New Podding the Red Sox episode: Breaking down trade deadline moves with Pitcher List’s Sarah Griffin

On this week’s installment of Podding the Red Sox: A BloggingtheRedSox.com Podcast, I am joined by Pitcher List writer Sarah Griffin.

Among the topics Sarah and I discussed were the moves the Red Sox made ahead of last week’s trade deadline, how the team is in the midst of a season-worst four-game losing streak, the role Kyle Schwarber may play once he returns from the injured list, why Tanner Houck was optioned to Triple-A Worcester, how Chris Sale could fare in his first major-league action in two years, what other clubs — such as the Brewers and Dodgers — did to bolster their rosters at the deadline, how the final two months of the 2021 regular season will play out, and much more!

The episode is available to listen to on iTunes and Spotify, among other platforms.

Thanks to Sarah for taking some time out of her Tuesday to have this conversation with me. You can follow Sarah on Twitter by clicking here and read her work for Pitcher List by clicking here. Also, check out her new podcast — Saturdays n Seltzers — by clicking here.

Thank you for listening and we will see you next time! Please make sure to subscribe and leave a five-star review if you can!

(Picture of Fenway Park: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

How Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo became a better major-leaguer because of veteran teammates like Mitch Moreland, Rich Hill

Alex Verdugo’s inaugural season with the Red Sox ended with the outfielder finishing 12th in American League MVP voting.

Well before that, though, the 24-year-old had gotten off to a rough start with his new team.

After being left off the Sox’ Opening Day lineup last July, Verdugo struggled to the tune of a .231/.286/.231 slash line with no extra-base hits, no RBI, two walks, and sevens strikeouts through his first eight games and 28 plate appearances of the year.

The centerpiece for Boston in the five-player trade with the Dodgers that sent Mookie Betts and David Price to Los Angeles, the former top prospect had grown frustrated with his performance, and he let out that frustration in a demonstrative way; much to the chagrin of his veteran teammates — like Mitch Moreland.

“Every at-bat it felt like I was going into the tunnel and hitting something or throwing a helmet down,” Verdugo said recently on the Baseball Tonight podcast with ESPN’s Buster Olney. “And Mitch kind of made a side comment, like ‘Shoot. Seeing him act like that has got me exhausted.’ Like I’m tiring him out just watching what I’m doing. And I sat back on that. I thought about it, and I went over there and I apologized to the team.

“This anger — this stuff that I show — I want you guys to know that it’s from a good place,” he added while recalling how he apologized. “It’s because I’m a competitor. I’m so used to competing.”

Since being selected by the Dodgers in the second round of the 2014 amateur draft out of Sahuaro High School, the Arizona native has always had a fiery personality.

It’s a personality and a way of going about things that may rub others the wrong way, but Verdugo has managed to succeed at every level he’s played at while still maintaining that boisterous edge to him.

That trend of performing to a high level continued for Verdugo over the summer and into the early stages of the fall. From August 4 through the end of the 2020 season, the left-handed hitter slashed .320/.378/.514 with six home runs, 15 RBI, and four stolen bases over his final 45 games (193 plate appearances) of the year.

“I felt like towards the middle and end of the season, I was a lot better,” said Verdugo. “I was a lot better. I was able to handle it more. It was kind of cool, Jason Varitek got a nice little punching bag right in the tunnel. So we’d go down there and I got a nice little inflatable pitching bag with my Verdugo jersey on it. No. 99.”

Verdugo will look to carry over the individual success he enjoyed in 2020 into 2021 for a Red Sox team that figures to be much more competitive than they were last year.

The 6-foot, 205 pounder is no stranger to playing for a team with postseason aspirations, and one of his former teammates on that particular team — Milton’s own Rich Hill — believes that Verdugo can take that next stop with the Sox.

The 41-year-old Hill, now a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, was Verdugo’s teammate with the Dodgers for parts of the 2017, 2018, and 2019 campaigns.

While the veteran left-hander was one of those who initially took issue with the way Verdugo went about his business upon getting called up by the Dodgers in 2017, he also realized — and still realizes — the potential the young outfielder has to do special things on the field.

“When I heard the trade happened, I had gotten the chance to talk to a few people in Boston and just said, ‘Hey, you guys got a really good player here, and not just any player,'” Hill told Olney. “I think he can be a perennial All-Star and be a standout in Boston because of his ability to put the bat to the ball and consistently create damage with runners on and/or start a rally.

