Red Sox agree to two-year, $32 million deal with veteran closer Kenley Jansen, per report

The Red Sox have agreed to terms on a two-year, $32 million contract with free agent reliever Kenley Jansen, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan. The deal — which is pending a physical — would pay Jansen $16 million in both 2023 and 2024, per The Boston’s Globe Alex Speier.

Jansen, 35, is a veteran of 13 big-league seasons who is best known for his time in Los Angeles. After spending the first 12 years of his career in Los Angeles, the right-hander signed a one-year, $16 million deal with the Braves back in March.

In 65 relief appearances for Atlanta, Jansen posted a 3.38 ERA and 3.21 FIP to go along with 85 strikeouts to 22 walks over 64 innings of work. He also recorded a National League-best 41 saves in 48 opportunities and allowed one run in two outings against the Phillies in the National League Division Series.

A native of Curacao, Jansen originally signed with the Dodgers as a catcher in November 2004. He spent the first 4 1/2 seasons of his minor-league career behind the plate before transitioning to the mound midway through the 2009 campaign. The following July, Jansen made his major-league debut for Los Angeles.

It did not take long for Jansen to establish himself as one of the top relievers in baseball. He finished seventh in National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2011 and registered his first season of 25 or more saves in 2012. From 2016-2018, the righty forged a 2.07 ERA and 2.29 FIP across 205 outings (208 2/3 innings) and made three consecutive All-Star teams. His 350 saves in a Dodgers uniform are the most in the franchise’s storied history.

Between Los Angeles and Atlanta, Jansen owns a lifetime 2.46 ERA and 2.44 FIP with 1,107 strikeouts to 226 walks over 766 relief appearances spanning 769 innings pitched. He ranks eighth in American/National League history with 391 career saves. In 10 separate trips to the postseason during that stretch, Jansen produced a 2.29 ERA over 59 total outings out of the bullpen.

Listed at 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds, Jansen operates with a three-pitch mix that consists of an elite cutter (his primary weapon), a sinker, and a cutter. This past season, he ranked in the 98th percentile of the league in expected batting average (.169), the 93rd percentile in expected slugging percentage (.292), the 93rd percentile in strikeout rate (32.7 percent), the 95th percentile in fastball spin, and the 93rd percentile in extension, according to Baseball Savant.

Jansen, who does not turn 36 until next September, does come with some concerns. Earlier this summer, he spent more than two weeks on the injured list due to an irregular heartbeat, which is something that has sidelined him in the past. He has had two cardiac ablation procedures (2012 and 2018) to combat this issue.

With the addition of Jansen, the Red Sox have made it clear that bolstering the bullpen was one of the club’s top priorities this winter after Boston relievers finished with the second-worst ERA (4.59) in the American League this season. Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. have already signed left-handed reliever Joely Rodriguez to a one-year contract last month and agreed to terms on a two-year $17.5 million deal with righty Chris Martin last week.

Assuming he passes his physical, Jansen will become the first established closer the Red Sox have had since Craig Kimbrel left the club after winning the World Series in 2018. Jansen, Rodriguez, and Martin are slated to join a bullpen mix that is highlighted by the likes of Matt Barnes, Tanner Houck, John Schreiber heading into 2023.

(Picture of Kenley Jansen: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Should the Red Sox be in the mix for Cody Bellinger?

The New York Post’s Jon Heyman reported on Friday that free agent outfielder Cody Bellinger has drawn interest from up to 11 teams. Could the Red Sox be among this group? If not, should they be?

Bellinger, 27, was non-tendered by the Dodgers last week after spending six seasons with the club. The former fourth-round draft pick was projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn $18.1 million in his final year of arbitration eligibility, which would represent a 6.5 percent increase from the $17 million salary he received in 2022.

Rather than give him a raise, the Dodgers elected to make Bellinger a free agent by not tendering him a contract. The left-handed hitter is coming off a disappointing season in which he batted just .210/.265/.389 with 27 doubles, three triples, 19 home runs, 68 RBIs, 70 runs scored, 14 stolen bases, 38 walks, and 150 strikeouts over 144 games (550 plate appearances). His 6.9 percent walk rate and 27.3 percent strikeout rate were the worst of his career.

