Longtime Red Sox farmhand Jantzen Witte signs minor-league deal with Mariners

Lost in the madness that saw Francisco Lindor get traded to the Mets and Tomoyuki Sugano return to Japan, former Red Sox farmhand Jantzen Witte signed a minor-league contract with the Seattle Mariners on Thursday night.

Witte, who turned 31 on Monday, was originally selected by Boston in the 24th round of the 2013 amateur draft out of Texas Christian University.

Before the 2020 minor-league season was lost due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the infielder had put together a solid 2019 campaign between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket.

Over 118 total games with both clubs, Witte posted a .271/.333/.390 slash line to go along with nine home runs and 51 RBI on the year while seeing time at first base, second base, third base, left field, and even an inning of mop-up duty on the mound.

Perhaps even more important than his play on the field, though, is the fact that the Dallas-area native had proven to be a vital veteran presence for some of the organization’s younger minor-leaguers. And he did so while seemingly being on the cusp of getting called up to the majors.

The Athletic’s Chad Jennings highlighted this trait of Witte’s in a fascinating story back in March, in the middle of the first version of spring training.

“He’s a freaking really good player,” Red Sox prospect Bobby Dalbec said of Witte, his spring training roommate, when speaking to Jennings. “And he’s a glue guy for a clubhouse. So, those guys are special … He’s a really good balance of care-free, but still getting his shit done when he needs to get his shit done. Never says a mean thing.”

In addition to Dalbec, Sox minor-leaguers such as Josh Ockimey, C.J. Chatham, and Chad De La Guerra, all of whom have shared the infield with Witte at one point in their professional careers, had positive things to say about their teammate as well.

Ockimey: “(Coaches) always talk about how to be a professional. But it’s different when you have a guy like him to show you how to be a professional.”

Chatham: “He’s the guy you go to when you’re not sure if something is right or wrong. There’s little things in baseball that can annoy people that (you don’t know) when you’re young. You just ask him, and he always has the right answer.”

De La Guerra: “I think he’s probably the biggest clubhouse guy, the most important one, for Pawtucket. He’s super popular. I think everybody sees him the same way. He’s just one of those guys. He’s probably even seen the same as the coaching staff. There’s no difference.”

Before becoming a minor-league free agent in November, Witte was one of the last members of the Red Sox’ 2013 draft class who was still with the organization, as noted by SoxProspects.com’s Chris Hatfield.

Witte originally signed with Boston for significantly less than $100,000 as a fifth-year senior out of TCU. He appeared in 661 games across six minor-league levels spanning seven seasons as a member of the Red Sox.

All the best to Witte as he embarks on this new chapter of his career with the Mariners. It would appear that he will have the opportunity to remain in the game even after his playing days come to an end.

(Photo of Jantzen Witte: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Red Sox invite nine minor-leaguers to major-league spring training

In case you missed it, the Red Sox added nine non-roster invitees to their spring training roster on Tuesday afternoon. Those nine players?

C Roldani Baldwin
C Jhonny Pereda
1B Josh Ockimey
OF Cesar Puello
LHP Stephen Gonsalves
RHP Kevin McCarthy
RHP Seth Blair
RHP Raynel Espinal
RHP Caleb Simpson

Besides McCarthy, all players listed here spent the 2020 season with the Red Sox organization in some capacity.

The likes of Pereda, Ockimey, Puello, Gonsalves, Blair, and Simpson spent time at the club’s alternate training site in Pawtucket, while the likes of Baldwin and Espinal did not.

Puello was the only one who saw major-league time with the Sox last year, as the 29-year-old appeared in five games for Boston in September and went 3-for-8 (.375) at the plate with one run scored while also recording a pair of outfield assists in limited action.

McCarthy, meanwhile, yielded three earned runs over five appearances and six innings of work for the Royals this past season, his fifth in the majors. The 28-year-old inked a minor-league pact with Boston last month after being outrighted from Kansas City’s 40-man roster in October.

Another pitcher listed here with big-league experience is Gonsalves, a former top prospect of the Twins organization. The former fourth-round draft pick appeared in seven contests (four starts) for Minnesota in 2018, posting a 6.57 ERA and 5.71 FIP over 24 2/3 innings pitched.

