Red Sox release Brandon Howlett

The Red Sox have released minor-league third baseman/right fielder Brandon Howlett, according to the team’s transactions log.

Howlett, who turns 23 next month, was originally selected by Boston in the 21st round of the 2018 amateur draft out George Jenkins High School in Lakeland, Fla. He forwent his commitment to Florida State University by signing with the Sox for $185,000.

After putting together a decent season (117 wRC+ in 96 games) with High-A Greenville in 2021, Howlett broke camp this spring with Double-A Portland. But the right-handed hitter struggled to the tune of a .167/.278/.205 slash line in 27 games (90 plate appearances) with the Sea Dogs before getting demoted back to Greenville in early June.

Following that demotion, Howlett fared better in his return to the Drive by batting .194/.378/.379 with 10 doubles, three home runs, 12 RBIs, and 16 runs scored over 34 games (135 plate appearances). Although he managed to get on base more via ball four, Howlett was still striking out at a near-35 percent clip, which is among the highest marks for South Atlantic League Hitters who have made at least 130 trips to the plate to this point in the season.

Between the strikeout issues and the recent promotions of fellow infielders Marcelo Mayer and Blaze Jordan from Low-A Salem, Howlett’s future with the Red Sox became bleak enough to the point where he was officially cut loose on Wednesday.

In the four-plus years he spent with Boston, Howlett peaked as the organization’s 14th-ranked prospect in 2019, per Baseball America. He was also Baseball America’s 20th-ranked Red Sox prospect in 2020 before being dropped from the list altogether last year.

(Picture of Brandon Howlett: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Don’t forget about Red Sox prospect Devlin Granberg

Even with the ongoing lockout delaying the start of the 2022 Major League Baseball Season, the 2022 minor-league season remains unaffected. And while prospects on the 40-man roster are still impacted by the work stoppage, all other Red Sox minor-leaguers begin their version of spring training this Sunday.

Out of the dozens of players who have been and who will be pouring into the Fort Myers-area in the coming days, one name to watch for is first baseman/outfielder Devlin Granberg.

Granberg, 26, is admittedly older for your prototypical prospect. The Sox originally drafted the Dallas Baptist University senior in the sixth round of the 2018 amateur draft and later signed him for just $40,000.

After beginning his professional career with the Lowell Spinners and splitting the 2019 campaign between Boston’s two Class-A affilates, Granberg was met with somewhat of a roadblock when the 2020 minor-league season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He did not receive an invite to the Red Sox’ alternate training site that summer, nor did he participate in the team’s fall instructional league. Still, according to director of player development Brian Abraham, Granberg was one of several players who came into camp last year and “immediately impressed with the strides they’d made during a year away.”

On the heels of such an impressive spring, Granberg opened the 2021 minor-league season with High-A Greenville. The right-handed hitter got off to a scorching start for the Drive, batting .326/.416/.642 (174 wRC+) with seven doubles, one triple, seven home runs, 29 RBIs, 21 runs scored, one stolen base, 12 walks, and 16 strikeouts over 27 games (113 plate appearances) before earning a promotion to Double-A Portland on June 16.

Upon arriving in Portland, Granberg picked up right where he left off in terms of offensive production. He cooled down for a bit in August, but rebounded in September to end his year by slashing .286/.331/.469 (117 wRC+) with 16 doubles, one triple, 10 homers, 45 RBIs, 48 runs scored, four stolen bases, 11 walks, and 54 strikeouts across 69 games (281 plate appearances) with the Sea Dogs.

In a conversation with FanGraphs’ David Laurila last July, Granberg described himself as “immobile” and his short, compact swing as “one of the more interesting swings out there” since it is unconventional.

“I would say it’s pretty rotational, yet not totally rotational,” he said. “It’s kind of like those combo swings — not too crouched, maybe a little bit open, and then I stride into it. I’m trying to hit the ball middle/opposite field most of the time.”

Defensively, Granberg saw playing time at four different positions between Greenville and Portland in 2021. The 6-foot-2, 224 pounder logged 138 innings at first base, 194 innings in left field, nine innings in center field, and 303 1/3 innings in right field while recording a total of two outfield assists.

Per his SoxProspects.com scouting report, Granberg “has more defensive upside at first base” than he does in the outfield since he possesses fringe-average arm strength and average range.

Granberg, who does not turn 27 until September, is not regarded by SoxProspects.com as one of the top prospects in Boston’s farm system. The Colorado native is currently projected by the site to begin the 2022 season where he left off in 2021: Portland.