When he first broke in with the Dodgers as a 21-year-old in 2017, Bellinger quickly established himself as one of the best young players in baseball. He took home National League Rookie of the Year honors in his debut season and was then named league MVP two years later. From 2017-2019, Bellinger slashed .278/.369/.559 with 111 homers and 288 runs driven in across 450 total games.

Bellinger’s production began to fall during the COVID-shortened 2020 season, as he hit .239/.333/.455 with 12 home runs and 30 RBIs over 56 games. During the Dodgers’ run to the World Series that October, Bellinger dislocated his right shoulder in Game 7 of the NLCS against the Braves while celebrating a home run with former teammate and current Red Sox utility man Enrique Hernandez. He was able to play out the rest of the postseason, but underwent arthroscopic surgery that November.

Despite missing some time the following spring, Bellinger made Los Angeles’ 2021 Opening Day roster. But he fractured his left fibula in early April and was sidelined until late May as a result. He also missed time with left hamstring tightness and a left rib fracture. Those injuries played a role in Bellinger posting a career-worst .542 OPS in 95 games. The Dodgers were optimistic that Bellinger would be able to bounce back this season, but that never really happened.

“Obviously, it’s been a unique path for Cody as he’s battled through injuries and worked diligently over the past few years to return to his All-Star-caliber performance,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman told reporters (including MLB.com’s Juan Toribio) earlier this month. “However, it hasn’t played out as well as we would’ve hoped or expected, and therefore we had to make a difficult decision of non-tendering.”

While the Dodgers opted to make Bellinger a free agent, Friedman and Co. remain interested in bringing him back at a cheaper price, which could prove to be difficult given the reported number of potential suitors. Heyman lists the Astros, Cubs, and Giants as three of the 11 teams who are in play for Bellinger’s services.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say this is the closing of the chapter of Cody and the Dodgers,” said Friedman. “We still very much believe in the talent of Cody and his competitive makeup, and we have interest in a reunion and will continue talks with Cody and his group. And he gets to discuss this on his end.”

Bellinger, who does not turn 28 until next July, is represented by super-agent Scott Boras. Last weekend, Boras told The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal that Bellinger has already received a number of multi-year deals, but he wants his client to take a one-year deal so that he can reset his value and hit the open market again next winter.

“I’ve already been offered multi-years,” Boras said. “Most likely, because of his age, we don’t want a multi-year.”

Going back to this month’s GM meetings in Las Vegas, Boras believes that Bellinger’s lack of production over the last two seasons has more to do with the lack of strength in his shoulder as opposed to his level of talent.

“Talents are so hard to find,” Boras said, via The Athletic’s Fabian Ardaya. “You just don’t find talents like this. He’s 26, 27 years old. It’s really about getting his strength back so he can repeat his skill level.”

Even with the lackluster numbers at the plate in recent years, Bellinger has still proven to be one of the sport’s better defensive center fielders. This past season, the 6-foot-4, 203-pounder was worth seven outs above average at the position, which ranked 13th in Major League Baseball, per Statcast.

The Red Sox already have Hernandez in the fold as the everyday center fielder in 2023, but adding Bellinger to the mix would allow Alex Cora to move Hernandez back to the infield on occasion if necessary. If, for example, Xander Bogaerts were to leave Boston in free agency, Hernandez would provide the Sox with insurance at shortstop. Bellinger also has prior experience at first base and at both corner outfield spots, so he and Hernandez could always share the outfield grass.

As a former early draft pick and top prospect who grew up in the Dodgers organization, Bellinger — in certain respects — represents the kind of player the Red Sox have coveted under chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom. If healthy, his potential is through the roof. And he has the versatility to play multiple positions — and one important one in particular — at a high level.

Bellinger’s 19 home runs this season would have ranked second on the 2022 Red Sox. His 14 stolen bases would have led the team. So, if Bloom and Co. are looking to inject more power and speed into their lineup heading into the spring, bringing in Bellinger on a one-year deal makes all the sense in the world.

