3 Florida Complex League Red Sox pitchers combine for 22 strikeouts in 4-3 win over FCL Braves

The rookie-level Florida Complex League Red Sox pitching staff combined for an unprecedented 22 strikeouts in Thursday’s 4-3 win over the FCL Braves at CoolToday Park in North Port.

Nathanael Cruz got the start and struck out four of the six batters he faced over two scoreless, no-hit innings. The 19-year-old right-hander began the 2022 season with Low-A Salem but made just one start for the affiliate before being placed on the 7-day injured list on April 21.

Last Saturday, Cruz was officially sent out on a rehab assignment with the FCL Red Sox and has since allowed one earned run on three hits, no walks, and five strikeouts across two starts and three total innings of work.

Originally signed out of the Dominican Republic for $200,000 as an international free agent in July 2019, Cruz is currently regarded by SoxProspects.com as the No. 48 prospect in Boston’s farm system. Per his SoxProspects.com scouting report, the 6-foot-2, 175 pound hurler works with a 93-95 mph fastball, an 85-87 mph changeup, and an 80-82 mph changeup.

Jose Ramirez, not to be confused with the Guardians All-Star, pitched in relief of Cruz. The 21-year-old righty yielded three earned runs on three hits, no walks, and two hit batsman. He also fanned 12 of the 20 batters he faced over five innings to set a new career-high in that category.

In four appearances (three starts) for the FCL Red Sox this season, Ramirez has posted has posted a 5.14 ERA and 1.43 WHIP with 18 strikeouts to eight walks across 14 frames. He is, however, holding opposing hitters to a .642 OPS against.

The Red Sox originally signed Ramirez out of Santo Domingo in May 2018. While not regarded as one of the team’s top pitching prospects, the 6-foot-2, 170 pounder and operates with a three-pitch mix that consists of a 90-95 mph fastball, a mid-70s curveball, and a late, fading changeup.

Lastly, Henry Nunez closed things out and earned the win by punching out six and walking only one over two more scoreless, no-hit innings. The 21-year-old right-hander has yet to allow a run through his first three relief outings (6 2/3 innings) of the 2022 season. He has done so while holding the opposition to a .248 OPS against.

Like Ramirez, Nunez is not regarded as one of the Red Sox’ premier pitching prospects. The native Puerto Rican originally signed with the club as an undrafted free agent coming out of Escuela Central High School in June 2020.

Per his SoxProspects.com scouting report, Nunez — who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 212 pounds, sits at 90-93 mph with his fastball and also works with a breaking ball and changeup that sit in the mid-70s and low-80s, respectively.

With Thursday’s victory over the Braves, the FCL Red Sox are now 8-4 on the young season. They will play two against the FCL Twins in Fort Myers on Friday.

(Picture of Nathanael Cruz: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Red Sox ace Chris Sale strikes out Wander Franco in first start of rehab assignment

Red Sox ace left-hander Chris Sale officially began his rehab assignment in the Florida Complex League on Monday night.

Getting the start against the Rays’ FCL affiliate in Port Charlotte, Fla., Sale allowed one earned run on one hit, one walk, and one strikeout over just one inning of work.

After issuing a leadoff walk to Odalys Peguero, Sale rebounded by striking out fellow major-leaguer Wander Franco — who is also on a rehab assignment — with a slider (and wild pitch) that allowed Peguero to advance to second base.

With one out and a runner in scoring position, Sale got Carlos Colmenarez to pop out to short. Peguero then proceeded to steal third and score from there on an RBI single off the bat of Junior Caminero.

Sale ended his outing by getting Jhon Diaz to ground out to second, so he wound up retiring three of the five batters he faced. Rather than come back out for a second inning, the 33-year-old was relieved by right-hander Elmer Rodriguez-Cruz. He threw 22 pitches and topped out at 96 mph with his fastball, per The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier.

