Red Sox sign former Cubs outfielder Narciso Crook to minor-league deal

The Red Sox have signed free agent outfielder Narciso Crook to a minor-league contract for the 2023 season, per the team’s transactions log on MLB.com. It’s unclear if the deal includes an invite to major-league spring training, but Crook has been assigned to Triple-A Worcester.

Crook, 27, made his big-league debut for the Cubs over the summer. In just four games (including three against the Red Sox from July 1-3) with Chicago, the right-handed hitter went 2-for-8 (.250) with one double, two RBIs, one run scored, zero walks, and three strikeouts. He was optioned to Triple-A Iowa on July 4 and was later outrighted off the Cubs’ 40-man roster after the season ended.

As a veteran of eight minor-league seasons, Crook had the right to elect free agency, which he did two weeks before officially landing with the Red Sox on Tuesday.

A native of the Dominican Republic, Crook was originally selected by the Reds in the 23rd round of the 2013 amateur draft out of Rowan College of South Jersey. He spent the first seven seasons of his professional career in Cincinnati’s farm system and was once touted as a top-30 prospect within the organization before reaching minor-league free agency for the first time last November.

Crook ultimately spent the majority of the 2022 season in the minors but made the most of it, as he batted .260/.345/.492 with 21 doubles, three triples, 19 home runs, 67 runs driven in, 61 runs scored, 13 stolen bases, 36 walks, and 124 strikeouts across 101 games (409 plate appearances) with the Iowa Cubs.

Between the major- and minor-leagues, Crook has experience at all three outfield positions. The majority of Crook’s playing at Triple-A this year time came in right field, though the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder also logged 77 innings at first base.

Crook, who does not turn 28 until next July, figures to start the 2023 season with the WooSox. He should provide Boston with experienced depth in an outfield mix that currently consists of Alex Verdugo, Enrique Hernandez, Rob Refsnyder, and Jarren Duran.

In addition to Crook, the Red Sox also signed left-handed reliever Joely Rodriguez to a one-year major-league deal that comes with a club option for 2024 on Wednesday.

(Picture of Narciso Crook: Matt Dirksen/Getty Images)

Red Sox play sloppy defense, go 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position in 3-1 loss to Cubs

Sloppy defense and a lack of scoring opportunities is what did the Red Sox in on Saturday night, as they dropped their second straight to the Cubs by a final score of 3-1 at Wrigley Field.

Cubs starter Alec Mills threw just seven pitches and faced two batters in the first inning before leaving the game with lower back pain. He was relieved by Mark Leiter Jr., who allowed just one run over 5 1/3 impressive innings on short notice.

That lone Red Sox run came in the sixth inning, when after Jackie Bradley Jr. doubled and Jarren Duran singled to put runners at the corners with no outs, Rafael Devers grounded into a run-scoring, 1-4-3 double play.

At that point, Boston was trailing Chicago by just one run at 2-1. Josh Winckowski, making his fifth start of the season for the Sox, had gotten tagged for two runs in the bottom of the second inning.

After retiring the side in order in the first, Winckowski gave up a leadoff single to Patrick Wisdom, who then took second base on a Devers throwing error. The very next batter, Nico Hoerner, attempted to move Wisdom over to third by laying a bunt. Winckowski fielded said bunt, but air-mailed his throw to first base, which allowed Wisdom to score the game’s first run. Hoerner moved up to second on Winckowski’s error and then scored on a sacrifice fly from Narciso Crook to make it a 2-o game.

Despite those shaky results early on, Winckowski ultimately settled into his outing. The right-hander allowed just the two runs (one earned) on six hits, one walk, and six strikeouts over six solid innings of work. Of the 94 pitches he threw, 63 went for strikes.

Dating back to June 15, Winckowski owns an ERA of 1.96 in his last four starts. On the season as a whole, the 24-year-old hurler has posted a 3.12 ERA.

In relief of Winckowski, Ryan Brasier received the first call out of the Boston bullpen from manager Alex Cora and he needed just 14 pitches to face the minimum in a scoreless bottom of the seventh.

Tanner Houck made his first appearance since last Sunday in the eighth and gave up a one-out single to Wilson Contreras. Contreras was pinch-ran for by Nelson Velazquez, who promptly stole second base, advanced to third on a wild pitch, and scored from third on an RBI single off the bat of Wisdom.

Taking a 3-1 lead into the ninth, the Cubs had already received a stellar effort out of their bullpen. Duran led off the top of the ninth with a double off veteran closer David Robertson. He then stole third base but was stranded there after Devers and J.D. Martinez struck out, Xander Bogaerts drew a walk, and Alex Verdugo lined out to center field to end the game with a final score of 3-1.