“Again, it’s the way he goes about playing the game,” the former Red Sox hurler added. “I think of players right off the top of my head who play hard. Like a Chase Utley for example, a Clayton Kershaw, a Dustin Pedroia. You look at Jose Abreu with the White Sox. I put Alex in that category. It doesn’t have to be just position players, right? I mentioned a few pitchers because when you go to the game and you buy the ticket, you want to see the intensity and the passion from the player — whether it’s the pitcher or position player.”

Pedroia, who retired from the game of baseball in February after spending 14 big-league seasons with the Sox, was teammates with Hill for parts of the 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2015 seasons.

“Dustin kind of rejuvenated me and got more out of myself when I saw his effort and what he brought on a daily basis and what consistent intensity looked like ,” said Hill. “That was something I saw and was like, ‘Wow, if this guy is showing up at 1 o’clock and he’s ready with a full batting practice uniform on, it wasn’t fake. It was real.’ It was every single day.

“And that’s what Alex has,” he continued. “Alex has that every single day, it’s the same mentality. It’s the passion, the joy, the intensity, the love for the game. However you want to put a title over it, he has that for the game. So he’s going to do fine here in Boston.”

Based off his style of play, Verdugo is someone who feeds the energy of the crowd regardless of which ballpark he is at.

After going through an entire season with no fans in the stands in 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Verdugo is relishing the opportunity to play in front of a crowd –albeit a reduced one — at not only Fenway Park, but venues like Yankee Stadium as well in 2021.

“I think the fans are a big part of the game,” he said. “I miss that interaction where they’re talking their smack. They’re letting you have it. Especially when I’m in New York. If I’m in the Yankees’ stadium, I want that, man. I want it. I know you got to be careful what you ask for, but for me, I love it. I really do.”

(Picture of Mitch Moreland and Alex Verdugo: Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

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)

Alex Verdugo experiencing first real spring training with Red Sox: ‘I’m feeling really comfortable and feeling really good about where I’m at right now’

Alex Verdugo’s first spring training as a member of the Red Sox was far from a conventional one.

After coming over from the Dodgers in the Mookie Betts/David Price trade last February, the young outfielder — then 23 years old — reported to Fort Myers, where it was revealed that he was working his way back from a stress fracture in his lower back.

When the Red Sox began their Grapefruit League slate later that month, Verdugo was unable to play in any spring games and would instead spend his time rehabbing, getting treatment, or hitting in the cage.

The following month, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic really took off and eventually forced Major League Baseball and its clubs to shut down their spring training facilities on March 12.

Despite the shutdown, which would last into July, Verdugo was still able to go to the Sox’ Fenway South complex in order to continue getting treatment on his back.

By the time players reported to their respective teams’ summer camps, the 24-year-old was essentially a full-go, but he would have to prepare for a shortened season without the benefit of a spring training schedule to work off of.

“When we had the spring training 2.0, there still wasn’t very many games,” Verdugo explained on Tuesday via Zoom. “We were kind of just playing against ourselves. It was good because I was getting at-bats, I was seeing pitches. But physically, I felt a little bit off. When the season kicked in, it took me probably a week — maybe a week-and-a-half — into the season for me to finally get that adjustment and realize, ‘Oh, OK, this is what I got to do.’ And from there, I didn’t look back.”

In his first eight regular season games of 2020, Verdugo went a mere 6-for-26 (.231) at the plate with two walks and seven strikeouts from July 25 through August 23.

Starting on the night of August 4 — in which he went 1-for-2 at the plate against the Rays, the Arizona native put up an impressive .320/.378/.514 slash line to go along with six home runs and 15 RBI over 45 games and 193 plate appearances en route to leading the 2020 Red Sox in bWAR (2.2), per Baseball Reference.

Having solidified himself as an everyday big-league outfielder who was on the rise, Verdugo came into the 2021 season with the opportunity to actually play in some Grapefruit League games for the first time in his career.

Leading up to Tuesday’s contest against the Braves in North Port, though, the left-handed hitter carried with him an OPS of .508 through his first 11 games of the spring.

“For the spring I’m having, it’s been a different one,” Verdugo said. “I think if we go performance-wise and batting average-wise, it’s not quite where I would want it. But physically and all that, I’m in a lot better position than I was last year. I think right now, it’s just getting up there and just letting my eyes see the pitches, having some at-bats. I’ve been having better at-bats, working the count deep. Maybe 3-2, couple of pitches have gotten me. But I’m feeling really comfortable and feeling really good about where I’m at right now.”

