Red Sox outfield prospect Armando Sierra could prove to be underrated member of team’s 2021 international signing class

The Red Sox made a splash in the international free-agent market this winter by signing Dominican outfield prospect Miguel Bleis for $1.5 million back in January.

Appearing on the SoxProspects.com podcast with Chris Hatfield and Ian Cundall in February, Red Sox executive vice president and assistant general manager Eddie Romero described Bleis as a “premium centerfield talent” who has “got all five tools” in addition to “surprising power” and “an absolute hose of an arm.”

While Bleis has stolen the headlines and has already shot up the prospect charts (Boston’s No. 22 prospect according to Baseball America), there is another 17-year-old outfielder the Sox signed out of the Dominican who deserves some attention as well.

That outfield prospect’s name? Armando Sierra, who hails from the same city as fellow outfielder Gilberto Jimenez and right-hander Denyi Reyes (San Cristobal).

In his review of what the Red Sox have done thus far during the 2021 international signing period, Baseball America’s Ben Badler identified Sierra as his ‘sleeper [to] watch.’

“Armando Sierra is a corner outfielder from the Dominican Republic with a chance to hit and hit for power,” Badler wrote of the right-handed hitter last week. “He’s a physically imposing 6-foot-3, 210 pounds with an advanced approach to hitting for his age, keeping the bat head in the hitting zone for a long time that helps him drive the ball with power to all fields. He’s a limited runner whose offensive game will drive his value.” 

Sierra, who signed with the Sox for a bonus of $150,000 on January 15, does not turn 18 until next January.

“Armando was a player we scouted later on in his signing year. After scouting him a few times, he stood out for his strong frame and his power,” Romero recently told BloggingtheRedSox.com via email. “As we continued to see him, it became apparent that not only did he have above average power for his signing class, but he also was developing a stronger approach.

“Since his signing, Sierra has lost close to 20 pounds while gaining muscle working out at our academy,” added Romero. “He continues to improve defensively and is also featuring an above average arm (which was not the case during his scouting trials).”

The young outfielder will likely begin the 2021 minor-league season with one of the Red Sox’ rookie-level, Dominican Summer League teams. In fact, as Romero indicated, he’s already training at the team’s Dominican academy in El Toro, a town just outside of Santo Domingo.

Other recent Red Sox international signees highlighted by Badler include catcher Enderso Lira, right-handers Alvaro Mejias and Jedixson Paez, and shortstops Luis Ravelo and Ahbram Liendo.

(Picture of Chaim Bloom: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox have an ‘extremely exciting’ prospect in Dominican outfielder Miguel Bleis, Eddie Romero says

Last month, the Red Sox made some headlines by giving Dominican outfield prospect Miguel Bleis a signing bonus of $1.8 million, making him the highest-paid player in their 2021 international signing class thus far.

Bleis, who turns 17 in early March, was regarded by Baseball America as the 20th-ranked international prospect headed into the international signing period, which began on January 15.

Per his Baseball America scouting report, the right-handed hitting, right-handed throwing center fielder “is one of the top athletes in the 2020-21 international class.

“He has a sleek, athletic frame with high physical upside. He glides around center field with an easy gait and long strides, with average speed that might tick up as he gets stronger along with a strong arm. He has a quick bat with gap power and a chance to turn more of his doubles into home runs once he gets stronger.”

Currently listed at 6-foot-2 and and 170 lbs., Bleis had been training in the Mejia Top 10 Program in his home country, but he is currently at the Red Sox’ Dominican Academy in El Toro, a town just outside of Santo Domingo.

On Monday’s installment of the SoxProspects.com podcast with Chris Hatfield and Ian Cundall, Red Sox executive vice president and assistant general manager Eddie Romero spoke at length about what Bleis brings to the table.

“He’s a premium center field talent,” Romero said of one of Boston’s newest prospects. “He’s got all five tools. He runs well. He’s got an absolute hose of an arm at an early age with really good mechanics and accuracy. So we think that he can stay in the middle of the field.

