Right-hander Aldo Ramirez ‘most underrated’ prospect in Red Sox farm system, according to MLB front offices

In his most recent work for The Athletic, former Reds and Nationals general manager Jim Bowden writes that he reached out to all 30 major-league front offices “to  uncover the most underrated and undervalued prospects” in baseball for 2021.

By doing this, Bowden identified 30 under-the-radar prospects across the minor-leagues.

Who from the Red Sox’ minor-league pipeline made this exclusive list? None other than rising right-hander Aldo Ramirez.

“Ramirez performed well in the New York/Penn League in 2019 as an 18-year-old, as shown by his 63 strikeouts and 16 walks in 61.2 innings,” writes Bowden. “However, he was noticeably stronger this year in instructional league, with his fastball up to 96 mph with riding life. He’s a physical, athletic pitcher with a repeatable delivery and a three-pitch mix that includes a fastball, curveball and changeup. He profiles as a future mid-rotation-type starter.”

Regarded by SoxProspects.com as Boston’s No. 10 prospect (No. 5 among pitchers), Ramirez was one of the stars of the club’s fall instructional league in Fort Myers.

The 19-year-old hurler, originally signed out of the Mexican League for $550,000 in 2018, “was the consensus top pitcher at Red Sox Fall Instructs,” according to SoxProspects‘ director of scouting Ian Cundall.

“Ramirez sat 92-95 mph [with his fastball], with a potential plus changeup at 85-89 mph and average curveball at 77-81 mph,” Cundall wrote of the young righty last month. “His changeup is a potential weapon and could develop into a plus-to-better pitch given he already shows advanced feel for it and has a lot of confidence in it.”

Bowden gave the following scouting grades (20-80 scale) for each of Ramirez’s three pitches as well as his control and command:

Fastball: 60
Curveball: 55
Changeup: 50
Control: 50
Command: 45

After missing out on a minor-league season to further continue his development in 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Ramirez — who is listed at 6-foot, 180 lbs. — is projected to begin the 2021 campaign with Low-A Salem as a member of their starting rotation.

A starting role is one the fiery right-hander could maintain for the foreseeable future, too.

“[Ramirez] has a very good chance to remain a starter and has already shown solid strike-throwing ability,” Cundall added. “[He] was on the younger side of the arms in camp but is remarkably polished for his age and gives the Red Sox someone to dream on as a back-end starter with a chance for more given his youth and constantly improving stuff.” 

(Photo of Aldo Ramirez: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Red Sox’ Chaim Bloom on pursuing international free agents posted from Japan, South Korea: ‘That’s a market we need to involve ourselves in just like any other’

While exploring options to improve their roster this offseason, the Red Sox have looked towards the international market for potential additions.

So far, the Sox have been in on the likes of Japanese right-hander Kohei Arihara and Korean infielder Ha-Seong Kim, both of whom recently signed with other clubs in the Rangers and Padres.

That being said, Boston, by all accounts, is still in pursuit of another free-agent hurler out of Japan in Tomoyuki Sugano, a two-time winner of the Sawamura Award (Japan’s equivalent to the Cy Young Award) who was posted by the NPB’s Yomiuri Giants earlier this month.

Appearing on WEEI earlier Wednesday afternoon, Red Sox chief baseball officer addressed his club’s interest in the 31-year-old righty.

“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 an international talent such as Sugano. “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.”

Going back to Arihara and Kim, Bloom emphasized that while recruiting the pair of international sensations was important, there were other factors out of the team’s control to consider as well.

“I think with some of these other guys, [recruiting] is still part of what you do,” he said. “You want to put your best foot forward. You want to engage with the player to the extent that you can through the process and get to know them. I think there’s a little less of that now, obviously because it can’t happen in person, but it’s still something you do with those guys.

“But, I think to different degrees with different players, the money is obviously going to be a huge factor,” Bloom added. “And I don’t blame the players for that. Obviously, they want to make sure they’re comfortable with there they go — and that is a factor in some cases — but you also never know how many chances you’re going to have to set yourself up financially. And they’re right to care about that as well.”

Neither Arihara, who at 28 signed a two-year, $6.2 million deal with Texas, nor Kim, who at 25 reportedly signed a four-year, $25 million deal with San Diego, received too large of a payday. As previously alluded to, that would make it seem as though both players had other priorities in mind when deciding which major-league club to sign with.

