Red Sox top prospect Triston Casas back in Fort Myers: ‘The fact that he’s here already is a positive step,’ Alex Cora says

Red Sox infield prospect Triston Casas returned to Fort Myers on Thursday night and is currently undergoing the intake process before reporting back to the Fenway South complex.

Casas, the top prospect in Boston’s farm system according to Baseball America, had been in Boston for a non-baseball-related medical issue.

“With Casas, we’re getting closer,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters Saturday morning. “He’s actually here in Fort Myers. He’s not here in the facility, still going through intake and all that stuff. But we feel confident that, hopefully, he can join the team over the course of the week. So things are trending in the right direction.”

Casas, who turned 21 in January, is currently one of 34 non-roster invitees at major-league spring training. The left-handed hitting, right-handed throwing corner infielder was originally selected by Boston in the first round of the 2018 amateur draft out of American Heritage High School in Plantation, Fla.

The specific reason as to why Casas was in Boston is unclear, but the fact that he was there to be evaluated for a non-baseball medical issue caused quite the stir in regards to thinking about the Florida native’s long-term outlook.

“As of now, there’s a lot of people involved in this situation,” said Cora. “And people are feeling better the last few days. So hopefully, like I said, if you see him joining the team, that’s a good sign. The fact that he’s here already is a positive step and hoping that he can join us. I think a lot of people are feeling better the last few days.”

With no minor-league baseball last year, Casas is coming off a 2020 season in which he spent time at both the Red Sox’ alternate training site in Pawtucket and fall instructional league in Fort Myers, where he was one of the more impressive position players in attendance.

The last time he saw any organized minor-league action, the 6-foot-4, 252 lb. infielder slashed .256/.350/.480 with 20 home runs and 81 RBI over 120 total games between Class-A Greenville and High-A Salem en route to being named Boston’s 2019 minor league offensive Player of the Year.

Casas is slated to begin the 2021 minor-league season with Double-A Portland, but the hope is he will have the opportunity to get into some Grapefruit League games before then.

(Picture of Triston Casas: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Red Sox’ Nick Pivetta moved to Fort Myers this offseason to work out at team’s complex and familiarize himself with organization

In his first offseason as a member of the Red Sox organization, right-hander Nick Pivetta moved to Fort Myers in order to be closer to the club’s Fenway South complex.

Put another way, rather than return home for the offseason as many players across baseball do, the 28-year-old opted to travel to southwest Florida and familiarize himself with his new club.

“We talked about it as the season was ending last year, and he was telling me he was thinking about coming down here and setting up shop because he didn’t have anywhere else he needed to be,” Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush said of Pivetta earlier Saturday. “I think it’s great. It gave him a chance to be around the staff, to be around the complex, to get his work in consistently.

“Look, it’s not for everybody,” he added. “Some guys like being able to go home, some guys like being here. But for him this winter, it was perfect. Because it gave him access to the personnel, the equipment, and the space that he needed, and he took advantage of it.”

The Red Sox originally acquired Pivetta — as well as right-handed pitching prospect Connor Seabold — from the Phillies back in August for right-handed relievers Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree.

Pivetta arrived in Boston in late August, but rather than make his team debut right away, the club optioned the 6-foot-5, 214 pounder to their alternate training site in Pawtucket, where he would stay for about a month before getting called up on September 22.

In his first two starts in a Red Sox uniform — which came against the Orioles and Braves — Pivetta impressed by yielding just two earned runs on eight hits and five walks to go along with 13 total strikeouts over 10 total innings pitched.

“Nick was great last year,” Bush said. “Obviously he performed really well when he came up. After the trade, we kept him at the alternate site for a little while, and it gave the other people in the organization a chance to get to know him. I talked to him plenty of times over the phone before he came up. So I think the relationship started building pretty early last year, and we carried it through those last few starts at the end of the year.”

Ending the 2020 campaign on a high note, Pivetta headed down to Fort Myers and continued to put the work in to improve his craft.

“He’s worked very hard this offseason,” said Bush. “I was in regular contact with him once or twice a week. He was sending me videos as he was throwing his bullpens leading up to camp. He’s worked very hard. He’s dedicated himself to making himself a complete big-league pitcher and being able to stick in the big-leagues.”

As he prepares to embark upon his first full season with the Red Sox in 2021, Pivetta finds himself in a somewhat precarious position given the fact he is out of minor-league options. That means that if Boston wanted to send down the British Columbian hurler to the minors, they would have to remove him from their 40-man roster and expose him to waivers in the process of doing so.