“He’s got surprising power,” Romero added. “Being so young and being able to have above-average raw power is something we don’t see often for a center field player given his body type and athleticism. So, really, what we need to hone in on with him is approach. He performed well offensively in competition for us, and he’s continued to do that in the academy.”

Bleis hails from San Pedro de Marocis, a city on the Dominican’s southeastern coast that has produced the likes of Sammy Sosa, Robinson Cano, Alfonso Soriano, Fernando Tatis, and Fernando Tatis Jr., among others.

“He’s a high-character kid that is all about baseball and he’s from San Pedro,” said Romero in regards to Bleis’ roots. “They put something in the water there to create baseball players. So we hope that he can continue the lineage of talent coming out of that area. He’s extremely exciting.”

Since he is still just 16 years old, Bleis is still obviously a long ways away from cracking a major-league roster as there is plenty of room for him to develop in a variety of areas over the next several years.

The young outfielder will likely begin the 2021 minor-league season with one of the Red Sox’ rookie-level, Dominican Summer League teams. That is, if there is a DSL season this year in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re actively discussing that with MLB right now,” Romero said when asked if there would be a DSL season in 2021. “Everybody hopes that there is. It’s just pandemic-affected. We’re still working on the best way to organize that: What the structure would be, how the testing would go. And so we really want to have another platform for these guys to develop after so many of them missed the entire season last year.”

One last note on Bleis for those who enjoy prospect lists: FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen has him ranked as Boston’s No. 32 prospect going into the 2021 campaign.

Using the 20-80 scouting scale, Longenhagen grades Bleis’ current tools as follows: 20 Speed, 45 Raw Power, 20 Game Power, 50 Run, 40 Fielding, 55 Throw.

“Bleis is a righty corner outfield power projection prospect with a whippy, low-ball swing and room for about 30 pounds on his frame,” Longenhagen wrote of the speedy outfielder.

(Picture of Eddie Romero: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Why 2021 could prove to be pivotal year for Red Sox infield prospect Antoni Flores

In the summer of 2017, the Red Sox made infielder Antoni Flores one of their top priorities, as they signed the Venezuelan prospect for a hefty sum of $1,400,000 that July, which would go on to make him the third-highest paid international addition of that particular signing class for Boston.

Flores initially rewarded the Sox for their investment in him the following year in both the Dominican Summer League and Gulf Coast League.

Over 15 total games and 57 total plate appearances between the two affiliates, the young infielder, primarily playing shortstop, went 18-for-53 (.340) at the plate to go along with one home run and 14 RBI.

The reason Flores only managed to play in 15 games, in 2018 was due to the fact that he missed six weeks of action from mid-June until late July due to “general soreness.”

Upon returning and getting promoted from the DSL to GCL, Flores played in just two games before pulling his hamstring in early August, which wound wind up costing him the rest of the season.

The fact Flores was able to put on an impressive showing at the Red Sox’ fall instructional league that year in the wake of suffering that hamstring injury was certainly encouraging, but more red flags arose in 2019.

Entering the year regarded by SoxProspects.com as Boston’s No. 7 prospect, Flores struggled mightily in his first exposure to non-rookie-league baseball in the United States.

Playing in 55 games for the short-season Lowell Spinners, the then-18-year-old posted a dismal .193/.293/.227 slash line over 208 plate appearances while striking out 28.4% of the time. He also committed 10 errors in 410 defensive innings at shortstop, which would signal a transition to second base.

According to SoxProspects‘ director of scouting Ian Cundall, “scouts really soured on Flores” following his first full professional season, “as he showed a poor approach and limited offensive ability while simultaneously struggling in the field.”

Unfortunately, Flores would not get the chance to bounce back in a traditional manner in 2020, as the minor-league season was cancelled in June due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead, Flores, like most other Red Sox minor-leaguers, had to wait until the 2020 installment of fall instructs to try to continue on with their development.

Alas, a long break from organized baseball did the right-handed hitter no favors, as he continued to underwhelm in Fort Myers this past fall.