“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,” stated the Sox’ CBO. “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.

“I think historically, there’s a certain type of player that draws to Boston, and there’s certain types of players that would rather play elsewhere,” Bloom said. “This place is not for everybody, and you want to make sure that the players we’re bringing here in those circumstances are guys that are going to thrive playing here and really want to be here.”

So, if Sugano is indeed someone who Bloom and Co. believe fits the above criteria and really wants to play in Boston, the Red Sox have until 5 p.m. eastern time on January 7 to sign him.

ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel predicted earlier this month that a two-year, $24 million deal could be enough for a team to land the veteran right-hander’s services. We will have to wait and see on that, but January 7 is approaching rather quickly.

Red Sox one of several teams interested in signing Korean sensation Ha-Seong Kim, per report

The Red Sox are reportedly one of several teams that are interested in signing free-agent Korean infielder Ha-Seong Kim, according to ESPN’s Daniel Kim.

Per ESPN’s Kim, “Kim has several MLB offers in the five-plus year range.”

Kim, 25, has has yet to play at the major-league level, but has proven to be one of the more impressive players in the Korean Baseball Organization over the past seven seasons.

Going back to 2014, the South Korean-born, right-handed hitting, right-handed throwing infielder owns a career slash line of .294/.373/.493 to go along with 133 home runs, 575 RBI, and 134 stolen bases over 891 total games between the Nexen Heroes and Kiwoom Heroes.

He has also proven to be one of the better defensive shortstops in the KBO in recent years, picking up a pair of Gold Glove awards for his efforts at short in 2018 and 2019.

Kiwoom officially posted Kim on December 7, giving major-league clubs until the first of January to acquire his services.

Depending on how much Kim signs for, that club will owe Kiwoom 20% of the contract’s first $25 million in value, 17.5% of the next $25 million, and 15% of anything beyond the $50 million threshold, as noted by MLB Trade Rumors‘ Mark Polishuk.

MLBTR predicts that Kim will land a five-year deal worth somewhere around $40 million with whichever club he signs with. They also had him as their seventh-ranked free agent at the onset of the offseason.

All this being said, the Red Sox should be players for Kim, but only if they can convince him to move to second base, a position he has very little experience at, on a (just about) full-time basis.

The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier observed earlier this month that as a five-star phenom in Korea, Kim’s “age and performance would fit the Sox’ vision of upgrading their long-term talent base” — but only if he is open to playing second.

“In all likelihood, [Kim’s] the only open-market second base option this winter for whom the Sox would consider a deal of more than two years,” Speier wrote.

This may be the case because the Red Sox are coming off a season in which their second basemen struggled mightily, as has seemingly been the case the past few years.

Among American League teams in 2020, Red Sox second basemen ranked 14th in on-base (.273) and slugging percentage (.313), and 15th in OPS (.586) and wRC+ (55).

Those are truly dismal numbers from one position group, and they will likely need to improve if Boston intends on not being one of the worst team in baseball for a second consecutive year in 2021.

Identifying second base as a potential area of weakness headed into the spring, how do Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. go about addressing that area in order to improve their squad?

Well, besides the trade market, free agency is always an option, too. And Kim — at the ripe age of 25 years old, just entering his prime — might just be the best infielder not named D.J. LeMahieu available to sign at the moment.

“The international market is an intriguing one and a good one,” Sox manager Alex Cora said of international free agents such as Kim during his virtual winter meetings media availability last week. “Like the rest of the big-league organizations, everybody’s paying attention and doing their homework.

“They’re very talented, they’re guys that can impact the game sooner rather than later,” added Cora. “It will be interesting how it moves in the upcoming days or weeks. These guys, throughout their careers, they’ve been very solid, very consistent, and that’s something that intrigues not only the Red Sox, but the rest of the organizations at the big-league level.”

Fall instructs allowed Red Sox prospect Chih-Jung Liu to get ‘into more of a professional routine,’ Ben Crockett says

Chih-Jung Liu’s first exposure to professional baseball in the United States has been hindered by unprecedented circumstances.

The 21-year-old right-handed pitching prospect was originally signed by the Red Sox out of Taiwan for $750,000 last October, and the 2020 season was supposed to serve as his springboard into the organization

Instead, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic caused plans to change in a variety of ways, as Liu had to quarantine in his Fort Myers hotel room upon arriving from Taipei for spring training in late February.

