Potential Red Sox Draft Targets: Austin Hendrick

In his latest mock draft for the Baseball Prospect Journal, Dan Zielinski III has the Red Sox taking West Allegheny High School outfielder Austin Hendrick with their top pick at No. 17 overall.

Hendrick, who turns 19 four days after the 2020 draft is completed, is ranked by MLB Pipeline as the No. 2 prep outfielder in this year’s class behind only Zac Veen.

The Pennsylvania native’s Baseball America’s scouting report goes as follows:

Is there a high school hitter in the 2020 class with a better hit and power combination than Hendrick? We don’t think so. The Pennsylvania product is likely a corner outfielder, but he has light tower raw power and some of the quickest bat speed scouts have seen in years.

Playing for Team USA in last summer’s U-18 Baseball World Cup in South Korea, the Mississippi State signee didn’t get the chance to display that power, but he did get on base quite a bit by drawing five walks and getting plunked twice over the span of eight games.

Among all the high school prospects who will make up this year’s draft class, the left-handed hitting Hendrick has the best raw power tool of the lot, according to FanGraphs. That likely makes him a very appealing target for clubs whose first-round pick fall within the top 20.

The Red Sox, under chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and amateur scouting director Paul Toboni, own the 17th overall pick in the 2020 first-year player draft, as previously mentioned.

With that, Boston will have up to $3,609,700 in signing bonus money to spend on their first of just four selections in this year’s draft, which will go down as the shortest in the sport’s history.

Because of how limited they will be in the 2020 draft, it would not be surprising to see the Red Sox try and make a splash with their top pick. And what better way to do that than by taking one of the best high school outfielders in this year’s class? If he is still on the board, that is.

Other outfielders who have been linked to the Red Sox in first-round mock drafts include UCLA’s Garrett Mitchell, Arkansas’ Heston Kjerstad, Independence High School’s Robert Hassell, and Harvard-Westlake’s Pete Crow Armstrong.

The 2020 MLB Draft, which will consist of five rounds, is just over two weeks away. Stay tuned for more coverage.

Who Could Red Sox Target in First Round of This Year’s MLB Draft?

The start date and length of the 2020 MLB first-year player draft may both be unknowns at this point in time, but that’s not stopping clubs from doing their due diligence ahead of the annual amateur selection process.

After not having any first-round picks last year due to luxury tax-related penalties from 2018, the Red Sox are slated to make their first selection with the 17th overall pick in this year’s draft. That being the case because at 84-78, Boston finished with the 17th-worst record in baseball last season.

According to Baseball America, the 17th overall pick in the 2020 draft has an assigned slot value of approximately $3,609,700, meaning that’s how much money the Sox will have to spend on that pick, although they can go over that allotted amount if they are willing to incur some tax penalties.

Personally, I’m no draft expert, but since the 2020 MLB Draft is right around the corner, I thought it would be a good idea to look into who Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. could be targeting in the earliest stage of this year’s draft. Let’s get into it.

Target No.1: RHP Nick Bitsko, Central Bucks High School East (Doylestown, PA)

In his mock draft from April 15th, CBS Sports’ Mike Axisa had the Red Sox taking high school right-hander Nick Bitsko out of Doyleston, Pa.

Bitsko, 17, was initially set to graduate from Central Bucks High School East in 2021, but he will instead graduate early, adding on to an already impressive list of draft-eligible pitching prospects this year.

A University of Virginia commit, Bitsko posted a 1.18 ERA over six starts during his sophomore season last year, per MaxPreps.

According to a Baseball America scouting report from 2019, “Bitsko has a great pitcher’s frame, standing at 6-foot-4, 220-pounds and has a smooth and easy operation on the bump, with an overhead windup and clean three-quarter slot.”

From that same scouting report, Bitsko’s arsenal includes a 92-96 MPH fastball, a 76-83 MPH curveball, and an 86-87 MPH “firm” changeup.

If drafted by the Red Sox over the summer, Bitsko would presumably become one of the top right-handed pitching prospects in the organization, although there certainly are some minor concerns given just how young he is and how he didn’t get the chance to really throw in front of scouts this year.

