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)

Saturday was a long day for Red Sox manager Alex Cora

Editor’s note: This is a bad title and I will try to be better next time.

The week leading up to Opening Day is typically one filled with optimism around baseball.

This year, though, as has been the nature of things since the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic began last March, those days for the Red Sox are now filled with plenty of uncertainties as April 1 draws closer.

Earlier Saturday morning, Red Sox manager Alex Cora revealed that reliever Matt Barnes had tested positive for COVID-19 and right-hander Matt Andriese was one of several players away from the team due to contact tracing protocols.

Barnes, who was vying for the role as Boston’s closer, took a COVID test on Thursday and got his positive result back on Friday shortly after throwing in a simulated game at the Fenway South complex in Fort Myers.

Cora found out about the veteran hurler’s positive test shortly after arriving to JetBlue Park at around 7 a.m. Saturday morning.

While Barnes is not showing any symptoms, he will be away from the team for at least 10 days due to the protocols MLB has in place.

This means that the UCONN product will not be included on the Sox’ Opening Day roster and will miss a minimum of four regular season games before being cleared to return to action.

The fallout of Barnes’ testing positive resulted in a feeling of unease throughout the Red Sox’ clubhouse on Saturday.

“It’s nobody’s fault,” Cora said via Zoom. “That’s the first thing. They’ve been very responsible. We’ve been praising them throughout camp. It just happened. Today, you can feel… you don’t want to hear this. You start thinking about if something else happens or where we’re going to be in a few days. It’s not comfortable but, at the same time, if we keep doing the things we should be doing, the hope is we’re going to be fine as a group.

“It’s just one isolated quote-unquote incident. Let’s hope that’s the case,” he added. “But it’s a different mood, to be honest with you. It’s not a good feeling, but trusting the process, trusting our medical staff, trusting the testing system. We should be OK.”

Despite having a confirmed positive COVID case, Red Sox players and coaches who were slated to travel to Bradenton for the team’s Grapefruit League contest against the Pirates did, but only after taking a rapid COVID-19 test before the bus ride there.

Upon arriving at LECOM Park, not only did the Sox top the Pirates by a final score of 7-4 — which allowed Cora to triumph over his brother Joey, who is Pittsburgh’s third base coach — they also received some encouraging news later in the afternoon.

That being, of all the rapid tests the club’s traveling party took earlier in the day, none came back positive.

“Everybody who was here was negative,” Cora said during his postgame media availability. “We got the results throughout the day. Of course, there were people who stayed back. I’ll get those results, probably, on the way to Fort Myers.”

Taking those words into consideration, Barnes remains the only known player to test positive thus far, though that number could increase as Major League Baseball conducts conduct tracing with those on the Sox who were in close contact with the righty — including Andriese.

“We have a positive, but we did everything we’re supposed to do to keep moving forward,” said Cora. “Everybody was nervous at one point, but when we went through the whole thing, the whole process, you feel better.

“But we’re not out of it,” he continued. “We still have to wait for tonight and tomorrow and the next couple of days. But we got it in, we got our work in. We’ll do the same thing tomorrow. Hopefully we can do it the next three days and go up north.”

Because of the uncertainty surrounding the team at the moment on account of COVID-19, Cora has yet to name a starter for the Red Sox’ next Grapefruit League contest against the Twins at JetBlue Park on Sunday afternoon.

To put it simply, between Christian Vazquez suffering a contusion under his left eye on Thursday, Eduardo Rodriguez being scratched from starting on Opening Day on Friday, and Barnes testing positive for COVID-19 on Saturday, the past three days or so have been a real whirlwind for the Sox skipper. But he understands the problems he is dealing with don’t really compare to other things currently going on throughout the country and the rest of the world.

“This is bigger than sports,” Cora said. “We’ve been living through this since March last year. We’re doing the best possible to put a show out there for the fans and get their minds away from the pandemic. That’s the way I see it.”

