Red Sox prospect Kutter Crawford tosses four scoreless innings for Double-A Portland in first start back from Tommy John surgery

On Saturday, Red Sox pitching prospect Kutter Crawford made his first start of the minor-league season for Double-A Portland.

Not only was it Crawford’s first start since August 24, 2019 with the 2020 minor-league season being cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but it was also his first start since undergoing Tommy John surgery in October 2019.

Matched up against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the Double-A affiliate of the Blue Jays, at Hadlock Field over the weekend, the right-hander turned in a solid outing in his 2021 debut.

Over four innings of work, Crawford kept the Fisher Cats off the scoreboard while scattering just three hits and no walks to go along with five strikeouts on the afternoon. He retired 12 of the 15 hitters he faced in the process of throwing 54 pitches, 40 of which were strikes.

Crawford, who turned 25 last month, was originally selected by the Red Sox in the 16th round of the 2017 amateur draft out of Florida Gulf Coast University, the same school Chris Sale attended.

Signing with Boston for $125,000, the Florida native rose through the ranks and came into the 2019 season ranked as the Sox’ No. 22 prospect according to Baseball America.

Crawford opened the 2019 campaign with High-A Salem and posted a 3.39 ERA and a 77:30 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 14 starts and 69 innings of work to earn Carolina League All-Star honors.

Promoted to Portland on June 20, Crawford provided six quality innings in two of his first three Double-A starts. But after lasting just 2 2/3 innings in his fourth start on July 12, he was placed on the injured list.

From that point forward, Crawford would be sidelined for a month before making one start in his return from the IL in August before once again getting shelved for the remainder of the season.

As he explained to MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith in February, Crawford had been experiencing elbow issues throughout the 2018 and 2019 seasons. He was able to pitch through it for a quite a while, but the discomfort got to a point in 2019 where he couldn’t throw every five days.

That led to an MRI on the hurler’s right elbow, which revealed a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament that would require Tommy John surgery.

Crawford had the procedure done by Dr. James Andrews on October 29. About nine months later, he began experiencing elbow pain again while getting back into his throwing program and would have to have bone spurs removed from his right elbow as a result.

Since then, Crawford has obviously been able to get back on track to the point where he was ready for the start of the minor-league season. His pitch arsenal still consists of a fastball, cutter, curveball, and changeup.

“One of my main focuses with the rehab throwing was to shorten my arm action a little bit,” Crawford told Smith. “I had this little hitch in 2019. I don’t really know how it developed. I didn’t have it in college. But I started having this little hitch. And that was really one of my main focuses: getting rid of that hitch and also trying to shorten my arm path just to make it more efficient so it can work a little bit easier.” 

With that new arm action in tow, Crawford will look to re-establish himself as a legitimate pitching prospect that caught people’s attention in 2018 and 2019.

The 6-foot-1, 192 pound hurler out of Okeechobee, Fla. can become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the first time in his career this December. The Red Sox would need to add him to their 40-man roster by November 20 in order to prevent that from happening.

(Picture of Kutter Crawford: Jill Brady/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

Feleipe Franks, technically a Red Sox prospect, signs with Atlanta Falcons

After not being selected in this past week’s NFL Draft, former University of Arkansas quarterback Feleipe Franks signed with the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday, according to his agents at Overtime Sports Management Group.

Franks, 23, originally began his collegiate career at the University of Florida after signing with the Gators out of high school in 2015.

While attending Wakulla High School in Crawfordville, Fla., Franks was a two-sport athlete, as he played baseball in addition to football.

On the baseball side of things, Franks was fairly effective as a pitcher, reaching 88 mph with his fastball. And while he did not get drafted by a major-league club out of high school on account of not playing his senior year, the interest in baseball still remained.

During his time at Florida, Franks appeared in a total of 28 games over three seasons and enjoyed a great deal of success as a sophomore in 2018, throwing 24 touchdown passes and just six interceptions while accounting for more than 2,800 yards of total offense.