Target No. 2: C Patrick Bailey, North Carolina State University

Moving to the college ranks now, Dan Zielinski III of the Baseball Prospect Journal has the Red Sox taking North Carolina State backstop Patrick Bailey in his latest first-round mock draft.

The 20-year-old out of Greensboro was drafted by the Twins in the 37th round of the 2017 draft, but he opted to honor his commitment to North Carolina State instead, and it looks like that decision is going to pay off for him.

Although he played in just 17 games for the Wolfpack this year due to the college baseball season being shut down last month, Bailey produced over the course of that small sample size, as he slashed .296/.466/.685 with six home runs and 20 RBI.

Per a March scouting report from Perfect Game USA, Bailey “has significant value as a switch-hitting catcher with pop on both sides of the plate to go along with strong defensive skills.”

If taken by the Red Sox this summer, I would guess that Bailey would slide behind Connor Wong as the second-best catching prospect in Boston’s farm system.

Target No. 3: RHP Tanner Burns, Auburn University

The first college hurler on this list, My MLB Draft’s most recent 2020 mock from earlier in the month has the Red Sox taking Auburn right-hander Tanner Burns in the first round.

Another former 2017 37th-round pick, Burns was limited to just four starts and 22 1/3 innings pitched this season due to the aforementioned shutdown. In those four starts though, the 21-year dazzled by posting a 2.42 ERA and averaging nearly 13 strikeouts per nine innings.

Listed at 6’1″ and 205 lbs., MLB Pipeline has Burns ranked as their No. 28 draft prospect. They describe the junior as a hurler, who “can work at 92-97 mph with his fastball and locate it to both sides of the plate. His breaking ball can be a plus pitch at times, combining slider velocity in the low 80s with curveball depth, but it gets slurvy at others. He hasn’t had much need for his changeup, though it has some sink and shows some signs of becoming an average third pitch.”

Burns also comes with some durability concerns, as he dealt with right shoulder soreness throughout the majority of his sophomore season in 2019.

Like Bitsko, Burns would presumably become one of the top right-handed pitching prospects in the Sox’ farm system if he is drafted by Boston at some point this summer.

Target No. 4: LHP Garrett Crochet, University of Tennessee

Sticking with the Southeastern Conference here, Prospects Live has the Red Sox selecting University of Tennessee southpaw Garrett Crochet in their 2020 Mock Draft 2.0.

A native of Mississippi who turns 21 in June, Crochet was only able to make one start for the Volunteers this year due to upper back soreness. To add on to that, the left-hander broke his jaw last May after taking a line-drive to the face in his final start of the 2019 regular season that resulted in him missing two weeks of action.

According to a Prospects Live scouting report from Crochet’s lone outing of the 2020 campaign against Wright State in March, the junior’s pitch arsenal included a fastball that sat around 95-97 MPH and maxed out at 99 MPH, an 84-86 MPH slider, an 80-90 MPH changeup, and an 80 MPH curveball.

MLB Pipeline has Crochet ranked as their 18th-best draft-eligible prospect, so he could very well still be on the board by the time the Red Sox make their first pick at No. 17.

Target No. 5: OF Heston Kjerstad, University of Arkansas

Last but not least, we have the lone outfielder on this list in the University of Arkansas’ Heston Kjerstad, who Perfect Game USA’s Brian Sakowski has going to the Red Sox in the first round of his most recent 2020 mock draft from late last month.

The Amarillo, Texas native did nothing but rake in his three seasons as a Razorback, putting together a .343/.421/.590 slash line to go along with 37 home runs and 129 RBI over 150 total games dating back to 2018.

Sakowski’s scouting report for Kjerstad looks a little something like this:

The left-handed slugger has double-plus raw pop along with the bat speed and impact generation to crush balls with wood. There are some positional questions long-term, but the Red Sox have shown the willingness to take prospects with big power and figure out how to get them into the lineup later.”

MLB Pipeline has Kjerstad ranked as their 10th-best prospect in this year’s draft, so he might not even be on the board by the time the Red Sox make their first selection at No. 17, but if he is, and the Sox take him, that would be quite the addition to an already fascinating mix of outfield prospects that includes Jarren Duran, Marcus Wilson, and Gilberto Jimenez to name a few.

