Top Red Sox Outfield Prospect Jarren Duran Set To Play Winter Ball in Puerto Rico

Top Red Sox outfield prospect Jarren Duran will be competing in the Liga de Beisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente in Puerto Rico this winter for Los Criollos de Caguas, the club announced earlier Tuesday.

Duran, who turned 24 last month, is regarded by MLB Pipeline as Boston’s No. 8 overall prospect and top outfield prospect.

The 2018 seventh-round draft pick out of Long Beach State was added to the Sox’ player pool back in July and put on quite a show at the club’s alternate training site in Pawtucket in what would have been his second full minor-league season.

In joining Caguas, Duran will be managed by Red Sox coach Ramon Vazquez, while Alex Cora’s brother-in-law Jesus Feliciano serves as the team’s general manager.

“Jarren Duran has a great chance to play in the big leagues next year. A player who has hit for average, has strength and has stolen 70 bases in his two seasons as a professional,” Feliciano said (in Spanish) of the speedy outfielder. “He is a versatile player who we are going to like a lot because of the strong way he plays and he will help us with the experienced outfielders we have on our team.”

According to FanGraphs, Duran, who has swiped 70 bags in 199 career minor-league games, has the second-best speed tool (70) in the Sox’ farm system behind only fellow outfielder Gilberto Jimenez (80).

With that speed, as well as the uptick in power he put on display at McCoy Stadium, the California native may have a legitimate shot to crack Boston’s Opening Day roster come next spring.

Many around the organization seem impressed with what they have seen out of Duran in the relatively short period of time he has been a professional. Worcester Red Sox manager Billy McMillon is no exception.

“He had an unbelievable offensive camp. Stole a lot of bases, hit a lot of home runs. Impacted the baseball hard day in and day out,” McMillon said of Duran earlier this month. “I think he continues to get better in the outfield and as that continues to get better, I think that’s going to help clear the path for him. He’s okay, he’s solid, but you can see there’s some room for improvement there. We did some things working on footwork and routes to balls and he kind of cleaned that up a little bit. For me, the question is, can he do that consistently? If he hits a lull with his offense, is he going to stay as positive as we was all camp? I never saw him down during the camp. He hit really well for the entirety of the camp. He’s a very intriguing, very interesting guy.”

Because of what he did in Pawtucket this summer, the Red Sox likely felt that Duran did not need to attend fall instructs, which are currently underway in Fort Myers. Instead, the young speed merchant will take the field for Los Criollos de Caguas down in Puerto Rico in the coming weeks.

Barring any COVID-19-related setbacks, the 2020-2021 Liga de Beisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente season should begin sometime in mid-November.

Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom Appears Confident Andrew Benintendi Can Bounce Back in 2021

On the night of August 11, it appeared as though Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi was on the verge of potentially turning his 2020 season around.

Entering the day with just two hits through his first 36 plate appearances of the year, the 26-year-old managed to double his hit total within the first three innings against the Rays that Tuesday with a pair of leadoff singles.

Fast forward to the eighth, and Benintendi again reached base after getting plunked by an Aaron Loup sinker.

An Alex Verdugo single to shallow left field moments later allowed Benintendi to advance to second base, but as the University of Arkansas product rounded the bag to take off for third, he subsequently slipped while on the run and wound up getting caught in a rundown.

As he made one last effort to reach third base, Benintendi slid head first before getting tagged out, but appeared to get up rather slowly after said out was recorded.

On August 12, the Cincinnati native was placed on the injured list after getting diagnosed with a right rib cage strain, which would wind up costing him the rest of the season.

“It’s frustrating,” Benintendi said at the time he was placed on the IL. “I got a few hits. I was feeling good. Felt like I was about to get hot, so, I mean, I’m frustrated.”

With his 2020 season prematurely coming to a close, Benintendi has now seen his on-field performance continue to decline going back to the start of the 2019 campaign.

In his first full two seasons with Boston, the 2015 first-round draft pick got on base 36% of the time while posting an OPS+ of 113 over a 299-game span that saw him nearly win American League Rookie of the Year and become a first-time All-Star.

Since then, though, as previously mentioned, Benintendi has been rather underwhelming, as he slashed .266/.343/.431 with 13 home runs and 68 RBI in 138 games played last year before running into the buzz saw that was 2020.

Still, even as he trends ever so slightly in the wrong direction two years out from free agency, Benintendi is still viewed as a plus-player in the eyes of the Red Sox front office. Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom made that much clear when speaking with reporters via Zoom on Tuesday.

“I think talent-wise, I wouldn’t factor this year into an evaluation of his talent at all,” Bloom said of Benintendi’s prospects. “I mean, this guy has great all-around ability. It’s just unfortunate how the year started. He actually looked great at Summer Camp, and then for whatever reason the season opened and he wasn’t operating on all cylinders. He had a couple bad weeks and then got hurt, so I wouldn’t let that change anyone’s mind.

“I thought he looked great coming in both in spring training and Summer Camp,” Bloom continued. “This is a guy who has shown the ability to perform at a really high level, including in some really critical situations. Still young, still has all that ability. It’s just a shame that his year kind of got wiped out.”

As he continues to recover from that rib cage strain, Benintendi is expected to undergo a typical offseason where he will not be limited in his activities.

“He’s not full-go at this moment if we were still playing,” said Bloom. “That shouldn’t be a surprise. But, substantively, his offseason should be pretty normal.”

From there, depending on what Bloom and Co. do between now and February, Benintendi should be in line to be a prime bounce-back candidate in 2021, especially with the potential he still brings to the table.

Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo on Aggressive Baserunning Style: ‘When You’re Sniffing a Hit, You’re Going to Do Whatever You’ve Got to Do to Get That Hit’

Going into Thursday night’s game against the Orioles, Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo has accrued a team-leading 62 hits so far this season. Out of those 62 knocks, at least three were infield singles where the 24-year-old found himself sliding head-first into first base.

That kind of approach is typically frowned upon due to the potentially painful consequences involved, but that has not prevented Verdugo from being aggressive coming out of the batter’s box. And because said approach is resulting in base hits, it has not been put to a halt by Sox manager Ron Roenicke, either.

“I know he plays all-out and some of that, he’s going to get banged up,” Roenicke said of Verdugo earlier Thursday. “The diving head-first into first. But, it’s hard to tell a guy not to do that. I mean, both times he’s done it lately he got base hits, so it’s hard to tell him not to do that. But, he’s going to get banged up because he plays hard. He prepares hard, he’s emotional, he’s got energy, he’s got all the things you like in a ballplayer that just loves to go out there and get dirty.”

In his first season with Boston, Verdugo has proven to be one of the more energetic players on the field at any given moment whether he is at the plate, on the base paths, or in the outfield. That is the kind of athlete he strives to be, and since that style has produced quality results thus far, the Arizona native is not planning on toning it down with his approach anytime soon.

“I don’t like scaling it back,” Verdugo said during his pregame media availability on Thursday. “I start scaling it back and I feel like I fall into the trend of what a lot of players do and that’s not running down the line hard. For me, I had my times where I did that and my parents would get on me and say that’s not the way to play the game. They’re right. They’re absolutely right. I just figured you got to bust your butt, you got to play hard. There are just times where the play is in front of you, and you feel like you can get there a little quicker diving and I do it. It’s just a natural habit.

“I’m very well aware of the injuries,” Verdugo added. “Your shoulder, jamming it, your thumb, anything like that. I also try not to hit the very front of the bag… I try to get the front part of the bag, but like on top so I slide right over it, so it’s not really like it’s that dangerous. Plus, I feel like I’m somewhat athletic enough to have body awareness and know how to get in there. When it’s out there right in front of you and you’re sniffing a hit, you’re going to do whatever you’ve got to do to get that hit.”

According to FanGraphs, Verdugo currently leads qualified Red Sox position players in runs scored (35), on-base percentage (.383), wOBA (.382), wRC+ (140), and fWAR (1.8). In other words, the former second-round pick has essentially been Boston’s most valuable player in an otherwise down year for the club. He also leads the majors in outfield assists (7) so far this season and could very well be in contention for his first Gold Glove Award.

Alex Verdugo Picks up League-Leading Seventh Outfield Assist as Part of Red Sox’ 5-3 Win Over Nationals; Ron Roenicke Says ‘You’re Not Going To See Too Many Plays Better Than That’

Alex Verdugo picked up his major-league leading seventh outfield assist on Saturday and in doing so prevented the Nationals from scoring what would have been their fourth run of the night.

On the play, the 24-year-old fielded a two-out single off the bat of Trea Turner. With his momentum carrying him towards the left-center field gap, Verdugo gathered the ball while simultaneously inching closer to home plate.

“You got Turner at the plate swinging a hot bat,” Verdugo said. “Just through the whole game I was watching his swings and he was kind of on everything. For me, I was ready for him to put the ball in play. It just felt like whatever you throw him, he’s going to hit a line drive.”

Upon transferring the fielded baseball from his glove hand to his throwing hand, Verdugo cocked back while still on the run and unleashed a laser back towards the infield.

“I had a good jump on it, a line drive right over the shortstop’s head,” he added. “I got to it quick enough to feel like I was able to throw across my body and it was just a good throw.”

On just one hop, the outfielder’s bullet of a throw reached Christian Vazquez, who had more than enough time to nab Kurt Suzuki, who was trying to score all the way from second base.

Once that final out of the top of the fifth inning was recorded, Verdugo flexed a little bit as he darted back towards the Red Sox dugout after orchestrating what would turn out to be a pivotal play in Saturday’s 5-3 win for Boston.

“I keep my throws low and a lot of times [Xander Bogaerts and Jose Peraza] are doing the hard part,” Verdugo continued. “They got to cut it and get me a couple outfield assists. But, there’s a few where I have to throw it all the way there myself. The main thing for me is to try to keep my throws low, to try to blow up the cutoff man and throw it right through his chest. Sometimes they cut it, sometimes it goes through and we get them.”

One factor that aided the Arizona native in racking up yet another outfield assist is the fact that he throws with his left hand. It certainly doesn’t hurt that he was a legitimate pitching prospect coming out of high school, either.

“For me, it just helped that I’m a lefty, too,” said Verdugo. “With that specific play, it was my glove side, so all I had to do was backhand it and I had to make sure I worked one shuffle forward toward the plate… I had a good understanding of where I was on the field. From there, it was just stop my momentum, try to make a shuffle, and get rid of it as quick as I can.”

When asked about this specific play during his postgame media availability Saturday, Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke seemed rightfully impressed with the arm strength Verdugo displayed while gunning down Suzuki earlier in the night.

“That’s as good a play as you can make,” Roenicke said. “To go over that far and get that ball like he did and still be under enough control to get something on it and one-hop it home. You’re not going to see too many plays better than that.”

With his league-leading seventh outfield assist, Verdugo now has more OF assists than 27 MLB teams so far this season. Pretty impressive.

Red Sox Top Prospect Jarren Duran ‘Definitely’ Making Developmental Strides in Pawtucket, Ben Crockett Says

Jarren Duran has been a professional baseball player for just over two years, and in that rather brief period of time has emerged as one of the top outfield prospects in the Red Sox farm system.

Coming off his first full minor-league season in which he slashed .303/.367/.408 with 212 total bases, 90 runs scored and 46 stolen bases in 132 games between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland in 2019, the California native received an invite to major-league spring training earlier this year and impressed there as well.

When the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forced major-league clubs to shut down their spring training facilities in March and Minor League Baseball to cancel its season altogether in June, one may have thought prospects like Duran may have lost a step in the development process.

That did not happen, however, as the soon-to-be 24-year-old picked up where he left off in Fort Myers by showing out even more at the Red Sox’ alternate training site in Pawtucket.

When speaking with reporters via Zoom on Monday, Red Sox vice president of player development Ben Crockett acknowledged just how exciting Duran has been to watch over the last month-plus.