Per Cundall, Flores, now 20 years old, “again struggled and now seems to have moved to second base primarily. The athleticism he showed in the Fall Instructional League in 2018 is gone, and his speed has regressed to the point where he was consistently timed at 4.6 seconds down the line, which is a 20 on the 20-80 scouting scale.”

FanGraphs‘ Eric Longenhagen added on to this, writing last month that though he wished Flores’ disappointing 2019 was more of an outlier, it may have very well been the start of a negative trend.

“Flores was generating Willy Adames comps during the Fall of 2018, and has since regressed physically and technically,” Longenhagen wrote. “He no longer looks athletically capable of playing the middle infield and has continued to struggle with the bat.”

While Longenhagen still has Flores as his No. 43 prospect in the Red Sox farm system, he notes that “he’s in danger of slipping off the list entirely next year unless he performs statistically and looks more athletic early in the year.” 

SoxProspects projects Flores, who does not turn 21 until October, will start the 2021 minor-league season with Low-A Salem.

Before the 2021 season begins, though, there is still the minor-league portion of spring training — which will likely start later than usual this year — to look forward to.

Between the time fall instructs ended and the time in which minor-league spring training eventually starts up, it appears as though the Sox have given Flores some homework to do.

“Antoni has been working on his agility and quickness a lot this offseason,” Red Sox assistant general manager Eddie Romero, who played a significant role in Flores signing with the organization, told BloggingtheRedSox.com via email. “He’s made a lot of strides in the past few months, so we’re looking forward to seeing him in spring training.”

On that note, 2021 could prove to be a monumental year for Flores in terms of development and career trajectory.

Not only is the 6-foot-1, 190 lb. infielder looking to buck the trend that has seen his stock take a hit in recent years, but he is also Rule 5 eligible for the first time come December.

If he were to make an impact with Salem, or whichever affiliate he played with this year, Flores could be added to the Sox’ 40-man roster if Boston believes in his potential enough to not want to see him scooped up by another club.

If Flores were not to be added, which does seem unlikely at this point given the fact that other prospects such as Jarren Duran, Jeter Downs, Thad Ward, and Gilberto Jimenez will be in need of protection, then as previously mentioned, an opposing team could pick him up if they felt he was ready to make an impact at the major-league level.

That, too, seems unlikely, but there’s a reason why Flores was once considered one of the top prospects in the Sox’ farm system. The talent is still there somewhere, and so is a relatively high ceiling given his age.

Having written all that, it’s fair to say that 2021 could be a ‘make-or-break’ type year for Flores. We will have to wait and see how he performs.

(Picture of Antoni Flores: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Red Sox prospect Juan Chacon ‘caught some attention’ at fall instructs, Eddie Romero says

Like fellow prospect Chih-Jung Liu, Juan Chacon’s baseball experience in 2020 was anything but normal.

The 17-year-old was likely going to spend the majority of the year playing in the Dominican Summer League, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that caused the minor-league season to be cancelled prevented that from happening.

Instead of getting more exposure in the Dominican, where he played in the Tricky League last summer, Chacon had to wait until early October to get his first real opportunity of 2020.

Up until then, Chacon had been working out a facility in Miami, which likely gave him an edge in preparedness when he received an invite to the Sox’ fall instructional league in Fort Myers.

“It was our official version of seeing him, finally under supervision,” Red Sox assistant general manager Eddie Romero said of Chacon when speaking with WEEI’s Rob Bradford. “He has a tool-set. He is a plus-runner. It was something when we first saw him he kept getting faster every time and by signing day he was running a 6.6 60. He’s got above-average arm strength. We think he’s somebody who can stay in the middle of the field and cover a lot of range. He’s got a strong arm. And offensively, right now he’s got a projectable frame. He’s very athletic. He’s somebody from an offensive standpoint, he uses the whole field.”

The Red Sox signed Chacon, a right-handed hitter, out of Venezuela for $900,000 last July, making him the club’s highest-paid international signee for the 2019-2020 international signing period.

