Why 2021 could prove to be pivotal year for Red Sox infield prospect Antoni Flores

In the summer of 2017, the Red Sox made infielder Antoni Flores one of their top priorities, as they signed the Venezuelan prospect for a hefty sum of $1,400,000 that July, which would go on to make him the third-highest paid international addition of that particular signing class for Boston.

Flores initially rewarded the Sox for their investment in him the following year in both the Dominican Summer League and Gulf Coast League.

Over 15 total games and 57 total plate appearances between the two affiliates, the young infielder, primarily playing shortstop, went 18-for-53 (.340) at the plate to go along with one home run and 14 RBI.

The reason Flores only managed to play in 15 games, in 2018 was due to the fact that he missed six weeks of action from mid-June until late July due to “general soreness.”

Upon returning and getting promoted from the DSL to GCL, Flores played in just two games before pulling his hamstring in early August, which wound wind up costing him the rest of the season.

The fact Flores was able to put on an impressive showing at the Red Sox’ fall instructional league that year in the wake of suffering that hamstring injury was certainly encouraging, but more red flags arose in 2019.

Entering the year regarded by SoxProspects.com as Boston’s No. 7 prospect, Flores struggled mightily in his first exposure to non-rookie-league baseball in the United States.

Playing in 55 games for the short-season Lowell Spinners, the then-18-year-old posted a dismal .193/.293/.227 slash line over 208 plate appearances while striking out 28.4% of the time. He also committed 10 errors in 410 defensive innings at shortstop, which would signal a transition to second base.

According to SoxProspects‘ director of scouting Ian Cundall, “scouts really soured on Flores” following his first full professional season, “as he showed a poor approach and limited offensive ability while simultaneously struggling in the field.”

Unfortunately, Flores would not get the chance to bounce back in a traditional manner in 2020, as the minor-league season was cancelled in June due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead, Flores, like most other Red Sox minor-leaguers, had to wait until the 2020 installment of fall instructs to try to continue on with their development.

Alas, a long break from organized baseball did the right-handed hitter no favors, as he continued to underwhelm in Fort Myers this past fall.

Per Cundall, Flores, now 20 years old, “again struggled and now seems to have moved to second base primarily. The athleticism he showed in the Fall Instructional League in 2018 is gone, and his speed has regressed to the point where he was consistently timed at 4.6 seconds down the line, which is a 20 on the 20-80 scouting scale.”

FanGraphs‘ Eric Longenhagen added on to this, writing last month that though he wished Flores’ disappointing 2019 was more of an outlier, it may have very well been the start of a negative trend.

“Flores was generating Willy Adames comps during the Fall of 2018, and has since regressed physically and technically,” Longenhagen wrote. “He no longer looks athletically capable of playing the middle infield and has continued to struggle with the bat.”

While Longenhagen still has Flores as his No. 43 prospect in the Red Sox farm system, he notes that “he’s in danger of slipping off the list entirely next year unless he performs statistically and looks more athletic early in the year.” 

SoxProspects projects Flores, who does not turn 21 until October, will start the 2021 minor-league season with Low-A Salem.

Before the 2021 season begins, though, there is still the minor-league portion of spring training — which will likely start later than usual this year — to look forward to.

Between the time fall instructs ended and the time in which minor-league spring training eventually starts up, it appears as though the Sox have given Flores some homework to do.

“Antoni has been working on his agility and quickness a lot this offseason,” Red Sox assistant general manager Eddie Romero, who played a significant role in Flores signing with the organization, told BloggingtheRedSox.com via email. “He’s made a lot of strides in the past few months, so we’re looking forward to seeing him in spring training.”

On that note, 2021 could prove to be a monumental year for Flores in terms of development and career trajectory.

Not only is the 6-foot-1, 190 lb. infielder looking to buck the trend that has seen his stock take a hit in recent years, but he is also Rule 5 eligible for the first time come December.

If he were to make an impact with Salem, or whichever affiliate he played with this year, Flores could be added to the Sox’ 40-man roster if Boston believes in his potential enough to not want to see him scooped up by another club.

If Flores were not to be added, which does seem unlikely at this point given the fact that other prospects such as Jarren Duran, Jeter Downs, Thad Ward, and Gilberto Jimenez will be in need of protection, then as previously mentioned, an opposing team could pick him up if they felt he was ready to make an impact at the major-league level.