Well, there you have it. Five prospects the Red Sox could take with the 17th overall pick in the 2020 first-year player draft. If they do wind up taking one of these five young players with their first pick, you can come back here and remember that I had it first.

Also, the 17th overall pick is the lowest first-round pick the Red Sox have had since 2016, so it’s probably important that they hit on it in order to improve a poorly-regarded, but steadily-improving farm system.

Red Sox Interim Manager Ron Roenicke: Alex Verdugo’s Rehab From Stress Fracture Slowed by Coronavirus Shutdown

Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo has not been able to make as much progress in his rehab as the team was hoping for, according to interim manager Ron Roenicke, who, along with piching coach Dave Bush spoke with reporters in a Zoom call on Tuesday.

Verdugo, who is working his way back from a stress fracture in his lower back, has not been able to progress as much as the Red Sox were hoping for mainly due to the fact that the club had to shut down its facilities in Fort Myers in late March after a minor-leaguer tested positive for COVID-19.

“Unfortunately with the shutdown of the camp in JetBlue, [Verdugoo] hasn’t been able to go and continually progress probably as fast as we’d like him to,” Roenicke said Tuesday. “He is swinging and doing all the things he needs to do. Unfortunately with the shutdown there, we’re having to go basically see him. And then it makes it more difficult for him to work out.”

The Red Sox acquired the 23-year-old outfielder along with prospects Jeter Downs and Connor Wong from the Dodgers in February in the blockbuster trade that sent Mookie Betts and David Price to Los Angeles.

Upon Verdugo’s arrival to the Fenway South complex two months ago, it was revealed by Roenicke that the Arizona native did indeed have a stress fracture in his lower back.

A plan for Verdugo to work his way back from that ailment was laid out at that time, but it would appear that the league-wide, coronavirus-induced shutdown has since hindered that plan.

Still, Verdugo began taking full swings in March and Roenicke was impressed with his arm strength. The interim manager seems hopeful that if there is Major League Baseball to be played in 2020, Verdugo’s ” going to be able to fit in along with the other guys and maybe be ready for us” by the time spring training activities would resume.

In the interim, Verdugo has remained in Florida, as he believed it was the best place for him to continue with his rehabilitation. He’s posted videos of himself swinging a bat on Instagram as recently as last Thursday and may be in line for another MRI in the near future to make sure that the stress fracture is completely healed before he begins playing in games again.

That Time Hank Aaron Nearly Began His Major-League Career When the Braves Were Still in Boston

Over the course of his 23-year major-league career, Hall of Famer Hank Aaron is most notoriously known for his contributions to the game of baseball in the cities of Milwaukee, Atlanta, and Milwaukee again.

Despite being a legend in those two cities though, it’s worth mentioning that the 25-time All-Star begin his professional career with the city of Boston more than likely on his mind.

That being the case because as an 18-year-old who had just led the Indianapolis Clowns to a Negro League World Series title in 1952, Aaron had two major-league offers on the table from two northeast teams in the Boston Braves and New York Giants.

Since the Braves were offering a larger monthly salary than the Giants were, Aaron decided to sign with Boston and his contract was immediately purchased from Indianapolis in June 1952.

The Alabama native was assigned to Boston’s Class-C minor-league affiliate in Eau Claire, Wisc. shortly thereafter, where he promptly posted a .336 batting average and .493 slugging percentage to go along with nine home runs and 19 doubles over 87 games with the Bears.

As it turned out though, 1952 wound wind up being the last year the Braves called the city of Boston home.

At the major-league level, the Braves had struggled significantly since reaching the World Series in 1948. And that overall poor performance was met with dwindling attendance numbers at Braves Field.

Those two factors, along with the fact that the neighboring Red Sox had been gaining more and more popularity in the city, led club owner Lou Perini to make the decision to move the team to Milwaukee, the home of the Braves’ Triple-A affiliate at the time.

After Perini’s proposal was met with unanimous approval from the other National League owners, the Braves’ move to Milwaukee was made official on March 18th, 1953 while the club was still in spring training, much to the dismay of fans in Boston.