With that in mind, it would appear that Pivetta, who primarily works with a four-seam fastball, curveball, slider, and changeup, has the inside edge on a spot on the Sox’ Opening Day starting rotation since other potential candidates — like Tanner Houck — have minor-league options remaining.

Even considering that point, though, the former fourth-round draft pick will still have to prove his worth and compete for said starting rotation spot over the next few weeks.

“I think he’s very excited for the opportunity,” Bush stated. “He’s going out there to compete for a spot, and he’s worked really hard for it. So I’m excited for him. I’m excited to see him go out there and pitch, compete, and show that the hard work he put in was worth it. It’s going to pay off.”

Pivetta, who turned 28 earlier this month, will make his spring debut on the road against the Twins on Wednesday.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Friday during an appearance on WEEI’s Ordway, Merloni, and Fauria that S0x starters will each work two innings in their first starts of the spring and three innings in their second starts.

(Picture of Nick Pivetta: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo prefers hitting in batting cage to on-field batting practice: ‘It keeps my swing more locked in’

If fans were allowed on the premises of the Red Sox’ Fenway South complex in Fort Myers this spring, one thing they may notice while wandering around the many backfields is that Alex Verdugo is not out there taking batting practice while other position players are.

“Here, it’s not mandatory to go outside and hit,” Sox manager Alex Cora explained on Tuesday. “[Verdugo] did everything inside. We talked about his preparation and all of that. He stays away from the field for the first few just to do his cage work and hit off the machine. It’s part of his preparation, but he’s always out there for the defensive part of it.”

On the surface, it may seem odd that the 24-year-old outfielder does not participate in on-field batting practice and prefers to take his swings in the batting cages, but it turns out he actually has a sound reason as to why that is the case.

“I don’t like to hit on the field as much,” Verdugo said when speaking with reporters via Zoom on Thursday. “I think it’s good to occasionally see where the ball’s going, see how it’s flying. I think it’s good. But, me personally, through the last few years, I’ve found that the cage just does it better for me, man. It keeps my swing more locked in. It keeps me really focused up the middle — not trying to lift, not trying to do anything — just hit a nice, consistent line drive up the middle.

Utilizing that approach, as well as the mindset that opposing pitchers are seemingly throwing harder than ever, leads Verdugo to believe that cage work does a better job of simulating the in-game experience than batting practice does.

“Especially when you have a lot of guys throwing hard nowadays, I just feel like for me, seeing some hard velo in the cage is more realistic than seeing nice, easy BP on the field and trying to lift,” the left-handed hitter said. “Obviously, I can go out there and hit on the field and keep a professional approach and do my line drives, but I just like the cage better.”

In his inaugural season with Boston after coming over from the Dodgers last February, Verdugo impressed to the tune of a .308/.367/.478 slash line to go along with six home runs, 16 doubles, and 15 RBI over 53 games played (221 plate appearances).

The former second-round draft pick managed to stay relatively healthy throughout the duration of the year, but that likely would not have been the case had the 2020 season started at time.

That being due to the fact that, upon getting traded from Los Angeles last year, Verdugo was dealing with a stress fracture in his lower back, which at the time resulted in discomfort whenever he swung a bat.

While the Arizona native may be fully recovered from that ailment now, back injuries are nothing to mess around with, especially for a player with a limited history of them.

“I think if I do cage and BP on the field, the workload starts increasing, the number of swings start increasing,” said Verdugo. “For me, it’s going to be a long year. It’s going to be a long year trying to stay healthy through the whole year. If I’m feeling locked in and I’m feeling like I’m where I need to be and cage is enough, then there’s no reason to try to push it or try to go do something just for people to see me do it. I’m getting my work in, and I know what I need to be ready for April 1.”

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

New Podding the Red Sox episode: MLB.com’s Ian Browne joins the show

On this week’s installment of Podding the Red Sox: A BloggingtheRedSox.com Podcast, I am joined by MLB.com’s Ian Browne, who covers the Red Sox for the site and has been doing so since 2002.

Among the topics Ian and I discussed were his experience so far in Fort Myers while covering Red Sox spring training, how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will affect Grapefruit League play and the regular season this year, how Jackie Bradley Jr.’s free agency is going, where Tanner Houck will start the 2021 season, who will emerge as Alex Cora’s closer, and much more!

