for Betts, the former Rays executive had an interesting response when asked by Lee if he is ‘philosophically opposed to mega-contracts like those given to Betts.’

“I do think this is a tough question to answer in the abstract,” he said. “Every move you consider you need to consider the merits of that particular move and you need to make sure you have a good process for looking at that and assessing how it fits into where you are as an organization and your larger goals. I think it’s a difficult thing to talk about in the abstract because of that.”

By trading Betts, it seems the Red Sox are trying to kick-start a new kind of rebuild where they can remain consistently competitive over a long period of time. In order to accomplish this, Bloom says, it’s important to not get too emotionally attached to any one player or decision, such was the case with trading Betts.

“It’s very painful when you’re attached to a player, especially a great player, to see him in another uniform,” said the Sox’ CBO in regards to trading away Betts. “I know that’s not something that really my words or anybody’s words are going to make less painful. As I said, I think our job as a front office is to set ourselves up to win as much as we can over the long haul and 2020. That’s a picture that’s much bigger than any one player, any one decision.”