This was the first time Sale pitched in a competitive environment since Game 5 of last October’s American League Championship Series. The veteran southpaw began the season on the 60-day injured list because of a right rib stress fracture he sustained during a bullpen session in late February. His recovery was then slowed due to what he described as a non-baseball health concern related to his family’s medical history.

Now that he has one rehab outing under his belt, Sale will likely need to make three or four more while working on a starter’s schedule in order to get stretched out to five innings. When that milestone is reached (presumably sometime next month), he will be ready to return to Boston’s starting rotation.

“He’ll be here at one point, and he’s going to contribute,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of Sale, via MLB.com’s Ian Browne. “Like I said before, this is a lot different than last year as far as his arm [goes]. He’s in a much better spot. He’s moving a lot better, so we expect him to use all his pitches, which is important compared to last year. Just be him. It’s a trade that not everybody can do.”

(Picture of Chris Sale: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Chris Sale to begin rehab assignment in Florida Complex League on Monday

Red Sox left-hander Chris Sale will begin a rehab assignment in the Florida Complex League on Monday, the team announced on Friday. It will mark Sale’s first in-game action since Game 5 of last October’s American League Championship Series.

Sale, who faced live hitters at Fenway Park on Thursday, has returned to Fort Myers and will throw two innings against the Florida Complex League Rays in Port Charlotte on Monday night.

In a conversation with NESN’s Tom Caron prior to Friday’s contest against the Cardinals, Red Sox manager Alex Cora relayed that Sale will return as a starter and will be built up to five innings before he makes his 2022 debut.

“Hopefully that’s the beginning of his rehab, and from there, it’s just a countdown,” said Cora. “We’re going to build him up as a starter. That’s loud and clear. We just got to be patient and whenever he comes back, we know he’s going to contribute.

As noted by MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith, Sale will likely need to make four or five rehab starts in the minors before being activated from the 60-day injured list. That would put him on a schedule to return to the Sox at some point around the All-Star break in July.

The 33-year-old southpaw began the season on the 60-day injured list after suffering a stress fracture in his right rib age back in February. His throwing program was then paused last month due to a “non-medical baseball situation.”

In his live batting practice session on Thursday, Sale threw 32 pitches over two simulated innings. He sat between 94-95 mph with his fastball and the Red Sox were impressed with what they saw from his changeup.

Upon returning from Tommy John surgery last season, opponents were 16-for-36 (.444) against Sale’s changeup, per Smith. That will need to change if Sale intends to be more effective in 2022.

“I think that’s the difference between last year and this year,” Cora said. “He was a two-pitch pitcher for a month and a half. This year, obviously being that far away from the surgery now, this will play.”

(Picture of Chris Sale: Elsa/Getty Images)

Red Sox pitching prospect Elmer Rodriguez-Cruz tosses 4 scoreless innings in professional debut

Red Sox pitching prospect Elmer Rodriguez-Cruz made his professional debut in the Florida Complex League on Tuesday afternoon.

Matched up against the FCL Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, the right-hander allowed just two hits and no walks to go along with two strikeouts over four scoreless innings to lead the FCL Red Sox to an 11-0 win.

While pitch counts from these games are not available to the public, Rodriguez-Cruz took a no-hitter into the third inning and wound up retiring 12 of the 14 batters he faced.

The Red Sox originally selected Rodriguez-Cruz in the fourth round of the 2021 amateur draft out of Leadership Christian Academy in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. They swayed the 18-year-old away from his commitment to the University of Oregon by signing him for $497,500.

After not pitching competitively last season, Rodriguez-Cruz took part in the Sox’ fall performance program and came into the year ranked by FanGraphs as the No. 43 prospect in Boston’s farm system.

Back in March, FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen and Tess Taruskin described Rodriguez-Cruz as “a very projectable righty” who “showed a loose, whippy, inconsistent delivery on the showcase circuit and was sitting mostly 91-92 mph while topping out at 94. His curveball has good-looking shape but lacks power, and he has pretty crude feel for creating action on his changeup, but ERC is a premium arm talent developmental prospect.”