That being said, Granberg is still eligible for the Rule 5 Draft since he was left off the Red Sox’ 40-man roster in November. On Friday, Baseball America’s Josh Norris reported that the Rule 5 Draft “is expected to take place a week after a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is in place,” though it could end up getting cancelled if the lockout continues to drag on.

(Picture of Devlin Granberg: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Who is Miguel Ugueto? Red Sox outfield prospect batted .331 in Florida Complex League last year

Red Sox outfield prospect Miguel Ugueto was among the organization’s top performers in the Florida Complex League last year.

Nicknamed “The Machine” like Albert Pujols, Ugueto appeared in 35 games for the Sox’ rookie-level affiliate. Over that stretch, the right-handed-hitting 19-year-old batted a stout .331/.370/.528 (135 wRC+) to go along with 15 doubles, two triples, two home runs, 20 RBIs, 26 runs scored, seven stolen bases, seven walks, and 26 strikeouts across 135 plate appearances.

He posted a .949 OPS against right-handed pitching compared to a .733 OPS against left-handed pitching.

Among FCL hitters who made at least 130 trips to the plate in 2021, Ugueto ranked 13th in strikeout rate (19.3%), third in batting average, 15th in on-base percentage, sixth in slugging percentage, fifth in OPS (.898), 15th in isolated power (.197), eighth in speed score (8.6), and seventh in wRC+, per FanGraphs.

Defensively, the 6-foot-2, 185 pounder saw playing time at all three outfield positions last year in Fort Myers. He logged 99 2/3 innings in left, 56 innings in center, and 104 in right while not committing a single error and recording three outfield assists.

A native of Venezuela, Ugueto originally signed with Boston for just $10,000 as an international free agent in August 2019. His first full professional season was wiped out because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but he certainly made up for lost time in 2021.

With that being said, though, there does seem to be some concern regarding Ugueto’s outlook in spite of the success he enjoyed last summer. As highlighted by SoxProspects.com’s director of scouting Ian Cundall in September, “scouts are skeptical of his ability to hit more advanced pitching. His swing is ugly and he is a free swinger with poor pitch recognition and no approach at the plate. Unless his approach improves drastically, he will struggle to make contact as he moves up the system.

“Defensively, his profile also puts a lot of pressure on his bat, as he is slow-footed with a corner outfield profile,” added Cundall. “While he has played a significant amount of center field this year, he has moved to the corners in his last eight games.”

Ugueto, who does not turn 20 until this coming September, is not regarded by any major publication as one of the top prospects in the Red Sox’ farm system. He was, however, one of 11 outfielders to participate in the team’s fall performance program this past October.

On that note, Ugueto is projected by SoxProspects.com to begin the 2022 minor-league season where he left off in 2021: the Florida Complex League. Of course, under that scenario, it would not be surprising if Ugueto were to earn a promotion to Low-A Salem at some point this summer.

(Picture of Miguel Ugueto: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Red Sox release minor-league infielder Brett Netzer

The Red Sox have released minor-league infielder Brett Netzer, according to The Athletic’s Chad Jennings.

Per Jennings, the Sox elected to release Netzer “following a series of racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic posts on Twitter.”

Netzer, 25, was originally selected by Boston in the third round of the 2017 amateur draft out of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The South Carolina native signed with the club for $475,000.

After debuting with the Lowell Spinners and closing out the 2017 season with the Greenville Drive, Netzer spent the entirety of the 2018 campaign with the Salem Red Sox and the entirety of the 2019 campaign with the Portland Sea Dogs.

In 130 games for Double-A Portland, the left-handed hitting second baseman batted .247/.320/.357 with eight home runs and 50 RBIs over 512 plate appearances. He also played for the Peoria Javelinas of the Arizona Fall League in 2019.

With the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down Minor League Baseball in 2020, Netzer did not appear in any sort of organized action that summer, nor was he invited to participate in the Sox’ fall instructional league in Fort Myers.

Shortly before the 2021 minor-league season was set to begin last May, the Red Sox placed Netzer on the restricted list for an undisclosed reason. He spent the entire year there despite being listed on Portland’s roster.

Now that he has been released, Netzer has subsequently become a free agent. The 6-foot, 195 pounder topped out as the No. 18 prospect in Boston’s farm system in 2018, per Baseball America’s rankings.

In response to what went down with Netzer on Saturday, Red Sox pitching prospect Brendan Cellucci took to Twitter to express his feelings on the matter.