“Jarren’s made great progress,” Crockett said. “One of the reasons we wanted to bring him in here is because he’s a guy we obviously thought really highly of from the get-go. He made fast progress to get to Double-A in his first full season. And then in the offseason, he undertook a swing change, I think, to make him even better. What we saw in spring training 1.0 was really encouraging and showed great progress. For us, it was important for us to continue to see that and to continue to help him take those strides forward. I think he’s definitely done that.”

Duran himself addressed the changes he made during this past offseason and when speaking to reporters last Friday.

“Working on my swing with Lance everyday here, Lance Zawadski, and I worked with Doug Latta a little bit,” the outfielder said via a Zoom call. “Just my swing path and cleaning things up, making things much simpler than they used to be, and just having a simple approach. I kind of owe it to those guys because I come here everyday and I grind it out with Lance everyday. Everyday’s a struggle to find your swing. You can go home, not play baseball for a day, and it feels like you haven’t swung in two weeks.”

On his new-and-improved swing path that has resulted in somewhat of a power surge in Pawtucket, Duran attributed that to just how direct his approach at the plate is now.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say lowering my hands,” the Long Beach State product added. “I would just say I have a better path. I have more of a line to the ball and extension through the ball and I’m not coming through the zone and getting outs super quickly. I think lowering my hands helps because my hands always come up. If I can keep them low, they’re just naturally going to come up for me. But, I think just keeping a direct path has really been my success.”

As Duran mentions, making a change that disrupts old habits or routines can be extremely frustrating, but given how much improvement the 2018 seventh-round draft pick has shown this year in light of those changes, it may very well be a sign that there are even more encouraging things to come. Crockett brought this point up, or at least the opening part of it, on Monday.

“Anytime you’re doing something that’s a little bit new or different than what you were doing in the past, it takes a number of reps to get that ingrained, to become natural,” he said. But, I think anything from a mechanical standpoint, it certainly comes down to reps and refining it and continuing to really hone in on exactly what’s going to be the right fit for the individual.”

With the help of Zawadski, a former minor-leaguer-turned-assistant hitting coach for the Portland Sea Dogs out of Framingham, and Latta, a renowned hitting instructor based in southern California, Duran may have unlocked some potential that could make him an even better prospect than he already was.

Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom is certainly impressed with what Duran has to offer, saying last Wednesday that “he’s spent a lot of time working on his body from a physical standpoint and that’s looked great.”

All that being said, don’t expect a major-league call-up for Duran anytime soon even though outfielders Jackie Bradley Jr. and Kevin Pillar are both on expiring contracts. For one, Duran is not on Boston’s 40-man roster, which is not too huge of a deal but is still a factor nonetheless.

Secondly, as Bloom puts it, “one of the worst things you can do, especially if you’re doing it because you’re unsatisfied with the on-field product at the big-league level or you want to get a jolt…sometimes the worst thing you can do is take shortcuts in a player’s development. That can lead to short-term results that are not which you want and it can also lead to long-term difficulties.”

Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo Picks up Team-Leading Fourth Outfield Assist in Sunday’s Loss To Yankees

The 2020 Major League Baseball season may just be 22 games young, but Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo has already made quite the first impression with his new club.

After coming over in that blockbuster trade with the Dodgers in February, the 24-year-old is slashing .286/.342/.529 with seven extra-base hits, five of which being home runs, and eight RBI through his first 20 games with Boston.

More importantly, for this piece anyway, Verdugo leads the Red Sox in outfield assists and is actually in a three-way tie with the Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier and the Pirates’ Bryan Reynolds for the most outfield assists in baseball with four on the year thus far.

That fourth assist for Verdugo came in Sunday night’s loss to the Yankees, when after fielding a softly-hit fly ball off the end of Mike Tauchman’s bat in the third inning while on the run, the left fielder worked against his momentum, spun 180 degrees, cocked back, and threw an absolute dart to Jonathan Arauz to get Tauchman at second base.

Per Statcast, Verdugo’s throw to second came out of his left hand at a whopping 81 mph and got back to the infield in just over two seconds.

The play, as fantastic as it was, may not have made too much of a difference by the end of Sunday’s contest, but it just goes to show how impressive Verdugo’s arm strength truly is, which makes sense when you consider the fact that he was a legitimate pitching prospect coming out of high school.