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

Thanks to Ian for taking some time out of his busy spring training schedule (and putting up with shoddy hotel Wi-Fi) to have a conversation with me. You can follow him on Twitter by clicking here, and you can check out his work for MLB.com 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 JetBlue Park: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Alex Cora says team has to be better defensively in 2021: ‘That’s the bottom line’

During his re-introductory press conference back in November, one of the things that Red Sox manager Alex Cora emphasized was that his team needed to catch up to the speed of the game heading into the 2021 season.

“As a manager, as a coaching staff, I think spring training is going to be a lot different than ’18, ’19,” Cora said in the fall. “I do believe we have to catch up with the speed of the game. You look around and you look at the Padres, you look at the Rays, you look at the Dodgers and how athletic they are and how fast the game is. We have to catch up with that.

“It starts in the offseason, obviously, with workouts, and then we get to spring training,” he added. “It’s not going to be what you saw in ’18, ’19, kind of like building up, building up. Yeah, we’re going to build up, of course, so we don’t get hurt. But, at the same time I think the drills are going to be more dynamic. It’s going to be more game-time stuff, and I think they’re going to have fun doing that. And if we do that and we catch up with the speed of the division and the other teams, we’re going to be in a good spot.”

A little more than three months later, and Cora and Co. are already implementing these dynamic changes into their spring training drills at the Fenway South complex in Fort Myers. The Sox skipper said as much when speaking with reporters earlier Friday morning.

“Certain fields are dedicated for defense only,” Cora said via Zoom. “With the guidelines, we have to split them up. So, Fields 1 and 2 are going to be for infielders. Field 1 is going to be only for offense. Field 2 is going to be like a defensive lab. So they’re going to have machines, they’re going to be doing drills, everything is going to be defense. Fields 3 and 4 are going to be for outfielders. Same thing: One of the fields is going to be only for defense, the other one for offense. And for offense, too, they’re going to have cameras and they’re going to have Rapsodo and they’re going to have machines.

“It’s a way to get them up to what I want,” continued Cora. “And at the same time, with everything that is going on, to keep their minds away from the obstacles. Like I said yesterday, we’re lucky to be here. We’re lucky to be working, playing this game. I think we’re going to be more efficient as far as the work. We’re going to have a lot of stuff going on, which is cool.”

Cora added that additional fields will be reserved for pitchers and catchers, while newly-added turf close to the Red Sox clubhouse can be used for catching and infield drills and the batting cages can also be used for defensive work now that some nets have been taken down.

“It’s a pretty cool facility,” he opined. “You have to be open-minded, you have to be creative. We’re doing that and I think that’s going to help us to improve and get better.”

Aside from the COVID-19 protocols put in place by Major League Baseball for spring training facilities in Arizona and Florida, the driving force behind the Sox changing things up at Fenway South is to make defense more of a priority.

That being the case because over the last two seasons, both of which they failed to qualify for the postseason, Boston has put up rather pedestrian numbers.

They rank eighth in the American League in errors (133), seventh in fielding percentage (.984), ninth in defensive runs saved (-26), and sixth in ultimate zone rating (8.3) since 2019, per FanGraphs.

“We have to be better defensively. We have to be better defensively,” Cora said emphatically. “No doubt about it. That’s something championship teams do. I said, we have to be better than ’18 defensively, better than ’19, better than ’20. This is not about range factor or all that stuff that people measure, which is important. As far as first steps and angles going toward the ball, I’m going to challenge them to be better.”

The additions of versatile veterans like Enrique Hernandez and Marwin Gonzalez should aid the Sox on the defensive side of things, but the club will still be banking on players like Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, Michael Chavis, Bobby Dalbec, and Christian Vazquez to pick up things on their end as well.

“We’re looking for these guys to improve their defense,” said Cora. “Raffy, Xander, Bobby at first base, Michael, Christian. We have to be better defensively. That’s the bottom line.”

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

Red Sox Set To Kick off Fall Instructional League This Week With Bevy of Top Prospects in Attendance

The Red Sox are set to kick off their fall instructional league in Fort Myers on Monday. And according to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier, several of the club’s top prospects will take part in these offseason activities.

Among the 62 minor-leaguers who will report to Fenway South starting this week, several had just spent at least part of their summers at the Red Sox’ alternate training site in Pawtucket. Those names, per Speier, include pitchers Bryan Mata and Jay Groome, infielders Triston Casas, Nick Yorke, and Hudson Potts, and outfielder Jeisson Rosario.

As for the prospects who did not receive an invite to the alternate site this season, there are right-handers Brayan Bello and Thad Ward, left-hander Chris Murphy, infielders Brainer Bonaci and Matthew Lugo, and speedy outfielder Gilberto Jimenez.