With the loss, the Red Sox have dropped four of their last five contests to fall to 43-35 on the season. They have already lost their last two series and are now at risk of getting swept for the first time since May 5-9 when they did so against the White Sox.

Next up: Seabold vs. Thompson

In order to avoid a second straight sweep, the Red Sox will activate and send rookie right-hander Connor Seabold to the mound in Sunday’s series finale. The Cubs will counter with fellow righty Keegan Thompson.

First pitch from Wrigley Field is scheduled for 2:20 p.m. eastern time on NESN.

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

Red Sox blow 4-run lead, drop opener to Cubs, 6-5, as Rich Hill exits due to knee sprain

To kick off their first trip to Wrigley Field since 2012, the Red Sox blew a four-run lead and ultimately fell to the Cubs by a final score of 5-6 on Friday afternoon. Boston has now lost three of its last four games to drop to 43-34 on the season.

Four of the Sox’ first five runs came within the first two innings of Friday’s contest. Matched up against Cubs starter Adrian Sampson, Jarren Duran led the game off by crushing the very first pitch he saw 417 feet to dead center field for his first home run of the year.

An inning later, Trevor Story, Franchy Cordero, and Christian Vazquez all reached base with no outs to leave them loaded for Jackie Bradley Jr. Bradley Jr., in turn, laced a bases-clearing, three-run double to the right-center field gap to give his side an early 4-0 lead.

That put Rich Hill, who had already tossed a scoreless first inning, in a pretty encouraging position. Making his 15th start of the season for Boston, Hill got through four innings without giving up a run but ran into some trouble in the fifth.

The veteran left-hander issued a leadoff walk to P.J. Higgins that was immediately followed by a run-scoring triple off the bat of Nelson Velazquez. One batter later, Velazquez scored on an RBI groundout from Christopher Morel.

Hill then issued another free pass to Wilson Contreras, and it was during that plate appearance when he felt his left knee pop. Despite that feeling, Hill stayed in and pitched. But he proceeded to load the bases on a single and hit batsman. That prompted the Red Sox to have Hill leave the game due to what they later diagnosed as a left knee sprain.

Tyler Danish had already been warming up in the Boston bullpen, and so he was called upon to take over for the injured starter. Danish officially closed the book on Hill’s outing by walking in a run that cut Chicago’s deficit to 4-3. He then got Alfonso Rivas to fly out to avoid any further damage.

Hill’s final line (3 earned runs on three hits, four walks, one hit batsman, and three strikeouts over 4 2/3 innings) was not indicative of how well he pitched. It remains to be seen if the 42-year-old will require a trip to the injured list on account of his sprained knee.

While they saw their lead trimmed down to just one run, the Sox did respond in their half of the sixth. With two outs and the bases loaded, Duran ripped a single to center field that plated Story. Vazquez also attempted to score on the play but was instead gunned down at home by Rafael Ortega. And so the Red Sox had to settle for a 5-3 lead, which evidently did not last long.

That being the case because after quickly recording the first two outs of the bottom of the sixth, Hansel Robles walked Simmons and then served up a game-tying, two-run home run to Christopher Morel. Robles remained in the game and loaded the bases before getting the hook in favor of Jake Diekman.

Diekman proceeded to spike a wild pitch in the dirt that got past Vazquez and allowed Contreras to score from third to give the Cubs their first lead of the day at 6-5.

From that point forward, Hirokazu Sawamura pitched admirably out of the Boston ‘pen, but so did Scott Effross, Chris Martin, and David Robertson for Chicago.

Red Sox hitters reached base just one time over the final three innings of Friday’s loss. After Martin stranded Alex Verdugo by striking out the side in the eighth, Robertson slammed the door in the ninth and earned his 10th save of the season by doing so.

All told, the Sox lineup went a collective 2-for-6 with runners in scoring position and left six runners on base as a team. The Sox bullpen, meanwhile, allowed six walks in just 3 1/3 innings of work.

Next up: Winckowski vs. Mills

As the Red Sox look to avoid their second straight series loss, they will turn to rookie right-hander Josh Winckowski to get the start on Saturday night. The Cubs will counter with fellow righty Alec Mills.

First pitch from Wrigley Field is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. eastern time on FOX.