(Picture of Alex Cora: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

Nathan Eovaldi named Red Sox’ Opening Day starter after Eduardo Rodriguez was scratched due to dead arm

For the second year in a row, Nathan Eovaldi will be starting for the Red Sox on Opening Day against the Orioles at Fenway Park.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora had originally named Eduardo Rodriguez as the team’s Opening Day starter last week, but those plans have now changed since the left-hander was scratched from that start due to dead arm.

“Nate is going to start Opening Day,” Cora said earlier Friday morning. “He’s in line to do that. And there’s no problem with that. The way we present it to him and the pitching staff, especially in a season that there’s a lot of unknowns, their bodies are going to let us know how we treat them.”

Eovaldi is coming off his best outing of the spring thus far in his last time out against Baltimore on Wednesday at JetBlue Park

The 31-year-old right-hander kept the Orioles off the scoreboard while scattering all of four hits and one walk to go along with three strikeouts over 5 2/3 efficient innings of work.

As it turns out, that was Eovaldi’s last in-game action of the spring, as he will now just get some work in in the bullpen a couple of times between now and Thursday.

“He’s built up as far as the pitches and all that,” Cora explained. “He’s ready to go. It’s just a matter of how we manage his week. So probably two bullpens before he faces the Orioles.”

Last year on Opening Day, which came on July 24 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Eovaldi yielded just one earned run on five hits, one walk, and four strikeouts over six strong innings against Baltimore en route to picking up his first winning decision of the 2020 season.

Before Friday’s news, Boston’s starting rotation for their opening weekend series against Baltimore was probably going to look something like this:

  1. Eduardo Rodriguez
  2. Nathan Eovaldi
  3. Garrett Richards

Rodriguez being scratched from Opening Day on account of dead arm has since thrown a wrench in those plans, as Cora explained Friday morning.

“Now we’re kind of like rescheduling everything,” said the Sox skipper. “We’re going over plans. We had it all set up, but now we have to sit down and go over our situation, where we’re at dates-wise, and all that. And we’ll make a decision.

The thing about this is that it’s opening weekend, right?,” he added. “It’s such a big deal because it’s opening weekend. But if this happens during the season, it’s not a big deal. You just skip one guy, you move the other one, and you make decisions based on your schedule and we’re they’re at. But now, because everything was so structured up until now, now we have to scramble a little bit. So, we’ll have more news in the upcoming days.”

(Picture of Nathan Eovaldi: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Red Sox reliever Hirokazu Sawamura puts together first perfect outing of spring; ‘You can tell he feels more comfortable,’ Alex Cora says

Pitching in a game that was broadcast on NESN for the first time this spring, Red Sox reliever Hirokazau Sawamura put together what was without a doubt his most impressive outing with his new team thus far.

Coming into Wednesday night’s Grapefruit League contest against the Orioles, the Japanese right-hander having allowed two earned runs on three hits and seven walks through his first three appearances and 2 1/3 innings pitched of the spring. That’s good for an ERA of 7.71.

After Nathan Eovaldi recorded the first 17 outs on Wednesday in pretty simple fashion, Red Sox manager Alex Cora departed from the third base dugout to give the veteran starter the hook in favor of Sawamura.

With the bases empty and one out to get in the top half of the sixth, the 32-year-old got that out by getting Tyler Nevin to ground out to first to retire the side.

An inning later, Sawamura came back out for the sixth, marking the first time this spring he was going to be used in multiple frames. The righty did not miss a beat, though, as he proceeded to punch out both Rio Ruiz and Pat Valaika before inducing a groundout off the bat of Ramon Urias to end things there.

All in all, Sawamura needed all of 23 pitches to get four outs en route to picking up his second hold of the spring.

Since signing a two-year, $3 million deal — which includes a dual club/player option for 2023 — with the Sox back in February, it’s fair to say the past few weeks have been an adjustment period for Sawamura.

Not only is he dealing with a new country and new culture, but he is also adjusting to a style of baseball in the United States that differs from what he had grown accustomed to in the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization overseas.

