Red Sox’ Alex Cora impressed by 18-year-old prospect Nick Yorke so far at spring training

When the Red Sox finalized their initial list of non-roster invitees that will be attending major-league spring training earlier this month, one name that stood out above the rest was infield prospect Nick Yorke.

Rarely do you see a player just months removed from being drafted receive an invite to big-league camp the following spring, but that was the case with Yorke.

Among the 70-plus players working out at the Fenway South complex right now, Yorke — who turns 19 in early April — is without a doubt the youngest of the bunch.

“It made me feel old,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Tuesday when asked about meeting Yorke for the first time. “[My daughter] Camila turns 18 in March. It’s like, ‘Wow, this is unreal.'”

Upon seeing the 2020 first-round draft pick at the batting cages the other day, Cora observed that Yorke had slimmed down a bit while still maintaining his strong, 6-foot frame.

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

Because he is at big-league camp, Yorke, a Southern California native, has the chance to absorb as much useful information as he can from the veterans he is sharing a clubhouse with for the time being.

“I asked him one question,” Cora recounted. “I go, ‘Who are you going to follow in spring training? Who’s the guy that you’re going to ask questions and follow?’ And he said, ‘Enrique Hernandez.’ I said, ‘That’s a good one. So, who else are you going to follow?’ He goes, ‘J.D. [Martinez].’ I said, ‘No, no, no. Don’t follow J.D. right now. Let’s keep it simple.’ And I said, ‘Just follow Xander. Follow Xander Bogaerts from 7 a.m. until whenever we’re done, and you’ll be in a good spot. That’s what we want from him.”

Cora acknowledged that while Yorke — the 17th overall pick in last year’s amateur draft — does have plenty of potential, he is mainly in Fort Myers right now to learn the ropes of what it takes to be a major-leaguer.

It’s a similar experience to what Bobby Dalbec did during one of the Sox’ homestands at the tail end of the 2019 season, well before the 25-year-old made his major-league debut.

Rather than getting called up to the team’s major-league roster, Dalbec spent time around the club at Fenway Park and familiarized himself with the Red Sox and the big-league environment, which surely helped him upon getting called up last August.

“It’s kind of like when Dalbec went to Fenway for a week in 2019,” the Sox skipper said when describing what Yorke is doing now. “He’s going to spend a lot of time with us, but that’s what I want him to do. Just learn, keep working, understand what it takes to be a big-leaguer, and he’ll be a big-leaguer. He’ll be a big-leaguer.”

A right-handed hitting, right-handed throwing second baseman out of Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, Yorke is currently regarded by Baseball America as the Sox’ No. 9 prospect.

Many were shocked that Boston took Yorke, who entered last year’s draft as BA’s 96th-ranked draft-eligible prospect, as high as they did, but chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom explained that process when speaking with Chris Hatfield and Ian Cundall of SoxProspects.com last month.

“We knew that it would come with some blowback because Nick wasn’t a hyped player,” Bloom said on the SoxProspects.com podcast. “We also had a lot of belief in the player and there was also belief that if we had had a normal spring, he would have been seen. A lot of things kind of conspired with him having been hurt the year before and not having played the infield the year before. And if you weren’t there really all over him those first few weekends, you did not have enough information on Nick Yorke to really think anything about him.”

Despite not having a minor-league season to work with in 2020, Yorke still impressed at the Red Sox’ alternate training site in Pawtucket and their fall instructional league in Fort Myers, which in turn led to him skyrocketing up the organization’s prospect rankings to the point where he may just be one of the best middle infield prospects in baseball heading into the 2021 campaign.

On that note, Yorke is projected to begin the 2021 minor-league season with Low-A Salem, whose season begins on May 4.

Between then and now, though, it should be fascinating to see if Yorke finds his way into any Grapefruit League games over the next few weeks.