(Picture of Rich Hill:  Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)

Former Red Sox left-hander Stephen Gonsalves signs minor-league deal with Cubs

The Cubs have signed former Red Sox left-hander Stephen Gonsalves to a minor-league contract for the 2022 season, per MLB.com. It’s unclear if the deal includes an invite to major-league spring training.

Gonsalves, 27, had spent the last two seasons in the Red Sox organization after originally being claimed off waivers from the Mets last July.

After spending the summer at the Sox’ alternate training site, Gonsalves re-upped with the club on another minor-league pact over the winter and opened the 2021 campaign at Triple-A Worcester.

In 22 appearances (10 starts) for the WooSox, the lanky lefty posted a 4.68 ERA and 4.70 xFIP to go along with 103 walks to 52 strikeouts over 73 innings of work.

When the Red Sox were navigating through a COVID-19 outbreak at the major-league level beginning in late August, Gonsalves had his contract selected from Triple-A on Aug. 31.

The California native appeared in three games for Boston, allowing two earned runs on two hits, two walks, and four punchouts across 4 1/3 innings pitched. That’s good for an ERA of 4.15.

Shortly after getting called up, Gonsalves was returned to Worcester on September 13 and closed out the year with the WooSox. He officially become a minor-league free agent in early November.

A former fourth-round draft pick and top prospect of the Twins, Gonsalves certainly is intriguing. The 6-foot-5, 218 pound southpaw operates with a four-pitch mix that consists of a four-seam fastball, curveball, slider, and changeup.

Not to set to turn 28 until next July, Gonsalves is now on his fourth team (Twins, Mets, Red Sox, Cubs) since being drafted by Minnesota in 2013. He has logged 685 career innings in the minors.

(Picture of Stephen Gonsalves: Richard T. Gagnon/Getty Images)

Former Red Sox closer Brandon Workman designated for assignment by Cubs

Former Red Sox closer Brandon Workman has been designated for assignment by the Cubs, the club announced Thursday afternoon.

Workman, 32, initially signed a one-year, $1 million deal with Chicago back in February and had the opportunity to earn an additional $2 million in availabele incentives.

In the span of just 10 appearances out of the Cubs’ bullpen, the right-hander surrendered nine runs (six earned) on 12 hits, seven walks, and 11 strikeouts over eight innings of work. That’s good for an ERA of 6.75 and an OPS against of .997.

Prior to signing with Chicago, Workman had spent the 2020 season with both the Red Sox and Phillies.

Opening the year with Boston, the former second-round pick posted a 4.05 ERA over seven outings and 6 2/3 innings pitched before being traded to the Phillies along with fellow reliever Heath Hembree in exchange for right-handers Nick Pivetta and Connor Seabold in late August.

Upon arriving in Philadelphia, Workman’s struggles escalated as he yielded 11 runs (10 earned) in just 13 frames prior to hitting free agency in October.

The fact that Workman struggled as much as he did was somewhat baffling considering how dominant he was in his final full season with the Red Sox in 2019.

In 73 appearances out of Boston’s bullpen that year, the Texas native produced a miniscule 1.88 ERA while recording 16 saves to go along 104 strikeouts over 71 2/3 innings pitched.

In 31 appearances since, he has put up a 6.18 ERA and 5.69 FIP over 27 2/3 innings.

Considering that he enjoyed a great deal of success not too long ago, is not making much money this year, and is still just 32 years old, it should be interesting to see if any teams have any interest in Workman while he is up for grabs on waivers. The Cubs will have seven days to either trade, waive, or release the righty in the meantime.

(Picture of Brandon Workman: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

New Podding the Red Sox episode: Pitching prospect Zach Bryant joins the show

On this week’s installment of Podding the Red Sox: A BloggingtheRedSox.com Podcast, I am joined by newest Red Sox right-handed pitching prospect Zach Bryant, who the club acquired from the Chicago Cubs last weekend.

Among the topics Zach and I discussed were how he grew up a Red Sox fan despite being born and raised in Florida, how weightlifting helped turn him into a legitimate prospect, how he works out with Orioles outfielder Austin Hays and Rockies first-round draft pick Zac Veen in the offseason, how Driveline Baseball has helped him improve, how he faced off against Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani while at the Driveline facility, what Red sox fans can expect out of him in 2021, and much more!

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

Thanks to Zach for taking some time out of his busy schedule to have a conversation with me. You can follow him on Twitter by clicking here, and you can follow him on Instagram by clicking here.