That being said, Sawamura, who is listed at 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds, is clearly starting to find his footing with the Sox. Wednesday’s performance marked his second consecutive scoreless appearance out of the Boston bullpen, and it also marked the first time all spring he did not allow a single base runner.

The fact he worked multiple innings for the first time indicates just how vital he could be for Boston’s pitching plans in 2021.

“That was important,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of getting Sawamura into a multi-inning appearance. “He’s going to have to do that during the season. And you can tell he feels more comfortable. He’s been able to throw his slider for strikes. Today was his best fastball out of all the outings. The split is still a work in progress. Little that we knew. We thought we had a fastball up, split guy. Now he’s developed a slider all of a sudden. And it’s a really good one. He can throw it for strikes and expand. We just wanted to see that and he did an outstanding job.”

Known for his fastball and splitter combination during his time with the Yomiuri Giants and Chiba Lotte Marines over the course of a 10-year career in Japan, Sawamura figures to emerge as late-inning option out of the Sox’ bullpen for Cora once the regular season begins.

Before Opening Day, though, the next step for Sawamura will be to pitch on back-to-back days, which should happen soon according to pitching coach Dave Bush.

“We’re trying to encourage him just to get comfortable and go one step at a time,” Bush said earlier Wednesday afternoon. “Each outing has been better than the previous one… He’s going to have back-to-back appearances coming up soon. Offhand, I don’t know the exact days, but it will be soon. He’s built up well. He’s getting better each time and is on the right path.”

The two-year contract Samura signed with the Red Sox over the winter does include a unique dual option for a potential third year in 2023, and it also includes escalators and bonuses that could take its total value up to $7.65 million.

(Picture of Hirokazu Sawamura: Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Red Sox pitching prospect Bryan Mata ‘will get back into a throwing program before too long to test’ out elbow following slight UCL tear

Earlier this month, an MRI revealed that top Red Sox pitching prospect Bryan Mata suffered a slight tear in his right ulnar collateral ligament after he experienced soreness behind his right triceps.

At that time, Red Sox manager Alex Cora said the plan would be to shut down Mata for an extended period before treating his injury without surgery.

It’s been a little less than three weeks since Cora revealed these plans regarding Mata’s road to recovery, and Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush provided an update Wednesday afternoon on how the 21-year-old right-hander is holding up.

“He’s in a rehab protocol right now,” Bush said. “There’s some strengthening exercises they’re doing. A whole variety. I’m not even sure exactly what they all are. But he will get back into a throwing program before too long to test it out and build from there. I don’t have a lot of specifics on it just because he’s [spent] more time with the trainers lately. Certainly he’s not throwing, not on the mound. But I still see him every day. He’s in here every day doing his rehab work and working back towards the throwing program.”

Mata, who turns 22 in May, is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 4 prospect in Boston’s farm system, ranking tops among pitchers in the organization.

The Venezuelan hurler — listed at 6-foot-3 and 227 pounds — spent the entirety of the 2020 season at the Sox’ alternate training site in Worcester, where his fastball sat between 96-97 mph.

He also took part in the club’s fall instructional league and came into the spring projected to begin the 2021 campaign at the alternate site, which is now in Worcester, with the chance to perhaps make his big-league debut later this year.

Now that he has been sidelined for the time being, though, the Red Sox will have to look elsewhere for internal starting rotation depth.

“With Bryan Mata on the IL right now, I’d probably say Connor Seabold is in that mix,” said Bush. “We also have a handful of minor league free agents that we signed. Some of them we signed last year and had at the alternate site.”

Stephen Gonsalves, Daniel Gossett, Kyle Hart, and Matt Hall were among the pitchers Bush named who are not currently on Boston’s 40-man roster but do have big-league experience.

As noted by MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith, this group of pitchers will likely start out the year at the alternate training site.

“So we have a clump of guys that we’re going to get stretched out in Worcester,” Bush said. “And [we will] have them available for whatever we need, whenever we need it.”

