Red Sox outfield prospect Miguel Bleis catching fire in Florida Complex League

Like right-hander Luis Perales, Red Sox outfield prospect Miguel Bleis has also been opening eyes and turning heads in the Florida Complex League this summer.

Last week, Bleis appeared in four games for Boston’s rookie-level affiliate and went 8-for-17 (.471) at the plate with two doubles, two home runs, four RBIs, three runs scored, four stolen bases, zero walks, and four strikeouts. Both of those homers came in the same game against the FCL Rays in Port Charlotte on July 11.

As a result of all that production, Bleis was included in Baseball America’s latest Hot Sheet — which highlights the game’s 20 hottest prospects from the previous week — on Tuesday.

“One of the top young talents in Boston’s system, Bleis started a little slow out of the gate this season but has been on fire in July,” Baseball America’s Geoff Pontes wrote. “He’s a speedy center fielder with a knack for the barrel and solid plate approach considering his age and level. His in-game power is starting to show, with strong exit velocity numbers that would compare well against a majority of major-league hitters.”

After batting just .156 through the first two weeks of the FCL season, the right-handed-hitting 18-year-old has since turned things around and is now slashing .298/.337/.511 (124 wRC+) with seven doubles, two triples, three homers, 15 RBIs, 15 runs scored, 11 stolen bases, five walks, and 25 strikeouts over 24 games spanning 101 trips to the plate.

Among qualified FCL hitters, Bleis ranks 13th in batting average, 10th in slugging percentage, 12th in OPS (.847), ninth in isolated power (.213), fourth in speed score (9.2), fifth in line-drive rate (29.2%), and 18th in wRC+, per FanGraphs.

Defensively, the 6-foot-3, 170-pounder has seen all of his playing time come at center field so far this season. He has logged 195 1/3 innings at the position and has yet to record an error while also registering a team-high of four outfield assists.

The Red Sox originally signed Bleis as an international free-agent out of the Dominican Republic last January. Boston gave the San Pedro de Macoris native a lucrative $1.5 million bonus, making him the highest-paid member of its 2021 signing class.

Since then, Bleis — who does not turn 19 until next March — has played in both the Dominican Summer and Florida Complex Leagues and is currently ranked by Baseball America as the No. 16 prospect in Boston’s farm system.

Bleis is best described by SoxProspects.com as having “the highest upside of any Latin American prospect in the system,” and it’s easy to see why. Between the athleticism, the potential, and the talent, Bleis will more than likely emerge as a top-100 prospect in baseball sooner rather than later.

In the near-term, Bleis could very well earn a promotion to Low-A Salem before long if he continues to impress down in Fort Myers. That would certainly be an exciting development within the Red Sox organization.

(Picture of Miguel Bleis: Bryan Green/Flickr)

Who is Eddinson Paulino? Red Sox infield prospect was ‘an eye-opener’ last year after impressing in Florida Complex League

Like his teammate Miguel Ugueto, Red Sox infield prospect Eddinson Paulino was one of the organization’s top performers in the Florida Complex League last season.

In 36 games for the Sox’ rookie-level affiliate, Paulino batted .336/.436/.549 to go along with 16 doubles, four triples, 13 RBIs, 25 runs scored, five stolen bases, 15 walks, and 21 strikeouts over 133 plate appearances. The left-handed hitting 19-year-old slashed .354/.436/.585 (94 PAs) against right-handed pitching and .290/.436/.452 (39 PAs) against lefties.

Among FCL hitters who made at least 130 trips to the plate in 2021, Paulino ranked tied for first in doubles, tied for second in triples, 30th in walk rate (11.3%), eighth in strikeout rate (15.8%), second in batting average, third in on-base percentage, second in slugging percentage, first in OPS (.985), ninth in isolated power (.212), 14th in speed score (7.8), and first in wRC+ (161), per FanGraphs.

Defensively, Paulino was scouted and signed as a shortstop. Last year, however, the 5-foot-10, 155 pounder saw playing time at three different positions while logging 85 innings at second base, 149 at third base, and just 16 at short.

A native of Santiago, Paulino originally signed with Boston for $205,000 as an international free agent coming out of the Dominican Republic in July 2018. He officially inked his first contract with the club on his 16th birthday.

After spending his first full professional season in the Dominican Summer League, Paulino fell victim to the fact that the 2020 minor-league campaign was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That being said, Paulino clearly made the most of his time away from organized ball. Even after starting this past season on the bench in the FCL, Paulino was undoubtedly “an eye-opener” among Red Sox prospects in 2021.

Back in August, SoxProspects.com’s director of scouting Ian Cundall noted that Paulino’s athleticism, defensive versatility, and smooth swing made him “one of the most intriguing young position players” in Boston’s farm system.