Despite the statistical struggles so far this spring, Verdugo did go 1-for-2 with a single, an RBI forceout, a run scored, and a walk while playing six innings of center field against Atlanta on Tuesday afternoon.

“He’s been getting better. He’s making good decisions at the plate,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora in regards to the progress Verdugo is making this spring. “He’s not chasing pitches — in the first at -bat he did — but the walks, trying to stay up the middle, the other way, that’s what he does… He’s feeling good about his swing and he’s been getting a lot of at-bats in the backfields, too.”

Verdugo reinforced some of these points himself when discussing how he should be more locked in when the 2021 season begins as opposed to where he was at in late July last year.

“I’ve been kind of going through some things, fighting some stuff at the plate,” he said. “My biggest thing for me is I use the entire field. So I just got to get back to using left field, letting the ball travel just a split-second more, and then just throwing the hands at it. Like I said, the last couple games, I hit a line-drive over the shortstop, been having better at-bats, walking a little bit more. So we’re right on the final path. This next week, we got to just lock it in a little bit more and get it ready.”

Last season, Verdugo went 22-for-39 (.564) at the plate with a pair of home runs and four RBI when pushing the ball to the opposite field. He will look to replicate that sort of production this year, as he will likely slot into the No. 2 spot in the Sox’ regular lineup behind former Dodgers teammate Enrique Hernandez.

Defensively, Verdugo figures to see the lion’s share of his playing time come in either center or right field.

The former second-round draft pick out of Sahuaro High School only played eight innings in center field in 2020, but he said Tuesday that he’s had no problems getting more acclimated with a position that can be a little more challenging to play inside Fenway Park as opposed to other ballparks.

“The biggest thing, like I said health-wise, is taking care of my body and making sure my legs and everything’s under me,” said Verdugo. “Really, the position doesn’t matter. Center, we do have a little bit more run since it’s gap-to-gap, but there’s no problem with that yet. With our corner outfielders and everybody, we all do a really good job of communicating, shifting, and going where we need to be.”

Outside of J.D. Martinez, Verdugo is technically the longest-tenured outfielder on the Red Sox’ major-league roster following the Andrew Benintendi trade and Jackie Bradley Jr. signing with the Brewers.

One of the reasons Boston has gone through such a seismic shift in regards to roster construction this offseason is because of how poorly they played in 2020. Another reason for it is because the organization, spearheaded by the return of Cora as manager, clearly expects to be more competitive in 2021.

With the infusion of talent chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. have added to the mix, the Sox are a group this spring that has generated a lot of internal positive energy and excitement.

And with the prospect of a limited number of fans returning to Fenway Park for Opening Day on April 1 and beyond, that leaves someone like Verdugo — who can feed off that energy from the crowd — feeling excited for what’s on the horizon.

“It just kind of felt like gut-punch after gut-punch,” Verdugo said about the 2020 season. “This year, going through the trials and errors last year, we got some new pitchers, got some new guys, got some new talent. I think everybody’s just excited. We’re all excited to have fans back, excited to get back into this normality. We’re excited to get back to this normal life that we’re living in.

“This year, we know that we can be pretty good and be competitive,” he added. “We’re just keeping a positive mindset and everybody’s working and doing what we need to do.”

(Picture of Alex Verdugo: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox prospect Connor Wong catching the eyes of Alex Cora at spring training

Red Sox catching prospect Connor Wong is a longshot to make the team’s Opening Day roster out of spring training next month.

As the third backstop on Boston’s catching depth chart, the 24-year-old is more likely to begin the year at the club’s alternate training site in Worcester before heading to Double-A Portland or Triple-A Worcester for the start of the 2021 minor-league season.

All that being said, nothing has stopped Wong from impressing his peers thus far at big-league camp in Fort Myers.

Despite collecting just one hit through his first 10 plate appearances of Grapefruit League play, the Houston-area native has drawn three walks, and that ability to be patient and slow the game down is something that has caught the attention of Red Sox manager Alex Cora.

“He’s a good player,” Cora said of Wong on Wednesday. “Very calm behind the plate. Very athletic. Seems like he and Jason [Varitek], they’ve been working hard on that setup on one knee. He’s made progress. I didn’t see him last year, but what I’ve seen is great. Like I’ve been saying: all these kids, Jeter [Downs], and Nick [Yorke], and Connor. There’s something about them that they’re very calm when they play the game.

“It’s like there’s no panic,” continued Cora. “Even his at-bats. He walks and he takes his time putting the bat down. There’s something good about them. They understand the game, they ask questions, and we have a good one.”

The one hit Wong has recorded so far this spring came in the Red Sox’ Grapefruit League opener against the Twins on February 28.

The 6-foot-1, 181 lb. pounder took over behind the plate for Christian Vazquez in the bottom half of the third inning of that contest and picked up a one-out double in his first trip to the plate a half inning later.

He may have struck out in his second at-bat, but he played ‘outstanding’ defense in the process of doing so.

“He’s another guy that slows down the game,” Cora said of Wong back on March 1. “You could see yesterday, we had a bad inning and then he comes in and it’s kind of like a presence about him. He studies the game. He talks the game, which is very important for a catcher. Seems like he never panicked back there. He keeps working on that one-knee down stance. He has some really good hands.”

Wong, a right-handed hitter, was originally selected by the Dodgers in the third round of the 2017 amateur draft out of the University of Houston. His natural position in college was shortstop — not catcher — but he eventually moved behind the plate and has remained there.

While transitioning to catcher, though, Wong also saw playing time at second base and third base at Double-A Tulsa in 2019 before being part of the trade that sent Mookie Betts and David Price to Los Angeles and Alex Verdugo and Jeter Downs to Boston the following February.

The Dodgers have a history of converting position player prospects into full-time catchers. They’ve done so with Will Smith, who played a little bit of infield and outfield at the University of Louisville, and Austin Barnes, who has appeared in 195 total games at either second or third base at the minor-league level.

Cora recounted a conversation he had with the versatile Enrique Hernandez, who spent the last six seasons with the Dodgers before signing with the Red Sox over the winter, about Wong and Los Angeles’ ability to convert position players into catchers.

“A position player that’s a catcher now. It seems like it’s something they like on the West Coast with Smith and Barnes,” said the Sox skipper. “And this kid can do it, too. Good hands. Very smooth. And offensively, he understands what he can do. But, I really like the fact that communication is No. 1 for him in his defensive game. You see him in the dugout talking to Jason [Varitek], to the pitchers, and for a young guy to be able to do that right now is eye-opening. And it was fun to watch him perform yesterday.”

Going into the new season, Baseball America has Wong ranked as the No. 15 prospect in Boston’s farm system, which is the top rank among catchers in the organization.

Just last week, the folks over at Baseball America picked two potential breakout prospects from every team’s farm system for 2021. Along with 2019 second-round draft pick Matthew Lugo, Wong was the other Red Sox prospect chosen by the BA staff to break out this year.

“Wong was granted a reprieve of sorts when he was traded from the Dodgers to the Red Sox in the Mookie Betts’ trade,” they wrote. “Instead of being stuck behind Will Smith and Keibert Ruiz, he now has a clear path to a future MLB role as a well-rounded backup catcher who can play around the infield as well.”

Added to the Sox’ 40-man roster last November, Wong is projected by both FanGraphs and MLB Pipeline to make his major-league debut at some point this season.

That would likely come in the event of an injury to one of Boston’s major-league catchers or when rosters expand to 28 players in September.

(Picture of Connor Wong: Pawtucket Red Sox)

Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo says Dodgers winning World Series was ‘bittersweet’ for him, calls Boston place ‘where I was supposed to be’

Last year, Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo went through something for the first time as a major-leaguer in that he played for a team that failed to qualify for the postseason.

Prior to getting traded to Boston last February, the 24-year-old had been a part of three straight National League West-clinching Dodgers teams from 2017-2019.

Although he never appeared in a postseason game as a member of the Dodgers, Verdugo still worked hard to reach that ultimate goal of being a member of the last team standing come late October.

So when Los Angeles finally ended their 32-year World Series drought this past fall while Verdugo was at home watching his former teammates celebrate that accomplishment, it was a bit weird for the former Dodgers top prospect.

“I’m happy for the guys,” Verdugo said Thursday when speaking with reporters via Zoom. “It’s a bittersweet moment because at the same time, I want that ring. I want to be a champion, but I think things work out for reasons.”

While the Red Sox may have struggled to the tune of a 24-36 record in Verdugo’s first season with the club, the left-handed hitter did enjoy success on an individual level in 2020.

Over 53 games played last year, Verdugo slashed an impressive .308/.367/.478 to go along with six home runs, 16 doubles, and 15 RBI across 221 plate appearances. He also recorded seven outfield assists en route to finishing 12th in American League MVP voting.

“Coming over here and being with Boston and being with the staff and the teammates, and how I feel like I get along and jell with the guys, I think the fit here is better,” said Verdugo. “I think this is where I was supposed to be, and I think it’s going to make it even more special when we do get that ring and we win it here.”

Having said that, Verdugo — who was selected by Los Angeles in the second round of the 2014 amateur draft — still enjoyed seeing some of his old friends like Cody Bellinger, Edwin Rios, and Walker Buehler win it all considering the fact they all grinded through the minor-leagues together not too long ago.

“It was fun. I still got a lot of friends over there,” he said. “Still had some guys that you root for and at the end of the day, I put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, into the minor-leagues to get into the bigs and play next to these guys. To see their dreams come true, it’s amazing.”

As the Dodgers head into the 2021 season coming off their first World Series title since 1988, Verdugo hopes the Red Sox can meet them in the Fall Classic once more to get a little retribution sometime in the near future.

“Now, it’s just, hopefully we see them and we get to beat them and get a little satisfaction that way,” said Verdugo.

(Picture of Alex Verdugo: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

In Jeter Downs and Nick Yorke, Red Sox have two of the top middle infield prospects in baseball

At this time last year, infielders Jeter Downs and Nick Yorke were not yet members of the Red Sox organization.

Downs, now 22, was preparing for what was supposed to be his fourth (third full) season as a pro, while Yorke, now 18, was preparing for his senior season at Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, Calif.

Neither Downs’ nor Yorke’s 2020 went the way they likely expected, with the former getting dealt from the Dodgers to the Sox in February and the latter having his senior season halted due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Emerging as the top prospect in Boston’s farm system in wake of the trade that sent Mookie Betts to Los Angeles, Downs, who was born in Colombia, was at least able to salvage his minor-league season-less 2020 thanks to being included in the Sox’ 60-man player pool.

Yorke, meanwhile, was also able to salvage his year after somewhat surprisingly going 17th overall to the Red Sox in the 2020 first-year player draft. He was later added to the club’s 60-man player pool in mid-September.

Both players were able to spend time at the Sox’ alternate training site in Pawtucket over the summer to further their development, though Downs understandably got there a whole lot earlier than Yorke did.

Here’s what former PawSox and current Worcester Red Sox manager Billy McMillon had to say about each young infielder when speaking to reporters in early October, courtesy of MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.

On Downs: “Jeter’s kind of interesting. We were introduced to him in Spring Training 1. We could see glimpses of defense and offense. I would say he did better offensively in the first spring training. I think people were thinking about him potentially being a second baseman, everyday, for the Red Sox. I think the strides he made defensively are going to sway some of those questions people had.

“He made tremendous strides defensively. There are some things he needs to work on, like his makeup and his confidence and things like that. I think those issues affected how he did offensively. As far as Jeter, I see tremendous upside. His track record of offensive performance indicates that at 7:05, when the lights are on, he shows up at the plate. I’m hopeful his track record offensively meshes well with the strides he made defensively. If that happens, I think you’ve got a pretty good player. I don’t want to give a comp or anything, but I think he would more than hold his own based on what he did defensively and how much better and more consistent he got.

“I think he would be a better second baseman long-term, but I do believe he could play shortstop. He made some plays that were just unbelievable at shortstop. I personally would see him a better fit at second base if we were talking about 162 games. I think his athleticism, his skills, would be a little better at second base. But he’s still young. I don’t want it to seem like he can’t play shortstop. I think he could do a fine job over there. In my eyes, I see second base when I see him.”

On Yorke: “His first professional at-bat, he gets a single off Bryan Mata. Worked the count full, hit a line drive to right field like it was nothng. That was really, really refreshing, just to see… I’m not saying he should have been intimidated or whatever, but he went up there, playing high school not too long ago, and just worked the count full and went the other way. There’s an approach there.