Still just 26 years old, Gonsalves was claimed off waivers by the Mets last fall before again being claimed off waivers by the Sox over the summer.

Some within the organization still believe the left-hander has plenty of upside, which was made evident by his impressive performance at the alternate site as well as the club re-signing him to a minor-league deal in November.

“Gonsalves is a guy that can make an impact next year if we bring him back,” Worcester Red Sox pitching coach Paul Abbott said in October. “His velo went from 89-90 mph — and he already had a highly rated fastball that had some carry — the velo jumped up to 94-96 mph. He got better as we went along and I know he was close to getting an opportunity because they brought him up there.”

With the additions of these nine players, the Red Sox currently have 49 players on their 2021 spring training roster as February draws closer. That number of players is likely to change between now and then, though, since chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. still have plenty of time for roster shuffling if they so choose.

Red Sox re-sign Josh Ockimey, 8 others to minor-league contracts

The Red Sox made their first (minor) splash of the offseason on Tuesday, as the club re-signed nine minor-league free agent to minor-league contracts for the 2021 season, according to MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo and SoxProspects’ Chris Hatfield.

Those nine minor-leaguers, as indicated in the above tweet from Hatfield, are right-handers Seth Blair, Raynel Espinal, and Caleb Simpson, left-hander Stephen Gonsalves, catchers Jhonny Pereda and Roldani Baldwin, first baseman Josh Ockimey, first baseman/outfielder Joey Meneses, and outfielder Johan Mieses.

Five of these nine players were at one point or another part of the Sox’ 60-man player pool this past season, and therefore spent some time at the alternate training site in Pawtucket.

Ockimey and Baldwin, meanwhile, are the only two listed here who have been with the Red Sox since before the 2019 Rule 5 Draft last December.

Speaking of Ockimey, the recently-turned 25-year-old slugger may just be the most notable name here, at least among Red Sox fans, despite having yet to make his major-league debut.

The former fifth-round draft selection out of Philadelphia has been with Boston since 2014. Most recently, he clubbed 25 home runs and collected 57 RBI over 122 games (468 plate appearances) for Triple-A Pawtucket in 2019.

Power has never been the problem for Ockimey, as he has crushed 14 or more homers in each of the last four seasons, excluding 2020, of course. Despite being such a threat at the plate, the left-handed hitting, right-handed throwing first baseman has yet to get a shot at the next level.

The Red Sox, led by chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, clearly like Ockimey enough to keep him around as depth at a fairly important position, but do they value him enough to eventually purchase his contract and see what he can do in the majors?

All signs point to no on that front thus far, but it should be somewhat interesting to watch Ockimey next spring considering the light tower power he is capable of providing at any given moment.

Top Prospects Jeter Downs, Jarren Duran Among Nine New Additions to Red Sox’ Summer Camp Player Pool

As expected, the Red Sox have added nine players to their Summer Camp player pool, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom announced Friday. Those nine players — R.J. Alvarez, Jeter Downs, Jarren Duran, Jay Groome, Tanner Houck, Bryan Mata, Josh Ockimey, Jhonny Perada, and Bobby Poyner — will report to the Sox’ alternate training site at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket.

On top of those additions, the Red Sox have also reassigned four players — Mike Kickham, Mike Shawaryn, Domingo Tapia, and Connor Wong — to that same alternating training site.

With all that being said, the Sox now have 56 players in their Summer Camp roster pool and will likely have 57 relatively soon seeing how the club is reportedly in agreement with right-hander Zack Godley on a minor-league contract.

More on that later. For now, let’s talk about the nine guys who were added to the Summer Camp player pool.

Jeter Downs, Bryan Mata, Jay Groome, Jarren Duran, and Tanner Houck represent five of those nine players, and all five are regarded by MLB Pipeline as top-10 prospects in the Red Sox’ farm system.

Downs, Boston’s top-ranked prospect, was one of three players acquired from the Dodgers in the Mookie Betts and David Price trade back in February. The soon-to-be 22-year-old out of Colombia is capable of playing both middle infield positions and has quite a bit of pop despite a 5-foot-11, 195 lb. frame, as he finished with the fourth-most homers (24) among all Dodgers minor-leaguers in 2019.