“Scouts think Paulino can really hit,” Cundall wrote. “He has been hitting hard line drives all over the field this year and made impressive exit velocity gains, hitting the ball much harder this year than he did in 2019 in the DSL. The one knock on Paulino so far has been that it is unclear how much over-the-fence power Paulino will develop. He is listed at 5-foot-10, 155 pounds, and while he has projection in his frame, he is unlikely to grow into a major power threat.”

Paulino, who does not turn 20 until July, is currently regarded by SoxProspects.com as the 25th-ranked prospect in the organization. He is projected by the site to begin the 2022 season at Low-A Salem.

On that note, Paulino can become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the first time in his career this December. The Red Sox would need to add the versatile infielder to their 40-man roster by late November if they intend to protect him from it.

(Picture of Eddinson Paulino: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

What to expect from Red Sox pitching prospect Chih-Jung Liu in 2022 following solid debut season

The road to the major-leagues has been far from a conventional one for Red Sox pitching prospect Chih-Jung Liu.

Signed out of Taiwan as an international free agent in October 2019, Liu’s path to the pros was almost immediately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic the following spring.

Upon arriving in the United States that February, Liu was forced to quarantine from his hotel room in Fort Myers since the Red Sox were being extremely cautious during the early stages of the pandemic.

That quarantine period delayed Liu’s entrance into spring training, and it prevented him from making any real progress on the mound since camps across Major League Baseball were shut down in March.

As a result of the league-wide shutdown, Liu did not get to enjoy a conventional minor-league season in 2020. He instead headed back to Taiwan and rode out the lockdown at home before receiving an invite to participate in the Red Sox’ fall instructional league.

At fall instructs, Liu finally got the opportunity to pitch in front of Red Sox brass for an extended period of time. Then-vice president of player of development Ben Crockett was among those who was impressed with what they saw out of the right-hander.

“Great to actually see him,” Crockett told The Athletic’s Chad Jennings. “[He was] really interesting. Showed good stuff. Good fastball with carry. Showed pitch-ability. Showed an ability to use multiple pitches that will ultimately help him. It was definitely nice to kind of get him into more of a professional routine.”

After wrapping things up at the Fenway South complex that fall, Liu returned to Taiwan and spent the winter there. He made the trek back to Southwest Florida the following spring and remained there for both minor-league and extended spring training.

Last July, the moment finally arrived when Liu could make his highly-anticipated pro debut in the Florida Complex League. Matched up against the FCL Pirates Gold affiliate in Bradenton, the righty allowed two earned runs on three hits, no walks, and six strikeouts over five solid innings of work.

That happened on July 1. The following day, Liu received a promotion to Low-A Salem, where he would spend the remainder of the year. In 12 starts for Salem, the 22-year-old posted a 4.29 ERA and 4.11 FIP to go along with 54 strikeouts to 19 walks across 50 1/3 innings pitched.

Among those in the Low-A East who accrued at least 50 innings on the mound in 2021, Liu ranked 33rd in strikeouts per nine innings (9.66), 34th in walks per nine innings (3.40), 28th in strikeout rate (25.4%), 38th in walk rate (8.9%), 39th in batting average against (.255), 29th in WHIP (1.35), 29th in ERA, 18th in FIP, and 19th in xFIP (4.02), per FanGraphs.

At the conclusion of the minor-league season, Liu participated in the Sox’ fall performance program. He then went back to Taiwan for the off-season, but he did so with a particular goal in mind.

In an interview with The Central News Agency from December, Liu said the Red Sox wanted him to weigh in at 90 kilograms, or about 198 pounds, by the time he returned to the club in the spring. His listed weight at the beginning of last season was 185 pounds but he told The Central News Agency that he was now weighing in at 89 kilograms (196 pounds), meaning he is close to reaching his goal.

Coming into the 2022 season, Liu is currently regarded by MLB Pipeline as the No. 25 prospect in Boston’s farm system, ranking 11th among pitchers in the organization. The 6-foot, 196 pound hurler operates with a three-pitch mix that consists of a 91-94 mph fastball that tops out at 95 mph, an 82-84 mph changeup, and an 83-86 mph slider, per his SoxProspects.com scouting report.

A native of Tainan City, Liu is a former two-way player who signed with the Red Sox for $750,000 out of Chinese Culture University in 2019. He will turn 23 in April and is projected by SoxProspects.com to begin the 2022 campaign in High-A Greenville’s starting rotation.

(Picture of Chih-Jung Liu: Gary Streiffer/Flickr)

Red Sox sign Venezuelan catching prospect Johanfran Garcia

Saturday marked the opening of the 2021-2022 international signing window across Major League Baseball. The Red Sox have been as active as any team and have signed six players thus far, according to Baseball America signing agreement tracker.