“One of the things I tried to tell him was, ‘Hey, look. There are going to be some professional guys around here who have approaches, who have work. You have to figure out who you are and don’t try to match what you see other guys do. Just be yourself.’ He kind of took that to heart. Really impressive with his at-bats. Limited action at second base but I watched some of the early work with (coach Bruce Crabbe) and he has got some good actions out there. His body is kind of stocky but he’s not big and he moves well. You can see why he was a high-round pick. He blended in well. He was joking with the guys, he was interacting. If somebody walked into the clubhouse or onto the bench, they wouldn’t have known that this guy was drafted in 2020. They would have thought he was one of the guys. That’s a testament to the scouts who saw something there. There’s a lot to like in a very small sample.”

Because he got to the alternate training site in July as opposed to later in the summer, Downs was not included in the Red Sox’ fall instructional league roster down in Fort Myers

Yorke, however, was, and that gave the right-handed hitter even more of an opportunity to shine in front of Red Sox coaches and scouts alike.

Per SoxProspects.com’s director of scouting Ian Cundall, Yorke “was the most impressive member of the 2020 draft/NDFA class, showing off his offensive ability, but questions about his long-term defensive profile remain an issue. Yorke got off to a strong start at the plate, but as the camp went along, he struggled to pull the ball and seemed to be just trying to push the ball to right field. Regardless of his struggles near the end of camp, scouts were consistent in saying they believe he can hit and they are high on his bat, enough so that even with a questionable defensive profile and below average speed, they still like him.”

After the Red Sox took him off the board with their top pick in the 2020 draft, Yorke ultimately signed with the club for $2.7 million last July. He is currently regarded by MLB Pipeline as Boston’s No. 11 prospect.

Downs, meanwhile, is regarded by MLB Pipeline as the Sox’ No. 1 prospect with a slight advantage over Triston Casas.

Recently, MLB Pipeline released lists for their top-10 prospects at each position, and Downs — listed as a shortstop — and Yorke — listed as a second baseman, both made their respective lists, coming in at No. 8 and No. 10, respectively.

Regarding Downs’ ranking, MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo did not have any ‘top tools’ or ‘superlatives’ to give the 5-foot-11, 195 lb. infielder. He simply listed him as his eighth-best shortstop prospect.

Regarding Yorke’s ranking, MLB.com’s Jim Callis writes that the 6-foot, 200 lb. infielder was that particular position group’s ‘highest riser,’ though he also has the ‘most to prove.’

“Yorke had shoulder surgery before his high school junior season in 2019, which relegated him to DH duty that spring and curtailed him on the showcase circuit,” Callis wrote earlier this week. “A year later, the Red Sox made him a surprise first-round pick (17th overall) and signed him for $2.7 million.

“While the Red Sox fully believe in Yorke and some clubs regarded him as the best high school hitter on the West Coast, most teams evaluated him as more of a second- or third-rounder,” added Callis. “His arm hasn’t bounced all the way back from his shoulder surgery, so he also has to show he can handle second base.”

While Downs and Yorke are still both prospects under the age of 23, the future of the Red Sox’ middle infield may very well be in strong hands.

Downs could have the chance to put that to the test this coming season, as he’ll likely begin the year at Triple-A Worcester with the opportunity to get called up by the Red Sox if all goes accordingly for him.

Yorke, on the other hand, is still a long ways away from sniffing a major-league roster seeing how he only turns 19 years old in April. He is projected to start the 2021 minor-league season with Low-A Salem, though it is not yet known when the new season will begin for Class-A and Double-A minor-league affiliates.

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

New Mets star Francisco Lindor grew up watching Red Sox ‘a lot’ in Puerto Rico; Could Boston be in play for shortstop’s services next winter?

Growing up in Puerto Rico, new Mets star shortstop Francisco Lindor did not have too many options when it came to watching specific Major League Baseball teams on television.

Star players from the island — such as Roberto Alomar and Carlos Delgado –took precedence, but among the 30 major-league clubs out there, Lindor’s options were really whittled down to just a handful of teams: the Braves, Dodgers, Yankees, Mets, Marlins, and last but not least, the Red Sox.

Surrounded by fans infatuated with the Bronx Bombers, the young Lindor opted to follow their biggest rivals at the time in the Red Sox.

“In Puerto Rico, back in the day, they weren’t showing every team,” the27-year-old explained on SNY following his introductory press conference earlier Monday. “They were showing the Atlanta Braves, they would show the Dodgers, they would show the Yankees, Boston, the Marlins when they had Ivan Rodriguez, the Mets when they started getting players from Puerto Rico.