(Picture of Cody Bellinger: Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Red Sox lose Jake Reed on waivers to Dodgers

Three days after designating him for assignment, the Red Sox have lost reliever Jake Reed on waivers to the Dodgers, the club announced earlier Friday afternoon.

Reed, 30, was designated for assignment on Tuesday alongside catcher Caleb Hamilton so that the Red Sox could create space on their 40-man roster for the prospect quintet of Chris Murphy, Brandon Walter, Ceddanne Rafaela, Wilyer Abreu, and David Hamilton. Those five minor-leaguers needed to be added in order to receive protection from next month’s Rule 5 Draft.

Boston originally claimed Reed off waivers from the Orioles on October 13. The right-hander posted a 7.02 ERA and 5.09 FIP with 13 strikeouts to eight walks over 18 relief appearances (16 2/3 innings) for the Mets, Dodgers, and O’s this past season.

A former fifth-round draft pick of the Twins out of the University of Oregon in 2014, Reed first broke in with the Dodgers last July after spending seven years in the Minnesota organization and part of the 2021 campaign with the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate in Salt Lake City.

Since being released by the Angels last June, Reed has been signed and designated by the Dodgers, claimed and designated by the Rays, claimed and designated by the Mets, claimed and designated by the Dodgers, claimed and designated by the Orioles, claimed and designated by the Red Sox, and claimed by the Dodgers again.

Between all those stops, Reed has pitched to a 5.74 ERA and 4.33 FIP with 23 strikeouts to 10 walks in 28 career appearances (one start) and 26 2/3 innings at the big-league level. That includes a 2.70 ERA (3.94 FIP) across 11 total outings (10 innings pitched) with Los Angeles.

Listed at 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, Reed possesses a unique delivery and arm angle while primarily working with a sinker-slider combination that is complimented by a four-seam fastball and changeup. The Arizona native has one minor-league option remaining, so the Dodgers could elect to shuttle Reed between Los Angeles and its Triple-A affiliate next season if he can stick on their 40-man roster this winter.

(Picture of Jake Reed: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Red Sox unveil 2023 schedule: Opening Day is March 30 at Fenway Park

The Red Sox unveiled their schedule for the 2023 regular season on Wednesday afternoon. Unlike past years, the Sox will face off against all 29 other club as part of new, more balanced schedule that was implemented in Major League Baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement.

Rather than playing divisional opponents 19 times per season, the Red Sox will go up against the Blue Jays, Orioles, Rays, and Yankees 13 times per year beginning in 2023. They will also play a total of 46 interleague games against National League clubs, which is up from 20 in 2022.

Opening Day is scheduled for March 30. The Red Sox will open their season with a three-game series against the Orioles at Fenway Park and conclude it with a four-game set against the O’s at Camden Yards in Baltimore.

In between, the Red Sox will be playing the likes of the Pirates, Cardinals, Reds, Rockies, Marlins, Mets, and Dodgers at home and the likes of the Brewers, Phillies, Padres, Diamondbacks, Cubs, Giants, and Nationals on the road. The Braves are the only National League opponent they will be playing at home and on the road.

Among the highlights here are Boston’s second trip to Wrigley Field (July 14-16) in as many years, its first trip to San Francisco (July 28-30) since 2016, and Mookie Betts’ return to Fenway Park when the Dodgers visit from August 25-27.

The Red Sox will not play the Yankees until June 9, when the two sides open a three-game series at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees do not visit Fenway Park until June 16-18. The two teams play again in the Bronx from August 18-20 and conclude their season series in Boston from September 11-14.

As far as road trips are concerned, the longest of the season will take place from May 19-28. It includes stops in San Diego, Anaheim, and Phoenix for a trio of three-game series against the Padres, Angels, and Diamdondbacks.

On the heels of the All-Star break in mid-July, the Red Sox will return to Wrigleyville for a three-game weekend set against the Cubs and will then travel to Oakland for three games with the Athletics. After a five-game homestand against the Mets and Braves, they will return to the west coast to visit the Giants in San Francisco and the Mariners in Seattle.

That takes them into early August, when they will begin their longest homestand of the season: a 10-gamer that consists of three games against the Jays, four against the Royals, and three against the Tigers. Following a three-game series against the Nationals in Washington, D.C., the Red Sox embark upon what may be their toughest stretch of the season.

From August 18-30, the Sox will play the Yankees, Astros, and Dodgers 13 times in 13 days. It stars with three games in the Bronx followed by four in Houston. Boston will then return home for three against Los Angeles (Betts’ homecoming) and three more against Houston.

September begins with six straight on the road against the Royals and Rays. Following a pair of homestands, the Sox’ regular season will end in Baltimore on Sunday, October 1.

In terms of holidays, the Red Sox will be hosting the Angels on Patriots’ Day (April 17), the Cardinals on Mother’s Day (May 14), the Yankees on Father’s Day (June 18), the Rangers on Independence Day (July 4). They are not scheduled to play on Memorial Day (May 29).

All told, the Red Sox are slated to play 162 regular season games in the span of 185 days beginning next March.

(Picture of Fenway Park: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Red Sox made ‘competitive’ offer to Andrew Heaney before left-hander signed with Dodgers, per report

Before Andrew Heaney signed a one-year, $8.5 million deal with the Dodgers last Wednesday, the Red Sox were reportedly among the many teams interested in the then-free agent left-hander.

According to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier, the Sox initially made Heaney an offer that would include one guaranteed year and a team option that would add on a second, which is similar to the deals the club signed Garrett Richards and Martin Perez to last winter.

That said, Speier noted that Boston was willing to up the ante by making a straight one-year offer to Heaney “that was competitive with” what the Dodgers were offering him, but the 30-year-old ultimately chose to sign with Los Angeles.

A former first-round draft pick of the Marlins in 2012 out of Oklahoma State University, Heaney was traded to the Dodgers along with Austin Barnes, Chris Hatcher, and current Red Sox utility man Enrique Hernandez in December 2014.

The Dodgers then flipped Heaney to the Angels for Howie Kendrick, and the lefty spent the next six-plus seasons with the Halos before being dealt to the Yankees over the summer.

While splitting the 2021 campaign between the Angels and Yankees, Heaney struggled for the most part, posting a 5.83 ERA and 4.85 FIP to go along with 150 strikeouts to 41 walks over 30 appearances (23 starts) spanning 129 2/3 total innings of work with both clubs.

Upon arriving in the Bronx in late July, the 6-foot-2, 200 pound southpaw was originally a member of the Yankees’ starting rotation, but was demoted to the bullpen towards the end of August.

As a reliever, Heaney did not fare much better by putting up a 10.24 ERA and 7.10 FIP across seven outings and 9 2/3 innings pitched before being designated for assignment in early October and being made a free agent as a result.

For as ugly as a season Heaney had as far as ERA and FIP goes, Speier notes that his struggles “were little deterrent to teams drawn to his swing-and-miss stuff.”

Of the 31 left-handers who pitched at least 125 innings in the majors this year, Heaney ranked sixth among them in regards to strikeout rate (26.9%), 19th in walk rate (7.3%), and 17th in xFIP (4.12), per FanGraphs.

Put another way, teams such as the Red Sox were intrigued by Heaney — who works with a four-seam fastball, curveball, and changeup — for reasons that go beyond the box score.

Because of his eye-opening peripherals, Heaney is viewed by some evaluators as someone who can bounce back in 2022 the same way fellow left-hander Robbie Ray did on his way to winning the American League Cy Young Award with the Blue Jays in 2021.

The Red Sox, as Speier highlights, are “trying to shore up” their starting rotation in the wake of Eduardo Rodriguez signing a five-year contract with the Tigers last week.

It may have been an unconventional way of going about addressing a need, but it would seem that chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. were looking to maximize Heaney’s potential were he to choose the Red Sox over the Dodgers.

