Red Sox pitching prospect Josh Winckowski wraps up solid spring with 3 strong innings of work against Twins

In what was undoubtedly be his last start of the spring, Red Sox pitching prospect Josh Winckowski impressed against the Twins at JetBlue Park on Sunday afternoon.

Making his first start of the Grapefruit League campaign, the 22-year-old right-hander held Minnesota’s lineup — which included the likes of Josh Donaldson, Nelson Cruz, and Byron Buxton — to one earned run on two hits and one walk to go along with one strikeout over three solid innings of work.

That lone Twins tally came on an RBI groundout off the bat of Donaldson in the top half of the third after Willians Astudillo led off the frame with a double and advanced to third on a flyout.

Other than that, Winckowski wrapped up his day by getting Cruz to ground out to short to retire the side in the third.

Finishing with a final pitch count of 51, 33 of which went for strikes, the Ohio native finishes his first spring with the Sox having posted a 3.68 ERA and .154 batting average against over five total appearances spanning 7 1/3 innings pitched.

Boston acquired Winckowski — as well as outfielder Franchy Cordero and two players to be named later — in the three-team trade with the Mets and Royals that saw outfielder Andrew Benintendi land in Kansas City last month.

Listed at 6-foot-4 and 212 pounds, Winckowski was originally selected by the Blue Jays in the 15th round of the 2016 amateur draft out of Estero (Fla.) High School.

He signed with Toronto for $125,000 later that summer and proceeded to put up a 3.35 ERA over 54 appearances (50 starts) and 263 innings of work between rookie-league, Low-A, Class-A, and High-A over the next 3 1/2 seasons.

By that time, Winckowski had emerged as an intriguing prospect within the Jays’ minor-league pipeline, and even after not seeing any in-game at action at all (besides Toronto’s fall instructional league) on account of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, he was one of three pitchers the Blue Jays traded to the Mets in January in exchange for left-hander Steven Matz.

Emerging as New York’s 26th-ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline in the wake of that trade, Winckowski’s time with the Mets did not last all that long.

As previously mentioned, he, again, was traded — this time to the Red Sox — on February 10, prompting him to jokingly change his Instagram bio to ‘I guess Red Sox.’

Given that he grew up and still resides in the Fort Myers-area, Winckowski going from the Mets to the Sox meant being within closer proximity to his new team’s spring training complex, which led to him captioning his Instagram post reacting to the trade with: ‘Spring training drive won’t be too bad.’

(For what it’s worth, his Instagram bio now reads: ‘Crazy few weeks but I’m pumped to be a Sox.’)

Winckowski arrived at the Red Sox’ Fenway South complex last month as one of 30 initial non-roster invitees at big-league camp. He was ultimately reassigned to the minor-leagues on March 9, but not before leaving a positive first impression on some of his new teammates, like fellow right-hander Matt Barnes.

“I was standing right next to him as he was warming up,” Barnes said about Winckowski following his scoreless outing against the Braves on March 7. “The ball was coming out good. Obviously he had a really good inning. Commanded the ball in the zone. Got ahead of guys, attacked hitters. It looks like he’s got firm, good stuff. It looks like the ball jumps out of his hand — really heavy fastball. That’s what it looks like to me. Obviously I’m not on the other end of it. But watching him from behind in the bullpen warming up and obviously the results speak for themselves in the game today, it looks like he’s got really good stuff.”

Winckowski, who does not turn 23 until June 28, is currently regarded by SoxProspects.com as Boston’s No. 33 prospect, ranking 17th among pitchers in the organization.

FanGraphs‘ Eric Longenhagen wrote this about Winckowski back in January, “Winckowski has a chance to pop in 2021 because he was pitching hurt in 2019 and still got guys out. He looked rusty during instructs but was also up to 97 and added a new splitter to an already decent slider.”

Equipped with a fastball, slider, changeup, and slider in total, Winckowski is projected to begin the 2021 minor-league season with Double-A Portland, though he could earn a promotion to Triple-A Worcester later in the year depending on how he progresses.

The 2021 campaign could prove to be a pivotal one for Winckowski, as he becomes eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the first time in his career later on this winter.

The Red Sox will need to add the righty to their 40-man roster on or before November 20 of this year if they do not want to risk losing him to another club in the December draft.

(Picture of Josh Winckowski: Billie Weiss/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Matt Barnes, Red Sox closer candidate, impresses with two strikeouts in spring debut

Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes made his first appearance of the spring for Boston as part of Sunday afternoon’s 5-4 defeat at the hands of the Atlanta Braves in North Port.

