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)

Red Sox catching prospect Enderso Lira ‘showed promise both offensively and defensively’ in Dominican Summer League last year

Of the 30 free agents the Red Sox have signed during the 2020-2021 international signing period, only one is listed as a catcher.

That catching prospect would be none other than Enderso Lira, who signed with Boston for approximately $850,000 last winter, making him the second-highest paid member of the club’s international signing class behind only Miguel Bleis.

At the time of his signing, Lira — then 17 — was heralded by Baseball America as one of the top young catchers to come out of Venezuela. With the help of signing scout Angel Escobar, he officially inked his first professional contract on January 15 and subsequently made his way to the Sox’ Dominican academy in El Toro.

A little less than six months after signing, Lira made his pro debut in the Dominican Summer League on July 13 — batting third and starting behind the plate for the DSL Red Sox Red affiliate in their contest against the DSL Royals Blue.

From that point forward, the right-handed hitting backstop proceeded to slash .246/.414/.336 with seven doubles, three triples, 15 RBIs, 16 runs scored, one stolen base, 32 walks, and 18 strikeouts over 41 games spanning 162 plate appearances.

Among hitters in the Dominican Summer League who made at least 160 trips to the plate last year, Lira ranked 10th in walk percentage (19.8%), 17th in strikeout percentage (11.1%), 26th in on-base percentage, and 57th in wRC+ (125), per FanGraphs.

Defensively, 32 of Lira’s 41 appearances last season came at catcher. In the process of logging 246 2/3 innings behind the plate, the San Felipe native was credited with 225 putouts, 34 assists, eight errors committed, three double plays turned, and four passed balls allowed. He also threw out 27 of the 70 (39%) of the base runners who attempted to steal against him.

Listed at 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, Lira — like most prospects his age — still has plenty of room to grow both on and off the field. The 18-year-old is currently regarded by SoxProspects.com as the No. 32 prospect in Boston’s farm system, which ranks fourth among catchers in the organization.

Back in September, SoxProspects.com’s director of scouting Ian Cundall identified Lira as “the most intriguing position player prospect in the DSL” besides the aforementioned Bleis.

“Lira has a great frame for a catcher, with projection remaining, and is athletic enough that one scout suggested to me he could even handle third base if he outgrows catcher,” Cundall wrote. “He has looked good behind the plate though and has an above-average arm already.

“Offensively, he has a very advanced approach for his age,” added Cundall. “His swing is short and direct, and he has quick hands. Right now, he mostly hits hard line drives, but he should grow into some power in the future, especially given his frame.”

As alluded to by Cundall, the Red Sox have had a tough time as of late when it comes to developing catchers. The additions of Lira and 2021 fifth-round draft pick Nathan Hickey could change the club’s fortunes in that area, though.

On that note, Lira — who does not turn 19 until October — is projected by SoxProspects.com to begin the 2022 season as the Sox’ top backstop in the Florida Complex League.

(Picture of Enderso Lira via his Instagram)

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 have an ‘extremely exciting’ prospect in Dominican outfielder Miguel Bleis, Eddie Romero says

Last month, the Red Sox made some headlines by giving Dominican outfield prospect Miguel Bleis a signing bonus of $1.8 million, making him the highest-paid player in their 2021 international signing class thus far.

Bleis, who turns 17 in early March, was regarded by Baseball America as the 20th-ranked international prospect headed into the international signing period, which began on January 15.

Per his Baseball America scouting report, the right-handed hitting, right-handed throwing center fielder “is one of the top athletes in the 2020-21 international class.

“He has a sleek, athletic frame with high physical upside. He glides around center field with an easy gait and long strides, with average speed that might tick up as he gets stronger along with a strong arm. He has a quick bat with gap power and a chance to turn more of his doubles into home runs once he gets stronger.”

Currently listed at 6-foot-2 and and 170 lbs., Bleis had been training in the Mejia Top 10 Program in his home country, but he is currently at the Red Sox’ Dominican Academy in El Toro, a town just outside of Santo Domingo.

On Monday’s installment of the SoxProspects.com podcast with Chris Hatfield and Ian Cundall, Red Sox executive vice president and assistant general manager Eddie Romero spoke at length about what Bleis brings to the table.

“He’s a premium center field talent,” Romero said of one of Boston’s newest prospects. “He’s got all five tools. He runs well. He’s got an absolute hose of an arm at an early age with really good mechanics and accuracy. So we think that he can stay in the middle of the field.

“He’s got surprising power,” Romero added. “Being so young and being able to have above-average raw power is something we don’t see often for a center field player given his body type and athleticism. So, really, what we need to hone in on with him is approach. He performed well offensively in competition for us, and he’s continued to do that in the academy.”

Bleis hails from San Pedro de Marocis, a city on the Dominican’s southeastern coast that has produced the likes of Sammy Sosa, Robinson Cano, Alfonso Soriano, Fernando Tatis, and Fernando Tatis Jr., among others.

“He’s a high-character kid that is all about baseball and he’s from San Pedro,” said Romero in regards to Bleis’ roots. “They put something in the water there to create baseball players. So we hope that he can continue the lineage of talent coming out of that area. He’s extremely exciting.”

Since he is still just 16 years old, Bleis is still obviously a long ways away from cracking a major-league roster as there is plenty of room for him to develop in a variety of areas over the next several years.

The young outfielder will likely begin the 2021 minor-league season with one of the Red Sox’ rookie-level, Dominican Summer League teams. That is, if there is a DSL season this year in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re actively discussing that with MLB right now,” Romero said when asked if there would be a DSL season in 2021. “Everybody hopes that there is. It’s just pandemic-affected. We’re still working on the best way to organize that: What the structure would be, how the testing would go. And so we really want to have another platform for these guys to develop after so many of them missed the entire season last year.”

One last note on Bleis for those who enjoy prospect lists: FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen has him ranked as Boston’s No. 32 prospect going into the 2021 campaign.

Using the 20-80 scouting scale, Longenhagen grades Bleis’ current tools as follows: 20 Speed, 45 Raw Power, 20 Game Power, 50 Run, 40 Fielding, 55 Throw.

“Bleis is a righty corner outfield power projection prospect with a whippy, low-ball swing and room for about 30 pounds on his frame,” Longenhagen wrote of the speedy outfielder.

(Picture of Eddie Romero: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)