While the pandemic continued to roll on in the United States as the calendars flipped to March, Major League Baseball was eventually forced to shut down all spring training camps on March 12.

With the majority of players returning to their homes as a result of that decision, Liu, too, decided to go back to Taiwan so he could work out in a familiar environment given all the uncertainties the U.S. was facing at that time.

Liu would remain in his home country until late September, when he made the trek back to Florida after receiving an invitation to participate in the Red Sox’ fall instructional league.

Once fall instructs began the following week, the Red Sox finally had the chance to see what exactly Liu brought to the table over an extended period of time.

Based off what vice president of player development Ben Crockett told The Athletic’s Chad Jennings, the club was quite impressed with what they saw from the right-hander.

“He was in spring training for such a short period of time,” Crockett said of Liu. “[It was] great to actually see him. [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.”

Regarded by MLB Pipeline as Boston’s No. 18 prospect, the 6-foot, 180 lb. hurler operates with a three-pitch mix that includes a 92-96 mph that can top out at 98 mph, an 86-88 mph slider, and a low-80s changeup “with some fade,” per his SoxProspects.com scouting report.

Because so little has been seen of him to this point, it’s difficult to project what Lui’s 2021 season will look like in terms of which minor-league level he starts at.

Wherever he does start out next spring, Liu does figure to work as a starting pitcher for the time being despite the fact he was a two-way player in high school and excelled as a switch-hitting infielder in college while taking a two-year break from pitching.

(Top photo of Liu: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

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.

Red Sox Prospects: The Ultimate Top 30 Rankings for 2020

You ever visit those fantasy sports sites like ESPN or FantasyPros and notice how they compile their rankings into one elaborate chart that curates information from multiple sources/analysts? Well, I decided to do that with the top 30 prospects in the Red Sox farm system.

There might not even be any minor-league baseball played this year due to the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, but I thought it would nonetheless be interesting to compare how different sites–MLB Pipeline, SoxProspects, and FanGraphs–view the top talent that Boston has to offer at the minor-league level.

The following Red Sox prospects were ranked by one of the aforementioned three sites, but not the other two: SS Ceddanne Rafaela, 1B Pedro Castellanos, OF Bryan Gonzalez, OF Eduardo Lopez, OF Juan Chacon, and C Naysbel Marcano.

Prospects Danny Diaz and Tyler Esplin, meanwhile, were ranked by two of the aforementioned sites and left off by the other. They made the list.

Prospect MLB Pipeline SoxProspects FanGraphs Average
IF Jeter Downs 1 2 1 1.33
1B/3B Triston Casas 2 1 2 1.67
RHP Bryan Mata 4 3 3 3.33
1B/3B Bobby Dalbec 3 6 4 4.33
OF Gilberto Jimenez 5 5 6 5.33
RHP Noah Song 6 9 5 6.67
OF Jarren Duran 8 7 10 8.33
LHP Jay Groome 7 4 15 8.67
RHP Tanner Houck 10 8 9 9
RHP Thad Ward 9 11 11 10.33
SS Matthew Lugo 11 15 7 11
OF Nick Decker 12 17 14 14.33
IF Cameron Cannon 17 18 8 14.33
IF C.J. Chatham 13 10 21 14.67
C/IF Connor Wong 16 12 16 14.67
RHP Brayan Bello 18 19 12 16.33
IF Brainer Bonaci 14 20 18 17.33
RHP Chih-Jung Liu 15 27 13 18.33
SS Antoni Flores 19 21 17 19
LHP Chris Murphy 20 16 23 19.67
RHP Ryan Zeferjahn 22 13 29 21.33
3B Brandon Howlett 23 25 20 22.67
OF Marcus Wilson 21 23 25 23
RHP Aldo Ramirez 27 14 31 24
IF Jonathan Arauz 30 28 22 26.67
RHP Durbin Feltman 25 29 28 27.33
IF Danny Diaz 24 32 NR 28
RHP Andrew Politi 26 37 27 30
LHP Yoan Aybar 29 31 34 31.33
OF Tyler Esplin 28 60 NR 44

So, to boil it all down, here’s a more simplified top-30 list based off the math you see in the chart above.