Working in relief of Garrett Richards and Josh Winckowski in the bottom half of the fourth inning, the veteran right-hander looked sharp in his 2021 debut, as he retired the Braves’ 8-9-1 hitters — Jake Lamb, Cristian Pache, and Ronald Acuna Jr. — in order while needing just 12 pitches to do so.

Recording two strikeouts (one looking, one swinging) in the process of tossing a perfect frame of relief, Barnes worked in a healthy mix of curveballs and high-velocity fastballs on Sunday.

“I felt really comfortable out there,” the 30-year-old hurler said during his in-game media availability. “Felt like my mechanics were working well. Couple of high fastballs got away from me. But overall, the way the ball was coming out, the command of the fastball and the breaking ball, definitely happy.”

Barnes came into camp this spring as a potential closer candidate for Red Sox manager Alex Cora given the experience he gained in that role last year after Brandon Workman was traded to the Phillies.

On the 2020 campaign as a whole, the UCONN product posted a 4.30 ERA and .706 OPS against over 24 appearances out of the Boston bullpen spanning 23 innings of work.

Regardless of how he performs throughout the rest of spring training, Barnes feels as though his body of work in the majors would outweigh what he does this month when it comes to the team’s closer competition.

“I’ll be honest with you,” said Barnes. “I don’t think I’m going to be judged on eight outings in spring training more than the last four or five years worth of work. “If there was something drastic and I was coming out throwing 88 (mph), that’s a topic for a different day. If I come out showing the stuff I’ve had my entire career, I don’t think eight or nine outings in spring training in which I’m building up looking to get ready for the season are going to define the decision and what they want to do.”

Alongside Barnes, another fellow New Englander in Adam Ottavino is also vying for the role as the Sox’ ninth-inning man, though he has yet to make his team debut.

Between the two relievers, Boston has a pair of intriguing arms who bring different skillsets to the table, and both figure to see the majority of their appearances this coming season come late in games regardless of who the closer is.

Barnes, who has accrued 15 career saves over the course of his seven-year big-league career with Boston, had said last week that he would like to close, but Cora does not seem ready to name who his closer will be to kick off the 2021 campaign just yet.

“There’s no frontrunners here,” Cora said Sunday afternoon. “Those guys are going to build up, be ready and we’ll make a decision toward the end of camp.”

Having said that, Cora was still impressed with how Barnes performed in his spring debut against Atlanta to close out the weekend.

“That was impressive,” the Sox skipper stated. “Velocity was up, made some adjustments, and it was a good one for Barnesy. You don’t have to worry too much about him. Physically, he’s always in shape. He’s a guy just like Adam. We’re going to take our time. They know what they need to be ready for the start of the season. But that was impressive. Velocity was up — I think it was a tick up from last year, which is a good sign.”

One reason as to why Barnes’ velocity may be up right now is simply because of how little he pitched last year on account of the 2020 season only being 60 games in length.

As previously mentioned, the former first-round draft pick only pitched 23 innings in 2020. From 2016-2019, he averaged 66 innings of work per season.

“It’s really when I started playing catch during the offseason this year,” Barnes recounted. “I got to a point where the ball was coming out good — a lot sooner — I felt like because I only threw 23 innings, which is only 33% of a normal year’s workload. So when you take that into account, my arm feels fantastic. It almost feels like I didn’t even pitch last year. So I’m really happy with that; really happy with where I’m at right now.”

While Barnes may be pleased with where he is at currently, the flame-throwing righty still has plenty of work to do before Opening Day, so he is going to be sure to not get too ahead of himself between now and then.

“Obviously, you got to be conscious not to try and overdo it,” he said. “Sometimes you feel so great that you push and push, and I got to be conscious that we still have three weeks until the season. I don’t need to go out there and blow it out right now. I got to make sure that I pace myself and that I’m ready for April 1.”

Barnes, who turns 31 in June and will earn $4.5 million this season, is slated to become a free-agent for the first time in his career next winter. He has said that he is open to signing a contract extension to remain with the Red Sox.

(Picture of Matt Barnes: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox were originally going to acquire outfield prospect Khalil Lee in Andrew Benintendi trade, flip him to Mets, Royals assistant GM J.J. Picollo says

In the three-team trade that sent former Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi to the Royals on Wednesday, Kansas City ended up trading outfield prospect Khalil Lee to the Mets.

As it turns out, though, New York was not originally involved in trade conversations between the Sox and Royals, meaning Boston was going to acquire Lee from Kansas City before flipping him to another team.