“So, Boston was a team that I watched a lot,” he continued. “Because everybody was [for the] Yankees in Puerto Rico, so it was like ‘All right, I got to pick something to have the rebuttal. So, that was one of the teams that I watched.”

In addition to the Red Sox, Lindor also watched quite a bit of the Mets, the organization he now plays for. However, in citing the players from old Mets teams he enjoyed to watch, the four-time All-Star mentioned former big-league infielder and current Red Sox manager Alex Cora.

Cora, about to embark upon his second stint as Sox skipper, served as Lindor’s general manager for Team Puerto Rico during the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

The pair of Puerto Ricans share a very close bond, as evidenced by the former Indians star likening Cora to his “big brother” in 2019.

Even with that close bond in mind, the Red Sox were never really close to trading for Lindor before Cleveland dealt the star infielder to the Mets in a blockbuster, six-player trade last week.

MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reported back in November that Boston wouldn’t “prioritize” a trade for the two-time Silver Slugger given their need to allocate resources towards pitching.

The reason Lindor was a trade candidate in the first place is because he is entering his third and final season of arbitration eligibility, meaning he can become a free agent at the conclusion of the 2021 campaign.

That being said, the Mets could very well lock up their new superstar to a lucrative contract extension before that happens. They certainly dealt for him with the intention to do that. Sandy Alderson, New York’s head of baseball operations, even said last week that he expected to talk to Lindor’s representatives about a potential long-term deal relatively soon.

Lindor himself said Monday that he’s open to signing an extension with the Mets to remain in the Big Apple for the foreseeable future, but only if an agreement that makes sense for both sides can be reached before the start of the season.

“I have never negotiated a contract during the season,” he told reporters. “Never. I’ve always said either before spring training, but once it gets to a point in spring training, it’s time to enjoy the ride and focus on winning. That’s the only thing I should be focused on — not how much money do I get, how much money do I need to get for my family. No, it’s about focusing on every day, my task.”

Given his willingness to potentially sign an extension, Lindor is not exactly locked in on hitting the open market this winter. But then again, free agency is definitely something that has been on his mind recently.

“I have never said, ‘I can’t wait to get to free agency,'” stated Lindor. “That was always so far ahead for me… When the negotiations with the Indians weren’t going how we were planning, then it was like, ‘Okay, this at some point might become a reality.’ Either I go to free agency or I get traded. But, if I told you I didn’t think about [free agency] this offseason, I would be lying. Yes, it was on my mind, but I’m happy to be where I am today and we’ll see what happens.”

When it comes down to it, Lindor’s situation resembles that of former Red Sox sensation Mookie Betts from over the summer.

Having just been traded from the Sox to the Dodgers in February, Betts opted to sign a record-breaking 12-year, $365 million extension with Los Angeles in July before even playing a game for the team.

Betts agreeing to that extension came at a time when the 28-year-old had already publicly stated he was intent on reaching free agency, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic likely changed his mind.

Taking into account the financial constraints that have been placed on clubs as a result of said pandemic, Lindor may opt to follow Betts and agree to a deal with the Mets before suiting up for them.

New York, with owner Steve Cohen now at the helm, has shown a willingness to spend after all, and re-upping a bona fide talent such as Lindor would certainly be money well spent.

Having written all this, I did think it was interesting that Lindor brought up the Red Sox in his presser earlier Monday.

Given the connection to Cora, as well as the fact that Boston’s current shortstop, Xander Bogaerts, can opt out of his contract and become a free agent at the end of the 2022 season, I feel like the Sox can’t be ruled out on Lindor as long as he doesn’t commit to the Mets for the long-term.

In other words, under the assumption that Lindor heads into next winter as a free agent, which I should add is unlikely, I have to assume that the Red Sox will to some extent be in play for his services next winter.

Even as I type that out, whatever is in store for the Red Sox all depends on what chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. have in mind for the time being. I will leave it at that.

(Picture of Francisco Lindor and Alex Cora: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo, Xander Bogaerts finish 12th and 17th in American League MVP voting

Red Sox teammates Alex Verdugo and Xander Bogaerts received one vote each in this year’s installment of American League Most Valuable Player Award voting, as announced by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America Thursday night.

White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu took home AL MVP honors.