(Picture of Nick Yorke: Pawtucket Red S0x)

Examining Red Sox infield prospect Hudson Potts’ big-league potential

Hudson Potts’ first offseason as a member of the Red Sox organization has been a busy one to say the least.

Back in November, the 22-year-old was added to Boston’s 40-man roster in order to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft. That, in turn, led to Potts receiving his first invite from the Sox — and third invite overall — to big-league spring training.

The Texas native was originally acquired by the Red Sox along with outfield prospect Jeisson Rosario last August in a trade that sent veteran first baseman Mitch Moreland to the Padres.

At that time, Potts was regarded by MLB Pipeline as San Diego’s No. 16 prospect, and with the minor-league season having been cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, he was spending time at the club’s alternate training site at the University of San Diego.

He spent the rest of the year at the Sox’ alternate training site in Pawtucket.

Even with no real in-game action in 2020, the former 2016 first-round draft pick was less than a full year removed from his age-20 season with Double-A Amarillo of the Texas League in which he slashed a modest .227/.290/.406 to go along with 16 home runs and 59 RBI across 107 games in 2019.

Those numbers — as well as a strikeout rate of 28.6% and a walk rate of 7.1% — might not jump off the page, but it is important to remember that Potts was doing this at a fairly young age for the level he was playing at. FanGraphs’ Ben Clemens noted as much when writing about Potts and other position player prospects on Tuesday.

“It’s so hard to play in Double-A at 20 years old,” Clemens wrote. “Potts wasn’t good, but he was able to tread water despite being three to four years young for the level, which is often a better sign than hitting well at an age-appropriate level. That said, don’t sleep on his 2018, when he was also quite young for Hi-A and put together a fearsome power season.”

In 2018 with High-A Lake Elsinore of the California League, the right-handed hitter posted a .281/.350/.498 clip in addition to clubbing 17 homers and driving in 58 runs over 106 games (453 plate appearances).

One of the things that has held Potts back, if you want to say that, to this point has been his inability to make contact on a consistent basis. Another dimension of his game that is shrouded in uncertainty pertains to his primary defensive position.

Both of those aspects could hinder the 6-foot-3, 220 lb. infielder’s long-term potential as a major-league-caliber player, according to Clemens.

Warning Signs: The big one is contact — that’s not the kind of thing you can paper over with other skills,” Clemens wrote of Potts. “He’ll also need to find a defensive home; he looks like a corner guy, though San Diego experimented with a Mike Moustakas-esque second base assignment before trading him. Corner-only sluggers with contact issues aren’t exactly in short supply, so that’s the worry here.”

In regards to the 20-80 scouting scale, FanGraphs‘ Eric Longenhagen has Potts’ hit tool at 30 in terms of present value and 35 in terms of future value, which ranks ninth and 19th among Red Sox position player prospects, respectively.

“If [Potts’ hit tool turns out lower than 40 FV], it might make his bat unplayable” due to all the swings-and-misses, Clemens wrote.

Despite those concerns, Clemens still seems optimistic about Potts’ outlook, opining that “the combination of his power and age are simply more enticing than the whiffs are worrisome.”

Currently regarded by MLB Pipeline as Boston’s 19th-ranked prospect, Potts is projected to begin the 2021 minor-league season — whenever it starts — with Double-A Portland and could seemingly see playing time at every infield position besides shortstop.

The Red Sox will host their first full squad spring training workout in Fort Myers this coming Monday, so that could be a good time to get our first glance at Potts since last year’s fall instructional league. Stay tuned for that.

(Picture of Hudson Potts: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstillsmugmug.com)

In Jeter Downs and Nick Yorke, Red Sox have two of the top middle infield prospects in baseball

At this time last year, infielders Jeter Downs and Nick Yorke were not yet members of the Red Sox organization.

Downs, now 22, was preparing for what was supposed to be his fourth (third full) season as a pro, while Yorke, now 18, was preparing for his senior season at Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, Calif.