That, too, seems unlikely, but there’s a reason why Flores was once considered one of the top prospects in the Sox’ farm system. The talent is still there somewhere, and so is a relatively high ceiling given his age.

Having written all that, it’s fair to say that 2021 could be a ‘make-or-break’ type year for Flores. We will have to wait and see how he performs.

(Picture of Antoni Flores: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

With no minor-league season, Red Sox catching prospect Jaxx Groshans spent part of his summer playing independent league baseball: ‘I think that helped me grow as a player tremendously’

Even with no minor-league baseball season in 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Red Sox catching prospect Jaxx Groshans still made the best of things on multiple fronts.

For starters, in lieu of not being able to experience what was supposed to be his first full season as a professional, the 2019 fifth-round draft pick out of the University of Kanas was able to partake in the Constellation Energy League, an independent summer league in Sugar Land, Texas.

Despite only playing in five games for Eastern Reyes Del Tigre, Groshans certainly appreciated the opportunity so that he could get some reps in among other things. The 22-year-old backstop said as much when speaking with BloggingtheRedSox.com earlier Monday.

“Originally, at the beginning of the offseason, I reached out to Mike Capel, and he was the manager for Team Texas and I had played with his son,” Groshans explained. “I heard about the Constellation League, so I called him and said ‘Hey, if you guys need any catchers or anything like that, I’m more than willing to come play.’ I’m just trying to get some innings in and see some live pitching so that I’m not too far behind. Originally, at the time, they said they didn’t have a spot, so I came back to Arizona — I live out here and I work out here now — and I was actually going to get dinner with my girlfriend when the GM for the league called me. He had me go down there and it was a great experience.”

Consisting of four teams who each played 28 games against one another, the Constellation Energy League was comprised of current and former major-leaguers, current and former minor-leaguers, and current and former independent-leaguers.

“My first game, the first guy I faced was Taylor Jungmann, he has big-league time with the [Yomiuri] Giants,” said Groshans. “Travis Lakins pitched down there, and then you got a lot of former big-leaguers. I got to work closely a lot with Scott Kazmir. I got to catch him quite frequently whenever he’d make his outings. It’s hard to get a feel for a competitive atmosphere — especially when you’re not necessarily playing for anything — but I got my reps in down there and it was great. I got to pick a lot of guys’ minds who are older than me, been in the system longer, and I think that helped me grow as a player tremendously.”

In addition to the Constellation Energy League, Groshans also had the chance to face off against and catch major-league caliber pitching earlier in the year, before the start of the truncated 2020 season. He did so at a facility in Arizona, where plenty of other players reside as well.

“There’s actually a place out here that I work out at. It’s called Fuel Factory,” Groshans said. “It’s run by a guy named Jon Huizinga, he has a little bit of affiliate time, and he runs the place. I work out and am facing guys like Ken Giles, Liam Hendriks, Matthew Liberatore, guys like that. It’s a very, very competitive space and you got a lot of good arms throwing. Everybody was throwing bullpens and live at-bats, trying to simulate what the season would be — and this was before the alternate site happened. So before Sugar Land, I was doing live at-bats, went down to Sugar Land, and then I came back and did them afterwards as well.”

In the weeks following the conclusion of the Constellation Energy League season, Groshans arrived in Fort Myers for his second go-around at the Red Sox’ fall instructional league. And although fall instructs in 2020 were different from fall instructs in 2019 on account of COVID-19 protocols, the Lousiana native actually enjoyed the most recent version more.

“Last year (2019), we didn’t have to do any of the stuff related to COVID,” stated Groshans. “But honestly, I liked this year’s (2020) fall instructs a lot more just because we got to play a lot more games than we did last year. Last year, we were doing a bunch of stuff off machines and stuff like that because everybody just got done with their season or hit their innings limit. So, we couldn’t really see a whole lot of arms.

“This year, we did,” he continued. “We got a lot more personalized stuff, one-on-ones with our coaches — I got a lot of work in with Chad Epperson, our catching coordinator — and I enjoyed it. Honestly, it’s kind of hard not to look forward to something like that, especially in a year like this where we haven’t been able to do anything. Really, there was no other place I would have wanted to spend my time.”

Groshans, who does not turn 23 until July, is looking on improving two aspects of his game in 2021: blocking and throwing down.