(Picture of Bryan Mata: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Alex Verdugo experiencing first real spring training with Red Sox: ‘I’m feeling really comfortable and feeling really good about where I’m at right now’

Alex Verdugo’s first spring training as a member of the Red Sox was far from a conventional one.

After coming over from the Dodgers in the Mookie Betts/David Price trade last February, the young outfielder — then 23 years old — reported to Fort Myers, where it was revealed that he was working his way back from a stress fracture in his lower back.

When the Red Sox began their Grapefruit League slate later that month, Verdugo was unable to play in any spring games and would instead spend his time rehabbing, getting treatment, or hitting in the cage.

The following month, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic really took off and eventually forced Major League Baseball and its clubs to shut down their spring training facilities on March 12.

Despite the shutdown, which would last into July, Verdugo was still able to go to the Sox’ Fenway South complex in order to continue getting treatment on his back.

By the time players reported to their respective teams’ summer camps, the 24-year-old was essentially a full-go, but he would have to prepare for a shortened season without the benefit of a spring training schedule to work off of.

“When we had the spring training 2.0, there still wasn’t very many games,” Verdugo explained on Tuesday via Zoom. “We were kind of just playing against ourselves. It was good because I was getting at-bats, I was seeing pitches. But physically, I felt a little bit off. When the season kicked in, it took me probably a week — maybe a week-and-a-half — into the season for me to finally get that adjustment and realize, ‘Oh, OK, this is what I got to do.’ And from there, I didn’t look back.”

In his first eight regular season games of 2020, Verdugo went a mere 6-for-26 (.231) at the plate with two walks and seven strikeouts from July 25 through August 23.

Starting on the night of August 4 — in which he went 1-for-2 at the plate against the Rays, the Arizona native put up an impressive .320/.378/.514 slash line to go along with six home runs and 15 RBI over 45 games and 193 plate appearances en route to leading the 2020 Red Sox in bWAR (2.2), per Baseball Reference.

Having solidified himself as an everyday big-league outfielder who was on the rise, Verdugo came into the 2021 season with the opportunity to actually play in some Grapefruit League games for the first time in his career.

Leading up to Tuesday’s contest against the Braves in North Port, though, the left-handed hitter carried with him an OPS of .508 through his first 11 games of the spring.

“For the spring I’m having, it’s been a different one,” Verdugo said. “I think if we go performance-wise and batting average-wise, it’s not quite where I would want it. But physically and all that, I’m in a lot better position than I was last year. I think right now, it’s just getting up there and just letting my eyes see the pitches, having some at-bats. I’ve been having better at-bats, working the count deep. Maybe 3-2, couple of pitches have gotten me. But I’m feeling really comfortable and feeling really good about where I’m at right now.”

Despite the statistical struggles so far this spring, Verdugo did go 1-for-2 with a single, an RBI forceout, a run scored, and a walk while playing six innings of center field against Atlanta on Tuesday afternoon.

“He’s been getting better. He’s making good decisions at the plate,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora in regards to the progress Verdugo is making this spring. “He’s not chasing pitches — in the first at -bat he did — but the walks, trying to stay up the middle, the other way, that’s what he does… He’s feeling good about his swing and he’s been getting a lot of at-bats in the backfields, too.”

Verdugo reinforced some of these points himself when discussing how he should be more locked in when the 2021 season begins as opposed to where he was at in late July last year.

“I’ve been kind of going through some things, fighting some stuff at the plate,” he said. “My biggest thing for me is I use the entire field. So I just got to get back to using left field, letting the ball travel just a split-second more, and then just throwing the hands at it. Like I said, the last couple games, I hit a line-drive over the shortstop, been having better at-bats, walking a little bit more. So we’re right on the final path. This next week, we got to just lock it in a little bit more and get it ready.”

Last season, Verdugo went 22-for-39 (.564) at the plate with a pair of home runs and four RBI when pushing the ball to the opposite field. He will look to replicate that sort of production this year, as he will likely slot into the No. 2 spot in the Sox’ regular lineup behind former Dodgers teammate Enrique Hernandez.