Per his SoxProspects.com scouting report, the 6-foot-3, 160 pound righty works at 90-93 mph and tops out at 95 mph with his fastball, 75-78 mph with his curveball, and 80-83 mph with his changeup.

Given that he does not turn 19 until August, it seems likely that the Red Sox will exhibit patience when it comes to Rodriguez’s development. The upside is certainly there, but on the flip side of that, there is no need to rush things.

(Picture of Elmer Rodriguez-Cruz: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Red Sox infield prospect Ahbram Liendo drives in 3 runs in Grapefruit League debut

Red Sox infield prospect Ahbram Liendo certainly made the most of his Grapefruit League debut on Tuesday afternoon.

With the majority of Red Sox minor-leaguers leaving Fort Myers for the start of the 2022 season with their respective affiliate, Liendo was one of eight players Boston added to its roster ahead of Tuesday’s spring finale against the Twins at JetBlue Park.

After replacing Trevor Story at second base at the onset of the fifth inning, Liendo got his first crack at the plate in the bottom of the sixth. With two outs in the frame and runners at second and third, Liendo kept things going by ripping a line-drive, two-run single off Twins reliever Griffin Jax. He scored from third base himself later in the inning.

Fast forward to the seventh, and Liendo again came to the plate with two outs and runners on base. This time around, he drove in Jonathan Arauz on an RBI groundout to second. That gave Boston a 9-6 lead in what would turn out to be a 10-6 victory over Minnesota.

All told, Liendo went 1-for-2 off the bench with his single, one run scored, and a team-leading three RBIs in the Sox’ final exhibition game of the spring.

Liendo, 18, was originally signed by the Red Sox as an international free agent coming out of Venezuela last January. The Maracay native received a signing bonus of $450,000, making him one of the more notable additions from the 2021 class.

Upon going pro last winter, Liendo had to wait a bit to make his organizational debut. In July, the Sox assigned Liendo to their Dominican Summer League Red affiliate and he debuted for the team on July 13.

Over the next two-plus months, the switch-hitting infielder slashed .251/.349/.353 (102 wRC+) with six doubles, four triples, one home run, 21 RBIs, 26 runs scored, 11 stolen bases, 25 walks, and 30 strikeouts across 46 games spanning 195 plate appearances.

Among the 90 DSL hitters who made at least 190 trips to the plate last season, Liendo ranked 45th in stolen bases, 43rd in walk percentage (12.8%), 33rd in strikeout percentage (15.4%), and 28th in speed score (7.6), per FanGraphs.

Defensively, Liendo saw the majority of his playing time come at second base last year and logged 338 1/3 innings at the position. But the 5-foot-8, 170 pounder also made two appearances (17 innings) at third base and one appearance (7 innings) at shortstop while recording six errors and turning 23 total double plays.

At the time of his signing, Baseball America’s Ben Badler noted that Liendo was “a baseball rat with an outstanding arm. He’s a headsy player who could move all around the field — some scouts thought about him as a catching conversion candidate — and an average runner. He’s a switch-hitter with gap power who is more advanced from the right side of the plate.”

Liendo, who just turned 18 in February, is not currently regarded by any major publication, including Baseball America, as one of the top prospects in Boston’s farm system. That is understandable given his age and lack of experience.

With that being said, though, Liendo still has plenty of room to grow physically and developmentally on the field. He is projected by SoxProspects.com to begin the 2022 season in the rookie-level Florida Complex League and could be an intriguing player to watch once the FCL gets underway in June.

(Picture of Ahbram Liendo via his Instagram)

Who is Red Sox prospect Allan Castro? Get to know the organization’s 2021 Latin Program Position Player of the Year

Red Sox outfield prospect Allan Castro comes into the 2022 season fresh off being recognized as the organization’s Latin Program Position Player of the Year in 2021.