Of those six players, catching prospect Johanfran Garcia may stand out above the rest.

Garcia, who turned 17 last month, will sign with Boston for approximately $650,000, per MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez. The native of Venezuela is the younger brother of Red Sox outfield prospect Jhostynxon Garcia, who originally signed with the club in July 2019.

Listed at 6-foot and 205 pounds, Garcia came into 2022 regarded by MLB Pipeline as the No. 34 overall prospect in this year’s class, ranking fifth among catchers in the publication’s top-50 list.

On the 20-80 scouting scale, MLB Pipeline grades the right-handed hitting backstop’s hit tool at 50, his power tool at 55, his run tool at 45, and his arm tool at 50.

“Garcia is built like Yadier Molina,” his MLB Pipeline scouting report reads. “He’s husky, strong and extremely durable. And while he could eventually develop into an all-around defender like Yadier, Garcia is better known for his bat over his defense at this stage of his career.

“The teen simply has a great feel for hitting and performs well at the plate in games and showcases,” it continues. “He has displayed the ability to spray the ball all over the field with authority and has what has been described as ‘sneaky’ pull power to his pull side.

“He’s no slouch on defense. He has average hands and projects to have an average arm. He moves well behind the plate and continues to work on his blocking and receiving skills.” 

In addition to Garcia, the Red Sox have also inked shortstops Fraymi De Leon, Freili Encarnacion, Jancel Santana, Yosander Asencio (Dominican Republic), and Marvin Alcantara (Venezuela), outfielder Natanael Yuten (Dominican Republic), left-hander Inmer Lobo (Venezuela) and right-handers Willian Colmenares and Denison Sanchez (Venezuela).

Boston has $5,179,700 to work with in terms of their international amateur bonus pool. Any player they sign for $10,000 or less does not count against the cap as this year’s signing window runs through December 15.

(Picture of JetBlue Park: Mark Brown/Getty Images)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Picture: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Red Sox reach agreement with Japanese reliever Hirokazu Sawamura on two-year deal, per report

The Red Sox have reportedly reached agreement on a two-year, major-league contract with Japanese reliever Hirokazu Sawamura, according to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier.

Per Speier, who cites Japanese sports newspaper Sankei Sports, Sawamura’s deal is worth $2.4 million and could include more in additional incentives.

The veteran right-hander, who turns 33 in April, had pitched in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball Organization since 2011, most recently splitting time between the Yomiuri Giants and Chiba Lotte Marines in 2020.

To start out the campaign, Sawamura struggled with Yomiuri and put up an unsightly 6.08 ERA through his first 13 appearances and 13 1/3 innings of work on the year.

A midseason trade to Chiba Lotte turned things around for the 6-foot, 212 lb. righty, though, as he yielded just four earned runs on 10 hits, 10 walks, and 29 strikeouts over his final 22 relief outings and 21 innings pitched of 2020. That’s good for an ERA of 1.71 and WHIP of 0.95.

Sawamura has not started a game since 2015, so it seems likely that the Red Sox view him as a reliever moving forward.

Going off of that, Speier wrote: “Multiple evaluators saw Sawamura as at least a seventh-inning reliever, a pitcher who alternately dominates the strike zone with elite stuff and then loses the strike zone completely. Still, based on his peaks in the NPB, there’s a chance for an even more prominent late-innings role.”

Born in Tochigi, Japan, Sawamura’s pitch mix consists of a “high-octane fastball” that sits anywhere from 94-99 mph, “a hard swing-and-miss splitter” that sits in the low-90s, and a “below-average slider,” as noted by Speier.

Because he was an unrestricted free agent, Sawamura was not subject to the posting system between NPB and Major League Baseball. This means that the Red Sox do not have to pay Chiba Lotte a posting fee in order to acquire Sawamura’s services, which is something MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo pointed out on Sunday.

By reportedly signing Sawamura to a major-league contract, the Red Sox will have to clear a spot on their 40-man roster for the Japanese hurler. There will surely be more to come on that front.

(Picture of Hirokazu Sawamura: Sports Nippon/Getty Images)

Red Sox making progress on deal with Japanese reliever Hirokazu Sawamura, per report

The Red Sox are making progress towards a major-league deal with Japanese right-hander Hirokazu Sawamura, according to MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.

Per Cotillo, “it’s unclear if the sides have agreed to terms yet, but things certainly seem to be trending in that direction.”

Sawamura, who turns 33 in April, has since 2011 spent the entirety of his professional career in the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization , most recently splitting the 2020 season between the Yomiuri Giants and Chiba Lotte Marines.