“Blocking and throwing down,” he said. “I mean, my arm is strong. I believe that. There’s some new things that we started doing with mechanics for footwork, so I’m going to work on that and that’s what I mean by throwing down. And then, you can never stop getting good at blocking. I believe my blocking is good now, but there’s always something there to improve on.”

As for where Groshans will begin the upcoming minor-league season, that really does not matter as long as he’s given the chance to go to work.

“At the end of the day, I’m just trying to keep my nose to the grindstone and do my job,” the 6-foot, 210 lb. backstop said confidently. “Whether I’m in Low-A, High-A, Double-A, Triple-A, it doesn’t matter. I’m just going to be doing my thing.”

While Groshans waits to do his thing at the onset of spring training come February, you can follow him on Twitch by clicking here.

“I’m 10 followers away from affiliate, so that’s been the big thing for this offseason,” he said. “I’ve been trying to keep myself busy by playing video games and stuff. It’s been great.”

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

Red Sox cut ties with Lowell Spinners for 2021, extend invites to four other minor-league affiliates

As part of Major League Baseball’s new minor-league player development structure, the Red Sox’ farm system got a bit shaken up earlier Wednesday afternoon.

Boston invited four of its previous affiliates — Worcester Red Sox, Portland Sea Dogs, Greenville Drive, Salem Red Sox — “for continued professional affiliation,” per a team release.

While the Sox’ Triple-A club will be moving from Pawtucket to Worcester next season and its Double-A affiliate will remain in Portland, the full-season, Class-A affiliates were the ones reshuffled the most.

For starters, Boston’s High-A affiliate had been Salem and its Low-A affiliate had been Greenville. Those two clubs will now switch roles for 2021 and beyond, with the Drive being the Red Sox’ new High-A team and the Salem Sox being its new Low-A team.

Greenville will be a part of the new Mid-Atlantic League, while Salem will head to the South Atlantic League.

On top of that, the short-season Lowell Spinners will not be affiliated with the Red Sox in 2021, though the club and the City of Lowell “are in the early stages of evaluating various opportunities for the 2021 season, and will continue to discuss longer-term options in the weeks ahead.”

According to The Boston Globe’s Michael Silverman, Lowell could host either an independent league team or a team in the brand new MLB Draft League next year. The possibility also still remains that Lowell could once again realign itself with the Red Sox in 2022.

The Spinners had been part of the Sox’ minor-league pipeline since 1996.

Red Sox prospects: right-hander Aldo Ramirez, outfielder Gilberto Jimenez among top performers at fall instructs

Among the 62 minor-leaguers who attended the Red Sox’ fall instructional league from October 5 through November 12, right-hander Aldo Ramirez and outfielder Gilberto Jimenez stood out the most, according to SoxProspects.com’s director of scouting Ian Cundall.

Per Cundall, evaluators who had the chance to attend fall instructs reported that Ramirez “showed advanced feel and should stick as a starter,” while Jimenez “has filled out considerably” and “has started to drive the ball at the plate.

Ramirez, 19, is regarded by SoxProspects as Boston’s sixth-ranked right-handed pitching prospect and 17th-ranked prospect overall.

The native of Mexico was signed from Rieleros de Aguascalientes of the Mexican League for $550,00 back in April 2018, with Sotero Torres, Eddie Romero, and Todd Claus being the scouts responsible for his signing.

Since that time, Ramirez most recently got a full season’s work in 2019 while spending time at short-season Lowell.

In 14 appearances (13 starts) for the Spinners, Ramirez posted a 3.94 ERA and a 2.95 xFIP over 61 2/3 innings of work. The 2020 minor-league season was, of course, a wash due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Per his SoxProspects scouting report, the 6-foot, 180 lb. righty works with a three-pitch mix that consists of a 91-95 mph fastball, a 77-80 mph curveball, and a 86-88 mph changeup with “splitterish movement.”

Typically pitching from a three-quarters arm slot, Ramirez currently projects to be a back-end of the rotation starting pitcher at the big-league level. At such a young age, though, he still has plenty of time to improve and further develop his craft before becoming Rule 5 eligible in 2022.

Jimenez, meanwhile, stood out as the best position player at fall instructs, and it’s easy to see why considering the 20-year-old is regarded by MLB Pipeline as the Red Sox’ top outfield prospect.

The speedster was signed out of the Dominican Republic for just $10,000 by Romero and Manny Nanita back in August 2017.