Neither Downs’ nor Yorke’s 2020 went the way they likely expected, with the former getting dealt from the Dodgers to the Sox in February and the latter having his senior season halted due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Emerging as the top prospect in Boston’s farm system in wake of the trade that sent Mookie Betts to Los Angeles, Downs, who was born in Colombia, was at least able to salvage his minor-league season-less 2020 thanks to being included in the Sox’ 60-man player pool.

Yorke, meanwhile, was also able to salvage his year after somewhat surprisingly going 17th overall to the Red Sox in the 2020 first-year player draft. He was later added to the club’s 60-man player pool in mid-September.

Both players were able to spend time at the Sox’ alternate training site in Pawtucket over the summer to further their development, though Downs understandably got there a whole lot earlier than Yorke did.

Here’s what former PawSox and current Worcester Red Sox manager Billy McMillon had to say about each young infielder when speaking to reporters in early October, courtesy of MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.

On Downs: “Jeter’s kind of interesting. We were introduced to him in Spring Training 1. We could see glimpses of defense and offense. I would say he did better offensively in the first spring training. I think people were thinking about him potentially being a second baseman, everyday, for the Red Sox. I think the strides he made defensively are going to sway some of those questions people had.

“He made tremendous strides defensively. There are some things he needs to work on, like his makeup and his confidence and things like that. I think those issues affected how he did offensively. As far as Jeter, I see tremendous upside. His track record of offensive performance indicates that at 7:05, when the lights are on, he shows up at the plate. I’m hopeful his track record offensively meshes well with the strides he made defensively. If that happens, I think you’ve got a pretty good player. I don’t want to give a comp or anything, but I think he would more than hold his own based on what he did defensively and how much better and more consistent he got.

“I think he would be a better second baseman long-term, but I do believe he could play shortstop. He made some plays that were just unbelievable at shortstop. I personally would see him a better fit at second base if we were talking about 162 games. I think his athleticism, his skills, would be a little better at second base. But he’s still young. I don’t want it to seem like he can’t play shortstop. I think he could do a fine job over there. In my eyes, I see second base when I see him.”

On Yorke: “His first professional at-bat, he gets a single off Bryan Mata. Worked the count full, hit a line drive to right field like it was nothng. That was really, really refreshing, just to see… I’m not saying he should have been intimidated or whatever, but he went up there, playing high school not too long ago, and just worked the count full and went the other way. There’s an approach there.

“One of the things I tried to tell him was, ‘Hey, look. There are going to be some professional guys around here who have approaches, who have work. You have to figure out who you are and don’t try to match what you see other guys do. Just be yourself.’ He kind of took that to heart. Really impressive with his at-bats. Limited action at second base but I watched some of the early work with (coach Bruce Crabbe) and he has got some good actions out there. His body is kind of stocky but he’s not big and he moves well. You can see why he was a high-round pick. He blended in well. He was joking with the guys, he was interacting. If somebody walked into the clubhouse or onto the bench, they wouldn’t have known that this guy was drafted in 2020. They would have thought he was one of the guys. That’s a testament to the scouts who saw something there. There’s a lot to like in a very small sample.”

Because he got to the alternate training site in July as opposed to later in the summer, Downs was not included in the Red Sox’ fall instructional league roster down in Fort Myers

Yorke, however, was, and that gave the right-handed hitter even more of an opportunity to shine in front of Red Sox coaches and scouts alike.

Per SoxProspects.com’s director of scouting Ian Cundall, Yorke “was the most impressive member of the 2020 draft/NDFA class, showing off his offensive ability, but questions about his long-term defensive profile remain an issue. Yorke got off to a strong start at the plate, but as the camp went along, he struggled to pull the ball and seemed to be just trying to push the ball to right field. Regardless of his struggles near the end of camp, scouts were consistent in saying they believe he can hit and they are high on his bat, enough so that even with a questionable defensive profile and below average speed, they still like him.”

