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)

Red Sox among clubs that have ‘been involved to some extent in negotiations’ with free-agent infielder Marcus Semien, per report

The Red Sox are among the clubs that have been “involved to some extent in negotiations with free-agent infielder Marcus Semien,” according to The Athletic’s Jim Bowden.

Bowden additionally reports that the Athletics, Philles, and Reds have also been negotiating in some capacity with Semien, while “there are probably more clubs interested due to his versatility, athleticism, and durability.”

Semien, 30, was projected by MLB Trade Rumors back in November to net himself a one-year, $14 million deal this offseason.

The Bay Area native is coming off a 2020 campaign with the Athletics in which he posted an underwhelming .223/.305/.374 slash line in the wake of finishing third in American League MVP voting in 2019. He clubbed just seven home runs and drove in 28 RBI over 53 games played this past season.

That said, Semien improved his stock in October, as he went 11-for-27 (.407) at the plate while putting up an OPS of 1.151 in seven games against the White Sox and Astros in the American League Wild Card and Divisional Series’.

Bowden notes that this “strong postseason helped him” in terms of garnering interest as a free agent in addition to his past reputation as one of the more solid middle infielders in the American League.

The Athletic’s Peter Gammons was the first to report Boston’s interest in Semien late last month, tweeting that the “Sox like him” and view him as a second baseman despite his experience at shortstop with the A’s.

Gammons added that while attending the University of California, Berkeley, Semien was roommates with Red Sox amateur scouting director and former Golden Bear Paul Toboni. So there is a connection there.

At the time of this tweet, Gammons reported that the Red Sox did not yet know how much money it would take to sign Semien, but perhaps that dollar figure is starting to become more clear as spring training quicky approaches.

As currently constructed, the Sox’ 40-man roster is somewhat lousy with infielders capable of playing second base, but none have established themselves of being able to play the position on an everyday basis in the major-leagues. Christian Arroyo and Michael Chavis are among those in the organization that fit this description.

“We definitely have some options internally,” general manager Brian O’Halloran said in December in regards to Boston’s outlook at second base. “But we’re also open-minded. And this is not exclusive to second base. We’re open minded to different ways of improving the club.”

If they were to sign Semien, who has played 29 career games and has logged 236 2/3 career innings at second (none since 2014), to a short-term deal to primarily play that position, then perhaps the Red Sox’ plan would be for the former sixth-round draft pick to serve as somewhat of a bridge to top prospect Jeter Downs.

That all depends on what chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and the rest of Boston’s baseball operations department have in store, though.

ESPN’s Buster Olney did tweet on Tuesday night that the expectation around baseball was that the Red Sox are preparing to make a series of roster moves to upgrade the club’s roster for the 2021 season.

(Picture of Marcus Semien: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Newest Padres infielder Ha-Seong Kim viewed Red Sox as potential suitor before signing with San Diego, per report

South Korean sensation Ha-Seong Kim may have inked a four-year, $28 million deal with the Padres this past Thursday, but according to multiple reports out of South Korea, the 25-year-old strongly considered the Red Sox as a potential suitor.

As noted by DRaysBay’s Homin Lee, the right-handed hitting Kim may have thought his ‘pull-heavy swing style’ would be best suited for Fenway Park and its Green Monster in left field, but he ultimately picked the Padres on account of San Diego’s warm weather.

According to The Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham, the Red Sox “made a strong bid” for Kim prior to him signing with the Padres.

That point backs up MLB Network’s Jon Heyman’s report from Thursday, which states that the versatile infielder “had five and six-year offers” on the table but he “wanted to bet on himself.”

With the ideas that Kim preferred a city with warmer weather and wanted to bet on himself in mind, it’s important to look back on what Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said this past Wednesday in regards to recruiting international free agents posted from countries such as Japan and South Korea.

“I think in different situations, you will sometimes see — especially when the money amount is smaller — there are other factors that come into play more,” Bloom told WEEI hosts Rob Bradford and Jon Meterparel. “Players will sometimes pick teams, pick from similar offers based on certain other factors that are important to them. Whenever we’re involved in that type of situation, we want to put our best foot forward and make sure that we can show a player how we can appeal to them. But, people are different and everybody’s got different things that they like and value. Money’s part of that and sometimes there are other factors that are part of that.”

By signing a four-year pact with the Friars that runs through the end of the 2024 season, Kim could become a free agent again at 29 years old, though the deal does include a mutual option for a potential fifth season in 2025.