Over 35 total relief appearances with the two clubs, Sawamura initially struggled to the tune of a 6.08 ERA with Yomiuri, but turned things around for the better after gettind dealt to Chiba Lotte midseason.

In 22 outings out of the Marines bullpen, the 6-foot, 212 lb. righty posted a 1.71 ERA, a 0.95 WHIP, and a 29:10 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 21 innings of work. He also recorded one save and 13 holds.

As noted by Cotillo, Sawamura has not started a game in Japan since 2015, so he would likely be slated for a spot in the Red Sox’ bullpen if he were to sign with the club, which seems just about imminent at this point.

Going off another point Cotillo made, Sawamura is currently an unrestricted free agent, so he is not subject to the posting system between the NPB and Major League Baseball.

Put another way, Boston — or any other team — does not have to pay Chiba Lotte in order to acquire Sawamura’s services this offseason.

A native of Tochigi, Japan, Sawamura’s pitch arsenal consists of a high-velocity fastball, a low-90s splitter, and a slider, per MLB Trade Rumors’ Anthony Franco.

The fact that the Sox are in on someone like Sawamura does not come as much of a surprise given the club’s interest in other international free agents (Ha-Seong Kim, Kohei Arihara, Tomoyuki Sugano) this winter.

Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom addressed the international market for free-agent pitchers when speaking with WEEI’s Rob Bradford and Jon Meterparel back in late December.

“I think it’s more difficult in a sense than it is with a pitcher who has pitched a lot domestically, where you just have more information,” Bloom said when asked about evaluating talent overseas. “But, that doesn’t necessarily mean a pitcher from that market is an unwise investment. I think… there’s a lot more unknowns when you’re bringing someone over to compete in a different league, on a different schedule than they’re used to competing. But, baseball’s baseball. We have a number of examples, including in this organization, of guys coming from that market and having success. I think we have, as an industry, a decent ability to predict how they’ll do. So, that’s a market I think we need to involve ourselves in just like any other.”

(Picture of Hirokazu Sawamura: Sports Nippon/Getty Images)

Former Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo heads to Japan, signs with NPB’s Rakuten Golden Eagles

UPDATE: Per MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, Castillo will earn a base salary of $600,ooo with Rakuten with the chance to earn up to $1 million in incentives.

If there was any chance that former Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo would return to the major-, or minor-, leagues in 2021, those hopes officially went out the window on Saturday.

That being the case because the 33-year-old Castillo inked a contract with the Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization, per a team statement.

Castillo originally signed a seven-year, $72.5 million contract with Boston back in 2014. That contract ran out in November, making the Cuban-born outfielder a free agent.

Upon signing with the Sox in August 2014, Castillo got the chance to make an impact almost immediately, as he made his major-league debut on September 17.

In a brief, but impressive, first exposure to big-league pitching, the right-handed hitter posted a solid .333/.400/.528 slash line to go along with two home runs and six RBI over 10 games and 40 plate appearances through the end of the 2014 season.

That led many to believe that the Red Sox may have indeed found something in Castillo, but that turned out to not be the case for reasons that were very well out of his control.

After appearing in 80 games in 2015, Castillo received very little playing time the following year.

In the wake of an 0-for-3 showing against the Orioles on June 16, Castillo was placed on waivers, where he went unclaimed before getting outrighted from Boston’s 40-man roster on June 20.

From there, Castillo was essentially left in purgatory with Triple-A Pawtucket.

He put up decent numbers in an everyday role with the PawSox (career .761 OPS with 42 homers over 1,973 plate appearances), received invites to major-league spring training year in and year out, and ‘received consistently strong marks for his work ethic and commitment to prove that he didn’t belong’ in Triple-A, yet could never get the call back up due to his contract.

Put another way, as long as the Red Sox kept Castillo off their 40-man roster, his hefty contract would not be counted towards the team’s luxury tax bill.

So, that left Castillo in a spot where all he could really do was ride out his deal in Pawtucket. And he did so while keeping his apartment in Boston, too.

Upon becoming a free agent over the fall, Castillo signed on with Aguilas de Mexicali of the Mexican Pacific Winter League. He is currently slashing .250/.333/.288 with three doubles, six RBI, and three stolen bases over 22 games, per Baseball Reference.

With Rakuten, Castillo will wear the No. 12. In a statement released by the Golden Eagles, the veteran outfielder says, “I am very grateful for the opportunity to be a member of the Rakuten Eagles and am very much looking forward to playing in Japan. I hear that NPB is a great league, and above all, I love the disciplined culture of Japan.”

As noted by MLB Trade Rumors‘ Mark Polishuk, if Castillo finds success in Japan, it should be interesting to see if he has any major-league opportunities awaiting him next winter.

(Picture of Rusney Castillo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)