Heaney, who does not turn 31 until next June and is represented by Icon Sports Management, instead opted to join the Dodgers as he will surely be striving to reestablish his value in 2022 and test the free agency waters again next winter.

(Picture of Andrew Heaney: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Red Sox among teams interested in free agent utility man Chris Taylor, per report

The Red Sox are among a handful of teams interested in free agent utility man Chris Taylor, according to MLB.com’s Juan Toribio.

Per Torobio, Taylor is drawing interest from the likes of the Sox, Cardinals, Rangers, Giants, Marlins, and others including the Dodgers, who originally acquired him from the Mariners in June 2016.

After spending the last six seasons with the Dodgers, Taylor is now officially a free agent in the wake of rejecting Los Angeles’ one-year, $18.4 million qualifying offer for 2022 on Wednesday.

Taylor, 31, was a first-time All-Star in 2021. The versatile right-handed hitter batted .254/.344/.438 (113 wRC+) with 25 doubles, four triples, 20 home runs, 73 RBIs, 92 runs scored, 13 stolen bases, 63 walks, and 167 strikeouts over 148 games and 582 plate appearances.

In those 148 games, Taylor made 46 appearances at second base, 11 at third base, 23 at shortstop, 30 in left field, 62 in center field, and eight in right field. For his career, the University of Virginia product’s best position has been left field (+13 defensive runs saved), though he saw the majority of his playing time come in center field (423 innings) this past season.

Under chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and manager Alex Cora, the Red Sox have clearly placed an emphasis on versatile players who are capable of playing multiple positions.

Taylor obviously fits this mold, as does his former Dodgers teammate and current Sox utility man Enrique Hernandez. As noted by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo, Boston originally signed Hernandez last year to serve as their everyday second baseman, but he ultimately wound up taking over the day-to-day responsibilities in center field.

So, if the Red Sox were to pursue a starting outfielder such as Taylor, they would have the ability to move Hernandez back to the infield thanks to the flexibility of the 30-year-old.

Because the Dodgers extended a qualifying offer to Taylor, there is now draft pick compensation attached to the Virginia Beach native if another club were to sign him away from Los Angeles.

The Red Sox, for instance, would forfeit their second-highest unprotected pick in next year’s draft as well as $500,000 in international signing bonus pool space if they manage to sign a qualified free agent like Taylor. Boston did, however, gain a compensatory pick in the 2022 draft earlier this week when Eduardo Rodriguez signed a five-year deal with the Tigers.

After staying away from qualified free agents last off-season, Bloom and Co. have expressed an interest in pursuing those free agents with qualifying offers attached to them this time around.

With that being said, Taylor — a client of Meister Sports Management — is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to net himself a four-year, $64 million contract in free agency this season.

FanGraphs, on the other hand, projects that Taylor will land a four-year deal worth approximately $60 million. A steep price to pay for someone who turns 32 in August.

(Picture of Chris Taylor: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

How Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo became a better major-leaguer because of veteran teammates like Mitch Moreland, Rich Hill

Alex Verdugo’s inaugural season with the Red Sox ended with the outfielder finishing 12th in American League MVP voting.

Well before that, though, the 24-year-old had gotten off to a rough start with his new team.

After being left off the Sox’ Opening Day lineup last July, Verdugo struggled to the tune of a .231/.286/.231 slash line with no extra-base hits, no RBI, two walks, and sevens strikeouts through his first eight games and 28 plate appearances of the year.

The centerpiece for Boston in the five-player trade with the Dodgers that sent Mookie Betts and David Price to Los Angeles, the former top prospect had grown frustrated with his performance, and he let out that frustration in a demonstrative way; much to the chagrin of his veteran teammates — like Mitch Moreland.

“Every at-bat it felt like I was going into the tunnel and hitting something or throwing a helmet down,” Verdugo said recently on the Baseball Tonight podcast with ESPN’s Buster Olney. “And Mitch kind of made a side comment, like ‘Shoot. Seeing him act like that has got me exhausted.’ Like I’m tiring him out just watching what I’m doing. And I sat back on that. I thought about it, and I went over there and I apologized to the team.