In San Diego, the plan at the moment is for Kim to see the majority of his playing time come at second base, per the New York Post’s Joel Sherman. That likely would have also been the case had he landed with the Sox opposed to the Padres.

Instead, Boston will have to look elsewhere to address their issues at second base this offseason coming off a 2020 campaign in which that position group posted an American League-worst .586 OPS and league-worst wRC+ of 55.

On that front, the Sox are reportedly interested in free-agent utilityman Kike Hernandez, who can play second base as well as all three outfield positions.

Red Sox prospect Brainer Bonaci ‘showed a solid blend of instincts and physical ability’ at fall instructs

Brainer Bonaci has been a professional baseball player for just over two years and he doesn’t turn 19 years old until next July, but he is already looking like one of the more exciting young infielders in the Red Sox’ minor-league pipeline.

The 18-year-old shortstop is coming off an impressive showing at the Sox’ fall instructional league in Fort Myers. According to SoxProspects’ Ian Cundall, Bonaci “looked the best of the young shortstops [at fall instructs] and showed a solid blend of instincts and physical ability. He has a plus arm and both his glove and hit tool showed average potential.”

Signed out of Venezuela by Manny Padron and Eddie Romero for $290,000 on his 16th birthday in 2018, Bonaci is starting to get some legitimate attention thanks to what he did this fall.

Had there been a minor-league season in 2020, Bonaci likely would have began the year with the Gulf Coast League Red Sox. Instead, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, he was limited in what he could do until October, when fall instructs began.

In his only organized action as a minor-leaguer thus far, the 5-foot-10 switch-hitter posted a solid .279/.356/.379 slash line (111 wRC+) to go along with three home runs, 37 RBI, and 18 stolen bases over 61 games played for the Dominican Summer League Red Sox last year.

Because he is still only 18 years old, Bonaci still has plenty of room to grow physically and developmentally. That said, there’s still reason to be excited about his potential, and SoxProspects’ latest prospect rankings reflect that.

Yes, Bonaci is now the No. 14 prospect in Boston’s farm system according to SoxProspects, good for the fifth highest ranking among infielders after Triston Casas, Jeter Downs, Bobby Dalbec, and Nick Yorke.

Going back to April 1, Bonaci was regarded by SoxProspects as the club’s 20th-ranked prospect, so it is clear he is trending in the right direction. And with Dalbec set to graduate from his prospect status next season, it’s safe to assume Bonaci will only continue to rise through the prospect ranks in 2021.

If we look even further ahead, Bonaci will become Rule 5 eligible for the first time in late 2022, so it’s not like he is too far out from garnering 40-man roster consideration as his development continues.

What Does Future Hold for Red Sox’ Jonathan Araúz?

It took until the final inning of the final game of the regular season, but Red Sox infielder Jonathan Arauz collected his first career major-league home run in the top half of the ninth of Sunday’s 9-1 victory over the Braves.

Per Statcast, Arauz’s solo blast traveled 347 feet and had an exit velocity of 93 mph coming off a 1-1, 87 mph cutter at the top of the strike zone from Atlanta reliever Josh Tomlin. Not exactly a moonshot, but the 22-year-old will certainly take it, especially when it wraps up a three-hit afternoon.

By going 3-for-4 at the plate with three RBI on Sunday, Arauz finishes his first full big-league season with a slash line of .250/.325/.319 to go along with that lone big fly and nine total runs driven in on the year.

In remaining with Boston for the entirety of the 2020 campaign, Arauz is now in a position where he could remain a member of the Sox organization for the foreseeable future.

Last December, the Red Sox selected Arauz from the Astros in the major-league portion of the Rule 5 Draft and wound up paying Houston $100,000 to do so.

Because the Panama native made it through the entire year without getting offered back to his previous club for $50,000, though, the Sox can now maintain his services without the risk of losing him to waivers.

Prior to the 2020 season, Arauz had never played a single minor-league game above the Double-A level. With that in mind, it appears that the switch-hitting infielder could be in line to see significant playing time at the Triple-A level in 2021.

Regardless of how the minor-leagues are formatted next year, the Red Sox will still have their Triple-A affiliate in Worcester, Mass. It remains to be seen if the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will also derail the 2021 minor-league season, but assuming it doesn’t, Arauz should be part of a solid mix of infielders there that could include the likes of Jeter Downs, C.J. Chatham, and Chad De La Guerra.