In the months leading up to the 2019 football season, Franks received word that the Boston Red Sox were interested in selecting him in the upcoming MLB first-year player draft.

Despite having not thrown a baseball since his junior year of high school, Franks took the Red Sox up on their interest and threw a bullpen session, one in which he reached 94 mph on the radar gun.

Shortly thereafter, the Sox selected Franks in the 31st round of the June draft and signed him for $40,000 the following month, though he ultimately opted to continue his college football career.

Back in March, Franks told The Boston Globe’s Nicole Yang that being drafted by the Red Sox came as a shock.

“It definitely was surprising for me,” he said. “But it was a great experience. Still is.”

The Florida native came into his junior season with high expectations, but suffered a season-ending ankle injury in September that would cost him the rest of the year.

Later transferring to Arkansas for his redshirt senior season, Franks led the Razorbacks to a 3-6 record in the nine games he played in 2020, but he did so while completing more than 68% of his passes in addition to accounting for 17 touchdowns and just four turnovers.

On an individual level, the 6-foot-7, 234 pound passer wrapped up his college career on a solid note and was even one of six quarterbacks to participate in this year’s Senior Bowl, yet no NFL team thought he was worthy of spending a draft pick on.

With Atlanta, Franks will join a quarterback room that includes the likes of Boston College alumni Matt Ryan and veteran backup A.J. McCarron.

As he explained to Yang, he is hopeful that his experience on the diamond can help him further develop on the gridiron.

“I think you can just see it with different guys — Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes,” said Franks. “It helps with arm angles. There’s so many different arm angles you throw in football, especially as a quarterback. It’s rare that you’ll just sit there and throw a perfect ball.”

By drafting and signing Franks in 2019, the Red Sox — as noted by SoxProspects.com — “reserve his baseball rights in the event he moves on from football down the line.”

According to Yang, the Sox will retain Franks’ rights through the 2024 season, so the door will remain open for him to pursue a career in baseball if the whole NFL thing does not work out.

Franks is not the only former Florida quarterback the Red Sox have drafted in recent years. Boston also took Jeff Driskel, now of the Denver Broncos, in the 29th round of the 2013 amateur draft.

(Picture of Feleipe Franks: Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Brian Van Belle a Red Sox pitching prospect to watch as minor-league season begins this week

Of the 16 undrafted free agents the Red Sox signed following last June’s draft, none might stick out more than right-handed pitching prospect Brian Van Belle.

Van Belle was reportedly one of the most sought-after seniors in the 2020 unsigned free agent class before inking his first professional contract with the Sox in June.

Regarded at the time by Baseball America as the 16th-ranked draft-eligible senior, the 6-foot-2, 187 pound hurler had just put the finishing touches on a successful college career at the University of Miami.

In two seasons with the Hurricanes (2019-2020) after transferring from Broward College, Van Belle emerged as Miami’s Friday night ace while posting a 2.74 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP, and a 122:28 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 20 starts and 121 2/3 total innings pitched.

Because of the 2020 minor-league season being cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the southern Florida native really did not get the chance to work under the Red Sox’ watchful eye until the team began their fall instructional league in Fort Myers.

There, according to SoxProspects.com’s director of scouting Ian Cundall, Van Belle showed why he was highly sought-after as an undrafted free agent.

“Van Belle’s bread and butter is his changeup, a plus offering and a potential difference maker,” Cundall wrote back in November. “Van Belle also showed an average fastball at 89-93 mph and below-average curveball at 77-80 mph. The changeup separated him from a lot of the younger arms who are still refining their secondary pitches and gives him a high floor of at least an organizational arm, especially with his command profile.”

Coming off that impressive showing at fall instructs, the 24-year-old came into the 2021 minor-league season ranked as the No. 53 prospect in Boston’s farm system, per SoxProspects.com.

Cundall recently updated Van Belle’s SoxProspects.com scouting report, writing that the righty “always competes [and is] used to pitching in big spots. [Possesses] strong pitchability and feel on the mound.”