Castro, 18, was originally signed by the Sox as a middle infielder coming out of the Dominican Republic in July 2019. The Santo Domingo native received a signing bonus of $100,000, but has since made the move to the outfield.

After the start of his professional career was pushed back on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, Castro made his pro debut in the Dominican Summer League last year. Upon being assigned to the DSL Red Sox Red affiliate in July, the switch-hitting outfielder proceeded to bat .232/.335/.421 (110 wRC+) to go along with eight doubles, seven triples, three home runs, 19 RBIs, 24 runs scored, three stolen bases, 21 walks, and 43 strikeouts over 46 games spanning 194 plate appearances.

Among all DSL hitters who made at least 190 trips to the plate last season, Castro ranked tied for first in triples, 28th in slugging percentage, and 13th in isolated power (.189), per FanGraphs.

Defensively, Castro saw playing time at all three outfield positions in 2021. The 6-foot-1, 170 pounder logged 95 innings in left field, 32 innings in center, and 175 1/3 innings in right while recording a total of six outfield assists and turning a total of two double plays.

Back in September, SoxProspects.com’s director of scouting Ian Cundall identified Castro as “one of the Red Sox’ most promising hitters in the DSL, showing the potential to hit for average and power.”

“He has some swing-and-miss in his game, but could get to above-average raw power eventually and an average defensive profile in right field, including a potential above-average arm,” Cundall wrote. “Scouts identified Castro as having one of the best pure bats in the Red Sox’ DSL program and as one to watch when he makes the jump stateside.”  

As Cundall alluded to, Castro is slated to begin the 2022 minor-league season in the rookie-level Florida Complex League. Red Sox assistant general manager Eddie Romero indicated as much in a recent email exchange with BloggingtheRedSox.com.

“Regarding Castro, his career was delayed by the pandemic lost season, and he was really standing out from the offensive end until he tired later in the DSL summer,” wrote Romero. “Encouraging to see a position change to the outfield not affect him, and he ended up with a good range of extra-base hits. We have a talented group of outfielders expected to play in the FCL, and he’ll be in the mix for priority at-bats within that group.”

Castro, who turns 19 in May, is not currently regarded by any major publication as one of the top prospects in Boston’s farm system. Given that he still has room to grow and develop, though, it would not be surprising to see Castro gain some notoriety and rise up the rankings a bit this summer if he impresses in the FCL.

(Picture of Allan Castro via his Instagram)

What to expect from Red Sox infield prospect Luis Ravelo heading into 2022 season

Red Sox infield prospect Luis Ravelo could be a player to watch this year, tweets SoxProspects.com’s director of scouting Ian Cundall.

Ravelo, 18, signed with Boston for $545,000 as an international free agent coming out of the Dominican Republic in January 2021.

At that time, Baseball America’s Ben Badler noted that Ravelo was one of the top defensive shortstops to come out of the Dominican Republic, writing that the Santo Domingo native “has excellent hands and likes to show them off with ball tricks and fielding grounders between his legs, but in games he’s also a smart, instinctive defender. He has good actions and the ability to make both the routine play and the challenging ones, along with a plus arm.”

Upon signing his first professional contract, Ravelo remained on his home island and spent the entirety of the 2021 season in the Dominican Summer League. Across 43 games for the DSL Red Sox Red affiliate, the switch-hitter batted .243/.333/.319 (91 wRC+) with four doubles, two triples, one home run, 13 RBIs, 20 runs scored, 19 walks, and 22 strikeouts over 168 plate appearances.

Obviously, a below-average 91 wRC+ is not exactly an eye-popping statistic. That being said, Ravelo did strike out in just 13.1% of his plate appearances last year, which ranked 32nd among qualified DSL hitters, per FanGraphs.

Defensively, Ravelo unsurprisingly saw all his playing time in 2021 come at shortstop. The 6-foot-1, 187 pounder committed a total of nine errors and turned 24 double plays while logging 337 1/3 innings at the ever-important position.