That April, the Braves opened the home portion of their 1953 schedule with a 3-2 walk-off win over the St. Louis Cardinals at brand-new Milwaukee County Stadium.

The newly-anointed Milwaukee Braves would go on to finish their first season in Wisconsin with a final record of 92-62, all while Aaron was still developing at the Class-A level in Jacksonville, where he mashed 22 home runs in 137 games for the Braves.

The following spring, Aaron broke camp by making his first career major-league Opening Day roster as Milwaukee’s starting left fielder.

At just 20 years old, he slashed .280/.322/.447 with 13 home runs and 69 RBI over his first 122 games in the majors and later finished fourth in National League Rookie of the Year voting. The Braves’ win total went down from the season prior, yet they led the NL in attendance for a second straight year.

Aaron would go on to have a superb career, winning his first and only MVP award and World Series trophy in 1957, winning two batting titles, three Gold Glove awards, and probably most significantly, breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record with his 715th career homer on April 8th, 1974.

Just five years after retiring from the game in 1975, Aaron was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982 after receiving 406 of 421 votes in his first year on the ballot.

Looking at things from a broader perspective, Aaron is without a doubt one of the best outfielders to ever play Major League Baseball. He’s most well-known in Atlanta and Milwaukee, but he was only a few years off from embarking on a legendary career in the city of Boston.

In 12 career games at Fenway Park, Hammerin’ Hank posted a .745 OPS to go along with one home run and three RBI over 49 total plate appearances.

 

Red Sox Sign Former Cardinals Utilityman Yairo Muñoz to Minor-League Deal

The Red Sox have signed former Cardinals utilityman Yairo Munoz to a minor-league deal, according to Major League Baseball’s official transaction wire. He was assigned to Triple-A Pawtucket on Wednesday.

Munoz, 25, was released by St. Louis earlier this month after he “left the team” and “flew home” without ever contacting the Cardinals. His agent apparently told the club that his client was frustrated with his role, something Cards manager Mike Shildt said on multiple occasions last season.

According to The Athletic’s Mark Saxon, that frustration did not hamper Munoz’s chances of making the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster this year, as Shildt told him that the Dominican Republic native had an “inside track” to landing a roster spot.

That vote of confidence did not stop Munoz from receiving his unconditional release from St. Louis though, and less than three full weeks after essentially excusing himself from the Cardinals, he has joined the Red Sox on a minor-league deal for the 2020 season.

Originally signed by the Athletics as an international free agent out of the DR back in 2012, Munoz was part of the trade that sent outfielder Stephen Piscotty to Oakland in December 2017.

The former top prospect is capable of playing second base, third base, and shortstop, as well as all three outfield positions. That sort of versatility is something the Red Sox have seemed to value immensely lately.

In 88 games with the Cardinals last season, Munoz slashed .267/.298/.355 with two home runs and 13 RBI. That rather underwhelming performance for Munoz was coming off an impressive rookie campaign where he posted an OPS+ of 109 over 108 games in 2018.

Munoz still has five years of team control remaining and is not arbitration eligible until the 2021 season.

If baseball is played in 2020, Munoz could provide the Red Sox with solid infield and maybe even outfield depth at the Triple-A level.

Red Sox’ Andrew Benintendi Dealing With Quad Tightness

Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi is dealing with tightness in his quad, according to interim manager Ron Roenicke.

The 25-year-old has been held out of Grapefruit League action since Thursday, when he went 1-for-1 with a walk and run scored while playing the first three innings in a 12-5 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies.

It’s unclear when Benintendi initially suffered the quad tightness, but Roenicke does not seem all that concerned, as he said Sunday that, “I’m hoping when we go up to Tampa Bay to play the Yankees [on Tuesday], he’ll be ready to go. So it’s nothing bad. Just a little tight.”

Entering his fourth full season with the Red Sox, Benintendi is slashing .375/.444/.750 with one home run, one RBI, and one stolen base through four games and nine plate appearances this spring.

Predicting the Red Sox’ Opening Day Roster

One month from Wednesday, the Red Sox will open their 2020 season with the first of four against the Toronto Blue Jays north of border. As things stand right now, a solid portion of the club’s 26-man Opening Day roster is set, but with questions surrounding injuries and depth aplenty, there could still be a handful of spots up for grabs.