That is quite the investment, and with that investment comes somewhat lofty expectations; expectations which Chacon lived up to at fall instructs.

“He performed well at instructs,” Romero added. “Which for a first-year signee, usually [with those] those guys, there aren’t many of them we push straight to the stateside instructional league. We wanted to see him and he did well and I know he caught some attention.”

Regarded by SoxProspects.com as Boston’s No. 49 prospect, the 6-foot-2, 170 lb. outfielder will have the opportunity to ascend the prospect ranks some more once he actually gets the chance to see some in-game action. That will presumably happen in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League at some point in 2021.

Red Sox prospect Brainer Bonaci ‘showed a solid blend of instincts and physical ability’ at fall instructs

Brainer Bonaci has been a professional baseball player for just over two years and he doesn’t turn 19 years old until next July, but he is already looking like one of the more exciting young infielders in the Red Sox’ minor-league pipeline.

The 18-year-old shortstop is coming off an impressive showing at the Sox’ fall instructional league in Fort Myers. According to SoxProspects’ Ian Cundall, Bonaci “looked the best of the young shortstops [at fall instructs] and showed a solid blend of instincts and physical ability. He has a plus arm and both his glove and hit tool showed average potential.”

Signed out of Venezuela by Manny Padron and Eddie Romero for $290,000 on his 16th birthday in 2018, Bonaci is starting to get some legitimate attention thanks to what he did this fall.

Had there been a minor-league season in 2020, Bonaci likely would have began the year with the Gulf Coast League Red Sox. Instead, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, he was limited in what he could do until October, when fall instructs began.

In his only organized action as a minor-leaguer thus far, the 5-foot-10 switch-hitter posted a solid .279/.356/.379 slash line (111 wRC+) to go along with three home runs, 37 RBI, and 18 stolen bases over 61 games played for the Dominican Summer League Red Sox last year.

Because he is still only 18 years old, Bonaci still has plenty of room to grow physically and developmentally. That said, there’s still reason to be excited about his potential, and SoxProspects’ latest prospect rankings reflect that.

Yes, Bonaci is now the No. 14 prospect in Boston’s farm system according to SoxProspects, good for the fifth highest ranking among infielders after Triston Casas, Jeter Downs, Bobby Dalbec, and Nick Yorke.

Going back to April 1, Bonaci was regarded by SoxProspects as the club’s 20th-ranked prospect, so it is clear he is trending in the right direction. And with Dalbec set to graduate from his prospect status next season, it’s safe to assume Bonaci will only continue to rise through the prospect ranks in 2021.

If we look even further ahead, Bonaci will become Rule 5 eligible for the first time in late 2022, so it’s not like he is too far out from garnering 40-man roster consideration as his development continues.

The latest on the Red Sox’ managerial search

With the White Sox and Tigers both landing their new managers in the forms of Tony La Russa and A.J. Hinch this week, the Red Sox currently stand as the only club in baseball with a vacancy at manager as the month of October comes to a close.

From what has been reported, the Sox have interviewed seven candidates — Will Venable, Don Kelly, Luis Urueta, Skip Schumaker, James Rowson, Mike Bell, Carlos Mendoza — to fill that opening, though former manager Alex Cora has been viewed as the favorite to return to his old post.

As it turns out, Boston has indeed been in contact with Cora since his one-year suspension ended on Tuesday following the conclusion of the World Series, according to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier.

On top of that, assistant general manager Eddie Romero told Puerto Rican newspaper El Nuevo Dia Friday that the Red Sox do plan to speak to Cora about the position, while MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports that the club will interview the 45-year-old within the “coming days.”

In that same tweet from Heyman, we also learn that Mendoza, currently the Yankees’ bench coach, and Kelly, who serves the same role for the Pirates, have gotten second interviews for the job, which have actually happened in-person.

While Heyman notes that other candidates may have been interviewed a second time as well, it is worth noting that all three of Urueta (Diamondbacks bench coach), Venable (Cubs third base coach), and Bell (Twins bench coach) are now out of the running for Boston’s managerial opening, per Speier and MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.