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

(Picture of Zach Bryant: Aussiedi Photography)

Red Sox acquire right-handed pitching prospect Zach Bryant from Cubs to complete Josh Osich trade

The Red Sox have acquired right-handed pitching prospect Zach Bryant from the Cubs to complete the trade that sent left-hander Josh Osich to Chicago back in August, the team announced Saturday.

Boston originally dealt Osich to Chicago on August 31 in exchange for a player to be named later. Given six months to complete that deal, the deadline was fast approaching, and we now know Bryant is indeed the PTBNL.

The 22-year-old right-hander was selected by the Cubs in the 15th round of the 2019 amateur draft out of Jacksonville University.

In his debut season as a professional, Bryant — listed at 6-foot-1 and 210 lbs. — posted a 1.27 ERA and 1.17 WHIP over 12 total relief appearances and 21 1/3 innings of work between the rookie-level, Arizona League Cubs and short-season, Northwest League Eugene Emeralds in 2019.

A native of Port Orange, Fla., Bryant initially attended Daytona State College for two years before transferring to Jacksonville for the 2019 season, where he produced a 3.48 ERA over 28 outings and 31 innings pitched.

He also put up a 44:19 strikeout-to-walk ratio while recording 12 saves en route to being named to the All-ASUN second team.

Now a member of the Red Sox organization, Bryant joins the likes of Christian Koss and Nick Sogard as former 2019 draft picks that Boston has acquired via trade this offseason.

(Picture of Zach Bryant: Zach Bryant’s Twitter/@zbry34)

Former Red Sox closer Brandon Workman signs one-year deal with Cubs, per report

Former Red Sox closer Brandon Workman has reportedly reached agreement on a one-year, major-league contract with the Cubs, according to The Athletic’s Patrick Mooney.

Per Mooney, Workman will earn a base salary of $1 million in 2021 with the chance to earn an additional $2 million in performance bonuses.

The 32-year-old right-hander is a little more than four months removed from what can best be described as a tumultuous 2020 season between the Sox and Phillies.

With Boston to begin the year, Workman got off to a so-so start, allowing three earned runs over seven appearances and 6 2/3 innings pitched out of the bullpen before getting dealt to Philadelphia along with Heath Hembree for right-handers Nick Pivetta and Connor Seabold.

Upon arriving in Philly, Workman had the chance to re-establish himself as he was about to embark upon free agency, but he instead floundered.

In 14 appearances (13 innings) in a Phillies uniform, the Texas native posted a dismal 6.92 ERA and 1.146 OPS against while blowing three of a possible eight save opportunities to close out the season.

Performing that poorly to end a contract year has to be unsettling to some degree, but Workman still managed to net himself a major-league deal anyway, albeit a short-term one.

It’s likely the Cubs are banking on the former first-round draft pick returning to his 2019 form — in which he produced a 1.88 ERA and struck out 104 hitters in 71 2/3 innings — with a new change of scenery.

Prior to his signing with Chicago, Workman was someone the Red Sox “had at least some interest in a reunion with,” per MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.

A reunion between the two sides in 2021 may not be possible anymore, but Cotillo adds that Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. have “at least some interest in three free-agent righties — Jeremy Jeffress, Chaz Roe and Ben Heller.”

Earlier this week, the @RedSoxStats Twitter account hinted at the idea that Boston is not yet done making bullpen additions ahead of the start of the 2021 season.

(Picture of Brandon Workman: 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 right-hander Robert Stock claimed off waivers by Cubs

A week after he was designated for assignment, former Red Sox right-hander Robert Stock was claimed off waivers by the Cubs earlier Wednesday afternoon.

Stock, 31, was originally claimed off waivers by Boston from the Phillies back in late July.

In his debut season with the Sox, the flame-throwing righty allowed nine runs (seven earned) on 16 hits and 10 walks over 10 relief appearances and 13 1/3 total innings of work spanning three major-league stints. That’s good for a 4.73 ERA, but a 101 ERA+ and 3.34 FIP as well.

Noted for his fastball velocity since being drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the second round of the 2009 amateur draft, Stock averaged 96.8 mph with his heater this past season while topping out at 99 mph with the pitch.

Now a member of the Cubs’ 40-man roster, the University of Southern California product will presumably have the opportunity to compete for a spot in Chicago’s Opening Day bullpen.

With the loss of Stock, the Red Sox have now in one way or the other removed 11 pitchers — Stock, Domingo Tapia, Matt Hall, Ryan Weber, Robinson Leyer, Andrew Triggs, Mike Kickham, Kyle Hart, Zack Godley, Dylan Covey, and Martin Perez (player option declined) — from their own 40-man roster since the start of the offseason.