After the Red Sox took him off the board with their top pick in the 2020 draft, Yorke ultimately signed with the club for $2.7 million last July. He is currently regarded by MLB Pipeline as Boston’s No. 11 prospect.

Downs, meanwhile, is regarded by MLB Pipeline as the Sox’ No. 1 prospect with a slight advantage over Triston Casas.

Recently, MLB Pipeline released lists for their top-10 prospects at each position, and Downs — listed as a shortstop — and Yorke — listed as a second baseman, both made their respective lists, coming in at No. 8 and No. 10, respectively.

Regarding Downs’ ranking, MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo did not have any ‘top tools’ or ‘superlatives’ to give the 5-foot-11, 195 lb. infielder. He simply listed him as his eighth-best shortstop prospect.

Regarding Yorke’s ranking, MLB.com’s Jim Callis writes that the 6-foot, 200 lb. infielder was that particular position group’s ‘highest riser,’ though he also has the ‘most to prove.’

“Yorke had shoulder surgery before his high school junior season in 2019, which relegated him to DH duty that spring and curtailed him on the showcase circuit,” Callis wrote earlier this week. “A year later, the Red Sox made him a surprise first-round pick (17th overall) and signed him for $2.7 million.

“While the Red Sox fully believe in Yorke and some clubs regarded him as the best high school hitter on the West Coast, most teams evaluated him as more of a second- or third-rounder,” added Callis. “His arm hasn’t bounced all the way back from his shoulder surgery, so he also has to show he can handle second base.”

While Downs and Yorke are still both prospects under the age of 23, the future of the Red Sox’ middle infield may very well be in strong hands.

Downs could have the chance to put that to the test this coming season, as he’ll likely begin the year at Triple-A Worcester with the opportunity to get called up by the Red Sox if all goes accordingly for him.

Yorke, on the other hand, is still a long ways away from sniffing a major-league roster seeing how he only turns 19 years old in April. He is projected to start the 2021 minor-league season with Low-A Salem, though it is not yet known when the new season will begin for Class-A and Double-A minor-league affiliates.

(Picture of Jeter Downs: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Triston Casas ranked No. 2 first-base prospect in baseball by MLB.com

While the Red Sox continue to build up their farm system under chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, one of the club’s most highly-touted minor-leaguers was recently ranked by MLB.com as one of the best first base prospects in baseball

His name? Triston Casas.

According to MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, Casas is the No. 2 first base prospect in the game behind only the White Sox’ Andrew Vaughn, who’s more than a full year older than him, headed into the 2021 season.

Among the top-10 first base prospects Mayo listed — Vaughn, Casas, Aaron Sabato (MIN), Seth Beer (ARI), Lewin Diaz (MIA), Michael Toglia (COL), Bobby Bradley (CLE), Nick Pratto (KC), Pavin Smith (ARI), Mason Martin (PIT) — Casas has one of the best power and arm strength tools.

“The 6-foot-5 Casas has the perfect combination of strength, size, bat speed and leverage for plus power, with the advanced approach to get to it consistently,” Mayo wrote of the 21-year-old’s slugging abilities.

Last we saw Casas in any organized minor-league action, the 2018 first-round draft pick clubbed 20 home runs and drove in 81 RBI in 120 games and 500 plate appearances between Low-A Greenville and High-A Salem in 2019. He also posted a solid .256/.350/.480 slash line en route to being named an organizational All-Star.

As for what he is capable of doing defensively, Mayo notes that Casas pitched and played third base as an amateur at American Heritage High School in South Florida, which therefore “allows him to do more with his arm” while playing first base.

Per FanGraphs, Casas logged 834 2/3 total innings at first base with Greenville and Salem in ’19 as opposed to just 67 innings at the hot corner in Greenville alone.

With the 2020 minor-league season being cancelled on account of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Casas, like so many other prospects, were forced to continue their development in an unfamiliar setting.