That investment has proven to pay off for the Red Sox in a tremendous way thus far, as Jimenez is without a doubt one of the more exciting players in the club’s minor-league pipeline.

On top of his 80-grade speed tool, the highest mark in the system according to FanGraphs, Jimenez has proven to be an on-base machine.

With short-season Lowell in 2019, the switch-hitting outfielder won the New York-Penn League batting title by slashing .359/.393/.470 to go along with three home runs, 19 RBI, and 14 stolen bases over 59 games played.

The one downside to Jimenez’s performance last year was that he primarily relied on his speed to turn groundballs into base hits, meaning he did not get the ball in the air all that much.

Despite that lone deterrent, Jimenez does have quick hands and plus bat speed to show for it. As mentioned above, he has also apparently filled out this year to the point where he is “now built like a running back.”

With that additional muscle, Jimenez has begun to show some flashes of power from the right side of the plate, which is the side of the plate he primarily hit from until converting into a switch-hitter in 2017.

Jimenez will become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft next winter, meaning there is a very good chance he will be added to the Red Sox’ 40-man roster within the next 12-plus months.

As you may have already guessed upon reading this report, Jimenez has plenty of potential, and like Ramirez, plenty of room to grow as a player, too.

Neither Ramirez nor Jimenez were included in the Red Sox’ 60-man player pool this past season, so the fall instructional league provided the club with its first real opportunity since March to check in on many of its coveted prospects.

Information from FanGraphs, MLB Pipeline, and SoxProspects.com was used in this article.

2020 Minor League Baseball Season Cancelled Due to COVID-19 Pandemic

This news does not come as a surprise, but the 2020 Minor League Baseball season has been cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. MiLB released a statement addressing the matter earlier Tuesday evening.

 

Per league president and CEO Pat O’Connor, “This announcement removes the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 season and allows our teams to begin planning for an exciting 2021 season of affordable family entertainment.”

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, heavy financial constraints were placed on minor-league clubs across the country due to the fact their primary source of revenue comes from ticket sales.

Unlike their parent major-league clubs, minor-league affiliates do not have lucrative television or other media contracts to rely on in the absence of ticket sales and other gameday revenue, so getting through an entire season with teams playing in empty or nearly empty ballparks would have been virtually impossible.

Back in May, the Red Sox committed to paying their non-40-man-roster minor-leaguers $400 per week through the end of August, or what would have been the end of the minor-league season.

Without a minor-league season, it has been reported by Baseball America that some teams will allow their minor-leaguers to pursue opportunities in independent league baseball.

It is also worth mentioning that the Red Sox’ Triple-A affiliate, the Pawtucket Red Sox, were supposed to play their final season at McCoy Stadium this year before relocating to Worcester.

With Polar Park making progress towards its completion before the start of the 2021 minor-league season, it would seem as though the PawSox have already played their last game at McCoy, which they have called home since 1969.

On another note, the short-season affiliate of the Red Sox, the Lowell Spinners, probably won’t be affiliated with the Red Sox for that much longer, as the entire infrastructure of minor-league baseball appears to be headed towards rapid turnover. That much was made evident by this year’s amateur draft, which consisted of only five rounds to make it the shortest in MLB’s history to this point in time.

Minor-league baseball is an important aspect of the game for developing players and young fans alike. Despite that notion, the landscape of MiLB will probably never be the same beginning in 2021 if those aforementioned changed do take place.

Red Sox’ Seventh-Ranked Prospect Jay Groome Punches out Two in 2019 Gulf Coast League Debut

Red Sox left-handed pitching prospect Jay Groome tossed a scoreless first inning for the Gulf Coast League Red Sox on Wednesday in what was his first professional appearance in nearly two years.

Facing off against the Atlanta Braves’ GCL team in North Port, Fla. earlier Wednesday morning, the soon to be 21-year-old hurler needed only eight pitches, all of which were strikes, to punch out two and yield one hit in a nearly-perfect frame of work.

Selected by Boston with the 12th overall pick in the 2016 amateur draft out of Barnegat High School in New Jersey, Groome had been out since the 2017 campaign, where he injured his throwing elbow late into the year and eventually underwent successful Tommy John surgery in May of 2018.

Before all that went down, Groome posted a 2.70 ERA and .125 batting average against over his first three professional starts and 6 2/3 innings pitched between the GCL Red Sox and short-season Lowell Spinners in 2016.

