Reviewing the 2021 season Red Sox outfield prospect Miguel Bleis had in the Dominican Summer League

With the 2021-2022 international signing period opening later this week, now feels like as good as time as any to look back at what the Red Sox were doing around this time last year.

It was one year ago next Saturday when the Sox made Miguel Bleis the highest-paid member of their 2020-2021 international signing class, as they inked the Dominican-born outfield prospect to a lucrative $1.8 million deal.

Officially signed by Jonathan Cruz on January 15, Bleis received plenty of praise heading into his first season in the pro ranks.

In an appearance on the SoxProspects.com podcast in February, Red Sox executive vice president and assistant general manager Eddie Romero described Bleis as “premium center field talent” who possesses all five tools and is “extremely exciting.”

After celebrating his 17th birthday in March and continuing to develop at the club’s academy in El Toro, Bleis made his highly-anticipated professional debut in the Dominican Summer League on July 27.

Across 36 games spanning 136 plate appearances for the DSL Red Sox Red affiliate, the right-handed hitting outfielder batted a solid .252/.331/.420 to go along with six doubles, one triple, four home runs, 17 RBIs, 17 runs scored, seven stolen bases, 12 walks, and 25 strikeouts.

When going up against right-handed pitching, Bleis slashed .269/.361/.398. Against left-handed pitching those numbers dipped down to .095/.091/.238, though it was a much more limited sample.

Among hitters in the Dominican Summer League who racked up at least 130 trips to the plate last year, Bleis ranked 65th in slugging percentage, 53rd in isolated power (.168), and 160th in wRC+ (109), per FanGraphs.

On the other side of the ball, Bleis made all 34 of his defensive appearances in center field in 2021. He committed a total of four errors and recorded seven outfield assists as well as one double play while logging 245 1/3 innings at the position.

Currently listed at 6-foot-3 and 170 pounds, Bleis obviously still has room to grow both physically and developmentally. The San Pedro de Macoris native does not turn 18 for another two months.

Taking that sort of projection into consideration, SoxProspects.com’s director of scouting Ian Cundall wrote back in September that even though Bleis “is still early in his career,” he has already garnered positive reviews from scouts. One scout even told Cundall that Bleis “is the real deal.”

Coming into the new year, Bleis is presently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 20 prospect in Boston’s farm system. He is projected by SoxProspects.com to begin the 2022 campaign in the rookie-level Florida Complex League in Fort Myers and would presumably attract a lot of attention going stateside.

(Picture: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

New Podding the Red Sox episode: Red Sox pitching prospect Christopher Troye joins the show

On the latest episode of Podding the Red Sox: A BloggingtheRedSox.com Podcast, I am joined by Red Sox pitching prospect Christopher Troye.

Troye, who turns 23 next month, was selected by Boston in the 12th round of the 2021 amateur draft out of the University of California, Santa Barbara and made two appearances in the Florida Complex League last season.

Among the topics Christopher and I discussed are how he was a catcher in high school but converted into a pitcher in college, how he spent his summers playing in the New England Collegiate Baseball League and Cape Cod Baseball League, working out with major-leaguers such as Shane Bieber and Tyler Glasnow during the COVID-19 pandemic, reflecting on his first professional season, his goals and expectations for 2022, and much more!

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

My thanks to Christopher for taking some time out of his off-season schedule to have a conversation with yours truly. You can follow him on Twitter (@cctroye) by clicking here and on Instagram (@christophertroye) 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 Christopher Troye: Bryan Green/Flickr)

Red Sox’ Nathan Hickey quickly emerging as one of top catching prospects in Boston’s farm system

The Red Sox have an extensive history when it comes to drafting amateur prospects out of the University of Florida.

Dating back to the 2012 draft, the Sox have selected 12 players from Florida. Of that group of Gators, four (Austin Maddox, Brian Johnson, Bobby Poyner, and Shaun Anderson) went on to make it to the major-leagues.

Most recently, Boston selected Florida outfielder Jud Fabian and Florida catcher Nathan Hickey with its second- and fifth-round picks in last summer’s draft, respectively.

While Fabian ultimately made the decision to return to Gainesville for his senior season, Hickey wound up signing with the Red Sox for an over-slot deal of $1 million last July.

Upon inking his first professional contract, Hickey — a native of Jacksonville — reported to Fort Myers to begin his debut season with the rookie-level Florida Complex League Red Sox.

Across eight games in the FCL, the left-handed hitting backstop slashed .250/.429/.350 (124 wRC+) to go along with two doubles, one RBI, four runs scored, six walks, and eight strikeouts over 28 plate appearances before earning a promotion to Low-A Salem on August 27.