Defensively, Verdugo figures to see the lion’s share of his playing time come in either center or right field.

The former second-round draft pick out of Sahuaro High School only played eight innings in center field in 2020, but he said Tuesday that he’s had no problems getting more acclimated with a position that can be a little more challenging to play inside Fenway Park as opposed to other ballparks.

“The biggest thing, like I said health-wise, is taking care of my body and making sure my legs and everything’s under me,” said Verdugo. “Really, the position doesn’t matter. Center, we do have a little bit more run since it’s gap-to-gap, but there’s no problem with that yet. With our corner outfielders and everybody, we all do a really good job of communicating, shifting, and going where we need to be.”

Outside of J.D. Martinez, Verdugo is technically the longest-tenured outfielder on the Red Sox’ major-league roster following the Andrew Benintendi trade and Jackie Bradley Jr. signing with the Brewers.

One of the reasons Boston has gone through such a seismic shift in regards to roster construction this offseason is because of how poorly they played in 2020. Another reason for it is because the organization, spearheaded by the return of Cora as manager, clearly expects to be more competitive in 2021.

With the infusion of talent chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. have added to the mix, the Sox are a group this spring that has generated a lot of internal positive energy and excitement.

And with the prospect of a limited number of fans returning to Fenway Park for Opening Day on April 1 and beyond, that leaves someone like Verdugo — who can feed off that energy from the crowd — feeling excited for what’s on the horizon.

“It just kind of felt like gut-punch after gut-punch,” Verdugo said about the 2020 season. “This year, going through the trials and errors last year, we got some new pitchers, got some new guys, got some new talent. I think everybody’s just excited. We’re all excited to have fans back, excited to get back into this normality. We’re excited to get back to this normal life that we’re living in.

“This year, we know that we can be pretty good and be competitive,” he added. “We’re just keeping a positive mindset and everybody’s working and doing what we need to do.”

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

Taking stock of where Red Sox stand 2 weeks out from Opening Day

Two weeks from Thursday, the Red Sox open their 2021 season against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park for what hopefully is the first game of a full 162-game slate.

Because Opening Day is exactly two weeks away and spring training is more than halfway over, it’s a good time to take stock of where the Sox stand heading into the new season. Let’s get to it.

Starting rotation:

Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez will make his first career Opening Day start and pilot a five-man — not a six-man — starting rotation to kick off the year for the Sox.

Based off the way the club’s presumed starters have been used so far this spring, it’s fair to assume that Boston’s five-man rotation will start with Rodriguez, then right-handers Garrett Richards and Nathan Eovaldi, left-hander Martin Perez, and end with right-hander Nick Pivetta.

Tanner Houck, one of the organization’s top pitching prospects who impressed in three starts with the big-league club last season, was viewed as a potential Opening Day rotation candidate. But he has since been optioned to the Sox’ alternate training site in Worcester, where he will likely start the 2021 season.

As noted by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo earlier this week, Red Sox manager Alex Cora is “pleased” with what he has seen from his starters since spring training began last month.

“It’s a solid one,” Cora said of the team’s starting rotation on Tuesday. “Everybody has their strengths, obviously they have their weaknesses. We have changeups, we have fastballs at 97 (mph), we have breaking balls. It’s not just velocity, either. For certain teams, you know you’re going to get from 97 to 100 (mph) and you prepare for that. With us, it’s going to be a little different. The constant is we can get people out in the strike zone. It doesn’t matter what stuff you have. We’ve been preaching that and they’ve been doing a good job with us.”

While Houck will more than likely start the year in Worcester, the 24-year-old righty could very well get called up again sooner rather than later.

With Houck beginning the season in the minors and swingmen like Matt Andriese and Garrett Whitlock beginning the season in Boston’s bullpen, the Red Sox certainly have a plethora of starting pitching depth, which is something they haven’t had much of the last two years.

“That’s what makes this group a solid one, because we have options,” Cora said about the club’s rotation depth. “We do believe whatever route we take, it’s going to be a good one. Also, we’re going to have people who are capable of stepping in whenever we need them

“The difference is we’re deeper this year than in previous years,” he added. “And that’s a testament to where we’re at as an organization and what we did during the offseason.”