  1. IF Jeter Downs
  2. 1B/3B Triston Casas
  3. RHP Bryan Mata
  4. 1B/3B Bobby Dalbec
  5. OF Gilberto Jimenez
  6. RHP Noah Song
  7. OF Jarren Duran
  8. LHP Jay Groome
  9. RHP Tanner Houck
  10. RHP Thad Ward
  11. SS Matthew Lugo
  12. OF Nick Decker
  13. IF Cameron Cannon
  14. IF C.J. Chatham
  15. C/IF Connor Wong
  16. RHP Brayan Bello
  17. IF Brainer Bonaci
  18. RHP Chih-Jung Liu
  19. SS Antoni Flores
  20. LHP Chris Murphy
  21. RHP Ryan Zeferjahn
  22. 3B Brandon Howlett
  23. OF Marcus Wilson
  24. RHP Aldo Ramirez
  25. IF Jonathan Arauz
  26. RHP Durbin Feltman
  27. IF Danny Diaz
  28. RHP Andrew Politi
  29. LHP Yoan Aybar
  30. OF Tyler Esplin

In total, 26 of the above 30 players were either drafted or signed by the Red Sox, while three were traded for, and one was acquired in the Rule 5 Draft.

For more in-depth analysis, information, and scouting reports on these prospects and even more players, check out one of the sites I used for this piece in SoxProspects.com. Those guys do a great job in covering the Red Sox farm system. You can even read more abut them and how they got their start here.

Red Sox Prospect Chih-Jung Liu Being Quarantined Due to Coronavirus Concerns

Red Sox Taiwanese pitching prospect Chih-Jung Liu is being quarantined in a hotel room by the team, according to The Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham.

Per Abraham, Liu departed Taipei on a flight to San Francisco last week, where he, along with all international travelers, was screened for the virus.

Arriving in Fort Myers with the hopes of being ready for minor-league camp, the 20-year-old right-hander is instead “being quarantined in a hotel room by the Sox to guard against the coronavirus.”

The most recent reports from the Centers of Disease Control state that there have been 31 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Taiwan, and according to a team spokesman, the Red Sox are using “an over abundance of caution” with this international issue, as they also quarantined Taiwanese infielder Tzu-Wei Lin earlier in February.

“I had been here for a week and they said I needed to go back to my apartment,” Lin told Abraham. “I was fine. I stayed away for one day and that was it.”

While in quarantine, Liu is “being delivered three meals a day, doing some weight training, and going for an occasional run,” per his Facebook page.

The Red Sox signed Liu as a two-way international prospect out of Taiwan for $750,000 back in October, but according to vice president of player development Ben Crockett, the plan is to have Liu develop as a pitcher.

“We’re just really excited to get our hands on him,” Crockett said of Liu to The Athletic’s Chad Jennings. “This guy has good stuff, and we know he’s athletic, and we’ve heard really good things about him as a person, too.”

According to MLB Pipleine, Liu is ranked as the Sox’ No. 17 prospect. If he is healthy, which he says he is, he is expected to report to Fenway South on Saturday.

 

Red Sox Agree to Deal With Two-Way Taiwanese Prospect Chih-Jung Liu

The Red Sox have reportedly signed 20-year-old two-way player Chih-Jung Liu as an international free agent out of the Chinese Professional Baseball League, per CPBLStats.com.

The signing was made on Wednesday, with Liu receiving a signing bonus of $750,000, according to The Boston’s Globe Pete Abraham.

A native of Taiwan, Liu played college ball at Culture University in Taipei City, where he excelled as a hitter after taking a few years off from pitching due to injuries suffered in high school.

Returning to the mound this fall, the right-hander continued to impress, at one point reaching 97 MPH with his four-seam fastball during an October 3rd start and 101 MPH in his latest start this past Sunday for Team Taiwan in the Asian Baseball Championship Gold Medal game against Japan.

As indicated by CPBL Stats, Liu is currently training with the Taiwanese National Team in preparation for the World Baseball Softball Confederation’s Premier12 tournament, which begins on November 2nd.

Red Sox infielder and Taiwan native Tzu-Wei Lin is also part of those preparations and the two already appear to have a solid relationship.

“I’m glad I have the opportunity to play professional baseball overseas,”Liu told reporters Wednesday. “There is also Lin Tzu-Wei in the organisation, he will look after me.”

Despite the fact that the Sox have yet to name a head of baseball operations to this point, the quartet of Brian O’Halloran, Eddie Romero, Raquel Ferreira, and Zack Scott appear to have things under control for the time being, at least in the international signing department.

Once this signing does become official, more details are sure to come, so make sure to stay tuned for that.