Speaking with Quinn Riley of BostonSportsWave.com on Saturday, Royals assistant general manager A.J. Picollo detailed how the three-team swap between his club, the Mets, and Red Sox came to be.

“That was something that the Red Sox had orchestrated themselves, and informed us about a day before the trade that they were probably going to trade Khalil Lee to another team,” Picollo said. “And then as we got down to the last hours before the trade was finalized, they told us that he was going to be going to the New York Mets. Sometimes those three-team deals, all three teams are involved to make it work and in this case, it was really just us and the Red Sox, and then the Red Sox trying to be creative and improve their system. They had the idea that we could maybe trade Khalil Lee and get something else we need and they flipped him to the Mets. So, those deals are always interesting and they come together in different ways.”

Given the information provided by Picollo here, it seems more like the Red Sox traded Benintendi (and $2.8 million of his 2021 salary) to the Royals in exchange for Lee, Franchy Cordero, and two players to be named later, then traded Lee to the Mets in exchange for right-handed pitching prospect Josh Winckowski and one player to be named later.

Just this past Friday, Mets acting general manager — and former Red Sox assistant GM — Zack Scott told reporters that New York acquiring Lee in the first place was more capitalizing on an opportunity as opposed to something that came together more formally.

“It was an opportunity. We didn’t have direct conversations with Kansas City on that,” Scott said. “They were obviously looking for a major-league player to add to their roster, so that wasn’t going to be necessarily where we were going to match up. With my connections to Boston, quite frankly they know that I like Khalil Lee as a prospect from when I was there. He was someone we had talked about, and I knew they liked Khalil Lee as well.

“Just they reached out and asked if there would be interest here, and we were excited and I know our pro scouts here really like the player,” he continued.”[Lee’s] got a lot to like, a lot of tools and athleticism. We like a lot of things about his performance as well. That was how that came about, just that kind of conversation. I believe in being pretty active in talking to other teams because you never know what ideas might come up in those conversations, especially the informal ones. And that was one of those cases.”

Lee, 22, was regarded by MLB Pipeline as the Royals No. 8 prospect.

The former 2016 third-round draft pick spent the entirety of the 2020 season at Kansas City’s alternate training site. In his most recent organized minor-league action, Lee slashed .264/.363/.372 with eight home runs, 51 RBI, and 53 stolen bases over 129 games for Double-A Northwest Arkansas in 2019.

Rather than take on Lee in a straight swap with the Royals, the Red Sox, as previously mentioned, opted to flip the speedy outfielder to the Mets in exchange for Winckowski and two additional players to be named later.

Winckowski, 22, posted a 2.69 ERA and .231 batting average against over 24 appearances (23 starts) and 127 1/3 innings pitched between Class-A Lansing and High-A Dunedin in 2019, when he was still a member of the Blue Jays’ organization.

Since that time, the 6-foot-4 righty was not added to Toronto’s 60-man player pool at any point last year and was promptly traded to the Mets along with two other pitchers in exchange for veteran southpaw Steven Matz in late January.

Prior to his being traded to Boston earlier this week, Winckowski had been regarded by MLB Pipeline as New York’s No. 26 prospect.

Because they essentially traded Lee to the Mets for Winckowski and a player to be named later, it seems like there’s a solid chance that PTBNL could be someone significant given Lee’s standing as a sought-after prospect.

That being said, it will likely be a while before the Red Sox decide on which two PTBNLs from the Royals and one PTBNL from the Mets they will be acquiring.

“I don’t want to get into too many specifics on it, but the specific identities of the players are still to be determined,” Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said late Wednesday night. “We have frameworks in place with the clubs as to how and when we are going to do that. But, there’s not names of the players that we are getting that we are involved with right now.”

The process for trades involving players to be named later can take as long as six months to play out, so it is not like Bloom and Co. will be in a rush to get this done.

As a matter of fact, according to The Athletic’s Peter Gammons, the Red Sox have a list of four Royals minor-leaguers to choose from as their players to be named later from Kansas City. After the first month of the minor-league season, they can then choose any two players from that list.

Who will those two players from the Royals — and one from the Mets — be? Only time will tell.

(Picture of Khalil Lee: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Former Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi ready to ‘get going’ with Royals, begin next chapter of career

Former Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi did not find out he was going to be traded to the Royals until relatively late Tuesday night, but he at least got some heads up about it.