The Red Sox added the left-handed hitting, right-handed throwing infielder to their player pool in late August, allowing him to participate at the club’s alternate training site in Pawtucket for the remainder of the major-league season.

While in Pawtucket for just over a month, Casas again showed off his power at the plate as well as the rest of his skillset. Many came away impressed with what he did, including Worcester Red Sox manager Billy McMillon.

Casas is very intriguing to me,” McMillon said when speaking with reporters back in October. “Can play both corner positions. I think he’s probably going to settle in at first base. His discipline at the plate is incredible. His approach was a little bit different than what you might see with some of the guys today. He spread out, he choked up. Wasn’t afraid to hit the ball the other way. He definitely has an idea at the plate. I really like how intelligent he was at the plate. He was a guy who really benefitted from coming up, facing Triple-A/Four-A type pitching. He held his own, had very good at-bats, walked a lot. Defense, I think he’s going to be solid. I think we’ve got a good one with Triston.”

When watching Casas go to work at the plate, you will likely notice that he takes a unique approach to doing things, especially with two strikes in the count, as McMillon alluded to in the above quote.

That would be the case because as a left-handed hitter, Casas tries to somewhat take after Cincinnati Reds star and fellow first baseman Joey Votto.

“Growing up, I loved watching Joey Votto,” Casas said via Zoom this past September. “I love his approach, I love his swing, I love the way he approaches the game, and the way he he takes his at-bats are second to none. The stats speak for themselves. He was one of the best hitters of the 2010s, and that’s when I was growing up watching baseball. Being a left-handed first baseman, Joey Votto’s not a bad guy to emulate. I don’t really try to copy everything that he does, but the other day I hit a home run in a sim game and looking back on it, I was like, ‘Wow, I actually do look like Joey Votto.’ So, growing up I really liked watching him play

“The choke-up on the bat and the two-strike approach, it was just something that I watched him do and I tried it out for myself and I liked the results that I was getting,” he added. “I liked the way it felt in the box. I liked the way I would compete when I did formulate a good two-strike approach, and I’m looking to keep hearing that because I’m feeling really comfortable right now.”

Following the conclusion of alternate training site workouts, Casas was one of about 63 minor-leaguers who were invited to take part in the Red Sox’ fall instructional league down in Fort Myers.

There, per SoxProspects.com’s Ian Cundall, the Florida native was arguably the best infielder at camp and the most impressive position player behind only outfield prospect Gilberto Jimenez.

Currently regarded by SoxProspects as Boston’s top-ranked prospect, the 6-foot-5, 250 lber is projected to begin the 2021 minor-league season with Double-A Portland.

That said, it seems possible that the Sox would want to include Casas and some of their other top prospects in major-league spring training for MLB/Triple-A players starting next month with minor-league camp for Class-A/Double-A players being pushed back until later in the spring.

With that scenario in mind, prospects such as Casas and Jeter Downs, among others, could potentially start the year at Triple-A Worcester. @RedSoxStats was one of the first to put that possibility out there.

That scenario remains just a mere possibility at this point, though, and as most things have gone regarding minor-league baseball recently, we will have to wait and see how it all transpires before determining which player will go where.

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

Why 2021 could prove to be pivotal year for Red Sox infield prospect Antoni Flores

In the summer of 2017, the Red Sox made infielder Antoni Flores one of their top priorities, as they signed the Venezuelan prospect for a hefty sum of $1,400,000 that July, which would go on to make him the third-highest paid international addition of that particular signing class for Boston.

Flores initially rewarded the Sox for their investment in him the following year in both the Dominican Summer League and Gulf Coast League.

Over 15 total games and 57 total plate appearances between the two affiliates, the young infielder, primarily playing shortstop, went 18-for-53 (.340) at the plate to go along with one home run and 14 RBI.

The reason Flores only managed to play in 15 games, in 2018 was due to the fact that he missed six weeks of action from mid-June until late July due to “general soreness.”