“It’s safe to say Red Sox fans have been shocked by the comments of a former player,” Cellucci tweeted. “I don’t speak for the organization, however I will say that player’s comments don’t reflect the reputation and standard we uphold. Our organization promotes respect and love for all, period.”

(Picture of Brett Netzer: Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

Red Sox catching prospect Ronaldo Hernández has been red-hot at the plate for Double-A Portland

After a torrid month of July, Red Sox catching prospect Ronaldo Hernandez got his August off to a solid start for Double-A Portland on Sunday.

Though the Sea Dogs ultimately fell to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats by a final score of 7-6 at Hadlock Field, Hernandez certainly did his part to prevent that from happening.

Starting at designated hitter and batting out of the six-hole, the 23-year-old went 2-for-4 with a two-run home run and two runs scored on the afternoon.

The tw0-run homer, which came off Fisher Cats reliever Graham Spraker, was Hernandez’s 11th big fly of the year and it cut Portland’s deficit down to two runs at 7-5. Tanner Nishikoa followed with a solo shot of his own to make it a one-run game, but New Hampshire was ultimately able to hold and take the series finale in a close contest.

Hernandez’s two-hit outing raised his batting line on the season to a respectable .252/.296/.467 (103 wRC+) to go along with 12 doubles, 11 home runs, 25 RBI, 24 runs scored, eight strikeouts across 59 games (223 plate appearances) on the year.

The Red Sox originally acquired Hernandez — as well as infield prospect Nick Sogard — from the Rays back in February in exchange for relievers Chris Mazza and Jeffrey Springs as well as cash considerations.

Hernandez, who does not turn 24 until November, signed with Tampa Bay for $225,000 as an international free agent out of Colombia during the 2014 signing period.

After five years in the organization, the Rays added Hernandez to their 40-man roster in November 2019 in order to protect him from that winter’s Rule 5 Draft, though he did not play another game in their system after that (but spent time on the club’s taxi squad and postseason player pool) with the 2020 minor-league season being cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since he was a member of Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster at the time of the four-player trade from this past February, Hernandez immediately joined Boston’s 40-man roster and received an invite to major-league spring training as a result.

The right-handed hitting backstop was optioned to the Sox’ alternate training site in early March and later began the 2021 minor-league campaign with Portland.

Through his first several weeks as a member of the Sea Dogs, Hernandez — for the most part struggled — as he hit just .210/.248/.384 (67 wRC+) over 138 trips to the plate from the beginning of May until the end of June.

As soon as the calendar flipped to July, however, Hernandez seemed to turn a corner offensively, and it started with a three-hit performance against the Fisher Cats in Manchester on July 4.

Over the next four weeks, Hernandez simply lit it up at the plate. In five games between the Reading Fightin Phils from July 13-18, he amassed a total of eight hits while boasting an OPS of 1.318 thanks to putting together three multi-hit outings.

By the time the month of July came to a close over the weekend, not only had Hernandez not been traded, but he also posted a stellar .324/.378/.588 slash line (158 wRC+) in addition to clubbing four homers, driving in 13 runs, and scoring 11 of his own over his last 22 games and 68 plate appearances dating back to July 1.

Among Double-A Northeast catchers with at least 50 at-bats over the course of July, Hernandez ranked first in batting average, first in on-base percentage, first in slugging percentage, first in OPS, tied-first in hits (22), second in doubles (6), tied-second in home runs, and second in RBI.

On the other side of the ball, it appears as though Hernandez still has room to develop when it comes to what he does defensively. So far this season, the 6-foot-1, 237 pound backstop has committed six errors while allowing 10 passed balls to elude him while behind the plate. He has also thrown out 13 of 49 (26.5%) runners attempting to steal off him.

Per his Baseball America scouting report, “Hernandez has a plus arm behind the plate and moves well for a big catcher, but his receiving is fringe-average and needs to continue to improve.”

Regarded by Baseball America as the No. 13 prospect in Boston’s farm system — which ranks tops among catchers in the system, Hernandez is currently one of four backstops on the Sox’ 40-man roster alongside veterans like Christian Vazquez and Kevin Plawecki and fellow prospect Connor Wong.

Given his standing on the Red Sox’ 40-man roster, one has to wonder if Hernandez could be in line for a promotion to Triple-A Worcester before season’s end if he continues to produce at a consistent level.