“This anger — this stuff that I show — I want you guys to know that it’s from a good place,” he added while recalling how he apologized. “It’s because I’m a competitor. I’m so used to competing.”

Since being selected by the Dodgers in the second round of the 2014 amateur draft out of Sahuaro High School, the Arizona native has always had a fiery personality.

It’s a personality and a way of going about things that may rub others the wrong way, but Verdugo has managed to succeed at every level he’s played at while still maintaining that boisterous edge to him.

That trend of performing to a high level continued for Verdugo over the summer and into the early stages of the fall. From August 4 through the end of the 2020 season, the left-handed hitter slashed .320/.378/.514 with six home runs, 15 RBI, and four stolen bases over his final 45 games (193 plate appearances) of the year.

“I felt like towards the middle and end of the season, I was a lot better,” said Verdugo. “I was a lot better. I was able to handle it more. It was kind of cool, Jason Varitek got a nice little punching bag right in the tunnel. So we’d go down there and I got a nice little inflatable pitching bag with my Verdugo jersey on it. No. 99.”

Verdugo will look to carry over the individual success he enjoyed in 2020 into 2021 for a Red Sox team that figures to be much more competitive than they were last year.

The 6-foot, 205 pounder is no stranger to playing for a team with postseason aspirations, and one of his former teammates on that particular team — Milton’s own Rich Hill — believes that Verdugo can take that next stop with the Sox.

The 41-year-old Hill, now a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, was Verdugo’s teammate with the Dodgers for parts of the 2017, 2018, and 2019 campaigns.

While the veteran left-hander was one of those who initially took issue with the way Verdugo went about his business upon getting called up by the Dodgers in 2017, he also realized — and still realizes — the potential the young outfielder has to do special things on the field.

“When I heard the trade happened, I had gotten the chance to talk to a few people in Boston and just said, ‘Hey, you guys got a really good player here, and not just any player,'” Hill told Olney. “I think he can be a perennial All-Star and be a standout in Boston because of his ability to put the bat to the ball and consistently create damage with runners on and/or start a rally.

“Again, it’s the way he goes about playing the game,” the former Red Sox hurler added. “I think of players right off the top of my head who play hard. Like a Chase Utley for example, a Clayton Kershaw, a Dustin Pedroia. You look at Jose Abreu with the White Sox. I put Alex in that category. It doesn’t have to be just position players, right? I mentioned a few pitchers because when you go to the game and you buy the ticket, you want to see the intensity and the passion from the player — whether it’s the pitcher or position player.”

Pedroia, who retired from the game of baseball in February after spending 14 big-league seasons with the Sox, was teammates with Hill for parts of the 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2015 seasons.

“Dustin kind of rejuvenated me and got more out of myself when I saw his effort and what he brought on a daily basis and what consistent intensity looked like ,” said Hill. “That was something I saw and was like, ‘Wow, if this guy is showing up at 1 o’clock and he’s ready with a full batting practice uniform on, it wasn’t fake. It was real.’ It was every single day.

“And that’s what Alex has,” he continued. “Alex has that every single day, it’s the same mentality. It’s the passion, the joy, the intensity, the love for the game. However you want to put a title over it, he has that for the game. So he’s going to do fine here in Boston.”

Based off his style of play, Verdugo is someone who feeds the energy of the crowd regardless of which ballpark he is at.

After going through an entire season with no fans in the stands in 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Verdugo is relishing the opportunity to play in front of a crowd –albeit a reduced one — at not only Fenway Park, but venues like Yankee Stadium as well in 2021.

“I think the fans are a big part of the game,” he said. “I miss that interaction where they’re talking their smack. They’re letting you have it. Especially when I’m in New York. If I’m in the Yankees’ stadium, I want that, man. I want it. I know you got to be careful what you ask for, but for me, I love it. I really do.”

(Picture of Mitch Moreland and Alex Verdugo: Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

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)

Alex Verdugo experiencing first real spring training with Red Sox: ‘I’m feeling really comfortable and feeling really good about where I’m at right now’

Alex Verdugo’s first spring training as a member of the Red Sox was far from a conventional one.