Unlike those three, Arauz already has some major-league experience. And although he did not exactly shine this season, he did show some flashes with the bat (went 12-for-30 at the plate from Aug. 10-23) and proved that with time, he could become capable of adequately playing multiple positions (2B, 3B, SS) around the infield.

Arauz was one of 28 Red Sox players to make their club debuts and one of six to make their major-league debuts this season. Considering he is presumably under team control through 2025, it should it be fascinating to see what Arauz’s role with Boston looks like for 2021 and beyond in the coming months.

Red Sox Infielder Christian Arroyo Clears Waivers, Gets Outrighted To Pawtucket

Three days after getting designated for assignment, Red Sox infielder Christian Arroyo has cleared waivers and has been outrighted to Pawtucket.

With this move made, Arroyo remains in the Sox’ 60-man player pool and will likely report to McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket within the coming days.

The 25-year-old was originally claimed off waivers by Boston from the Indians on August 13 and was subsequently placed on the 10-day COVID-19 related injured list three days later. The reason behind that was not because of a positive test, but rather due to the actual intake process.

Despite being activated from the IL on August 19, though, Arroyo was designated for assignment on August 20 in order for the Sox to make room on their 40-man roster for left-hander Darwinzon Hernandez, who had been on the COVID-19 related injured list himself.

Upon designating Arroyo, a former first-round pick of the Giants in 2013, it appeared that chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co.’s intentions were to sneak the Florida native through waivers, which they were of course able to accomplish on Sunday.

Prior to joining the Red Sox, Arroyo had appeared in 71 games with the Giants, Raysn and Indians since making his big-league debut with San Francisco in April 2017.

In those 71 games, the former top prospect slashed .215/.280/.342 with six home runs and 27 RBI over 251 plate appearances.

While in Pawtucket, Arroyo will presumably see time all around the infield seeing how he has major-league experience at second base, third base, and shortstop.

As for when we could see Arroyo in Boston, he would have to be added back to the Red Sox’ 40-man roster in order for that to happen.

Red Sox’ Rafael Devers on Teammate Xander Bogaerts: ‘He’s Probably the Best Person I’ve Ever Met in My Life’

Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts arguably make up the best left side of any infield in the American League. Last year, the pair combined to hit 65 home runs and 106 doubles, becoming the first teammates to ever collect 30 long balls and 50 two-baggers in the same season.

On the field, the two Caribbean stars are as dominant as ever and may just be the best two players on the Red Sox now that Mookie Betts is in Los Angeles. Off the field, though, the two share a special bond, and that’s mostly thanks to Bogaerts.

In a story from ESPN’s Joon Lee highlighting Bogaerts’ sense of leadership amid a worldwide pandemic, several players spoke highly of what the 27-year-old has meant for them. The players interviewed by Lee were mostly of the younger variety who have made their major-league debuts within the last three years, such as Michael Chavis, Darwinzon Hernandez, and of course, Devers.

In talking with Lee, the 23-year-old Devers credits Bogaerts for “helping him break out as a full-fledged star in 2019” while also acknowledging the fact that Bogaerts speaks multiple languages — English, Spanish, Dutch and Papiamento — and how that is a very helpful attribute to have in a diverse clubhouse.

“Out of everyone, he’s probably the best person I’ve ever met in my life,” Devers said of his Summer Camp suite-mate. “So the fact that he’s always so happy and the fact that he does speak different languages helps bring everyone together.”

Having a mentor like Bogaerts, who has seemingly risen to the role even more since signing a six-year, $120 million extension with Boston last spring, should be something all major-league clubs strive for.

Bogaerts experienced the growing pains a big-leaguer endures as a rookie back in 2013, and he calls back to the help he received from the veterans on that year’s Red Sox team, such as David Ortiz, David Ross, Mike Napoli, and Dustin Pedroia, while passing down wisdom to his peers now.

“I remember I was scared. I was a little nervous, actually not a little nervous,” said Bogaerts of his rookie year, when he was just 20 years old. “I was really nervous because I don’t really want to mess up with all these big boys, and I wasn’t used to a situation like that, but it all worked out great, man. It all worked out great. I learned a lot from them.”

