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.”

 

Former Red Sox Star Mookie Betts on Verge of Signing Massive Contract Extension With Dodgers, per Report

Any hopes of the Red Sox reuniting with Mookie Betts this winter appear to be dead, as the Los Angeles Dodgers are reportedly closing in on a massive contract extension with the 27-year-old outfielder, according to WEEI’s Lou Merloni.

Per Merloni, the extension the Dodgers and Betts are on the verge of agreeing to is worth anywhere between $350 to $400 million for 10-plus seasons.

Based off this follow-up from ESPN’s Jeff Passan, it would appear that these rumors are in fact legitimate and Betts will indeed ink a long-term extension with the Dodgers relatively soon.

After both sides were reportedly off by $120 million in extension talks over the winter, the Sox, with chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom at the helm, dealt Betts and left-hander David Price to Los Angeles in February in exchange for outfielder Alex Verdugo and prospects Jeter Downs and Connor Wong.

At the time, that transaction got Boston under the vaunted $208 million luxury tax threshold, but as it turns out, the 2020 Major League Baseball season will have to played until at least the start of September for that to carry out into this offseason. In other words, if the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic halts the season at any point prior to the August 31st trading deadline, the Sox’ luxury tax penalties will not reset and they will essentially be in the same position they were prior to dealing Betts and Price.

At least on the surface, one of the motivating factors in the Red Sox trading away Betts was the notion that the four-time All-Star was locked in on becoming a free agent for the very first time in his career this winter. It might not be a great look in the eyes of Red Sox fans if he goes back on that now, but, given the uncertainties surrounding how much teams will be willing to spend in free agency because of the pandemic, it’s certainly understandable why Betts may be more open to forgoing free agency when taking financial security into account in the midst of a nationwide pandemic.

Of course, one of the hopes in the Sox trading Betts to get under the luxury tax was the idea that the club was going to lure the 2018 American League MVP back in free agency with a lucrative contract this winter. That now appears unlikely to happen barring any significant changes on Betts’ or the Dodgers’ front.

Red Sox Add 47 Players to Initial Training Camp Roster Pool

The Red Sox have added 47 players to their initial player pool for summer training camp, the club announced Sunday.

Teams had until 4 PM eastern time Sunday to submit their initial training camp pools to Major League Baseball and could include up to 60 players.

Seemingly taking the conservative route here, the Red Sox have left 13 open slots in their initial club pool, although they have the ability to add more players later on.

Prior to Sunday, many assumed that Boston would include a bevy of top prospects in their pool, as has been the case thus far with other clubs, but that was not part of the Sox’ course of action, apparently.

Instead, corner infielder Bobby Dalbec was the only premier Red Sox prospect to make the cut. Other touted youngsters in Boston’s minor-league pipleine, such as Jeter Downs, Triston Casas, Jarren Duran, Tanner Houck, or Bryan Mata, did not. At least for the time being, that is.

It’s also worth mentioning that 10 non-roster invitees — Brian Johnson, Yairo Munoz, Domingo Tapia, Cesar Puello, Marco Hernandez Juan Centeno, Jett Bandy, Robinson Leyer, John Andreoli, and catching prospect Connor Wong — made the initial pool.

Veteran backstop Jonathan Lucroy, who signed a minor-league deal with Boston in February, did not make the initial pool, but according to MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo, the reason for that is a procedural one.

Among the players who make up the Sox’ 40-man roster, left-hander Yoan Aybar and outfielder Marcus Wilson were the only ones not to receive an initial invite to training camp.

As previously mentioned though, there is still plenty of time for other players and prospects to be added at a later date. We’ll have to see what chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. have in store once players begin reporting to training camp this week.

 

 

Red Sox Make Second Round of Spring Roster Cuts

Four days after making their first round of spring roster cuts, the Red Sox cut 15 more players before taking on the Minnesota Twins earlier Sunday.

Out of those 15 players, eight were reassigned to minor-league camp, five were optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket, one was optioned to Double-A Portland, and one was optioned to High-A Salem.

The players who were reassigned to minor-league camp were cathcer Roldani Baldwin, catcher/infielder Connor Wong, infielder Jeter Downs, first baseman Josh Ockimey, right-handed pitchers R.J. Alvarez, Trevor Hildenberger, and Tanner Houck, and left-handed pitcher Mike Kickham.

The players optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket were infielders Bobby Dalbec and C.J. Chatham, right-handers Mike Shawaryn and Phillips Valdez, and left-hander Kyle Hart.

Outfielder Marcus Wilson was the lone player optioned to Double-A Portland, while right-hander Yoan Aybar was the lone player optioned to High-A Salem.

In total, seven players — Aybar, Chatham, Dalbec, Hart, Shawaryn, Valdez, Wilson — on Boston’s 40-man roster were cut from big-league camp on Sunday.

Out of the 14 non-roster invites still in major-league camp, the most notable are Brian Johnson, Jonathan Lucroy, Marco Hernandez, and Jarren Duran. Take away Duran and the other three are certainly vying for positions on Boston’s 26-man roster to open the season.

Some thoughts:

Seeing the two prospects the Red Sox acquired in the Mookie Betts and David Price trade get cut is not much of a surprise, but it is a bit surprising seeing names like Kyle Hart, Tanner Houck, and Mike Shawaryn be cut at this point in time.

At least in my mind, I thought Hart and Houck were candidates to fill the two vacant spots in the Sox’ starting rotation, while Shawaryn was competing for a bullpen role. Instead of beginning the year in the majors though, it looks like the trio of hurlers will start with the PawSox.

Guys like Chatham and Dalbec probably had an outside chance of making Boston’s Opening Day roster before Sunday, but if we do see them in the majors this season, it will have to come at a later date.

On a final note, I’m looking forward to seeing what Marcus Wilson does in his first full year in the Red Sox organization.