After coming over from the Dodgers in the Mookie Betts/David Price trade last February, the young outfielder — then 23 years old — reported to Fort Myers, where it was revealed that he was working his way back from a stress fracture in his lower back.

When the Red Sox began their Grapefruit League slate later that month, Verdugo was unable to play in any spring games and would instead spend his time rehabbing, getting treatment, or hitting in the cage.

The following month, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic really took off and eventually forced Major League Baseball and its clubs to shut down their spring training facilities on March 12.

Despite the shutdown, which would last into July, Verdugo was still able to go to the Sox’ Fenway South complex in order to continue getting treatment on his back.

By the time players reported to their respective teams’ summer camps, the 24-year-old was essentially a full-go, but he would have to prepare for a shortened season without the benefit of a spring training schedule to work off of.

“When we had the spring training 2.0, there still wasn’t very many games,” Verdugo explained on Tuesday via Zoom. “We were kind of just playing against ourselves. It was good because I was getting at-bats, I was seeing pitches. But physically, I felt a little bit off. When the season kicked in, it took me probably a week — maybe a week-and-a-half — into the season for me to finally get that adjustment and realize, ‘Oh, OK, this is what I got to do.’ And from there, I didn’t look back.”

In his first eight regular season games of 2020, Verdugo went a mere 6-for-26 (.231) at the plate with two walks and seven strikeouts from July 25 through August 23.

Starting on the night of August 4 — in which he went 1-for-2 at the plate against the Rays, the Arizona native put up an impressive .320/.378/.514 slash line to go along with six home runs and 15 RBI over 45 games and 193 plate appearances en route to leading the 2020 Red Sox in bWAR (2.2), per Baseball Reference.

Having solidified himself as an everyday big-league outfielder who was on the rise, Verdugo came into the 2021 season with the opportunity to actually play in some Grapefruit League games for the first time in his career.

Leading up to Tuesday’s contest against the Braves in North Port, though, the left-handed hitter carried with him an OPS of .508 through his first 11 games of the spring.

“For the spring I’m having, it’s been a different one,” Verdugo said. “I think if we go performance-wise and batting average-wise, it’s not quite where I would want it. But physically and all that, I’m in a lot better position than I was last year. I think right now, it’s just getting up there and just letting my eyes see the pitches, having some at-bats. I’ve been having better at-bats, working the count deep. Maybe 3-2, couple of pitches have gotten me. But I’m feeling really comfortable and feeling really good about where I’m at right now.”

Despite the statistical struggles so far this spring, Verdugo did go 1-for-2 with a single, an RBI forceout, a run scored, and a walk while playing six innings of center field against Atlanta on Tuesday afternoon.

“He’s been getting better. He’s making good decisions at the plate,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora in regards to the progress Verdugo is making this spring. “He’s not chasing pitches — in the first at -bat he did — but the walks, trying to stay up the middle, the other way, that’s what he does… He’s feeling good about his swing and he’s been getting a lot of at-bats in the backfields, too.”

Verdugo reinforced some of these points himself when discussing how he should be more locked in when the 2021 season begins as opposed to where he was at in late July last year.

“I’ve been kind of going through some things, fighting some stuff at the plate,” he said. “My biggest thing for me is I use the entire field. So I just got to get back to using left field, letting the ball travel just a split-second more, and then just throwing the hands at it. Like I said, the last couple games, I hit a line-drive over the shortstop, been having better at-bats, walking a little bit more. So we’re right on the final path. This next week, we got to just lock it in a little bit more and get it ready.”

Last season, Verdugo went 22-for-39 (.564) at the plate with a pair of home runs and four RBI when pushing the ball to the opposite field. He will look to replicate that sort of production this year, as he will likely slot into the No. 2 spot in the Sox’ regular lineup behind former Dodgers teammate Enrique Hernandez.

Defensively, Verdugo figures to see the lion’s share of his playing time come in either center or right field.