In 2017, the New Jersey native showed some signs of struggle, pitching to the tune of a 5.69 ERA and .234 batting average against through 14 starts and 55 1/3 total innings of work between Lowell and Class-A Greenville before being sidelined.

Per his MiLB.com page, Groome is on a rehab assignment with the GCL Sox, and given how the minor league season wraps up in under two weeks, it’s hard to imagine the lefty pitching anywhere else this year.

Despite all the time he has missed, Groome is still ranked as the No. 7 prospect in the Red Sox’ farm system, according to MLB Pipeline.

 

 

Blake Swihart Has Been Activated from the 10-Day Disabled List.

Missing the past 10 days with a right hamstring strain, Blake Swihart is officially back after the Red Sox activated him from the 10-day disabled list on Tuesday.

In the last game he played with the big league club against the New York Yankees on August 2nd, the catcher/utility man had to leave in the top of the seventh inning in an eventual 15-7 win for the Red Sox.

Later diagnosed with a strain in his right hamstring, Swihart was placed on the 10-day disabled list that Friday morning, but Alex Cora seemed confident that he was not going to miss that much time and he did not.

As part of the rehab process, Swihart appeared in one game for Low A Lowell this past Sunday where he started at catcher in batted third in the Spinners lineup.

In three at bats against the Brooklyn Cyclones, the 26-year-old failed to reach base while striking out once before being replaced in the seventh inning.

Despite the results, or lack thereof, the Red Sox must have been happy with what they saw out of Swihart and his right hamstring, because he is back with the team today in Philadelphia.

The 2018 season has not been easy on Swihart. Given the lack of playing time early on, the trade rumors, and then the hamstring injury this month, hopefully the final month and a half of the regular season will be better for the Texas native, because it certainly looked like he was hitting his stride prior to the DL stint.

Since the Red Sox placed Christian Vazquez on the 10-day disabled list on July 8th with a right finger fracture, which opened up more opportunities for Swihart to catch, the former first round pick is slashing .324/.378/.529 with one home run and two RBI over his last 10 games.

With a two-game interleague series set to begin today in Philadelphia for the Red Sox, it would not surprise me if Swihart saw some pinch-hitting opportunities in the pitcher’s spot in the lineup this week.

To make room for Swihart on the 25-man roster, Dan Butler, who caught two games for Boston against the Orioles last weekend, has been designated for assignment.

First pitch of tonight’s game against the Phillies is scheduled for 7:05 PM ET.

Michael Chavis and Bobby Dalbec Were at It Again for the Portland Sea Dogs on Sunday.

A few days ago, I wrote about how Michael Chavis and Bobby Dalbec each hit a pair of home runs for the Portland Sea Dogs in Erie, PA this past Thursday.

I talked about how they were two of the more interesting prospects in the Red Sox farm system to watch, and they proved me right once again yesterday afternoon.

Facing off against the Akron RubberDucks, the Eastern League affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, and batting third and fourth in Portland’s lineup, the pair of corner infielders were responsible for all six runs scored by the Sea Dogs on Sunday.

An RBI single from Chavis in the first and two RBI doubles, one of which was good for two runs, from Chavis and Dalbec in the third had Portland up by four runs early.

Fast forward all the way to the top half of the eighth, with two outs and Chavis at first following a HBP, Dalbec put the exclamation point on a fine day for the Sea Dogs by blasting his 31st home run of the season between High A Salem and Double A Portland.

That big fly, Dalbec’s fifth in the past week, put the Sea Dogs up 6-2, which would turn out to be the final score in their third win in the last four days.

Since he was promoted to Portland on August 3rd. the 23-year-old Dalbec, ranked as the sixth best prospect in Boston’s system, is off to a hot start with his new club, as he is slashing .364/.421/.848 over his last nine games with those five homers and 11 RBI as well.

On the other side of the infield, Michael Chavis, 23, has been on a more torrid pace lately, as he was just named Eastern League Player of the Week after hitting .560 in his last six games.

On the season as a whole, Chavis, 23, a Georgia native and ranked as Boston’s top prospect, owns a 1.005 OPS to go along with six home runs in 27 games played between Low A Lowell and Double A Portland.

At 49-68, the Sea Dogs will be opening up the longest homestand of their season starting on Tuesday.