As this highly-anticipated minor-league season is set to begin on Tuesday, Van Belle will start the year in High-A Greenville’s starting rotation.

The fact that Van Belle was assigned to Greenville makes him the only member of Boston’s 2020 undrafted free-agent class to begin the 2021 season at a level as high as High-A. The other 15 members are either starting at Low-A Salem or extended spring training.

(Picture of Brian Van Belle: Al Diaz/Miami Herald)

Red Sox’ Eduardo Rodriguez lasts just 2 innings in start against Rays, tosses 2 more simulated innings in bullpen

In his first outing since being named the Red Sox’ Opening Day starter last week, Eduardo Rodriguez pitched just two innings in his fourth start of the spring against the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday afternoon.

The 27-year-old allowed two runs (one earned) on three hits and two walks to go along with one strikeout over those two innings of work in Port Charlotte.

By the time Rodriguez had recorded the final out of the second, his pitch count had already reached 46, so rather than go back out there for a third inning, the decision was made for the left-hander to get the rest of his work in via a bullpen session in which he threw two simulated innings.

“I was a little bit out of command and threw too many pitches in those two innings,” Rodriguez explained during his in-game Zoom call with reporters. “So we talked in the dugout if I want to go back there or go to the bullpen and finish the work over there. I just go to the bullpen and finish the work over there.”

While citing that the Rays are a team he could see a lot of this season as a reason for why he did not pitch particularly deep into Monday’s contest, Rodriguez dismissed the notion that he is dealing with dead arm at this point in the spring.

In fact, he actually acknowledged that the type of performance he put together on Monday is one he likes to have from time to time during the spring so he can gauge where he is at.

“Today was one of those days I really like to have, especially in spring training,” said the Venezuelan southpaw. “Because then you know where the pitches are, what you have to keep working on. It was kind of a good day to learn from.”

Red Sox manager Alex Cora acknowledged that while Rodriguez is healthy, the starter did not have a great week of preparation leading up to Monday’s outing.

“It’s one of those that during spring, you can see how they feel stuff-wise,” Cora said. “Throughout the week, it’s not like he’s hurt or whatever, but he didn’t look great. You hit the wall throughout. That’s part of spring. So let him face the lineup once and finish up in the bullpen. He didn’t look great either location-wise. So we just took care of him.”

Through his first four starts in Grapefruit League action, Rodriguez has yielded five runs (four earned) on 11 hits, two walks, one hit batsman, and 15 strikeouts over 13 2/3 total innings pitched. That’s good for an ERA of 2.63 and WHIP of 0.95.

If all goes according to plan, Rodriguez will make one more spring start against the Pirates on Saturday before the regular season begins.

Rodriguez, a veteran of five major-league seasons, has long awaited to start for the Red Sox on Opening Day.

When he takes the mound at Fenway Park to face off against the Orioles on April 1, it will mark his first regular season big-league start since the final day of the 2019 season. He missed the entirety of the shortened 2020 campaign after contracting myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) following a bout with COVID-19 while at home in Florida last July.

“It feels amazing,” Rodriguez said in regards to being Boston’s Opening Day starter. “To have the chance after all those legends who have been the Opening Day starter. So for me, it feels really good to be part of it.”

(Picture of Eduardo Rodriguez: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox release revised Grapefruit League schedule

The Red Sox were originally slated to open Grapefruit League play against the Pirates on February 27, but their spring training schedule has since been revised.

Per a team release, the Sox will now kick off their slate of exhibition games on February 28 against the Twins at Hammond Stadium, and instead of playing just about every other Grapefruit League team, they will only be playing the Twins, Braves, Orioles, Pirates and Rays.

That being the case because all five of those teams’ spring training complexes are located within close proximity to JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, and “to reflect the recommendations suggested by medical experts and infectious disease specialists, Major League Baseball has regionalized the matchups between teams to limit travel.”