Not only would promoting Hernandez to the WooSox give the Red Sox a chance to evaluate how the young backstop adjusts to a new level of competition and new pitching staff, it would also grant them the opportunity to see if Hernandez is worthy of his 40-man spot, or if it would be better suited for another prospect in need of protection from December’s Rule 5 Draft.

(Picture of Ronaldo Hernandez: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Red Sox’ Garrett Richards impressed by the way 18-year-old prospect Nick Yorke carries himself: ‘You don’t see that very often’

Red Sox infield prospect Nick Yorke was just nine years old when Garrett Richards made his major-league debut for the Angels in August 2011.

Now 18, Yorke — the youngest player at Red Sox camp in Fort Myers — was one of a handful of hitters to face off against the veteran right-hander during a live batting practice session inside JetBlue Park on Thursday morning.

“Pretty impressed,” Richards said when asked about his thoughts on Yorke. “Not only with the talent, but with the way he carries himself. I just found out probably a few days ago that he was 18 years old. And I happened to just be walking by and that was the only sentence that I heard. He was talking to somebody and mentioned that he was 18 years old.

“Me being an older guy, it made me stop in my tracks a little bit,” added the 32-year-old hurler. “Because I had no idea this kid was that young. But very, very impressive with the maturity level and how he carries himself. You don’t see that very often. He’s obviously young and he’s going to be in this game for a lot of years. So I’m excited to watch him develop and adjust to this level of baseball.”

The Red Sox selected Yorke with their top pick in the first round the 2020 amateur draft out of Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, Calif.

The right-handed hitting second baseman — listed at 6-foot and 200 pounds — was one of 22 non-roster invitees to receive an invite to big-league spring training last month before being reassigned to minor-league camp last Friday.

Through his first four Grapefruit League contests of 2021, Yorke is 1-for-5 at the plate with a single, three walks, and two strikeouts.

Despite being the youngest player at the Fenway South complex, Yorke is holding his own, and he is impressing the likes of Red Sox manager Alex Cora while doing so.

“He’s in a better place physically,” Cora said of the California native last month. “He’s a tall, strong kid. That was impressive. I look and I’m like, ‘Who’s this kid?’ They told me and I was like, ‘Wow, he’s impressive.’”

Yorke, who turns 19 next month, is projected to begin the 2021 minor-league season at Low-A Salem. He is currently regarded by Baseball America as the Sox’ No. 9 prospect.

(Picture of Nick Yorke: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox option right-hander Tanner Houck to alternate training site

Following their 9-1 victory over the Twins on Wednesday, the Red Sox made their fifth round of spring roster cuts and, perhaps most significantly, optioned right-hander Tanner Houck to their alternate training site in Worcester.

The lone member of Boston’s 40-man roster involved in these moves, Houck was seen as a potential candidate to crack the team’s Opening Day starting rotation, but that no longer appears to be the case.

The 24-year-old righty impressed upon getting called up by the Sox last September, posting a 0.53 ERA and 3.25 FIP over his first three starts and 17 innings pitched in the majors.

Spring training thus far has been a different story for Houck, though, as the former first-round draft pick has struggled with his command to the tune of a 4:10 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

He has also yielded six earned runs in just 6 1/3 innings of work through his first three appearances of the spring.

Given those struggles, as well as the fact that the club has adequate, upper-level rotation depth in the form of Matt Andriese and Garrett Whitlock, the Sox will let Houck continue to develop at the alternate site to start the new season.

This does not mean that Houck — currently regarded by Baseball America as the Red Sox’ No. 7 prospect — won’t pitch in Boston this year; it just means that his 2021 debut may come later than some may have expected.

In addition to Houck being optioned, the Sox also reassigned seven players — right-hander Daniel Gossett, left-hander Stephen Gonsalves, catcher Kole Cottam, first basemen Triston Casas and Josh Ockimey, and outfielders Jarren Duran and Yairo Munoz — to minor-league camp.

This flurry of transactions leaves the Red Sox with 35 players on their major-league spring training roster. That number does not include Chris Sale or Franchy Cordero, who both remain on the injured list.

(Picture of Tanner Houck: Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Top prospects Jeter Downs, Gilberto Jimenez included in second round of Red Sox spring roster cuts

Following their 8-2 victory over the Rays at JetBlue Park on Friday afternoon, the Red Sox announced their second round of spring roster cuts, as the club optioned four players to their alternate training site and reassigned eight players to the minor-leagues.

Right-handed pitching prospect Connor Seabold, infield prospect Hudson Potts, and outfield prospects Jeisson Rosario and Marcus Wilson were optioned down to Boston’s alternate training site.