Upon returning and getting promoted from the DSL to GCL, Flores played in just two games before pulling his hamstring in early August, which wound wind up costing him the rest of the season.

The fact Flores was able to put on an impressive showing at the Red Sox’ fall instructional league that year in the wake of suffering that hamstring injury was certainly encouraging, but more red flags arose in 2019.

Entering the year regarded by SoxProspects.com as Boston’s No. 7 prospect, Flores struggled mightily in his first exposure to non-rookie-league baseball in the United States.

Playing in 55 games for the short-season Lowell Spinners, the then-18-year-old posted a dismal .193/.293/.227 slash line over 208 plate appearances while striking out 28.4% of the time. He also committed 10 errors in 410 defensive innings at shortstop, which would signal a transition to second base.

According to SoxProspects‘ director of scouting Ian Cundall, “scouts really soured on Flores” following his first full professional season, “as he showed a poor approach and limited offensive ability while simultaneously struggling in the field.”

Unfortunately, Flores would not get the chance to bounce back in a traditional manner in 2020, as the minor-league season was cancelled in June due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead, Flores, like most other Red Sox minor-leaguers, had to wait until the 2020 installment of fall instructs to try to continue on with their development.

Alas, a long break from organized baseball did the right-handed hitter no favors, as he continued to underwhelm in Fort Myers this past fall.

Per Cundall, Flores, now 20 years old, “again struggled and now seems to have moved to second base primarily. The athleticism he showed in the Fall Instructional League in 2018 is gone, and his speed has regressed to the point where he was consistently timed at 4.6 seconds down the line, which is a 20 on the 20-80 scouting scale.”

FanGraphs‘ Eric Longenhagen added on to this, writing last month that though he wished Flores’ disappointing 2019 was more of an outlier, it may have very well been the start of a negative trend.

“Flores was generating Willy Adames comps during the Fall of 2018, and has since regressed physically and technically,” Longenhagen wrote. “He no longer looks athletically capable of playing the middle infield and has continued to struggle with the bat.”

While Longenhagen still has Flores as his No. 43 prospect in the Red Sox farm system, he notes that “he’s in danger of slipping off the list entirely next year unless he performs statistically and looks more athletic early in the year.” 

SoxProspects projects Flores, who does not turn 21 until October, will start the 2021 minor-league season with Low-A Salem.

Before the 2021 season begins, though, there is still the minor-league portion of spring training — which will likely start later than usual this year — to look forward to.

Between the time fall instructs ended and the time in which minor-league spring training eventually starts up, it appears as though the Sox have given Flores some homework to do.

“Antoni has been working on his agility and quickness a lot this offseason,” Red Sox assistant general manager Eddie Romero, who played a significant role in Flores signing with the organization, told BloggingtheRedSox.com via email. “He’s made a lot of strides in the past few months, so we’re looking forward to seeing him in spring training.”

On that note, 2021 could prove to be a monumental year for Flores in terms of development and career trajectory.

Not only is the 6-foot-1, 190 lb. infielder looking to buck the trend that has seen his stock take a hit in recent years, but he is also Rule 5 eligible for the first time come December.

If he were to make an impact with Salem, or whichever affiliate he played with this year, Flores could be added to the Sox’ 40-man roster if Boston believes in his potential enough to not want to see him scooped up by another club.

If Flores were not to be added, which does seem unlikely at this point given the fact that other prospects such as Jarren Duran, Jeter Downs, Thad Ward, and Gilberto Jimenez will be in need of protection, then as previously mentioned, an opposing team could pick him up if they felt he was ready to make an impact at the major-league level.

That, too, seems unlikely, but there’s a reason why Flores was once considered one of the top prospects in the Sox’ farm system. The talent is still there somewhere, and so is a relatively high ceiling given his age.

Having written all that, it’s fair to say that 2021 could be a ‘make-or-break’ type year for Flores. We will have to wait and see how he performs.

(Picture of Antoni Flores: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)