On top of that group of players, infielder Blaze Jordan and pitchers Shane Drohan and Jeremy Wu-Yelland — the rest of Boston’s 2020 draft class — are also expected to attend this offseason program that will run until November 12.

Although it is not yet clear if teams will be allowed to play games against one another due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, these instructional leagues do allow the Red Sox, as well as the other 29 clubs, to get back in contact with the core of their minor-league talent.

Speaking of minor-league talent, as of September 1, the Sox had the No. 25 farm system in baseball according to MLB Pipeline.

As underwhelming as that ranking may be, there appears to be optimism from within the organization that things in that developmental area are steadily improving. PawSox manager Billy McMillon opined as much when speaking with reporters this past Friday via Zoom.

“I think it’s very promising right now,” McMillon said regarding the state of the Red Sox farm system. “Some of the returns that we got back in some of the various trades and offseason acquisitions, I think that’s going to raise the level of our minor-leagues. We saw some guys develop, get a little bit better. There’s encouraging news from guys that impressed on the mound to seeing how some of the position players developed. I think the cupboard is getting full again, and I think there’s reason for optimism with some of the guys that we saw in the alternate camp.”

Expect the full list of Red Sox minor-leaguers who will be attending fall instructs to be released relatively soon.

UPDATE: Here’s the full list of the 62 Red Sox minor-leaguers who will be at full instructs, courtesy of SoxProspects.

Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo ‘Probably Farther Along Than Anyone,’ According to Ron Roenicke

In terms of preparations for the upcoming, abbreviated 2020 season, Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo is “probably further along than anyone,” manager Ron Roenicke told reporters earlier Monday afternoon.

That being the case because, according to Roenicke, the 24-year-old “has been on the field and hitting in the cage” under team supervision while other players have not gotten that opportunity.

Coming off a stress fracture in his lower back suffered while with the Dodgers last season, Verdugo, along with left-hander Chris Sale, had the opportunity to report back to JetBlue Park earlier than most players last month in order to continue his rehab.

Because of this, in addition to the fact that he remained in Florida during the COVID-19 pandemic-induced shutdown, the Arizona native was able to get some work in at the Fenway South complex in Fort Myers.

Prior to said shutdown ordered by Major League Baseball back in March, it looked as though Verdugo would miss the first chunk of the original 2020 season due to that stress fracture.

Now, as chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom told reporters last week, the former Dodgers top prospect “should be all systems go” once the Red Sox report to Fenway Park for summer training camp on Wednesday.

As things stand at the moment, it looks like Verdugo could split time in right field with Kevin Pillar as he eases his way back from that back ailment.

Roenicke also mentioned that things “could change [for Verdugo] depending on how things match up with opposing teams.”

Since making his major-league debut with Los Angeles in 2017, the former second-round draft pick owns a career .273/.335/.448 slash line in 355 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers, and a career .306/.333/.452 slash line in 133 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers.

The day-to-day status of Verdugo will certainly be something to monitor once training camp begins this week. As Roenicke put it, hopefuly there won’t be any setbacks and he’ll be ready to go once Opening Day 2.0 rolls around in late July.

Red Sox Open Fenway South Complex for Players to Prepare for 2020 Season, If There Is One

The Red Sox have opened the Fenway South complex in Fort Myers back up for players to once again prepare for the 2020 season, according to The Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham.

The important distinction here is that before this week, the complex was only available to players who were working their way back from injuries, such as Alex Verdugo and Chris Sale.

Now though, I would imagine the facility surrounding JetBlue Park is available to Red Sox players and staff in the same capacity it was before pitchers and catchers reported to camp back in February.

Per Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, the complex was open on Wednesday and Thursday to a handful of players that included Jackie Bradley Jr. and Tzu-Wei Lin, and he expects that the exact number of players who show up “may vary day to day.”

This news comes at a time where the club is debating on whether to hold a second version of spring training in Boston or Fort Myers if baseball does indeed return this year. Of course, that all depends on the ongoing negotiations between Major League Baseball and the MLBPA.

As Abraham notes, if the two sides can reach an agreement on starting the season relatively soon, “formal workouts would begin approximately June 10th and last three weeks.”

These preseason workouts would more than likely consist of intrasquad games, so it would seem like it would be in the Sox’ best interest to hold a second version of spring training in Fort Myers rather than Boston given the volume of players who would be on hand in this scenario.

Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo: ‘Whenever the Season Starts I Think I Will Be Ready’

Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo is back working out at the Fenway South complex in Fort Myers, and when the 2020 Major League Baseball season does resume, he feels like he’ll be good to go.

Speaking with reporters via conference call on Monday afternoon for the first time since spring training was suspended in March, Verdugo said he is “physically…100%” after fully recovering from the stress fracture in his lower back.

“I feel very good just moving around with everything,” said the 23-year-old. “My swing, my throwing, running. I feel really good. The complex shut down for three weeks when the whole coronavirus and all that started coming out. So I still stayed active at home. I was hitting, throwing a little bit and working out. But obviously didn’t have the amount of resources I do at the facility.”

Here’s some video of Verdugo working out at home in Fort Myers:

From there, Verdugo was able to get back into the facility last week after the Red Sox opened it back up following a brief shutdown period due to a minor-leaguer testing positive for COVID-19 on March 24th.

“When I got back…we took it slow again,” he said. “We just kind of ramped it back up, just seeing how the three weeks, how my body kind of looked and how it felt to my trainers.”

Here’s some video of Verdugo working out at the JetBlue Park complex:

When the Red Sox acquired Verdugo, as well as prospects Jeter Downs and Connor Wong, from the Dodgers in the Mookie Betts and David Price trade in February, they were already aware of the young outfielder’s ailment. Had the 2020 season began as originally planned on March 26th, he probably would not have been ready for Opening Day.

Now, with the start date of the season still up in the air, Verdugo could be ready to start right away.

“I feel like we’re back on track,” he said. “Whenever the season starts, I think I’ll be ready. Whether that is soon, whether it’s a few months down the road or whatever that may be. I think physically I’m ready.”

While he is training every day like there is going to be a season and working out Fenway South four times a week, Verdugo is regularly checking in with Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke “every one or two weeks.” The training staff he is working with at JetBlue is also sending video to Roenicke and hitting coach Tim Hyers.

“I’m going to keep preparing and training and keeping my mind sharp so I’m already mentally locked in and physically ready to go for it,” said Verdugo.

As he came over from the Dodgers earlier in the year, the Arizona native admitted that being traded was at first difficult for him but he now views the move “as a blessing.”

With his new club, Verdugo expects to be as productive as ever, adding “I think I’m at such a good position mentally and physically. I’m just ready to go and just play. I know if I play and I feel the way I feel right now, my numbers will be what they always have been.”

Once touted as one of the best outfield prospects in baseball, Verdugo slashed .294/.342/.475 with 12 home runs and 44 RBI over 106 games played for Los Angeles in 2019.

The centerpiece in the aforementioned deal that sent soon-to-be free agent Mookie Betts to southern California, Verdugo did say that it would be “pretty crazy” and “pretty nuts” if his counterpart never played a game for the Dodgers if the 2020 season winds up getting cancelled. We’ll have to wait and see on that, though.

 

Red Sox Prospect Chih-Jung Liu Being Quarantined Due to Coronavirus Concerns

Red Sox Taiwanese pitching prospect Chih-Jung Liu is being quarantined in a hotel room by the team, according to The Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham.

Per Abraham, Liu departed Taipei on a flight to San Francisco last week, where he, along with all international travelers, was screened for the virus.

Arriving in Fort Myers with the hopes of being ready for minor-league camp, the 20-year-old right-hander is instead “being quarantined in a hotel room by the Sox to guard against the coronavirus.”

The most recent reports from the Centers of Disease Control state that there have been 31 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Taiwan, and according to a team spokesman, the Red Sox are using “an over abundance of caution” with this international issue, as they also quarantined Taiwanese infielder Tzu-Wei Lin earlier in February.

“I had been here for a week and they said I needed to go back to my apartment,” Lin told Abraham. “I was fine. I stayed away for one day and that was it.”

While in quarantine, Liu is “being delivered three meals a day, doing some weight training, and going for an occasional run,” per his Facebook page.

The Red Sox signed Liu as a two-way international prospect out of Taiwan for $750,000 back in October, but according to vice president of player development Ben Crockett, the plan is to have Liu develop as a pitcher.

“We’re just really excited to get our hands on him,” Crockett said of Liu to The Athletic’s Chad Jennings. “This guy has good stuff, and we know he’s athletic, and we’ve heard really good things about him as a person, too.”

According to MLB Pipleine, Liu is ranked as the Sox’ No. 17 prospect. If he is healthy, which he says he is, he is expected to report to Fenway South on Saturday.