Left-handers Kyle Hart and Matt Hall, right-handers Caleb Simpson and Ryan Weber, catcher Jett Bandy, infielder Chad De La Guerra, infield prospect Jeter Downs, and outfield prospect Gilberto Jimenez, meanwhile, were all reassigned to the minors.

All four prospects who were optioned to the alternate site are currently on the Sox’ 40-man roster, while all eight players who were reassigned to the minors were taking part in major-league spring training as non-roster invitees.

Among those who were sent down to the alternate site, Baseball America ranks Potts as the No. 24 prospect, Rosario as the No. 20 prospect, and Seabold as the No. 11 prospect in Boston’s farm system heading into the 2021 season.

Among those who were reassigned to minor-league camp, Downs and Jimenez are regarded by Baseball America as the No. 2 and No. 7 prospects in the Red Sox farm system, respectively.

Following Friday’s flurry of moves, the Sox now have just 10 non-roster invitees at big-league camp, bringing the total size of their spring training roster down to approximately 53 players.

(Picture of Jeter Downs: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Durbin Feltman, A.J. Politi, Thaddeus Ward among 12 players included in Red Sox’ first round of spring roster cuts

Before taking on the Rays in Port Charlotte on Tuesday afternoon, the Red Sox announced their first round of spring training roster cuts.

In total, 12 players — two catchers, 10 pitchers — were reassigned by the club to the minor-leagues.

Catchers (2): Roldani Baldwin, Austin Rei

Pitchers (10): Seth Blair, Matt Carasiti, Raynel Espinal, Durbin Feltman, Frank German, Zac Grotz, Kaleb Ort, A.J. Politi, Thaddeus Ward, Josh Winckowski

All 12 players cut on Tuesday were initially invited to big-league camp as non-roster invitees, so these moves are not exactly surprising.

According to Baseball America, Ward is the No. 10 prospect and Politi is the No. 27 prospect in Boston’s farm system heading into the 2021 season. Both right-handers are projected to begin the year with Double-A Portland as part of the Sea Dogs’ starting rotation.

German and Winckowski, meanwhile, are two pitching prospects the Sox acquired via trade this offseason.

The 23-year-old German was part of the deal between the Red Sox and Yankees that brought Adam Ottavino to Boston, while the 22-year-old Winckowski was part of the three-team swap that sent Andrew Benintendi to the Kansas City Royals.

They, too, are right-handed pitchers and are both projected to start the 2021 campaign in Portland.

Just because these players were reassigned, that does not prevent them from appearing in additional Grapefruit League games this spring. Feltman and Ward are both expected to pitch against the Rays on Tuesday, for example.

When they are not playing in games, players reassigned to the minors will remain in Fort Myers, but will work out at different times than those who are still on the major-league roster.

Following Tuesday’s round of cuts, the Sox now have 22 non-roster invitees at big-league camp, bringing the total size of their spring training roster down to 62 players.

(Picture of Thaddeus Ward: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox sign veteran catcher Chris Herrmann to minor-league deal, per report

The Red Sox have signed veteran catcher Chris Herrmann to a minor-league contract, according to @iTalkStudiosYT on Twitter and confirmed by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo. The deal includes an invite to major-league spring training.

Herrmann, 33, spent the majority of the 2020 season at the Giants’ alternate training site after signing a minor-league pact with the club in late July.

For his big-league career, which spans parts of eight seasons with four teams (Twins, Diamondbacks, Mariners, Athletics), the Texas native owns a lifetime .205/.282/.344 slash line to go along with 25 home runs and 103 RBI over 370 total games played, more than half of which came with Arizona in 2016-2017.

While primarily a catcher, Herrmann — a product of the University of Miami and former 2009 sixth-round draft pick of the Twins — does have limited experience at first base as well as all three outfield positions.

In signing a minor-league contract with the Sox, the 6-foot, 200 lb. backstop will join a catching mix at big-league camp in Fort Myers that includes the likes of Christian Vazquez, Kevin Plawecki, Connor Wong, Jhonny Pereda, and Roldani Baldwin.

Leading up to the start of spring training, it seemed like Boston was primed to add a veteran catcher in some capacity to fill the void left behind by Jett Bandy and Juan Centeno, and they have now done that by inking Herrmann for the 2021 season.

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
C Chris Herrmann
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
RHP Matt Carasiti

(Picture of Chris Herrmann: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)