With that in mind, the list of managerial candidates chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. have composed to take over for the ousted Ron Roenicke can, at the moment, be narrowed down to Cora, Mendoza, Kelly, Schumaker (Padres associate manager), and Rowson (Marlins bench coach).

Of course, as Cotillo notes, these are just the names that have been leaked out. There still could be other candidates, such as Dodgers first base coach George Lombard and former major-league outfielder-turned-Phillies executive Sam Fuld, who the Sox have in mind and would like to speak to.

That being said, how Boston proceeds with their managerial search could very well make for an exciting weekend depending on how things play out from here. My guess is Cora is named manager by next Friday. We will have to wait and see on that, though.

Red Sox Agree to Deal With Two-Way Taiwanese Prospect Chih-Jung Liu

The Red Sox have reportedly signed 20-year-old two-way player Chih-Jung Liu as an international free agent out of the Chinese Professional Baseball League, per CPBLStats.com.

The signing was made on Wednesday, with Liu receiving a signing bonus of $750,000, according to The Boston’s Globe Pete Abraham.

A native of Taiwan, Liu played college ball at Culture University in Taipei City, where he excelled as a hitter after taking a few years off from pitching due to injuries suffered in high school.

Returning to the mound this fall, the right-hander continued to impress, at one point reaching 97 MPH with his four-seam fastball during an October 3rd start and 101 MPH in his latest start this past Sunday for Team Taiwan in the Asian Baseball Championship Gold Medal game against Japan.

As indicated by CPBL Stats, Liu is currently training with the Taiwanese National Team in preparation for the World Baseball Softball Confederation’s Premier12 tournament, which begins on November 2nd.

Red Sox infielder and Taiwan native Tzu-Wei Lin is also part of those preparations and the two already appear to have a solid relationship.

“I’m glad I have the opportunity to play professional baseball overseas,”Liu told reporters Wednesday. “There is also Lin Tzu-Wei in the organisation, he will look after me.”

Despite the fact that the Sox have yet to name a head of baseball operations to this point, the quartet of Brian O’Halloran, Eddie Romero, Raquel Ferreira, and Zack Scott appear to have things under control for the time being, at least in the international signing department.

Once this signing does become official, more details are sure to come, so make sure to stay tuned for that.

Theo Epstein Shoots Down Red Sox Rumors Amid Speculation Surrounding Potential Reunion

In the last few weeks following the firing of now ex-president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, rumors had been swirling that the Red Sox were interested in a potential reunion with former general manager and current Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein.

Epstein himself shut down those reports on Wednesday, telling reporters before the Cubs took on the Pittsburgh Pirates that, “I’m here. We have a lot we need to work on to get back to the level we’re accustomed to. I’m invested in that. That’s what I’m focused on.”

The Brookline, Ma. native’s current contract with Chicago runs through the end of the 2021 season. He initially joined the Cubs back on October 21st, 2011, the same day he resigned from the post as GM of the Red Sox for a second time.

At just 45-years of age, Epstein has already established himself as one of the more accomplished baseball executives of the 21st century, snapping an 86-year World Series drought with the Sox in 2004, winning another in 2007, and snapping a 106-year drought with the Cubs in 2016.

As you may have already guessed, the Red Sox are going to need someone to lead their baseball operations department ahead of what looks to be a crucial winter for the club with plenty of important decisions to be made.

And with that bit of knowledge, Epstein also confirmed Wednesday that, “neither he, GM Jed Hoyer or executive Jason McLeod were linked to the Red Sox position,” per the Chicago Sun-Times’ Gordon Wittenmyer.

“I have really good relationships with a lot of people there,” Epstein said. “And I certainly wish them the best, but there’s nothing to that story.”

So, unless something dramatic happens relatively soon, it seems as though the Red Sox will have to look elsewhere for a new head of baseball operations. Perhaps Eddie Romero, an internal option, is a viable choice?