Mata, Boston’s top-ranked pitching prospect, originally joined the organization as an international free agent out of Venezuela in January 2016. He signed for just $25,000 back then, but the 21-year-old right-hander has worked his way to becoming somewhat of an oddity in the Sox’ farm sytem in that he could become a middle-of-the-rotation starter at the major-league level.

Unlike Downs and Mata, Jay Groome has yet to reach the Double-A plateau, and that’s mainly due to injuries. Boston’s top pick in the 2016 amateur draft, Groome underwent Tommy John surgery two Mays ago and has amassed just 20 starts and 66 innings pitched as a professional despite being with the organization for four years. Although the likelihood of Groome, who turns 22 next month, making it to the majors this year, is slim to none, it was obviously still important for the Sox to get the touted prospect time to develop under their watchful eye by whatever means possible. Groome is Boston’s No. 3 pitching prospect, by the way.

One thing Jarren Duran shares in common with Bryan Mata is that the two have been the Red Sox’ lone representative in MLB’s All-Star Futures Game the last two years, with the former making the cut in 2019 and the latter making the cut in 2018. Another thing the pair of prospects have in common is that they both somewhat came out of nowhere. As previously mentioned, Mata signed with Boston for a mere $25,000 four years ago. Duran, meanwhile, burst onto the scene as a seventh-round selection out of Long Beach state in ’18, finished his first full professional season with the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs, and was one of six Red Sox prospects invited to play in the Arizona Fall League. Despite not being on his parent club’s 40-man roster, Duran, the Red Sox’eight-ranked prospect, did get added to the Summer Camp player pool over fellow outfielder Marcus Wilson, who is on the 40-man. So, it would appear that the Red Sox have high hopes for the speedster moving forward, especially when considering how well he looked earlier this year in spring training.

Finally, we arrive at another 2019 Arizona Fall Leaguer in the form of Tanner Houck, the Sox’ 10th-ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline. Recently turning 24 years old last month, the 2017 first-round pick out of Mizzou has experience as both a starter and reliever. He undertook both roles in the minors last year, but likely projects as a rotation man moving forward.

As for the other four players added on Friday, Josh Ockimey and Jhonny Perada are without a doubt the most interesting of the bunch.

At one point in time, Ockimey was left off the Sox’ 40-man roster ahead of the 2018 Rule 5 draft and very well could have been snatched up by another club that December. He wasn’t though, and the 24-year-old first baseman in turn slugged 25 home runs over 122 games for the PawSox last year.

Perada, as you may remember, was acquired by Boston from the Cubs as the player to be named later in the Travis Lakins trade back in January. Like Connor Wong, he certainly adds to the level of catching depth the Sox have at the minor-league level.

After all was said and done, the Red Sox now have 56 players on their 60-man Summer Camp roster pool. 30 of those players will make the team’s Opening Day roster, while the other 26-30 will report to the alternate training site in Pawtucket as some already have.

Bobby Dalbec, Marcus Wilson, and Connor Wong All Homer as Red Sox Tie With Tigers

After putting an end to a three-game losing streak on Sunday, the Red Sox drew with the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland on Monday to fall to 4-5-2 in Grapefruit League action.

Making his second start of the spring for Boston was Ryan Weber, coming off two scoreless innings in his last time out against the Orioles last Tuesday.

Working the first three innings this time around, the right-hander impressed yet again, as he yielded just one unearned run on three hits and zero walks to go along with six strikeouts on the afternoon. In other words, he struck out half of the 12 hitters he faced.

That lone Tigers tally came right away with two outs in the first, when a fielding error committed by Jose Peraza off a C.J. Cron single to left allowed Jonathan Schoop to score all the way from first. Hence the run not being charged to Weber.

Other than that though, the 29-year-old settled down and retired seven of the final eight Detroit hitters he faced. At this point, it certainly looks like Weber deserves a shot in the starting rotation to at least begin the season. His next outing should come on Sunday against the Twins.

In relief of Weber, right-hander Matt Barnes made his first appearance of the spring, and he struck out one over a perfect bottom half of the fourth inning.

Colten Brewer followed suit by fanning a pair in a 1-2-3 fifth, but things from a pitching perspective got ugly from there. That being the case due to the fact that Denyi Reyes surrendered four runs on two separate two-run home runs in the sixth and seventh innings, and newcomer Phillips Valdez tossing a clean eighth before running into more trouble in the ninth.

There, in what was still an 11-5 game in favor Boston, Valdez allowed five of the first seven Tigers he faced in the inning to reach base, resulting in three Detroit runs coming in to score to make it an 11-8 game.

That led to a pitching change that saw Adam Lau take over for Valdez with inherited runners on first and second, and he served up a three-run shot to the first man he faced in Travis Demeritte, who was also responsible for the homer in the sixth, to tie this thing up at 11 runs apiece.

Lau did manage to record the final out of the ninth though, and 11-11 would go on to be Monday’s final score.

The guys who are likely to open the 2020 season with the Red Sox — Weber, Barnes, Brewer — were fine. The guys who are likely to start the season in either Double-A Portland or Triple-A Pawtucket — Reyes, Valdez, and to a lesser extent Lau — did not.

On the other side of things, a Red Sox starting lineup that featured Kevin Pillar, Jackie Bradley Jr., Michael Chavis, Kevin Plawecki, Jonathan Lucroy (DH), Peraza, Bobby Dalbec, Josh Ockimey, and Marcus Wilson was matched up against a fairly familar opponent in Tigers left-hander Daniel Norris to begin things on Monday.

Kicking off the scoring in the top half of the second, back-to-back one-out singles from Lucroy and Peraza, in addition to a two-out RBI single off the bat of Ockimey, pulled the Sox back even with the Tigers at 1-1.

That stalemate would be short-lived, however, as Marcus Wilson followed Ockimey’s run-scoring hit with a towering three-run blast to left center field off the third pitch he saw from Norris. 4-1.

An inning later, it was another prospect making some noise, this time with Bobby Dalbec crushing a three-run homer of his own with two outs off of Zack Godley to give his side a commanding 7-1 advantage. His first homer of the spring.

Detroit cut into that six-run deficit by plating two runs of their own in both the sixth and seventh innings, but that did not stop the Boston bats from responding in their half of the eighth.

A leadoff walk drawn by Tzu-Wei Lin off of Anthony Castro resulted in another run when Jantzen Witte ripped and RBI double down the left field line. 8-5.

Witte scored himself on a one-out Marco Hernandez RBI single, and even though Hernandez got himself out on the bases, outfield prospect Jarren Duran kept the inning going by drawing another base on balls to bring catching prospect Connor Wong to the plate.

After flying out to center in his first plate appearance of the afternoon the inning prior, Wong did not mess around in his second time to the plate, as the 23-year-old backstop deposited a two-run big fly deep to left center field to make it an 11-5 game. His second home run of the spring.

As already mentioned though, the Tigers’ offense could not be silenced, and they battled back to knot things up at 11 runs each before this one came to a close.

Some observations from this tie:

Kevin Plawecki on Monday: 1-for-2 with a walk and run scored.

Jonathan Lucroy on Monday: 1-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored.

Marcus Wilson, Bobby Dalbec, and Connor Wong on Monday: 3-for-7 with three home runs, four runs scored, and eight RBI.

Next up for the Red Sox, they’ll travel to Tampa Bay to take on the New York Yankees on Tuesday afternoon.

Left-hander Martin Perez will get the start for Boston, while veteran right-hander Masahiro Tanaka will do the same for New York.

Perez scattered one hit and one walk over two scoreless innings in his spring debut last Wednesday against the Pirates.

First pitch Tuesday is scheduled for 1:05 PM EST. This game will be televised on ESPN and YES Network.

Michael Chavis, Jarren Duran, and Josh Ockimey All Homer as Red Sox Top Pirates 6-3 in Rain-Shortened Contest

After blowing out the Orioles at Fort Myers on Tuesday, the Red Sox traveled to Bradenton for the first time this spring and improved to 3-2-1 in Grapefruit League action with a rain-shortened 6-3 victory over the Pirates on Wednesday.

Making his first start in a Red Sox uniform for Boston was Martin Perez, who signed a one-year, $6.5 million deal back in December to fill out the back half of the club’s rotation.

Working the first two innings Wednesday, the left-hander surrendered one unearned run on one hit and one walk to go along with three walks on the afternoon.

That one Pittsburgh tally came in the bottom half of the second, when after tossing a 1-2-3 first, Perez allowed three of the first four hitters he faced in the frame to reach base on a walk, single, and fielder’s choice combined with a throwing error committed by Marco Hernandez.

With the bases full of Pirates, J.T. Riddle came through with a sacrifice fly hit plenty deep enough to right field to drive in Josh Bell from third and make it a 2-1 contest.

Fortunately, Perez was able to avoid any further damage by fanning Andrew Susac to retire the side and end his outing on a more positive note.

From there, left-hander Josh Osich struck out three, walked another, and allowed one run on a Jose Osuna RBI double in the third while also recording the first two outs of the fourth.

Pitching prospect Durbin Feltman wrapped up the frame by getting Riddle to ground out to first, which would turn out to be the only action the 22-year-old would see.

Colten Brewer followed suit with two innings of one-run ball to eventually become the pitcher of record, while another prospect in Yoan Aybar wound up with his first save of the spring by punching out the side in the seventh, which turned out to be the final full inning due to rain.

On the other side of things, a Red Sox starting lineup that did not feature many regulars outside of Jose Peraza, Michael Chavis, and Kevin Plawecki was matched up against Pirates top prospect Mitch Keller to begin things on Wednesday.

After going down quietly in the first, the Boston bats picked it back up in the top half of the second, when a one-out double off the bat of Nick Longhi brought a red-hot Jarren Duran to the plate for the first time.

Duran, the Sox’ No. 5 prospect, did not waste any time in staying hot, as he took the the third pitch he saw from Keller and deposited a mammoth two-run shot over everything in left field for his first home run of the spring. 2-0.

Fast forward all the way to the fifth, after the Pirates had responded with two runs of their own, and it was another monster home run that gave the Red Sox the lead.

This time, it came with two outs and off the bat of Michael Chavis, who greeted Pirates reliever Robbie Erlin with his first big fly of the spring to make it a 3-2 contest.

In the sixth, Pittsburgh answered yet again to pull themselves back even at three runs a piece, but that did not stop the Sox from putting this one away an inning later.

Yes, thanks to back-to-back walks drawn by Jeter Downs and John Andreoli off of Sam Howard to lead off the frame, Jett Bandy was able to drive in the go-ahead run, Downs, from third on a sacrifice fly to deep center.

Just a few moments later, the slugging Josh Ockimey put the finishing touches on his side’s win by clobbering his second homer of the spring, a line-drive two-run shot pulled down the right field line.

That homer gave the Red Sox a 6-3 advantage, which would go on to be Wednesday’s final score after 7 1/2 completed innings due to inclement weather in Bradenton.

Some observations from this win:

After beginning spring training 0-for-his-first-5 with four strikeouts, Michael Chavis went 2-for-2 with a home run and a walk on Wednesday while playing second base.

Kevin Plawecki went 1-for-2 with a walk. Since Jonathan Lucroy has yet to appear in a game, I would say Plawecki has the upper hand in the competition for the backup catcher spot for the time being.

Through three games and eight plate appearances this spring, Jarren Duran owns an OPS of 1.880. Like I have been saying, the most exciting prospect to watch on this team right now.

Speaking of prospects, it was interesting to see Durbin Feltman get a little work on Wednesday. Too bad he didn’t come back out for the fifth.

Next up for the Red Sox, they’ll host the Philadelphia Philles at JetBlue Park on Thursday afternoon.

Right-hander Bryan Mata will get the start for Boston, while fellow righty Nick Pivetta will do the same for Philadelphia.

Ranked as the Sox’ No.4 prospect by MLB Pipeline, Mata, 20, worked a scoreless second inning against the Rays this past Saturday.

First pitch Thursday is scheduled for 1:05 PM EST. This game will not be televised.

Josh Ockimey Homers as Red Sox Fall to Orioles in First Loss of Spring

After opening up Grapefruit League play with a 4-3 win over the Rays on Saturday, the Red Sox took to the road for the first time this spring and fell to the Orioles in Sarosata by a final score of 11-5.

Making his first start of the spring for Boston was Chris Mazza, who was originally scheduled to pitch in relief of Eduardo Rodriguez, but because Rodriguez was pushed back a day due to left knee soreness, Mazza got the nod from interim manager Ron Roenicke.

Working the first two innings of this one, the right-hander yielded one earned run on three hits and two walks to go along with one strikeout on the afternoon.

That one O’s run came in the bottom half of the second, when after working his way around a bases-loaded jam in the first, Mazza allowed the first two hitters he faced to reach base, setting up Stevie Wilkerson to knock in his side’s first tally on an RBI groundout to short.

The 30-year-old Mazza did manage to escape the second without giving anything else up, but it was far from a solid first impression for someone vying for a spot in the Sox’ starting rotation.

From there, pitching did not get any easier for Boston, as newly-acquired left-hander Matt Hall surrendered a pair of runs in the third, Emmanuel De Jesus tossed a scoreless fourth, Bobby Poyner and Yoan Aybar gave up another pair of runs each in the fifth and sixth, Jhonathan Diaz was only able to record the first two outs of the seventh while being walloped for four runs (three earned), Adam Lau retired the only hitter he faced to record the final out of the seventh, and Konner Wade worked a perfect eighth to at least end things on a somewhat positive note.

All in all, Sox pitching combined to surrender 11 runs on 15 hits and eight walks over eight total innings of work. It’s only the beginning stages of spring training, but that does not make those numbers any easier to look at.

On the other side of things, the Red Sox starting lineup that featured several regulars on Saturday did not look quite the same on Sunday.

A familiar foe in left-hander Wade LeBlanc started things out for the Orioles by working two scoreless frames, and it wasn’t until the top half of the fourth when the Boston bats finally got going.

There, top outfield prospect Jarren Duran led things off against new O’s reliever Brandon Bailey by lacing a leadoff triple to the deepest part of the yard in center field, mere feet away from his first home run of the spring.

That brought Kevin Plawecki to the plate with the chance to make an impact as he vies for the backup catcher spot, and he did just that by driving in Duran from third on an RBI groundout to first. 3-1.

Fast forward all the way to the top half of the ninth, with this one already well out of reach, and the Sox staged a rally similar to the one the Rays put on against them the day prior.

A leadoff double off the bat of Cole Sturgeon, followed by a walk drawn by Ryan Fitzgerald put runners in scoring position with no outs for Tate Matheny.

Matheny may have struck out, but a wild pitch from Orioles hurler Evan Phillips during his at-bat allowed Sturgeon and Matheny to advance 90 feet for Nick Longhi.

Phillips’ wildness persisted, as Sturgeon crossed the plate on another wild pitch and Fitzgerald scored on a run-scoring groundout from Longhi. 11-3.

A walk drawn by the pinch-hitting Keith Curcio marked the conclusion of Phillips’ day for Baltimore, and in came right-hander Francisco Jimenez to replace him.

Jimenez was promptly greeted by slugging first baseman Josh Ockimey, who unloaded on a 2-0 fastball down the heart of the plate and deposited it deep over the fence in right field for the Red Sox’ first home run of the spring.

That two-run blast cut Boston’s deficit to six runs at 11-5, which would go on to be Sunday’s final score after the rally was cut short.

Some notes from this loss:

The Red Sox will not go the entire year without a loss.

Jarren Duran is emerging as one of the more exciting players to watch on this team this spring. With his speed and athleticism, it’s easy to see why he was selected to the Futures Game last year.

Next up for the Red Sox, it’s some split-squad action on Monday against the Rays and Twins.

Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi will get the start against Minnesota at the nearby CenturyLink Sports Complex, while top right-handed pitching prospect Tanner Houck will do the same against Tampa Bay in Port Charlotte.

Eduardo Rodriguez, meanwhile, will throw a simulated game on one of the Fenway South back fields on Monday.

For the Twins, it will be right-hander Kenta Maeda getting the start. And for the Rays, it will be righty Yonny Chirinos.

First pitch for both contests is scheduled for 1:05 PM EST, although neither game will be on NESN.