After participating in the team’s fall performance program during the off-season, Ravelo returned to Fort Myers for the start of minor-league spring training earlier this month. He is projected by SoxProspects.com to start the 2022 campaign out in the rookie-level Florida Complex League.

Ravelo, who does not turn 19 until November, is not yet regarded by any major publication as one of the top prospects in Boston’s farm system. Given his age and lack of experience, though, it feels safe to assume that Ravelo will rise through the ranks as he continues to develop both physically and developmentally.

(GIF of Luis Ravelo via Ian Cundall)

Who is Reidis Sena? Red Sox pitching prospect struck out 32.3% of the batters he faced in Florida Complex League last year

Earlier this month, FanGraphs released their list of the top 51 prospects in the Red Sox farm system heading into the 2022 system.

Headlined by the likes of Triston Casas, Marcelo Mayer, and Nick Yorke, the prospect who rounded out the list at No. 51 was right-hander Reidis Sena.

Sena, who turns 21 next month, originally signed with Boston as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic for just $10,000 in December 2018.

After making his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2019, Sena was unable to pitch at the organizational level in 2020 since the minor-league season was cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The young righty instead picked up where he left off last year by spending the entirety of the 2021 campaign in the rookie-level Florida Complex League. He made his season debut on July 24 and made a total of nine appearances (three starts) for the FCL Red Sox.

In those nine outings that spanned anywhere from one to four innings in length, Sena posted a 3.22 ERA and 3.83 FIP to go along with 31 strikeouts to 13 walks over 22 1/3 innings of work.

Among all FCL pitchers who threw at least 20 innings last year, the 20-year-old ranked 21st in strikeouts per nine innings (12.49), 23rd in strikeout rate (32.3%), 21st in swinging strike rate (33.7%), 29th in FIP, and 26th in xFIP (3.99), per FanGraphs.

With a listed height and weight of 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds, there is not much else available on Sena besides what FanGraphs’ Kevin Goldstein and Tess Taruskin have on him.

“Sena is pretty raw for a pitching prospect who will be 21 in 2022,” they wrote. “He has huge arm strength, sitting 95 mph on the complex last year, and he makes very heavy use of that fastball. His slider has plus raw spin but Sena throws his heater 85% of the time right now, suggesting he and the Sox are just trying to get him to throw a viable rate of strikes more than anything else. He walked over five hitters per nine innings in 2021. If things click for him, he’ll move very quickly.”

As Goldstein and Taruskin indicated, Sena does need to work on his command considering the fact he averaged more than five walks per nine innings and walked more than 13% of the batters he faced last year.

That being said, there does seem to be some intrigue with Sena based off his current arsenal that consists of a high-octane fastball and slider. It will be interesting to see if the Red Sox view the Neiba native as a potential starter or reliever in the long-term.

On that note, though, Sena is projected by SoxProspects.com to begin the 2022 season in Low-A Salem’s starting rotation. He will have the opportunity to rise through Boston’s prospect ranks beginning in April.

(Picture of Reidis Sena: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

What to expect from Red Sox outfield prospect Armando Sierra heading into 2022 season

It was exactly 14 months ago Tuesday when the Red Sox signed outfielder Armando Sierra for $150,000 as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic.

Although he was not the headliner of Boston’s 2021 international signing class (hello, Miguel Bleis), Sierra still received some attention from evaluators within the industry.

Last April, Baseball America’s Ben Badler identified Sierra as a potential sleeper prospect within the Sox’ international ranks, noting that the then-17-year-old had “an advanced approach to hitting for his age” as well as the ability to hit for power.

As a follow-up to that, Red Sox assistant general manager Eddie Romero all but confirmed Badler’s observations in an email exchange with BloggingtheRedSox.com.

“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 said at the time. “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.”

In the months following his signing, Sierra continued to work out at the Sox’ Dominican academy in El Toro before making his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League last July.

Across 53 games for the club’s DSL Blue affiliate, the young right-handed hitter batted a respectable .284/.373/.379 (117 wRC+) to go along with 10 doubles, two home runs, 35 RBIs, 24 runs scored, 21 walks, and 41 strikeouts over 193 plate appearances.

Against left-handed pitching, Sierra slashed .296/.424/.370. Against right-handed pitching, he slashed .284/.365/.383 with both of his home runs and 33 of his 35 runs driven in.

Among all Dominican Summer League hitters who made at least 190 trips to the plate last year, Sierra ranked 27th in batting average, 48th in on-base percentage and slugging percentage, 51st in OPS (.752), and 54th in wRC+, per FanGraphs.

Defensively, Sierra was labeled as a corner infielder even before signing with Boston. In his introductory course to pro ball, the 6-foot-2, 189 pounder logged 95 innings in left field and 115 innings in right while recording a total of two outfield assists. He also appeared in eight games (seven starts) as a first baseman.

Shortly before the 2021 DSL summer came to a close last fall, SoxProspects.com’s director of scouting Ian Cundall wrote in September that Sierra’s “power potential is impressive. He is a below-average athlete and does not project to add much defensive value, but he has big-time raw power. He gets his whole body into his swing, but there are significant questions with his hit tool that could limit his power utility against more advanced pitching.” 

Sierra, who turned 18 in January, is not regarded by any major publication as one of the top prospects in Boston’s farm system. Given his age, the Sabana Grande de Palenque presumably still has room to grow physically and as a baseball player.

SoxProspects.com projects that Sierra will return to the Dominican Summer League for the start of the 2022 minor-league season. That being said, a promotion to the Florida Complex League later in the year certainly seems plausible.

(Picture of Red Sox cap: Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Who is Jedixson Paez? Red Sox prospect was named team’s Latin Program Pitcher of the Year in 2021

Last season, the Red Sox had 39 minor-league pitchers who threw at least 50 innings at their respective levels. One of those 39 was young pitching prospect Jedixson Paez.

Paez, who turned 18 in January, spent the entirety of the 2021 campaign in the Dominican Summer League as a 17-year-old. In 13 starts for the DSL Red Sox Blue affiliate, the right-hander posted a 2.86 ERA and 3.79 FIP to go along with 49 strikeouts to just nine walks over 50 1/3 innings of work.

Among all qualified hurlers in the DSL last year, Paez ranked 11th in walks per nine innings (1.61), ninth in walk rate (4.4%), 22nd in WHIP (1.03),31st in swinging strike rate (36.7%), and 26th in xFIP (3.12), per FanGraphs.

The Red Sox originally signed Paez as an international free agent out of Venezuela for $450,000 last January, making the Tinaquillo native one of the more notable additions from Boston’s 2021 signing class.

With 2021 marking his first exposure to pro ball, it is noteworthy that Paez was named the Sox’ Latin Program Pitcher of the Year back in September. Around that same time, SoxProspects.com’s director of scouting Ian Cundall wrote that the righty “has the potential to be an interesting long-term prospect” if he can continue “to add strength and improve the velocity on his pitches.”

Listed at 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds, Paez clearly still has plenty of room to grow both physically and developmentally. According to his SoxProspects.com scouting report, Paez throws from a three-quarters arm slot and works with a fastball that hovers around 84-86 mph and a curveball that sits at 69-71 mph.

Coming into the 2022 season, Paez is not regarded by any major publication as one of the top pitching prospects in Boston’s farm system. He did, however, receive a shoutout from FanGraphs’ Kevin Goldstein and Tess Taruskin last week for being projectable, having advanced command, and “promising” secondary stuff.

On that note, Paez is projected by SoxProspects.com to begin his age-18 season in the rookie-level Florida Complex League later this summer. It should be fascinating to see how he handles the transition from the Dominican Republic to the United States.

(Picture of Jedixson Paez via his Instagram)