Verdugo, 24, finished in 12th place thanks to one fifth-place vote, while Bogaerts, 28, finished in 17th place thanks to one 10th-place vote. Both votes came courtesy of The Boston Globe’s Julian McWilliams, who was the only BBWAA member to include a Red Sox player on his ballot.

This marks the first time Verdugo has received an MVP vote in his four-year career. Bogaerts, meanwhile, was coming off a 2019 campaign in which he finished fifth in AL MVP voting, which followed up a 2018 campaign in which he finished 13th.

Offensively speaking, Bogaerts and Verdugo were the Red Sox’ best players throughout the course of the 2020 season. The former led the way by posting a wRC+ of 130 over 56 games, and the latter was right behind him with a 126 wRC+ over 53 contests.

Earlier this week, Sox manager Alex Cora tabbed Verdugo as Boston’s MVP this year, which is commendable when considering it was his first season with the club after coming over from the Dodgers in February.

Speaking of the Dodgers, former Red Sox star outfielder Mookie Betts, who was involved in the same trade as Verdugo last winter, finished second in National League MVP voting behind Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman.

Despite Alex Cora connection, Red Sox not prioritizing Francisco Lindor trade this offseason

The Cleveland Indians find themselves in a similar position as last year’s Boston Red Sox. That being, they are open to trading an extremely talented player who his entering his third and final year of arbitration eligibility.

That soon-to-be free agent would be none other than superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor, who turns 27 on Saturday and is in the running to be the most sought after free agent next winter.

Does the Indians’ situation sound familiar yet? It should. The Red Sox, faced with the dilemma last offseason of either trading Mookie Betts, who like Lindor was on the verge of free agency, or risk losing their homegrown star for nothing if they held on to him going into the following season.

Boston, much to the disdain of its fanbase and the general public, wound up dealing Betts and his one year of team control as well as left-hander David Price to the Dodgers in February in exchange for outfielder Alex Verdugo and prospects Jeter Downs and Connor Wong.

Now, roughly nine months after that blockbuster went down, the cash-strapped Indians could very well trade away their franchise cornerstone this winter so they don’t lose him for nothing outside of a compensatory draft pick in 2021.

With that being said, a number of suitors have likely begun contacting Cleveland about trading for Lindor. The Red Sox, having just re-hired Alex Cora, who like Lindor hails from Puerto Rico and served as Team Puerto Rico’s general manager during the 2017 World Baseball Classic, were, at least on the outside, seen as a club who could be interested in acquiring the shortstop’s services.

However, according to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, the Sox will not prioritize a trade for Lindor this winter despite the Cora connection and will instead focus on pitching.

Lindor, a four-time All-Star, is coming off a 2020 campaign in which he slashed .258/.335/.415 to go along with eight home runs and 27 RBI over 60 games played.

From 2016 through 2019, the former first-round draft pick was an All-Star, won a Gold Glove or Silver Slugger Award, and finished in the top-15 in American League MVP voting all four years, again proving he is one of, if not the best shortstop in baseball.

As currently constructed, the Red Sox have a quality shortstop themselves in the form of Xander Bogaerts, but there is a caveat in the 28-year-old’s contract and that is he can opt out and become a free agent at the conclusion of the 2022 season.

That might not mean much at the moment since Lindor is only under team control for one more year, but as The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal notes, “the team that gets [Lindor] would gain the inside track on signing him, the way the Dodgers did with Betts.”

Lindor has the edge over Bogaerts in that he is both younger and a better defender, but the latter has proven to be the better offensive player. That much is made evident when comparing Bogaerts’ 136 wRC+ to Lindor’s 119 wRC+ since 2018.

Even with a slight difference in their skillsets, Bogaerts has emerged as the Red Sox’ clubhouse leader in the wake of the Betts trade, and bringing in someone of Lindor’s caliber, who plays the same position, could send the wrong message.

Of course, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom could always opt to purse Lindor in free agency next winter if he does indeed hit the open market.

If another team, whether it be the Yankees, Mets, Blue Jays, Dodgers, or Giants, does acquire Lindor, though, one would have to assume that club would prefer to lock up their new star to a long-term extension right away.

As previously mentioned, the Dodgers did that with Betts in July, and the Cardinals did it upon acquiring Paul Goldschmidt from the Diamondbacks in December 2018.

For now, Bloom and Co. seem more interested in acquiring pitching help as opposed to offensive help, which is understandable when you consider how dismal Red Sox pitching was in 2020 (5.58 ERA, second-worst in the American League).