Who is Jake MacKenzie? Red Sox infield prospect may be one of fastest players in organization

Jordan DiValerio was not the only undrafted free agent the Red Sox signed out of an Atlantic 10 school following the pandemic-shortened 2020 draft.

In addition to the St. Joseph’s University right-hander, Boston also signed Fordham University infielder Jake MacKenzie for $20,000 in June 2020.

A junior at the time of signing, MacKenzie had earned quite the reputation as a speed merchant at Fordham by stealing a total of 77 bases in his first two seasons with the Rams.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic cut the 2020 college baseball season short, MacKenzie had gotten his junior campaign off to a solid start by posting a .958 OPS and swiping seven bags in his first 16 games of the year.

After becoming one of 16 undrafted free agents to sign with Boston that summer, MacKenzie did not receive the benefit of acclimating himself to the minor-league lifestyle from the get-go. He instead had to wait until last spring to make his professional debut after breaking camp with Low-A Salem.

In 29 games for Salem, the right-handed hitter batted .228/.347/.329 (94 wRC+) with two doubles, two home runs, four RBIs, 12 runs scored, one stolen base, 12 walks, and 18 strikeouts over 95 plate appearances.

On paper, that sort of slash line obviously does not stick out. Still, the Red Sox promoted MacKenzie to High-A Greenville on July 23 and some of his numbers actually improved upon facing a stiffer level of competition.

While his walk rate (12.6% to 9.6%) dipped and his strikeout rate (18.9% to 21.7%) rose, MacKenzie slashed a stout .265/.375/.353 (107 wRC+) to go along with four doubles, one triple, three RBIs, 14 runs scored, three stolen bases, eight walks, and 18 strikeouts across 25 games (83 plate appearances) for the Drive.

Although he only stole three bases in four attempts with Greenville, MacKenzie was unsurprisingly one of the fastest baserunners in the High-A East last year. Among the 222 hitters who made at least 80 trips to the plate in 2021, the 22-year-old ranked 11th in Speed score, per FanGraphs.

Defensively, MacKenzie saw playing time at four different positions between Salem and Greenville. The 5-foot-10, 195 pounder logged a total of 280 2/3 innings at second base, 81 1/3 innings at third base, 40 innings at shortstop, and nine innings in right field.

Given his versatility and quickness on the basepaths, MacKenzie profiles as an intriguing infield depth option for the Sox. The Wallingford, Conn. native has “strong baserunning instincts” per his SoxProspects.com scouting report and is still relatively young as he does not turn 23 until May.

MacKenzie’s ties to New England run deeper than where he was born and raised. During his time at Fordham, the Choate Rosemary Hall product also spent two summers (2018 and 2019) playing for the Bourne Braves of the Cape Cod Baseball League.

Taking his age and level of experience into account, MacKenzie is projected by SoxProspects.com to begin the 2022 season where he left off in 2021: Greenville. He may not be one of the top prospects in Boston’s farm system as of now, but perhaps the speedster can work his way up to Double-A Portland before the year is over.

(Picture of Jake MacKenzie via the Greenville Drive’s Twitter)

Who is Jordan DiValerio? Red Sox pitching prospect walked just 5.1% of the batters he faced with Low-A Salem in 2021

Jordan DiValerio was one of 16 undrafted free agents the Red Sox signed in the wake of the pandemic-shortened 2020 amateur draft.

Two days before officially signing with the club, DiValerio received a phone call and recruiting pitch from Boston ace Chris Sale, which made the decision to put pen to paper that much easier.

“It was definitely really surprising,” DiValerio told MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo at the time when describing his conversation with Sale. “It means so much to just be wanted by such a great organization.”

A right-handed senior coming out of St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, DiValerio signed with the Sox for $20,000. Due to the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the Nescopeck, Pa. native was unable to make his professional debut in 2020 since the minor-league season had already been cancelled.

Instead, DiValerio got his first taste of pro ball during fall instructs in Fort Myers. He took what he learned there into minor-league camp the following spring and opened the 2021 season with Low-A Salem.

In 31 appearances (one start) for Salem, the righty posted a 5.72 ERA and 4.21 FIP to go along with 72 strikeouts to just 16 walks over 72 1/3 innings of work. The length of his outings ranged from 2/3 of an inning to four full frames.

On the surface, a 5.72 ERA is not exactly an eye-popping statistic. But, in DiValerio’s case, his ERA does not tell the full story when you consider the fact that he also put up a 4.21 FIP and much more respectable 3.95 xFIP.

Among the 35 pitchers who accrued at least 70 innings in the Low-A East last year, DiValerio ranked ninth in FIP, seventh in xFIP, fourth in walks per nine innings (1.99), fourth in walk rate (5.1%), and seventh in swinging strike percentage (14.6%), per FanGraphs. The 24-year-old hurler also yielded a .347 batting average on balls put in play, which suggests he might have been the victim of some bad luck behind him.

Listed at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, DiValerio throws from a high three-quarters arm slot and operates with a five-pitch mix that consists of an 89-92 mph that tops out at 94 mph, a 77-79 mph curveball, an 80-83 mph changeup and splitter, and an 82-84 mph slider, according to his SoxProspects.com scouting report.

Like fellow right-hander Devon Roedahl, DiValerio — who does not turn 25 until October — may not be regarded by any major publication as one of the top pitching prospects in Boston’s farm system. That being said, he is projected by SoxProspects.com to kick off the 2022 season in the bullpen for High-A Greenville.

As is the case with Roedahl, perhaps DiValerio can earn himself a promotion to Double-A Portland before the end of the year.

(Picture of Jordan DiValerio via his Instagram)

Red Sox Placing Plenty of Emphasis on Undrafted Free Agent Market

The window for teams to sign undrafted free agents opened up a week ago Sunday. Since that time, the Red Sox have signed 13 undrafted free agents for no more than $20,000, according to Baseball America. That’s the most of any club thus far.

Not only that, but Boston, led by chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and amateur scouting director Paul Toboni, are making sure they get the guys they want.

That being the case because two of the 13 UDFAs the Sox have signed so far have been recruited by a pair of All-Stars.

St. Joseph’s University (Philadelphia) right-hander Jordan DiValerio, a senior, already had the Red Sox at the top of his list after he realized he was not going to get drafted. A call from Chirs Sale last Sunday morning all but solidified which club the Nescopeck product was going to sign with.

“I was definitely nervous,” DiValerio said of his conversation with the Red Sox ace. “But he’s just a normal dude. When it boils down to it, he’s really normal, easy to talk to. We talked about Pennsylvania a little bit. He said he’s excited to have me as part of the club.”

On that same Sunday, Boston reached out to another undrafted college player in the form of Grand Canyon University’s Cuba Bess.

A first baseman by trade, the redshirt junior out of Fruita, Colo. received a call from Red Sox area scout Vaughn Williams that was accompanied by a recruitment video pitch from Xander Bogaerts.

One day later, Bess made the decision to forego his senior season and sign with the Sox.

“I took about a day to discuss it with family and coaches and even some of my teammates and former teammates,” Bess told WEEI’s Rob Bradford. “It was a tough decision, especially having eligibility back. It took about a day to say, ‘Yeah, I’m going to sign with you guys.'”

Along with DiValerio and Bess, the Red Sox have reportedly signed Jacinto Arredondo, Graham Hoffman, Jake MacKenzie, Juan Montero, Cole Milam, Henry Nunez-Rijo, Jose Garcia, Merfy Andrew, Brian Van Belle, Maceo Campbell, and Robert Kwiatkowski to undrafted free agent contracts.