According to FanGraphs, Verdugo has been one of the better defensive outfielders in the American League so far this season, as the Arizona native ranks 11th among qualified AL outfielders in Defensive Runs Saved (6) and 14th in UZR/150 (4.7).

When asked about this highlight play during his postgame media availability Sunday night, Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke said Verdugo’s throw was “outstanding.” Indeed it was.

With Struggling Red Sox, Former Dodgers Outfielder Alex Verdugo Is in Uncharted Territory

Alex Verdugo crushed his fourth home run and collected his sixth and seventh RBI of the season on Friday night and extended his hitting streak to five games by doing so. It was a solid effort from the 24-year-old, but it alone was not enough to snap what is now a five-game losing streak for his team.

With the 10-3 loss at the hands of the Yankees on Friday, the Red Sox are now 6-14 and have the worst record in the American League exactly one third of the way through this truncated, 60-game season. Verdugo may be contributing in positive ways despite the Sox’ miserable start, but this much turmoil all at once is something the former Dodgers top prospect is not exactly accustomed to.

In three seasons with Los Angeles prior to getting traded to Boston in February, Verdugo was part of three straight National League West-winning Dodgers teams that averaged just over 100 wins per season from 2017 through 2019. He likely won’t be able to enjoy that same sort of accomplishment in his inaugural season with the Red Sox.

“It’s definitely a new place for me,” Verdugo said when asked about the Sox’ struggles during his postgame media availability on Friday. “I hadn’t really gone through this a lot with the Dodgers. It is what it is — I’m here now.”

As pessimistic as those comments may read, Verdugo is with the Red Sox now, and compared to the start of the season last month, he has carved out more of a role for himself and has seen an uptick in playing time as a result. The former second-round pick attributes this to trying to be as stress-free as possible when on the field.

“You see guys stressing out a little bit. I’m one of them,” he said. “Everybody just needs to take a deep breath, relax, and try to do less. That, at least personally, has helped for me. Every time I go out there, whether it’s offense, defense or running bases, if I feel like I’m trying to force something to happen…a lot of times it doesn’t happen. If I feel like I’m going out there and letting the game transpire, just play, and take what they give you, really, I feel like at that point everything settles in.”

Following Friday’s 1-for-4 showing, Verdugo now owns a .258/.324/.468 slash line through his first 18 games as a member of the Red Sox. And although the Red Sox are likely going to finish in the basement of the American League East seeing how they are currently on pace to end the year with 18 wins and 42 losses, watching Verdugo continue to blossom could make this 2020 season somewhat worth it.

Red Sox’ Andrew Benintendi Could Miss Significant Amount of Time While Recovering From Rib Cage Strain

Before Wednesday’s eventual 9-5 loss to the Rays, the Red Sox placed outfielder Andrew Benintendi on the 10-day injured list due to a right rib cage strain.

At the time that move was announced, Sox manager Ron Roenicke appeared hopeful that Benintendi would only be out the minimum 10 days. But, after further testing, it seems more likely now that the 26-year-old could miss a significant amount of time.

“He did strain it so he’s going to be a while,” Roenicke said of Benintendi’s injury during his postgame media availability on Wednesday night. “It will probably be more than that 10 days that we talked about.”

Prior to straining his rib cage after tripping and falling down while rounding second base in the eighth inning of Tuesday’s loss to Tampa Bay, Benintendi had put together his best game of the season at the plate, going 2-for-3 with a pair of singles. It seemed like that could have gotten the slumping outfielder going offensively, but he will now have to wait a while to get back on the field.

“This is really unfortunate that it happened,” Roenicke said earlier Wednesday. “what [Benintendi] did yesterday could [have gotten] him going. So I think it’s a tough break and hopefully that he’s not out too long to where he loses that feeling of his swing that he’s been working so hard on.”

In the meantime, Alex Verdugo, Kevin Pillar, J.D. Martinez, Tzu-Wei Lin, and Jose Peraza could all see an uptick in playing time patrolling the outfield while Benintendi is on the mend.