Bullpen:

The Red Sox have yet to name a closer, though we do know the competition for the role is between right-handers Adam Ottavino and Matt Barnes.

Ottavino, 35, has tossed 2 1/3 scoreless innings out of the Boston bullpen so far this spring, while Barnes, 30, has yet to allow a run over 3 1/3 innings of work.

Both veteran relievers are slated to become free agents at the conclusion of the 2021 campaign, so they should be plenty motivated to carve out a significant role for themselves going into their walk year.

Once we get past Barnes and Ottavino, who figure to see the lion’s share of work in late-inning spots, left-handers Darwinzon Hernandez and Josh Taylor figure to play key roles for Boston as well.

Like Rodriguez, Hernandez and Taylor were hindered by bouts with COVID-19 last season, though the two southpaws were able to pitch in a total of 15 games.

After Hernandez and Taylor, newcomer Hirokazu Sawamura and Andriese and Whitlock all figure to crack the Sox’ Opening Day roster assuming they are healthy.

Ryan Brasier would be in this mix as well, but it was recently revealed that the 33-year-old right-hander suffered a a small fracture below his right pinkie finger while working out back in November. That fracture put him behind schedule, and it more than likely means that the Texas native will start the season in the injured list.

With that in mind, Cotillo also wrote earlier this week that with two open spots left in Boston’s bullpen, “the three key competitors for those openings are Colten Brewer, Austin Brice, and Phillips Valdez.”

Brice, as Cotillo notes, is out of minor-league options, so that might give the right-hander an advantage over the likes of Brewer and Valdez, who do have options remaining.

“There’s competition,” Cora said of the composition of the Sox’ bullpen on Tuesday. “I can’t tell you if it’s one spot or two. We know we’re going with 14. We can do the math, and in the end, it’s probably one or two spots. It has been fun to watch. That’s the difference, too, this year compared to other camps. We actually have competitions in different spots. They’ve been doing an amazing job.

“First of all, it doesn’t matter if you’re competing with this guy or whatever, they’re helping each other to get better,” he added. “They’re producing on the field, doing everything right in the clubhouse and they’re making it hard on us to make decisions.”

Starting lineup:

The starting lineup the Red Sox drew up for Wednesday’s Grapefruit League contest against the Twins looked like this:

  1. Kiké Hernández 2B
  2. Alex Verdugo CF
  3. J.D. Martinez DH
  4. Xander Bogaerts SS
  5. Rafael Devers 3B
  6. Hunter Renfroe RF
  7. Marwin Gonzalez LF
  8. Christian Vázquez C
  9. Bobby Dalbec 1B

As MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith wrote, this lineup also looks like one Boston could be using on Opening Day if outfielder Franchy Cordero is not yet ready to return to action.

“It’s a good lineup,” Cora said Wednesday morning when asked about this particular lineup. “It’s a deep lineup. When you have Christian Vazquez hitting eighth, that means we have a deep lineup. Somebody had to hit eighth. Somebody had to hit ninth. We feel comfortable where we’re at. The lefty-righty stuff, we’ll see how it plays out. But there’s good at-bats throughout. There’s power. There’s athletes… It’s good to see them together and see what they can do.”

Bench:

Because Cora has already made it clear that the Red Sox will be carrying 14 pitchers to begin the year, that means the maximum number of position players they can carry on their 26-man Opening Day roster is 12.

Taking into account the nine players listed in the above lineup as well as the fact that backup catcher Kevin Plawecki is a lock to make Boston’s Opening Day roster, that would leave the club with two vacancies on their bench.

Among the players still at major-league camp, Christian Arroyo and Michael Chavis have been two of the Sox’ most impressive performers as they compete for a spot on the team’s roster.

Both Arroyo and Chavis are redundant in that they both hit from the right side of the plate and are both limited to playing around the infield. But with Yairo Munoz being reassigned to the minor-leagues and Danny Santana sidelined while recovering from a right foot infection, there doesn’t seem to be much competition for them.

Jonathan Arauz is certainly an appealing option since he is a switch-hitter, but the Red Sox may feel it is in their best interest to start the 22-year-old infielder off at the alternate site this year so he can continue to develop.

Having written all that, here’s an early Red Sox Opening Day roster projection:

Starting rotation (5): Eduardo Rodriguez, Garrett Richards, Nathan Eovaldi, Martin Perez, Nick Pivetta

Bullpen (9): Matt Andriese, Garrett Whitlock, Austin Brice, Darwinzon Hernandez, Josh Taylor, Hirokazu Sawamura, Phillips Valdez, Adam Ottavino, Matt Barnes

Catchers (2): Christian Vazquez, Kevin Plawecki

Infielders (7): Bobby Dalbec, Enrique Hernandez, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Marwin Gonzalez, Christian Arroyo, Michael Chavis

Outfielders (3): Alex Verdugo, Hunter Renfroe, J.D. Martinez

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

Red Sox’ Garrett Richards impressed by the way 18-year-old prospect Nick Yorke carries himself: ‘You don’t see that very often’

Red Sox infield prospect Nick Yorke was just nine years old when Garrett Richards made his major-league debut for the Angels in August 2011.

Now 18, Yorke — the youngest player at Red Sox camp in Fort Myers — was one of a handful of hitters to face off against the veteran right-hander during a live batting practice session inside JetBlue Park on Thursday morning.

“Pretty impressed,” Richards said when asked about his thoughts on Yorke. “Not only with the talent, but with the way he carries himself. I just found out probably a few days ago that he was 18 years old. And I happened to just be walking by and that was the only sentence that I heard. He was talking to somebody and mentioned that he was 18 years old.

“Me being an older guy, it made me stop in my tracks a little bit,” added the 32-year-old hurler. “Because I had no idea this kid was that young. But very, very impressive with the maturity level and how he carries himself. You don’t see that very often. He’s obviously young and he’s going to be in this game for a lot of years. So I’m excited to watch him develop and adjust to this level of baseball.”

The Red Sox selected Yorke with their top pick in the first round the 2020 amateur draft out of Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, Calif.

The right-handed hitting second baseman — listed at 6-foot and 200 pounds — was one of 22 non-roster invitees to receive an invite to big-league spring training last month before being reassigned to minor-league camp last Friday.

Through his first four Grapefruit League contests of 2021, Yorke is 1-for-5 at the plate with a single, three walks, and two strikeouts.

Despite being the youngest player at the Fenway South complex, Yorke is holding his own, and he is impressing the likes of Red Sox manager Alex Cora while doing so.

“He’s in a better place physically,” Cora said of the California native last month. “He’s a tall, strong kid. That was impressive. I look and I’m like, ‘Who’s this kid?’ They told me and I was like, ‘Wow, he’s impressive.’”

Yorke, who turns 19 next month, is projected to begin the 2021 minor-league season at Low-A Salem. He is currently regarded by Baseball America as the Sox’ No. 9 prospect.

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

Chaim Bloom explains what went into Red Sox acquiring Christian Arroyo last season

Christian Arroyo came into spring training this year looking to prove he deserved a spot on the Red Sox’ Opening Day roster.

The 25-year-old infielder was originally claimed off waivers by Boston from the Indians last August, and after finally making his team debut a month later, he showed flashes of his potential.

Over a limited 14-game sample, Arroyo posted a .240/.296/.446 slash line to go along with three home runs and eight RBI over 14 games and 54 plate appearances. He played second base and shortstop.

The Florida native made it through the offseason without losing his spot on Boston’s 40-man roster, but he came into the spring in a somewhat precarious position given the fact he is out of minor-league options.

In other words, Arroyo has to make the Red Sox’ Opening Day roster. Otherwise, he would have to be exposed to waivers if the club wanted to send him down to the minors.

With that proposition in mind, Arroyo has been one of Boston’s more impressive performers at the plate thus far in Grapefruit League play in southwest Florida.

Following a 1-for-2 showing in a pinch-hitting capacity on Wednesday, the right-handed hitter is slashing .290/.333/.516 with a pair of homers and four RBI through his first 33 plate appearances of the spring.

It wasn’t too long ago that Arroyo, formerly a first-round draft pick of the San Francisco Giants, was one of the top prospects in baseball. He was even included in the blockbuster trade that sent Evan Longoria from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Giants in December 2017.

Arroyo did not do much in his time in Tampa Bay, as he appeared in just 36 total games between 2018 and early 2019 on account of multiple stints on the injured list before being dealt to Cleveland in July 2019.

Despite not playing too much with the Rays, though, the young middle infielder still established a relationship with Chaim Bloom, then Tampa Bay’s senior vice president of baseball operations.

That relationship carried over to Bloom’s first season as Red Sox chief baseball officer last year, as was highlighted when Arroyo was claimed by the club.

Since then, the two have surely gotten to know each other even better, and Bloom’s been impressed with what he’s seen from Arroyo going back to September.

“He looks, to me, better than at any point that we had him when I was with the Rays,” Bloom told WEEI’s Will Flemming and Rob Bradford earlier Wednesday. “Body-wise, he came in looking good. And I’ve seen him — whether it was last year or this spring — drive pitches that I didn’t see him drive in the past and just hit them harder.”

Despite the obvious connection he was with Arroyo from their time in Tampa Bay, Bloom was quick to not take all the credit when it came to acquiring the Hernando High School product in the first place.

“This is one where I think because of the connection and with the past, to the extent that it works I’ll be getting a lot of credit,” Bloom said. “But I would want to credit a lot of our crew in the front office for when this guy became available. Identifying him, doing work to see what was under the hood, and seeing some bat potential in there that he hadn’t realized.

“It was tough for him because he couldn’t stay healthy — either at the major-league level or Triple-A — for a couple of years,” he added. “So you’re kind of piecing together different samples, trying to look under the hood, figuring is there still some life to his player, who has a very good prospect pedigree. And we all felt strongly that it was worth taking the chance.”

With Danny Santana being sidelined while recovering from a right foot infection and Yairo Munoz being reassigned to minor-league camp on Wednesday, Arroyo would seem to have the edge on obtaining one of the final spots on the Sox’ 26-man Opening Day roster.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora has already made it clear that the club is planning to roll with 14 pitchers and 12 position players to kick off the 2021 campaign, so it should be interesting to see how Arroyo plays into that equation in the coming weeks.

(Picture of Christian Arroyo: Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Alex Cora provides update on Danny Santana (foot infection): ‘This is going to take a while’

On Monday, Red Sox manager Alex Cora announced that veteran utilityman Danny Santana had been hospitalized since Saturday due to a right foot infection.

On Tuesday, during his pregame Zoom session with reporters, Cora provided an update on Santana’s status.

“He’s still in the hospital,” Cora said of Santana earlier Tuesday morning. “He had the procedure yesterday. Everything went well. Actually, Danny texted me. He feels a lot better. He might take two or three more days for him to be there, and then after that the stitches. It’s going to take a while.”

Cora had hoped that Santana, who signed a minor-league deal with Boston earlier this month, would be able to return to the club sooner rather than later. That, however, now seems unlikely.

“It’s not sooner rather than later,” said the Sox skipper. “This is going to take a while. But, it is what it is. We just want him healthy and we’ll be patient with him.”

Before suffering this foot infection, the 30-year-old Santana seemed like somewhat of a dark horse candidate to crack the Red Sox’ Opening Day roster considering the fact that he is a switch-hitter and has major-league experience at every defensive position besides pitcher and catcher.

Now, it would appear that the Dominican native — formerly of the Twins, Braves, and Rangers — will have to work his way back from this setback. He will presumably remain in Fort Myers for the foreseeable future in order to rehab.

(Picture of Danny Santana: Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images)