By the time spring training comes to an end in late March, the Red Sox will have hopefully played 29 games in a span of 31 days, though the rules for those games will be quite relaxed as part of MLB’s health and safety protocols related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As noted by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo, games between February 27 and March 13 can be played as five- or seven-inning games, as long as the managers agree, while games on or after March 4 will be scheduled as nine innings but managers can agree to shorten them to seven if they so choose.

In total, Boston is scheduled to play 15 of its Grapefruit League contests at JetBlue Park and 14 of them on the road in Bradenton, Fort Myers, North Port, Port Charlotte, and Sarasota.

The team plans on having fans in the stands for home games, though only at a limited capacity to allow for proper social distancing measures. From the aforementioned release:

“The Red Sox will implement appropriate physical distancing and safety protocols that would allow fans to return in a limited capacity for 2021 Spring Training exhibition games by operating JetBlue Park at approximately 24 percent of its normal capacity. All tickets will be sold in physically distanced ‘pods’ comprised primarily of 2-4 seats that will allow for at least six feet between groups. Season Ticket Holders will be offered the first opportunity to attend exhibition games and additional tickets may go on sale to the general public depending on availability. All day games at JetBlue Park will start at 1:05 p.m., and all night games will start at 6:05 p.m.”

For the Red Sox’ full 2021 spring training and regular season schedule, click here.

(Picture of JetBlue Park: Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

New Podding the Red Sox episode: outfield prospect Wil Dalton joins the show

On this week’s installment of Podding the Red Sox: A BloggingtheRedSox.com Podcast, I am joined by Red Sox outfield prospect Wil Dalton.

Dalton, 23, was drafted by Boston in the eighth round of the 2019 amateur draft out of the University of Florida.

Among the topics we discussed in this episode, which is available on iTunes and Spotify, were Dalton’s path from junior college to Florida, takeaways from his first professional season in Lowell in 2019, his performance at the fall instructional league in 2020, and his personal expectations for the 2021 minor-league season.

Thanks to Wil for taking time out of his Monday evening to answer some questions.

Thank you for listening and we will see you next time! Make sure to subscribe and leave a five-star review if you can!

(Picture of Wil Dalton: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Latest 2021 mock draft has Red Sox taking University of Florida outfielder Jud Fabian with top pick

The 2021 Major League Baseball first-year player draft may still be seven months away, but the Red Sox already know they will be picking fourth in said draft thanks to finishing the 2020 season with the fourth-worst record in baseball (24-36).

Since the inception of the amateur draft in 1965, Boston has made its first selection within the top four on just two occasions in 1966 and 1967, so it goes without saying the upcoming draft will serve as an important hallmark for the franchise.

Though the 2021 high school and college baseball seasons are still a ways away from starting, next year’s potential draft class is already starting to take shape, even with possible COVID-19-related obstacles on the horizon.

That being said, MLB.com’s Jim Callis recently released his first round of predictions for which amateur prospects will be taken within the top-10 picks of July’s draft, and he has the Red Sox selecting University of Florida outfielder Jud Fabian at No. 4.

“Fabian might be the most polarizing prospect among the eight players who seem to have separated themselves from the rest of the Draft class at this point,” Callis wrote. “He could have the most usable power in the Draft and may stay in center field, but he also has hit just .250 with a 22-percent strikeout rate in two seasons at Florida.”

Fabian, who turned 20 in September, is about to embark on his junior season for the Gators this coming spring.

The right-handed hitting, left-handed throwing center fielder out of Ocala, Fla. came into 2020 as a preseason All-Southeastern Conference second teamer. He posted an impressive .294/.407/.603 slash line to go along with five home runs and 13 RBI over 17 games played before the ongoing coronavirus pandemic forced the SEC to suspend its baseball season in mid-March.

Still, Fabian managed to salvage the year by taking part in the Florida Collegiate Summer League, where he went 14-for-46 (.304) at the plate with a pair of homers and 11 runs driven in across 19 games for the Orlando Scorpions.