Through the club’s first 18 games this season, Red Sox outfielders rank 25th in baseball in collective OPS (.650) and 25th in collective wRC+ (80).

Red Sox Place Andrew Benintendi on Injured List Due to Rib Cage Strain, Recall Ryan Weber From Pawtucket

Prior to taking on the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday, the Red Sox have placed outfielder Andrew Benintendi on the 10-day injured list due to a right rib cage strain and in a corresponding move recalled right-hander Ryan Weber from the club’s alternate training site in Pawtucket.

Per Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke, Benintendi suffered the strain when he tripped and fell down after rounding second base in the eighth inning of Tuesday’s loss to Tampa Bay.

The hope is that the 26-year-old will only miss the minimum 10 days on the shelf while J.D. Martinez and Jose Peraza will play more outfield in his place. In the meantime, Alex Verdugo will see the majority of his playing time come in left field and Kevin Pillar will see the majority of his come in right.

Prior to straining the right side of his rib cage on Tuesday night, Benintendi had put together his first two-hit game of the 2020 season, so this news comes at a less than ideal time for the struggling outfielder.

“I think it’s a tough break,” Roenicke said of Benintendi being placed on the injured list. “Hopefully he’s not out too long where he loses that feeling of his swing that he’s been working on.”

As for the guy who will be called up in Benintendi’s place, Ryan Weber is back with the big-league club just four days after he was optioned to the alternate training site.

The 30-year-old hurler struggled as the Sox’ No. 3 starter to begin the season, posting a 9.90 ERA over his first three starts. He will be available to pitch in relief of Zack Godley on Wednesday and would otherwise be a “full go” to pitch in relief of Kyle Hart in Thursday’s series finale against Tampa Bay.

With this transaction made, the Red Sox now have 15 pitchers and 13 position players on their active roster. Expect another move to be made on Thursday in lieu of Hart needing to be added before making his first career major-league start.

Red Sox’ Kevin Pillar on Making Difficult Catch in Right Field Corner: ‘It Kind of Goes Back to My Football Mentality: Catch the Ball and Be Ready for a Little Contact’

The Red Sox may have lost on Saturday night, but Kevin Pillar arguably made the best defensive play of the entire game, and we’re not talking about him gunning down Travis Shaw at home plate here.

Instead, we’re talking about what Pillar did in the top half of the seventh inning, when with one out and Heath Hembree on the mound, Rowdy Tellez laced a screamer down the right field line that appeared to be headed towards home run or at least extra-base hit territory off the bat.

Rather than that happening though, a speeding Pillar dashed towards the right field corner, caught Tellez’s liner, collided with the short wall, and fell on his back all while holding onto the ball in his glove.

Per Statcast, that line-drive from Tellez had an exit velocity of 95 mph and had a 29% chance of being a hit. Pillar prevented that from happening, and in his postgame media availability, recalled his high school football days among other things when talking about the web gem.

“It’s a difficult play,” the outfielder said. “It makes it even more difficult [at Fenway Park] with the lack of foul territory… A ball like that’s not hit very often in BP. You can’t really recreate that off a fungo. I just felt like I was getting close when I hit the warning track and took one last peek at the wall and you got to make a decision. In a tight game, you got to be willing to hit the wall. It just kind of goes back to my football mentality: catch the ball and be ready for a little contact and try to help this team win some games.”

Interestingly enough, Pillar initially started Saturday’s contest on the bench but was dispatched as a pinch-hitter in place of the slumping Andrew Benintendi in the fourth inning. At the plate, the 31-year-old went 0-for-3 with a punchout, but nearly lifted a fly ball of his own over the right field fence in the bottom of the ninth, which would have tied the game at two runs apiece had it gone over.

Through 11 games with Boston, Pillar is slashing .317/.333/.348 with one home run and five RBI.

Prior to embarking on his professional baseball career in 2011, the California native played wide receiver among a plethora of other positions on his high school football team at West Hills’ Chaminade College Prep., hence the callback on Saturday night.

For more on how Pillar brings what he learned playing football onto the baseball field, check out this 2017 story from TSN’s Scott Mitchell.