The former second-round draft pick out of Sahuaro High School only played eight innings in center field in 2020, but he said Tuesday that he’s had no problems getting more acclimated with a position that can be a little more challenging to play inside Fenway Park as opposed to other ballparks.

“The biggest thing, like I said health-wise, is taking care of my body and making sure my legs and everything’s under me,” said Verdugo. “Really, the position doesn’t matter. Center, we do have a little bit more run since it’s gap-to-gap, but there’s no problem with that yet. With our corner outfielders and everybody, we all do a really good job of communicating, shifting, and going where we need to be.”

Outside of J.D. Martinez, Verdugo is technically the longest-tenured outfielder on the Red Sox’ major-league roster following the Andrew Benintendi trade and Jackie Bradley Jr. signing with the Brewers.

One of the reasons Boston has gone through such a seismic shift in regards to roster construction this offseason is because of how poorly they played in 2020. Another reason for it is because the organization, spearheaded by the return of Cora as manager, clearly expects to be more competitive in 2021.

With the infusion of talent chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. have added to the mix, the Sox are a group this spring that has generated a lot of internal positive energy and excitement.

And with the prospect of a limited number of fans returning to Fenway Park for Opening Day on April 1 and beyond, that leaves someone like Verdugo — who can feed off that energy from the crowd — feeling excited for what’s on the horizon.

“It just kind of felt like gut-punch after gut-punch,” Verdugo said about the 2020 season. “This year, going through the trials and errors last year, we got some new pitchers, got some new guys, got some new talent. I think everybody’s just excited. We’re all excited to have fans back, excited to get back into this normality. We’re excited to get back to this normal life that we’re living in.

“This year, we know that we can be pretty good and be competitive,” he added. “We’re just keeping a positive mindset and everybody’s working and doing what we need to do.”

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

Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo says Dodgers winning World Series was ‘bittersweet’ for him, calls Boston place ‘where I was supposed to be’

Last year, Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo went through something for the first time as a major-leaguer in that he played for a team that failed to qualify for the postseason.

Prior to getting traded to Boston last February, the 24-year-old had been a part of three straight National League West-clinching Dodgers teams from 2017-2019.

Although he never appeared in a postseason game as a member of the Dodgers, Verdugo still worked hard to reach that ultimate goal of being a member of the last team standing come late October.

So when Los Angeles finally ended their 32-year World Series drought this past fall while Verdugo was at home watching his former teammates celebrate that accomplishment, it was a bit weird for the former Dodgers top prospect.

“I’m happy for the guys,” Verdugo said Thursday when speaking with reporters via Zoom. “It’s a bittersweet moment because at the same time, I want that ring. I want to be a champion, but I think things work out for reasons.”

While the Red Sox may have struggled to the tune of a 24-36 record in Verdugo’s first season with the club, the left-handed hitter did enjoy success on an individual level in 2020.

Over 53 games played last year, Verdugo slashed an impressive .308/.367/.478 to go along with six home runs, 16 doubles, and 15 RBI across 221 plate appearances. He also recorded seven outfield assists en route to finishing 12th in American League MVP voting.

“Coming over here and being with Boston and being with the staff and the teammates, and how I feel like I get along and jell with the guys, I think the fit here is better,” said Verdugo. “I think this is where I was supposed to be, and I think it’s going to make it even more special when we do get that ring and we win it here.”

Having said that, Verdugo — who was selected by Los Angeles in the second round of the 2014 amateur draft — still enjoyed seeing some of his old friends like Cody Bellinger, Edwin Rios, and Walker Buehler win it all considering the fact they all grinded through the minor-leagues together not too long ago.

“It was fun. I still got a lot of friends over there,” he said. “Still had some guys that you root for and at the end of the day, I put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, into the minor-leagues to get into the bigs and play next to these guys. To see their dreams come true, it’s amazing.”

As the Dodgers head into the 2021 season coming off their first World Series title since 1988, Verdugo hopes the Red Sox can meet them in the Fall Classic once more to get a little retribution sometime in the near future.

“Now, it’s just, hopefully we see them and we get to beat them and get a little satisfaction that way,” said Verdugo.

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