He also spent the summer of 2019 on the Cape with the Bourne Braves.

Listed at 6-foot-2 and 190 lbs., Fabian very well could have been drafted out of Trinity Catholic High School in 2019 had he not skipped his senior season in order to enroll early at Florida. He has the advantage over other college prospects on account of the fact that he will be younger than the average junior.

Per his FanGraphs scouting report, Fabian “has a rare, unfavorable ‘backwards’ profile — he hits right and throws left, limiting him to 1B/OF — but looks like he’ll hit enough for that not to matter. While his lower half has gotten a little heavier and softer since high school, Fabian still has a fairly athletic swing, and his hitting hands work in an explosive loop that give him low-ball power. His hands load deep and high, and Fabian’s bat path doesn’t always look like it’s going to work, but he still covers the zone from (nearly) top to bottom and can pull his hands in to get the barrel on inside pitches.”

In recent years, the Red Sox have leaned more towards taking high school talent — Nick Yorke, Triston Casas, Jay Groome, Michael Chavis, Michael Kopech — with their first-round selection.

As it turns out though, the last two college prospects Boston has taken in the first round have both come out of the SEC, as right-hander Tanner Houck was drafted out of Missouri with the 24th overall pick in 2017 and outfielder Andrew Benintendi was drafted out of Arkansas with the seventh overall pick in 2015.

‘You Do Not Go Into Nightclubs. You Do Not Go Into Bars’; Red Sox Players Will Not Be Allowed to Do Certain Things While on Road Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

After Tuesday night’s game against the Mets, the Red Sox will hit the road for the first time this season. The club’s first road trip of 2020 includes stops in Queens, the Bronx, and Tampa Bay. With all that traveling in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic comes a great deal of responsibility for players and staff alike, especially in Florida, which has emerged as one of the hot spots for coronavirus in recent weeks.

When speaking with reporters prior to Monday’s series opener against New York, Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke detailed a Zoom meeting the team held to inform players what they can and cannot do on the road. Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom was also involved.

“We’re going on the road. We need to be careful with what we do,” Roenicke said regarding his team’s upcoming travels. “We are talking about different cities and who’s more at risk doing things in certain areas. New York has done a good job. You may be okay walking to a place there more than you would be in Florida.”

Earlier Monday, it was revealed that at least 14 Miami Marlins players and coaches tested positive for COVID-19, which led the club to cancelling their home opener against the Orioles while they remain in self-isolation in Philadelphia, where they spent the weekend playing the Phillies.

According to the Center for Disease Control’s COVID Data Tracker, there have been nearly 419,000 total coronavirus cases in the state of Florida thus far, which is second-most in the Untied States behind only California.

With all that information in mind, playing baseball games in Florida, whether it be in Miami or Tampa Bay, will obviously raise concerns among MLB players and staff while cases continue to rise.

As previously mentioned, the Red Sox will be arriving in Florida next week for a brief-two-game set against the Rays. With an off day on the Monday before that series begins, it will be imperative that the Sox follow the proper virus-related protocols. Roenicke said as much when speaking with reporters earlier.

“You do not go into nightclubs. You do not go into bars,” he stated when recounting what was told to the players in Monday’s Zoom meeting. “To be a hermit and stay in your room for the whole time and just go to the ballpark and stay home, it’s hard to tell a player they have to do it.”

With all the virus-related issues that have sprung up in the past 24 hours, more players may be leaning towards opting out of the remainder of the 2020 season. Roenicke, however, is hopeful that if the Red Sox can make players feel more comfortable, then they will not have to worry about that possibility.

“I don’t want to make them fearful of going on the road and playing. We’ve done a good job so far,” said the Sox skipper. “The more we keep them safe, the more comfortable they feel. We can continue on with this.”

Again, the Red Sox will be departing Boston for New York on Tuesday night. Hopefully we’ll still have a Major League Baseball season to talk about by then.