With that, I thought it would be a good time to take a crack at what the Red Sox’ Opening Day roster could look like this time next month. Let’s get to it, shall we?

The Starting Rotation:

Eduardo Rodriguez
Nathan Eovaldi
Martin Perez
Ryan Weber
Kyle Hart

According to interim manager Ron Roenicke, left-hander Chris Sale might need to throw two live batting practice sessions before throwing in an actual game, leaving the 30-year-old’s status for Opening Day up in the air since he wouldn’t have a ton of time to ramp up his workload.

Because of the uncertainty surrounding Sale, that leaves two spots in Boston’s rotation up for grabs. Right-hander Ryan Weber seems like a likely candidate, and I went with left-hander Kyle Hart over pitching prospect Tanner Houck for the fifth spot.

Hart, 27, was added to the Sox’ 40-man roster back in November, while Houck, who is not on the 40-man roster, could use more time to develop as a starter in Triple-A.

Hector Velazquez and Brian Johnson have prior experience starting for the Red Sox, although Johnson would need to be added back to the 40-man roster after being outrighted in November.

The Bullpen:

Matt Barnes
Ryan Brasier
Brandon Workman
Darwinzon Hernandez
Josh Taylor
Heath Hembree
Marcus Walden
Austin Brice

As far as I am concerned, Barnes, Workman, Hernandez, Taylor, Hembree, and Walden are all locks to make the Opening Day roster.

Brasier struggled at times last year and has minor-league options remaining, while Brice, who was acquired from the Marlins last month, is out of options.

Outside candidates on the 40-man roster include Yoan Aybar, Matt Hall, Chris Mazza, Josh Osich, Mike Shawaryn, Jeffrey Springs, and Phillips Valdez.

The Catchers:

Christian Vazquez
Jonathan Lucroy

Although Kevin Plawecki is on a guaranteed deal for the 2020 season, it is only for $900,000, so it would not be a huge financial loss if the Sox went with Lucroy instead.

The two-time All-Star signed a minor-league deal with Boston earlier in February and has a far more impressive offensive track record than Plawecki does. He also appears to have a solid relationship with Roenicke from when the two were with the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Infielders:

Mitch Moreland
Michael Chavis
Jose Peraza
Xander Bogaerts
Rafael Devers
Jonathan Arauz
Tzu-Wei Lin

Lin is out of options, and as a Rule 5 selection, Arauz would have to be offered back to the Astros if he does not stick on Boston’s 26-man roster, so I believe those two will make it, especially with the defensive versatility Lin offers.

Bogaerts has been dealing with a sore left ankle since workouts began nearly two weeks ago, but it looks like that is a non-issue as far as his status for Opening Day is concerned.

Top prospect Bobby Dalbec is not listed here, but I would personally love to see him make it if he were to get adequate playing time at the big-league level. With Devers manning third and Moreland and Chavis handling first base duties though, that does not seem likely at this point.

Also, Dustin Pedroia will begin the year on the 60-day injured list.

The Outfielders:

Andrew Benintendi
Jackie Bradley Jr.
Kevin Pillar
J.D. Martinez

With Alex Verdugo likely to start the season on the injured list due to a lower back stress fracture, Kevin Pillar is likely to slide in as an everyday outfielder, which he is more than capable of doing.

As I mentioned, Lin, and even prospect C.J. Chatham, are capable of playing a little outfield if necessary. And the Red Sox may need a temporary fourth outfielder during Verdugo’s absence if they do not want Martinez to spend too much time in the outfield.

So there you have it. 26 roster spots. 26 predictions with a whole lot of other possibilities as well. I’ll leave you with my guess for what the Opening Day starting lineup could look like:

  1. Andrew Benintendi, LF
  2. Rafael Devers, 3B
  3. Xander Bogaerts, SS
  4. J.D. Martinez, DH
  5. Mitch Moreland, 1B
  6. Christian Vazquez, C
  7. Michael Chavis, 2B
  8. Kevin Pillar, RF
  9. Jackie Bradley Jr., CF
    Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP