Brian Van Belle a Red Sox pitching prospect to watch as minor-league season begins this week

Of the 16 undrafted free agents the Red Sox signed following last June’s draft, none might stick out more than right-handed pitching prospect Brian Van Belle.

Van Belle was reportedly one of the most sought-after seniors in the 2020 unsigned free agent class before inking his first professional contract with the Sox in June.

Regarded at the time by Baseball America as the 16th-ranked draft-eligible senior, the 6-foot-2, 187 pound hurler had just put the finishing touches on a successful college career at the University of Miami.

In two seasons with the Hurricanes (2019-2020) after transferring from Broward College, Van Belle emerged as Miami’s Friday night ace while posting a 2.74 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP, and a 122:28 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 20 starts and 121 2/3 total innings pitched.

Because of the 2020 minor-league season being cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the southern Florida native really did not get the chance to work under the Red Sox’ watchful eye until the team began their fall instructional league in Fort Myers.

There, according to SoxProspects.com’s director of scouting Ian Cundall, Van Belle showed why he was highly sought-after as an undrafted free agent.

“Van Belle’s bread and butter is his changeup, a plus offering and a potential difference maker,” Cundall wrote back in November. “Van Belle also showed an average fastball at 89-93 mph and below-average curveball at 77-80 mph. The changeup separated him from a lot of the younger arms who are still refining their secondary pitches and gives him a high floor of at least an organizational arm, especially with his command profile.”

Coming off that impressive showing at fall instructs, the 24-year-old came into the 2021 minor-league season ranked as the No. 53 prospect in Boston’s farm system, per SoxProspects.com.

Cundall recently updated Van Belle’s SoxProspects.com scouting report, writing that the righty “always competes [and is] used to pitching in big spots. [Possesses] strong pitchability and feel on the mound.”

As this highly-anticipated minor-league season is set to begin on Tuesday, Van Belle will start the year in High-A Greenville’s starting rotation.

The fact that Van Belle was assigned to Greenville makes him the only member of Boston’s 2020 undrafted free-agent class to begin the 2021 season at a level as high as High-A. The other 15 members are either starting at Low-A Salem or extended spring training.

(Picture of Brian Van Belle: Al Diaz/Miami Herald)

Jeter Downs, top Red Sox prospect, is a ‘workaholic,’ Alex Cora says; ‘His bat is going to play’

Jeter Downs collected his second home run of the spring in the Red Sox’ 7-3 loss to the Rays in Port Charlotte on Friday afternoon.

Starting at shortstop and batting out of the seven-hole, the 22-year-old infielder went 1-for-3 at the plate with a walk, a strikeout, and that aforementioned home run.

Downs’ homer came in the top half of the second, when with one out and a runner on first he took a 2-2 changeup at the bottom of the zone from Rays starter David Hess and clobbered it well over the left-center field wall.

Though the wind was blowing hard in that particular direction at Charlotte Sports Park, Downs’ display of power was impressive nonetheless.

“He does a good job of controlling the strike zone,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of Downs’ plate discipline. “He knows what he wants to do at the plate. Even in the last at-bat when he chased a pitch up, he knew right away he was out of the zone. “That’s something that we’ve been impressed [by].

Following Friday’s showing, Downs is now slashing .357/.500/.786 with a pair of homers and five RBI through his first 15 games and 18 plate appearances of Grapefruit League play while primarily playing shortstop.

A bruise to his left side suffered during a game against the Twins on March 14 resulted in Downs being held out of in-game action for a little more than week, but the Colombian-born prospect returned to action this past Monday and has gotten back into the swing of things.

Throughout the spring, Cora has not shied away from commending some of the organization’s top prospects — like Downs, catcher Connor Wong, and infielder Nick Yorke — for their ability to seemingly slow down what’s going on around them. He did more of the same while praising Downs on Friday.

“The bat will play,” said the Sox skipper. “He’s a good defender. I know he had that tough game the second game of spring training, but he’s a workaholic. One thing is for sure: He has a very slow pulse, and that helps him out. People might see him and they’ll be like, ‘Oh, low-energy guy. He’s not into it.’ That’s not the case.

“Offensively, he understands what he wants to do,” Cora added. “He understands the strike zone, and that’s why his bat is going to play.”

Downs, who like Cora has connections to the city of Miami, is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 2 prospect in the Sox’ farm system behind only Triston Casas.

Listed at 5-foot-11 and 193 pounds, the right-handed hitter was reassigned to the minor-leagues on March 12. He is projected to begin the year at the Red Sox’ alternate training site in Worcester.

Downs, of course, was one of three players the Sox acquired from the Dodgers in the blockbuster trade that sent Mookie Betts and David Price to Los Angeles last February — with Wong and outfielder Alex Verdugo being the other two.

Verdugo, the only one of the three with any major-league experience to this point, seemed impressed with what he has seen from both Downs and Wong at camp thus far when speaking with reporters earlier this week.

“They’re great players. Obviously, Downs, a middle infielder, and I love his swing,” Verdugo said this past Tuesday. “I think his swing is really good. I think it’s going to play in the big leagues. The same goes with Wong. Wong is a really good catcher and has a really good arm back there. He can fire it and he can swing it, too.

“With those guys, it’s obviously tough because last year we didn’t have a minor leagues,” he added. “They weren’t able to go to Pawtucket and put up big numbers or whatever it may be. It kind of hurts them a little bit but these are guys who are professionals. They’re working in the cage, talking to guys and trying to learn more and more so in the next two years — maybe this year, we never know — we’ll start seeing them come up.”

(Picture of Jeter Downs: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Falmouth native Steve Cishek signs minor-league deal with Houston Astros

Falmouth, Mass. native and veteran reliever Steve Cishek has signed a minor-league contract with the Houston Astros, per MLB.com’s transaction wire. The deal also includes an invite to major-league spring training.

The Houston Chronicle’s Chandler Rome was the first to report the signing.

Cishek, 34, will earn $2.25 million — plus more in incentives — if he makes the Astros’ roster, according to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand.

The sidearm-throwing right-hander is coming off a shortened 2020 season with the Chicago White Sox in which he posted a 5.40 ERA and 5.64 FIP over 22 appearances and 20 innings of work before being designated for assignment in late September.

For his career, which spans 11 major-league seasons with six different clubs, the Falmouth High School product owns a lifetime 2.78 ERA and 3.30 FIP to go along with 132 career saves over 594 outings and 576 total innings pitched.

One of those six teams Cishek spent time with was the Tampa Bay Rays for the latter half of the 2017 campaign, so he now reunites with Astros general manager and former Rays executive James Click in Southeast Texas.

The former 2007 fifth-round draft pick of the Marlins had thrown for teams back in January during Corey Kluber’s showcase in South Florida (the two are both represented by Jet Sports Management).

As many as 25 teams attended said showcase, and while the Yankees came away winners of the Kluber sweepstakes, the Astros came out winners in the less-publicized Cishek sweepstakes.

Given his local connections, Cishek always seemed like someone who would be a perfect fit for the Red Sox, whether it be by trade or free agency.

A union between the two sides has yet to happen, though The Athletic’s Peter Gammons tweeted in December 2019 — before Cishek joined the White Sox — that the former Miami closer ‘would like to sign with Boston.’

That being said, as long as Cishek keeps taking minor- or one-year deals during the latter stages of his career, his eventual signing with the Sox cannot be ruled out at this point.

(Picture of Steve Cishek: Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Red Sox add flamethrowing right-hander José Adames on minor-league deal

The Red Sox have signed free-agent right-hander Jose Adames to a minor-league contract for the 2021 season, per MLB.com’s transaction wire. It’s unclear at this point if the deal includes an invite to major-league spring training.

Adames, who turned 28 earlier this month, has spent the last eight seasons with the Reds and Marlins organizations.

Originally signed by Miami out of the Dominican Republic in 2010, Adames has never pitched above the Class-A level due in part to the amount of time he has missed because of injury.

The 6-foot-2, 165 lb. hurler has undergone Tommy John surgery on two separate occasions in his professional career — the first of which came in September 2016, the second of which came in June 2018 — which resulted in him missing the entirety of the 2017 and 2018 minor-league seasons as well as the majority of 2019.

In brief stints with the Ariziona League Reds and rookie-league Billings Mustangs at the tail end of the 2019 campaign, Adames “came out firing fastballs in the upper 90s each time, and struck out 8 of the 16 hitters he faced,” according to RedsMinorLeague.com’s Doug Gray.

This past season, Adames was not included in Cincinnati’s major-league spring training roster, though he did get the chance to appear in two Cactus League games against the Rangers and Cubs on February 24 and March 7.

The fireballer managed to work a scoreless frame in each of those outings while also topping out at 100 mph with his fastball at one point.

With the 2020 minor-league season getting cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Adames did not get the opportunity to pitch in organized games over the summer, nor was he part of the Reds’ 60-man player pool at any point last year.

He did however pitch for Águilas Cibaeñas of the Dominican Winter League, allowing six runs (five earned) on three hits and five walks over two relief appearances and 2 2/3 innings of work.

With his new organization, Adames, who projects as potential upper minor-league bullpen depth, will look to make a positive first impression in Fort Myers if he is indeed invited to big-league spring training.

He does bring with him some rave reviews from members of the Reds’ player development staff, including pitching coordinator Kyle Boddy.

So far this offseason, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. have either signed or re-signed the following players to minor-league deals:

C Roldani Baldwin
C Jhonny Pereda
1B Joey Meneses
1B Josh Ockimey
INF Jack Lopez
INF Jeremy Rivera
OF Cesar Puello
OF Michael Gettys
OF Johan Mieses
LHP Emmanuel De Jesus
LHP Stephen Gonsalves
RHP Kevin McCarthy
RHP Seth Blair
RHP Raynel Espinal
RHP Caleb Simpson
RHP Zack Kelly
RHP Jose Disla
RHP Daniel Gossett
RHP Zac Grotz
RHP Jose Adames

(Picture of Jose Adames: Águilas Cibaeñas/Twitter)

Marlins one of several teams engaged with Red Sox regarding potential Andrew Benintendi trade, per report

The Miami Marlins are one of the teams that have been engaged with the Red Sox in trade talks involving outfielder Andrew Benintendi, according to The Athletic’s Jim Bowden.

The two sides have not been able to reach an agreement to this point, though, and other teams have also been involved.

Bowden was the first to report on Saturday that the Red Sox “have been in serious trade talks with multiple teams” regarding Benintendi, citing that Boston was “looking for prospect(s) type return with [an] emphasis on pitchers and outfielders.”

Benintendi, who is coming off a disastrous 2020 season (.442 OPS over 52 PAs) in which he was limited to just 14 games due to a right rib cage strain, is under team control for two more years and can become eligible for free agency at the conclusion of the 2022 campaign.

The 26-year-old is slated to earn $6.6 million in the second year of a two-year, $10 million extension he signed with Boston last February. 2022 would serve as his third and final season of arbitration eligibility.

The Marlins, meanwhile, are coming off a year in which their outfielders ranked 12th in the National League in wRC+ (86) and 14th in fWAR (0.3), so it would appear that they are attempting to upgrade their outfield corps.

On that note, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reported earlier this month that Miami is looking for a “corner outfielder, preferably a right fielder and left-handed hitter.”

Though Heyman did not specify if the Marlins were looking for this particular player via trade or free agency, Benintendi certainly fits that mold seeing how he is a corner outfielder who hits from the left side of the plate.

Of course, the former first-round draft pick has never played an inning in right field as a professional, but he did log some time there during his freshman season at the University of Arkansas.

As for who the Marlins would give up in this potential trade, that much is unclear, and it’s likely to remain that way seeing how Boston and Miami “have not been able to agree on a return” yet.

Given the knowledge we have of this ongoing situation, the Sox and Fish could just be in the opening stages of trade talks here.

As a matter of fact, The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier wrote on Sunday that “[one] major league source characterized the Red Sox’ conversations about Benintendi as ‘due diligence’ and ‘nothing out of the ordinary,’ at a time when teams often gauge the value of virtually all of their players.”

That much is understandable, especially at a point in time where Benintendi’s trade value is presumably at an all-time low on account of how much he has underperformed these past two seasons.

2021 could prove to be a ‘revenge tour’ of sorts for the Cincinnati native, so the Red Sox may want to hold on to Benintendi for a little longer at the risk of dealing him and potentially seeing him thrive with a new organization given his track record.

At the moment, per Speier, Benintendi has been working out in Nashville, and he was scheduled to meet with Red Sox hitting coach Tim Hyers on Monday.

(Picture of Andrew Benintendi: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox should consider signing right-hander Ryne Stanek

The Red Sox are a team in need of pitching help — both of the starting rotation and bullpen variety — this offseason. Among the names available via free agency, Ryne Stanek is far from the sexiest. But, the right-hander could prove to be an integral piece of any club’s pitching staff if he regains his 2018-2019 form come next season.

Non-tendered by the Marlins earlier this week, the 29-year-old hurler hits the open market for the first time in his career coming off a lackluster 2020 campaign in which he allowed eight earned runs over just nine relief appearances and 10 innings of work. He was limited due to the fact that he missed a month on the injured list for an undisclosed reason.

Originally acquired by Miami from the Rays at last season’s trade deadline, Stanek had been enjoying success at the major-league level with Tampa Bay prior to his move to South Beach.

Going back to the start of the 2018 season, the St. Louis native had posted a 3.17 ERA and 3.64 FIP in exactly 100 appearances (56 starts) and 122 innings pitched up until the point he was traded in late July 2019.

Those are decent numbers, and considering the fact he was only projected to earn $800,000 in his first season of arbitration eligibility in 2021, Stanek could be someone teams believe will bounce back with a new change of scenery. The Red Sox, by all accounts, could very well be one of those teams.

Not only could Stanek, who works with a four-seamer, slider, and splitter, provide valuable pitching depth for a club in desperate need of it, but there’s the Chaim Bloom factor to consider as well.

Boston’s chief baseball officer was a key member of Tampa Bay’s front office for over a decade, and he most likely had input on who the Rays took with their second first-round pick of the 2013 amateur draft in Stanek, a former Arkansas Razorback.

So far in his tenure with the Sox, Bloom has not shied away from picking up former early-round picks who had fallen off from their former top prospect status. Infielder Christian Arroyo, who was most notably part of the trade that sent Evan Longoria from the Rays to the Giants in 2017, is just one example.

Stanek fits that same mold to some degree, and he would also fit in with the Red Sox on account of the fact that he is versatile, capable of pitching out of the bullpen and serving as an opener when needed.

As mentioned earlier, 56 of Stanek’s 121 appearances with the Rays going back to 2017 had come as an opener. The 6-foot-4 right-hander proved to be quite effective in that role, and he may be able to regain that level of effectiveness if he were to return to it with Boston.

The way the Sox’ rotation looks at the moment in terms of the level of depth, it would not hurt to have an opener as a potential sixth or seventh option if a starter were to go down for whatever reason.

We have certainly seen out fair share of Red Sox openers going back to the latter half of the 2019 season, but bringing in someone like Stanek, one of the role’s innovators, could have the makings to be an underrated offseason addition for Bloom and Co.

Austin Brice to Make First Career Start for Red Sox in Series Finale Against Yankees

Right-hander Austin Brice will make his first career major-league start for the Red Sox against the Yankees on Sunday night, manager Ron Roenicke announced following Saturday’s 5-2 defeat in the Bronx.

This announcement comes as the No. 5 spot in the Red Sox’ starting rotation is due up next. Last time through, left-hander Josh Osich served as the opener out of the No. 4 spot this past Monday, while fellow southpaw Matt Hall was lined up to be more of a traditional starter in the No. 5 spot, but only lasted 2 2/3 innings against the Mets this past Tuesday.

Now, as Boston is about to complete their second turn through the rotation, it will be the 28-year-old Brice getting the call to open against the vaunted Yankees to close out the weekend.

Originally acquired by the Sox in a minor trade with the Marlins back in January, Brice has never started a game at the major-league level since making his debut with Miami in 2016. However, the former ninth-round draft pick out of high school in 2010 has made 114 career starts at the minor-league level.

The last time Brice was a full-time starter was during the 2015 season, when in 25 outings and 125 1/3 innings pitched with Double-A Jacksonville, the North Carolina native who was actually born in Hong Kong posted a 4.67 ERA and 4.19 xFIP, per FanGraphs.

According to Roenicke, the plan is to have Brice go the first one or two innings on Sunday before dispatching up to six to seven relievers rather than a “bulk-inning guy.” This comes as the Red Sox have an off day in Tampa Bay following Sunday’s series finale against New York.

“We will see where we are. But the bulk-inning guy, if we’re scoring runs and it’s tight, probably won’t be as long as what we normally do,” Roenicke told reporters Saturday. “I think that off day the next day (Monday) certainly helps us to bring in some of the guys to keep it tighter instead of going maybe three or four innings with somebody.”

In what will be his first start and fifth overall appearance as a member of the Red Sox, Brice will enter Sunday’s contest with a 7.71 ERA and 7.81 FIP through his first 4 2/3 innings pitched of 2020.

‘You Do Not Go Into Nightclubs. You Do Not Go Into Bars’; Red Sox Players Will Not Be Allowed to Do Certain Things While on Road Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

After Tuesday night’s game against the Mets, the Red Sox will hit the road for the first time this season. The club’s first road trip of 2020 includes stops in Queens, the Bronx, and Tampa Bay. With all that traveling in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic comes a great deal of responsibility for players and staff alike, especially in Florida, which has emerged as one of the hot spots for coronavirus in recent weeks.

When speaking with reporters prior to Monday’s series opener against New York, Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke detailed a Zoom meeting the team held to inform players what they can and cannot do on the road. Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom was also involved.

“We’re going on the road. We need to be careful with what we do,” Roenicke said regarding his team’s upcoming travels. “We are talking about different cities and who’s more at risk doing things in certain areas. New York has done a good job. You may be okay walking to a place there more than you would be in Florida.”

Earlier Monday, it was revealed that at least 14 Miami Marlins players and coaches tested positive for COVID-19, which led the club to cancelling their home opener against the Orioles while they remain in self-isolation in Philadelphia, where they spent the weekend playing the Phillies.

According to the Center for Disease Control’s COVID Data Tracker, there have been nearly 419,000 total coronavirus cases in the state of Florida thus far, which is second-most in the Untied States behind only California.

With all that information in mind, playing baseball games in Florida, whether it be in Miami or Tampa Bay, will obviously raise concerns among MLB players and staff while cases continue to rise.

As previously mentioned, the Red Sox will be arriving in Florida next week for a brief-two-game set against the Rays. With an off day on the Monday before that series begins, it will be imperative that the Sox follow the proper virus-related protocols. Roenicke said as much when speaking with reporters earlier.

“You do not go into nightclubs. You do not go into bars,” he stated when recounting what was told to the players in Monday’s Zoom meeting. “To be a hermit and stay in your room for the whole time and just go to the ballpark and stay home, it’s hard to tell a player they have to do it.”

With all the virus-related issues that have sprung up in the past 24 hours, more players may be leaning towards opting out of the remainder of the 2020 season. Roenicke, however, is hopeful that if the Red Sox can make players feel more comfortable, then they will not have to worry about that possibility.

“I don’t want to make them fearful of going on the road and playing. We’ve done a good job so far,” said the Sox skipper. “The more we keep them safe, the more comfortable they feel. We can continue on with this.”

Again, the Red Sox will be departing Boston for New York on Tuesday night. Hopefully we’ll still have a Major League Baseball season to talk about by then.

 

 

Red Sox Sign University of Miami Ace Brian Van Belle

Since the window to sign undrafted free agents opened on Sunday morning, the Red Sox have signed 10 undrafted free agents, the most among all clubs, according to Baseball America.

The most notable of these additions to this point, at least in terms of BA’s draft-eligible prospect rankings, was made earlier Monday in the form of University of Miami (Fla.) right-hander Brian Van Belle.

Van Belle, 23, was regarded by Baseball America as the 16th-ranked senior in this year’s draft class.

The former JuCo product out of Pembroke Pines posted a 0.68 ERA and .168 batting average against over four starts and 26 1/3 innings of work as the Hurricanes’ ace in 2020 before the college baseball season was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Listed at 6’2″ and 187 lbs., Van Belle underwent Tommy John surgery in 2015 while a freshman in junior college and wound up missing his entire sophomore season because of it.

He transferred to Miami from Broward College in October 2017, and emerged as the Hurricanes’ Friday night starter on a team that featured two 2020 early-round draft picks in the form of Slade Cecconi and Chris McMahon.

Per SoxProspects‘ Ian Cundall, Van Belle’s pitching arsenal includes a fastball that can top out at 93 MPH as well as a quality circle changeup.

As is the case with all undrafted free agents, the most the Red Sox can sign Van Belle for is $20,0000.

Here are the other nine undrafted prospects the Red Sox have signed since Sunday.

 

Red Sox Acquire Reliever Austin Brice From Marlins, Designate Marco Hernandez for Assignment

The Red Sox have acquired right-handed reliever Austin Brice for the Miami Marlins in exchange for shortstop prospect Angeudis Santos. In a corresponding move, utility infielder Marco Hernandez was designated for assignment to make room for Brice on Boston’s 40-man roster. The club made the transactions official earlier Friday.

Brice, 27, was designated for assignment by the Marlins this past Tuesday after posting a 3.43 ERA and 4.79 xFIP over 36 relief appearances and 44 2/3 innings of work in 2019 in his second stint with Miami.

The former 2010 ninth-round pick was originally drafted by the Marlins and was part of the trade that sent Luis Castillo the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for Dan Straily back in January 2017.

From that point, Brice spent a short amount of time with the Angels and Orioles before being claimed off waivers by Miami prior to the start of the 2019 campaign.

Per Statcast, Brice, who was the first player born in Hong Kong to appear in the majors, relies on a four-pitch arsenal that includes a curveball, four-seam fastball, sinker, and changeup. He averaged 93.1 MPH with his heater last year.

Since he is out of minor-league options, Brice will have to crack Boston’s Opening Day roster if he does not want to be exposed to waivers.

Brice now joins left-hander Josh Osich and right-hander Chris Mazza as bullpen additions chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. have made either through trades or the waiver wire this offseason.

As for the minor-league shortstop the Red Sox parted ways with, Angeudis Santos is an 18-year-old out of the Dominican Republic who Boston signed for $110,000 in September 2018. He slashed just .184/.384/.218 with four extra-base hits and 13 RBI over 56 games with one of the Sox’ Dominican Summer League teams last year.

Turning to Hernandez now, it has probably been a frustrating offseason for the 27-year-old. Back on December 2nd, he was non-tendered by Boston, Two days later, the club brought him back on a split contract to save approximately $50,000.

Now that Hernandez has been designated for assignment, I am sure the Red Sox would like to bring him back as depth if he sneaks through waivers. We’ll have to wait and see on that though since he could be traded or claimed by another team in the next seven days.