As it turns out, it would appear that Bogaerts did learn a lot from those guys on the 2013 team. And as he and the Red Sox prepare to embark on what’s sure to be a bizarre 60-game season, that knowledge gained seven years ago will likely come in handy over the next few months.

Red Sox’ Jose Peraza ‘Excited’ to Begin New Chapter of Career, Play at Fenway Park

Going into this past offseason, Jose Peraza was looking forward to what was supposed to be his fourth full season with the Cincinnati Reds and his first as an arbitration-eligible player.

Instead, the Reds did not feel the need to pay Peraza the $3.6 million he was projected to make in arbitration, and subsequently non-tendered him in early December.

When speaking with reporters at Fenway Park via Zoom on Tuesday, the Venezuela native said through team interpreter Bryan Almonte that he “was surprised” to be non-tendered by Cincinnati.

Granted, the 2019 season was not a great one for Peraza, as he slashed an underwhelming .239/.285/.346 with six homers and 33 RBI over 141 games played. But considering how he experienced some moderate success the year before, it had to have come as a shock to be let loose so quickly.

Just over a week after getting cut by the Reds, Peraza inked a one-year deal with Boston, where he now has the chance to be a part of the team’s infield picture for years to come seeing how he is under team control through the 2022 season.

With the addition of Peraza also comes the addition of more positional versatility, something teams can never seem to get enough of these days. The 26-year-old said that much on Tuesday, stating that he’d be willing to play “second base, shortstop, third base, whatever [Red Sox manager] Ron Roenicke” asks him to do. Not to mention he is capable of playing a little bit of outfield as well.

Prior to joining the Sox over the winter, Peraza had never had the chance to play inside Fenway Park. He now has the chance to do that on a regular basis, and he even said that Fenway will be “a good ballpark for [me] to hit in” and he’s “excited to be playing there.”

Upon signing with Boston, Peraza probably expected to make his Red Sox debut back in March. He has instead had to wait for that to happen due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but the league-wide shutdown did allow him to work out at home in Miami and “make a few adjustments” with his swing.

“The thing I really focused on in the offseason in Miami was just my leg kick,” Peraza added. “One of the changes that I made was altering that. … I’m a little bit more confident. I’m seeing the pitches better as well. At first, when we first got back, I was just trying to get my rhythm going. But now I have the confidence where I’m going out there, (and) I just feel good about where I stand right now in terms of my hitting.”

Because of those adjustments made during the layoff, Peraza now says, on top of “feeling great physically and mentally,” he also feels “more confident” at Summer Camp in Boston than he did at spring training in Fort Myers.

Roenicke echoed that same sentiment last week, saying he’s “so impressed with what [Peraza’s] doing,” when asked about the infielder’s offensive approach at camp.

A former international signee of the Braves ten years ago, Peraza will earn approximately $1.11 million with the Red Sox in 2020 when taking this season’s prorated salaries into account.

Red Sox Manager Ron Roenicke on Jose Peraza: ‘I’m So Impressed With What He’s Doing’

Jose Peraza has not gotten a whole lot of attention since signing with the Red Sox back in December, but manager Ron Roenicke has been impressed with what he has seen from the 26-year-old since Summer Camp broke at Fenway Park last week.

“Everyday I watch him, and I’m so impressed with what he’s doing,” Roenicke told reporters via Zoom on Wednesday in regards to Peraza and his swing.

The Sox inked Peraza to a one-year deal for the 2020 season worth $3 million plus more in incentives on December 12th, less than two weeks after the Venezuela native was non-tendered by the Reds.

Because he was cut loose by Cincinnati prior to his first season of arbitration eligibility, Pereza could be under team control with the Red Sox through the end of the 2022 campaign if all goes according to plan.

A once touted prospect in the Braves and Dodgers’ organizations, Peraza has struggled to consistently find his footing in the majors to this point in time.

Since the start of the 2017 season, the right-handed hitter has posted fWARs of -0.3, 2.6, and -0.6 respectively while with the Reds.

Despite those inconsistent tendencies, upside is certainly there with Peraza, who is capable of playing both middle infield positions and even some outfield if need be.

With Boston, the former 2010 international signee figures to split time with Michael Chavis at second while also providing some insurance for Xander Bogaerts if the All-Star shortstop needs time off for whatever season.

Prior to the pandemic-induced layoff that began in March, Peraza slashed .233/.233/.300 with two doubles, one RBI, and one stolen base for the Red Sox in 12 Grapefruit League games.