The 26-year-old had been mired in trade rumors for much of the offseason, yet he was able to shut out most of that noise. Tuesday night, however, was a different story.

“I got a call last night from Chaim Bloom, and he said, ‘There’s a good chance you’re going to get traded tonight, so I’ll let you know,’” Benintendi recounted when speaking with the Kansas City media via Zoom earlier Wednesday. “I didn’t know the team, and then I find out it’s the Royals and I’m extremely excited — I’m from the Midwest — going to a Midwest team. So, I’m excited. I’m ready to get there, ready to meet people, build those relationships, and get going.”

Boston officially dealt Benintendi, as well as $2.8 million of his $6.6 million salary for 2021, to Kansas City in exchange for outfielder Franchy Cordero and two players to be named later as well as right-handed pitching prospect Josh Wincowski and one player to be named later from the New York Mets.

For Benintendi, the trade comes at an interesting point in his career.

The former 2015 first-round draft pick of the Red Sox has seen his once promising potential dip as of late. Most recently, he managed to collect just four hits in 14 games last year before suffering a season-ending rib injury in August.

“Last year, obviously, it’s unfortunate,” Benintendi said in regards to the pandemic shortened 2020 season. “It was the first time we had ever experienced something like that. I played 13 or 14 games and I broke my ribs, which is unfortunate. Obviously, it’s tough to swing with some broken ribs. But, I’m feeling good now and ready to get going.”

Expanding upon that, Benintendi’s injury, which occurred while he was rounding second base during an August 11 game against the Rays, was originally announced by the Red Sox as a right rib cage strain.

“I tripped around my own feet going around second base,” he said. “It was a rib strain, but there were a couple fractures. But, I’m feeling great now. Feel back to 100%.”

In being moved to a market like Kansas City, there is a level of comfort involved here for Benintendi, and it’s not just because of the city’s proximity to Nashville and his home state of Ohio or its quality barbecue.

For one, the former Arkansas Razorback is already quite familiar with Royals manager Mike Matheny. That being the case because Matheny’s son, Tate, was also drafted by the Red Sox in 2015, so the two played their rookie ball together with the Lowell Spinners.

“I’m extremely excited to be playing for him,” Benintendi said of the ex-Cardinals skipper. “I’ve known Tate since I was drafted. In 2015, we were in Lowell together in rookie ball for the Red Sox. And I also lived in St. Louis for a number of offseasons, so I got to know them pretty well. I’m excited going into this that I have somewhat of a relationship with Mike and having some familiarity. So, I’m excited to play for him.”

Adding on to that, Kauffman Stadium is a ballpark Benintendi has enjoyed success at in his time with the Red Sox. For his career, the left-handed hitter owns a lifetime .485/.564/.848 slash line to go go along with four doubles, one triple, two home runs, and three RBI at ‘The K.’

“Obviously it’s a lot different than Fenway,” Benintendi said of the Royals’ ballpark. “Left field, you have a lot more room to run out there, which I’m excited about. I always love playing there and something about it, I feel like I see the ball well. So, it’s exciting. It’s a big field. I feel like I’m a gap-to-gap kind of hitter and obviously those gaps there are pretty big, so we’ll see if we can run a little bit.”

While getting the chance to “run a little bit” for a new team, Benintendi is also hoping to show that the Royals made a smart decision in trading for him and the Red Sox made an unwise decision in letting him go.

“It’s nice to be wanted,” the 5-foot-9, 180 lb. outfielder said. “I feel like there’s a sense of pride for me. I want to go perform well, obviously, and show them it was worth the trade. I want to go play well for the fans and the organization. I’m excited and it’s nice to be wanted.”

Even while saying that, Benintendi will still cherish what he did with the Red Sox, highlighted by winning the World Series in 2018, for the rest of his career.

“They drafted me, and I’ll always have that connection with Boston,” he eloquently stated. “2018 is a tough one not to mention. That year was unbelievable. Most of all, it’s the relationships I’ve had with teammates, coaches, things like that. You get to meet a lot of people in this game and some of the relationships I had there, I’ll have forever. It’s something I’ll take with me.”

Taking those experiences with the Red Sox and what he learned from them to Kansas City, Benintendi is certainly open to the idea of becoming a player his new teammates can lean on for information if the occasion arises.

“If guys have questions or anything like that, I’m an open book about it,” he said. “If they want to bounce questions or anything like that off me, I’d be more than happy to share those experiences and whatever it takes.”