Hickey appeared in two games on Aug. 27 and 28, but was placed on the temporary inactive list on September 5. After a near-two-week hiatus, the 22-year-old returned to the field and made his final appearance of the season for Salem on Sept. 17. All told, he went 1-for-8 at the plate in his first exposure to the Low-A level.

Shortly after the conclusion of the minor-league season, it was revealed that Hickey’s father, Mark, passed away in early October.

On the heels of what was presumably an emotional 2021, Hickey comes into 2022 regarded by MLB Pipeline as the No. 19 prospect in Boston’s farm system — which ranks tops among catchers in the organization.

Per his MLB Pipeline scouting report, Hickey’s best carrying tool is his raw power. He also utilizes “a mature approach at the plate” that could help him “develop into a solid hitter, though his swing can get long and too uphill at times.”

That being said, Hickey also comes with some questions in regards to his defensive abilities behind the plate. The 6-foot, 210 pounder’s “receiving and blocking will have to improve significantly, and his solid arm strength plays down and resulted in 39 steals in 41 attempts against him during the spring.”

On that note, Hickey does have experience at other positions besides catcher. He saw time at both corner infield positions with the Gators in the spring before catching a total of five games between the FCL and Low-A over the summer.

Whether Hickey — who does not turn 23 until November — is able to stick at catcher has yet to be determined. He does however have an appealing offensive profile, and that should only help him in the long run.

Going off of SoxProspects.com’s roster projections, Hickey is slated to begin the 2022 campaign where he left off in 2021: with Salem. He will likely have a chance to earn a midseason promotion to High-A Greenville depending on the kind of start he gets off to.

(Picture of Nathan Hickey: Bryan Green/Flickr)

 

Who is Juan Daniel Encarnacion? Red Sox pitching prospect posted 2.96 ERA in Florida Complex League in 2021, is projected to begin 2022 season at Low-A Salem

While Wilkelman Gonzalez may have stood out above the rest in the Florida Complex League last summer, the year fellow Red Sox pitching prospect Juan Daniel Encarnacion put together in 2021 should not be forgotten about, either.

Encarnacion, who turns 21 in March, made 12 appearances — 10 of which were starts — for the FCL Red Sox after being assigned to the rookie-level affiliate out of minor-league spring training.

In those dozen outings centered around the Fort Myers-area, the young right-hander posted a 2.96 ERA and 4.03 xFIP to go along with 56 strikeouts to 11 walks over 45 2/3 total innings of work.

Among the 15 pitchers who accrued at least 40 innings in the Florida Complex League last year, Encarnacion ranked fourth in innings pitched, first in strikeouts, first in strikeouts per nine innings (11.04), fourth in walks per nine innings (2.17), first in strikeout rate (30.3%), fourth in walk rate (5.9%), fourth in batting average against (.199), first in WHIP (0.99), second in ERA, and first in xFIP, per FanGraphs.

Listed at 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds in the team’s media guide, Encarnacion originally signed with the Red Sox for just $40,000 out of San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic in September 2018.

He made his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League the following year and wound up leading the team in both starts (14) and strikeouts (49) before heading off to fall instructs.

After the 2020 minor-league season was wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Encarnacion returned to fall instructs and showed some flashes of potential there while making preparations for the 2021 campaign.

Between the time fall instructs ended and the ’21 FCL season began, the 20-year-old hurler’s velocity “increased from 88-91 mph to 90-93 mph,” SoxProspects.com’s director of scouting Ian Cundall wrote in September.

Cundall noted that Encarnacion’s breaking ball “flashed average in a recent start and he also showed a changeup” while adding that “his best attribute right now is his control, as he throws a lot of strikes and shows some feel for command.” 

Despite his aforementioned height and weight listed in the Red Sox’ media guide, Cundall writes that Encarnacion “has some projection remaining in his 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame.”

On that note, SoxProspects.com projects that Encarnacion will begin the 2022 season alongside Gonzalez at Low-A Salem. Unlike Gonzalez, though, Encarnacion will not become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft until the end of 2023.

(Picture of Juan Daniel Encarnacion: Bryan Green/Flickr)

Reviewing the year Red Sox pitching prospect Wilkelman Gonzalez had between the Florida Complex League and Low-A Salem

Of the 39 pitchers who took the mound for the Red Sox’ Florida Complex League affiliate this year, none (outside of Chris Sale) might have stuck out more than right-hander Wilkelman Gonzalez.

The 19-year-old began the 2021 minor-league season in Fort Myers and was outstanding throughout the summer. In eight appearances (seven starts), he posted a 3.60 ERA and 2.83 FIP to go along with 46 strikeouts to eight walks over 35 innings of work.

On August 27, Gonzalez earned himself a promotion to Low-A Salem, where he closed out his year by putting up a miniscule 1.53 ERA and 3.98 FIP in addition to 20 strikeouts and eight walks across four starts spanning 17 2/3 innings pitched.