(Picture of Andrew Benintendi: Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Red Sox officially trade Andrew Benintendi to Royals as part of three-team deal with Mets that sends Franchy Cordero, Josh Winckowski to Boston

The Red Sox have officially dealt Andrew Benintendi as well as cash considerations to the Royals as part of a three-team trade that also involves the Mets, the club announced Wednesday night.

In return for Benintendi and those cash considerations, Boston will be getting back outfielder Franchy Cordero as well as two players to be named later from Kansas City.

On top of that, the Mets are sending right-handed pitching prospect Josh Winckowski and a player to be named later to the Sox, as they receive outfield prospect Khalil Lee from the Royals.

According to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, the Red Sox will be sending approximately $2.6 million in cash considerations to the Royals.

Benintendi, 26, was set to earn $6.6 million in 2021, so as Feinsand puts it, the $2.6 million Boston is sending Kansas City will help cover for that.

A veteran of five major-league seasons, Benintendi is coming off a dismal 2020 campaign in which he went 4-for-39 (.103 batting average) at the plate with one extra-base hit and one RBI over 14 games before a right rib cage strain prematurely ended his year in August.

The Cincinnati native had been mired in trade rumors as recently as last month, but those talks died down some and it appeared as though Benintendi would make it to spring training still a member of the Red Sox.

As it turns out, though, Benintendi has indeed been traded to the Royals, a team that ranked 11th in the American League in outfield WAR (2.1) last season, per FanGraphs.

Since the time he was selected with the seventh overall pick by Boston out of the University of Arkansas in 2015, there were instances where it seemed like Benintendi could emerge as a ‘face of the franchise’ type of player.

The left-handed hitting outfielder breezed through the minors, made his major-league debut in August 2016, finished second in American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2017, and was nearly an All-Star in 2018.

From that point on, though, it’s fair to say Benintendi has been trending in the wrong direction and not living up to his former top prospect potential, which presumably played a role leading up to Wednesday’s decision despite the fact he is still under team control for two more seasons.

Perhaps a change of scenery will do Benintendi well. He does own a lifetime .485/.564/.848 slash line in eight career games (39 plate appearances) at Kauffman Stadium, after all.

As for the five players the Sox got in return for Benintendi (and cash), only two — Cordero, Winckowski — of them are known at this point, while the other three are players to be named later.

Cordero, 26, is a left-handed hitter like Benintendi.

The Dominican native has spent the past four seasons with the Royals and Padres, most recently accruing a .211/.286/.447 slash to go along with two home runs and seven RBI over 16 games for Kansas City in 2020.

A former top prospect of the Friars, Cordero is known for his power and speed, an interesting combination that leads the outfielder to best be described as “toolsy as hell,” as ESPN’s Jeff Passan put it.

Listed at 6-foot-3 and 226 lbs, Cordero has experience playing all three outfield positions, though he has played in just 95 games since making his major-league debut in May 2017.

Given his lack of experience, it should be interesting to see how the Sox plan on rolling out Cordero to begin the 2021 season. He joins an outfield mix that currently consists of Alex Verdugo and Hunter Renfroe. One of the organization’s top outfield prospects, Jarren Duran, could get some consideration as well.

Turning to Winckowski now, the 22-year-old righty was originally drafted by the Blue Jays in the 15th round of the 2016 amateur draft out of Estero High School, which is not terribly far away from Fort Myers, in Florida.

The 6-foot-4, 202 lb. hurler compiled a 2.69 ERA and 1.20 WHIP over 24 outings (23 starts) and 127 1/3 innings pitched between Class-A Lansing and High-A Dunedin in 2019.

Winckowski was not included in the Jays’ 60-man player pool at any point last year, but he was part of the trade package that sent southpaw Steven Matz from New York to Toronto in late January.

Following that trade, which involved four players in total, Winckowski had been regarded by MLB Pipeline as the Mets’ No. 26 prospect.

Per FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen, Winckowski “has a chance to pop in 2021 because he was pitching hurt in 2019 and still got guys out. He looked rusty during instructs but was also up to 97 and added a new splitter to an already decent slider.”

The three players to be named later the Red Sox acquired from the Royals and Mets in this deal will, obviously, be revealed at a later date. The clubs have six months to agree upon which players will be sent to Boston.

With that in mind, @RedSoxStats makes a good point in that the Sox may want to scout players from the Royals’ and Mets’ system before making up their minds regarding who those three PTBNLs will be.

Also, for what it’s worth, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. made this transaction on the one-year anniversary of the Mookie Betts trade being made official, so there’s that.

(Picture of Andrew Benintendi: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)