Among those in the FCL who accrued at least 35 innings in 2021, Gonzalez ranked eighth in strikeouts per nine innings (11.83), sixth in strikeout rate (32.6%), ninth in walk rate (5.7%), eighth in WHIP (1.06), and third in FIP, per FanGraphs.

Originally signed out of Venezuela for $250,000 in July 2018, Gonzalez began his professional career in the Dominican Summer League the following year. After the 2020 minor-league season was wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 6-foot, 180 pound hurler made a strong impression in fall instructs and carried that momentum over into 2021.

Coming into the year, Gonzalez was not regarded by Baseball America as one of the top 30 prospects in Boston’s farm system. By early August (and a few weeks before getting promoted to Low-A), the athletic righty had moved up to No. 15 in BA’s midseason prospect rankings for the Red Sox organization.

Back in September, SoxProspects.com’s director of scouting Ian Cundall offered some insight into the season Gonzalez had down at the Fenway South complex.

“Gonzalez has been 93-95 mph with his fastball, while his changeup at 86-88 mph has been his best secondary pitch,” wrote Cundall. “He has shown the ability to turn it over, and the pitch now projects as above-average at least, when last fall it was his third pitch. He also has refined his breaking ball, switching from a slow, loopy curveball to a slider in the high-70s with average-to-better potential.”  

While there is plenty to be encouraged about there, Cundall notes that scouts are somewhat concerned about Gonzalez’s unimposing frame and a delivery that requires some effort.

With that, Cundall writes, “there is some reliever risk, but regardless, he is a very exciting arm and one whose stock is well up this year.”  

Gonzalez, who turns 20 in March, is projected by SoxProspects.com to begin the 2022 season where he ended the 2021 campaign: in Salem, and as a member of starting rotation there.

The 2022 season has the makings to be an important one for Gonzalez, as he can become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the first time in his career next winter.

(Picture of Wilkelman Gonzalez: Bryan Green/Flickr)

Red Sox prospects Marcelo Mayer, Niko Kavadas hit first home runs of professional careers in Florida Complex League action

A pair of Red Sox prospects and 2021 draft picks each belted the first home runs of their professional careers down in Fort Myers earlier Saturday morning.

Marcelo Mayer, Boston’s first-round selection, and Niko Kavadas, Boston’s 11th-round selection, both homered for the Florida Complex League Red Sox as part of their 11-5 victory over the Florida Complex League Twins at JetBlue Park.

Mayer’s homer came as part of a productive day at the plate, as the 18-year-old went 2-for-6 with his first home run, two runs scored, and four RBI.

It was Mayer who got the Red Sox on the board first on Saturday, with Eddinson Paulino kicking things off in the bottom of the first inning with a leadoff double off Twins starter Develson Laria and Mayer following with an RBI single to center field.

In the bottom of the third, Kavadas got his solid day at the plate started out of the cleanup spot by taking Twins reliever Elpidio Perez extremely deep to right field for his first home run of the season, which put his side up 3-0.

Fast forward to the fifth, and Mayer came through with a big fly of his own, this time clubbing a three-run shot off left-hander John Wilson for what was also his first home run of the year.

After a double off the bat of Nathan Hickey, Kavadas — who led off the bottom of the fifth by drawing a walk — drove in the former University of Florida catcher by drilling an RBI double to right field and giving the Red Sox a commanding 10-0 lead in the process of doing so.

All told, Kavadas finished his day having gone 2-for-2 with a double, two walks, two RBI, and two runs scored before being replaced at first base by Cuba Bess in the seventh inning.

Kavadas, who signed with Boston for $250,000 earlier this month, made his professional debut on August 10.

Including Saturday’s solid showing, the 22-year-old first baseman out of the University of Notre Dame is now slashing .286 (4-for-14)/.500/.643 with one home run, two doubles, two RBI, four runs scored, six walks, and four strikeouts through his first five games (20 plate appearances) in the Florida Complex League.

Mayer, meanwhile, signed with the Sox for $6.664 million after becoming the club’s highest draft pick (fourth overall) in more than 50 years last month.

Regarded by many as the top prep prospect coming into this summer’s draft, the left-handed hitting shortstop out of Eastlake High School (Calif.) is currently ranked by Baseball America as the No. 3 prospect in Boston’s farm system, trailing only Triston Casas and Jarren Duran.

By notching two hits in his six trips to the plate on Saturday, Mayer — who does not turn 19 until December — raised his batting line on the season with the FCL Red Sox to .214/.313/.357 to go along with one double, one home run, five RBI, five runs scored, four walks, and seven strikeouts over his first seven games (32 plate appearances) as a pro.

(Picture of Marcelo Mayer: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Blogging the Red Sox presents: A conversation about the Florida Complex League with Ben Crockett

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to exchange emails with Red Sox senior vice president of baseball operations Ben Crockett.

Crockett, who is in the midst of his 15th season with the Red Sox organization after starting out as an intern, was promoted to his current role back in January after serving as the club’s vice president of player development the previous four years.

A native of Topsfield, Mass., Crockett was originally selected by Boston in the 10th round of the 2001 amateur draft as a right-handed pitcher out of Harvard University.

After returning to Harvard for his senior season, Crockett was taken by the Colorado Rockies in the third round of the 2002 draft and spent four seasons in their system before calling it a playing career in 2006.

In his time with the Red Sox as an executive, Crockett — now 41 — has undertaken a variety of roles that primarily revolves around player development. As the club’s senior vice president of baseball operations, Crockett “assists in all areas of baseball operations, with a focus on player development, performance, and baseball systems.”

One area in particular that Crockett assists in would be how Red Sox minor-leaguers are doing in the rookie-level Florida Complex League (formerly the Gulf Coast League) down at the team’s spring training facility in Fort Myers.

To this point in the season, the Florida Complex League Red Sox are 20-11 and owners of the fourth-best record in the FCL.

Among those within Boston’s farm system who have played for the club’s FCL affiliate so far this summer include include a number of the organization’s top prospects, such as 2021 first-round draft pick Marcelo Mayer, Wilkelman Gonzalez, and Brainer Bonaci.

I made sure to ask Crockett about the Sox’ premier prospects, but I wanted to ask about some under-the-radar-type players as well. So, without further ado, here is a quote-unquote transcript of the conversation we had through email.

Has the loss of the New York-Penn League changed the way the organization looks at how prospects just out of college are performing in the Florida Complex League? For instance, do you take [2021 18th-round pick] Philip Sikes batting .438/.500/.625 or [2021 ninth-round pick] Tyler Miller batting .409/500/.545 thus far with a grain of salt based off the level of pitching they faced while at Texas Christian University and Auburn University?

Ben Crockett: We try not to put too much stock in small samples of performance, especially in a player’s first year with a mid-July draft, but are happy with the debuts of many guys, including those you mentioned like Miller and Sikes.

The following question has to do with the players to be named later the Red Sox acquired from the Royals and Mets in June as part of the three-team trade that sent Andrew Benintendi to Kansas City back in February:

With Josh Winckowski and Grant Gambrell pitching at more advanced levels, what have you made of the way right-hander Luis De La Rosa and outfielder Freddy Valdez have acclimated to a new organization after coming over mid-season?

Crockett: Both Luis and Freddy have made positive first impressions. They’ve worked hard, been willing to communicate, and shown the positive physical qualities our scouts identified prior to acquiring them.

What makes infielder Eddinson Paulino and right-hander Wilkelman Gonzalez stand out and what did they do during the COVID shutdown last year to get off to such a strong start this season? Paulino is hitting .377/.476/.609 while Gonzalez has posted a 3.90 ERA through seven starts.

Crockett: Both have taken steps forward in 2021, taking full advantage of their time with us and during their preparation at home. We’ve been really pleased with the underlying qualities that have led to the success they’ve seen on the field.

How has the organization gone about evaluating those prospects who had lost seasons last year because of the pandemic, such as former international signee Brainer Bonaci or former 2019 25th-round draft pick Karson Simas? Both Bonaci and Simas are infielders.

Crockett: Simas has done great work physically and has matured into his body, allowing some of his actions to translate into performance on the field. He’s shown great athleticism and versatility.

Bonaci has built on a positive 2020 at the academy, and has made some positive adjustments from his time in instructs last fall. He’s controlled the zone, made good contact from both sides, and continues to improve his defense at shortstop.

Has the addition of Marcelo Mayer to the Florida Complex League roster created any buzz around the Fenway South complex? What about when 2020 third-round pick Blaze Jordan was there prior to his promotion to Salem?

Crockett: The FCL group has done a great job keeping the energy high throughout the season, transitioning well from extended spring when their game reps were limited at times. I think they are really excited to be playing well and realize they have a very talented group of players.

The following question has to do with right-handed pitching prospect Eduard Bazardo, who made his major-league debut for Boston back in April, but had been sidelined with a right lat strain since late May. The 25-year-old was sent out on a rehab assignment with the FCL Red Sox last Friday:

How goes Eduard Bazardo’s rehab and would you expect him to get any more big-league consideration before season’s end?

Crockett: His rehab is going well, getting back into games now and bouncing back well.

Thank you to Ben Crockett for taking time out of his busy in-season schedule to answer these questions and for also making this possible in the first place.

(Picture of Marcelo Mayer: Bryan Green/Flickr)