Red Sox prospect Ceddanne Rafaela to play winter ball in Puerto Rico

Versatile Red Sox prospect Ceddanne Rafaela will play for the Criollos de Caguas of the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League this winter, the club announced on Monday.

The Criollos, who have won the last two league championships, are managed by Red Sox first base coach Ramon Vazquez. Alex Cora, a native of Caguas himself, previously served as the team’s general manager.

Rafaela, who turns 22 next month, has never played winter ball before. The native Curacaoan is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 4 prospect in Boston’s farm system and the No. 82 prospect in all of baseball.

The 2022 season has served as a breakout campaign for Rafaela. After being named the organization’s Minor League Defensive Player of the Year last fall, the 21-year-old broke camp this spring with High-A Greenville and batted .330/.368/.594 in 45 games (209 plate appearances) for the Drive before earning a promotion to Double-A Portland in early June.

Since then, Rafaela has slashed .279/.337/.513 with 15 doubles, four triples, 10 home runs, 32 RBIs, 38 runs scored, 12 stolen bases, 15 walks, and 51 strikeouts over 57 games (250 plate appearances) with the Sea Dogs. He has not played since last Thursday after being hit on the left wrist by a pitch in the third inning of a 9-0 win over the Hartford Yard Goats at Hadlock Field.

Among those in the Eastern League who have made at least 250 trips to the plate this season, the right-handed hitter ranks 11th in batting average, ninth in slugging percentage, 10th in OPS (.851), eighth in isolated power (.235), fourth in speed score (8.0), and 15th in wRC+ (128), per FanGraphs.

On the other side of the ball, Rafaela has played both shortstop and centerfield since making the jump to Portland earlier this summer. While the 5-foot-8, 152-pounder has made a habit of making highlight reel plays at either position, he also has past experience at second base, third base, left field, and right field.

Rafaela, who represented the Red Sox in last month’s All-Star Futures Game in Los Angeles, has clearly come a long way since signing with Boston for a mere $10,000 out of Willemstad a little more than five years ago.

Although there are still some things he could improve upon (plate discipline, for example), it seems all but certain that Rafaela will be added to the Red Sox’ 40-man roster in November so that he can receive protection from the upcoming Rule 5 Draft.

In the meantime, Rafaela will be looking to end the 2022 season on a strong note. The Sea Dogs open a six-game series on the road against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats on Tuesday, so it should be interesting to see how soon it will be until he is able to return to the lineup.

(Picture of Ceddanne Rafaela: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Red Sox pitching prospect Chase Shugart ‘had a lot of success in Puerto Rico’ this winter, Brian Abraham says; ‘It was a really good experience for him’

Chase Shugart was one of several Red Sox minor-leaguers who spent part of their off-season playing winter ball outside of the United States.

Suiting up for Indios de Mayaguez of the Puerto Rican Winter League, Shugart posted a 2.84 ERA and 1.11 WHIP with nine strikeouts to two walks over five relief appearances spanning 6 1/3 innings of work during the regular season.

In the postseason, Shugart’s star shined even brighter. The right-handed pitching prospect allowed a total of one run on five hits, two walks, and nine strikeouts across six outings (6 1/3 innings pitched) out of the bullpen for Mayaguez. That’s good for an ERA of 1.42.

Prior to making the trek to Puerto Rico in December, Shugart had only been used as a starter since being drafted by the Red Sox in the 12th round of the 2018 amateur draft out of the University of Texas.

Last season alone, the 25-year-old pitched to the tune of a 4.78 ERA and 4.34 FIP to go along with 93 strikeouts to 24 walks over 22 starts (105 1/3 innings) for High-A Greenville.

Upon returning from Puerto Rico earlier this month, Shugart was one of 28 Red Sox minor-leaguers to receive an invite to the team’s weeklong Winter Warm-Up minicamp in Fort Myers.

That minicamp commenced at the Fenway South complex on Monday, and it also gave reporters (including MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith) an opportunity to speak with Sox director of player development Brian Abraham.

When asked about the long-term role of certain pitchers in the organization such as Shugart, Abraham seemed to indicate that Boston will attempt to maintain as much flexibility as they can moving forward.

“I think there’s still an opportunity to start, but I think ultimately we see him more as a bulk reliever type role,” Abraham said of Shugart. “He had a lot of success in Puerto Rico in the short amount of time he had down there. It was a really good experience for him based on the conversations we had with him today.”

Shugart, who is listed at 5-foot-10 and 198 pounds, is a four-pitch pitcher who operates with a fastball that hovers around 93-95 mph and tops out at 97 mph, a 74-80 mph curveball, an 81-84 mph slider, and an 84-87 mph changeup, per his SoxProspects.com scouting report.

While he may have only been used as a starter to this point in his professional career, Shugart does have experience in the bullpen that goes beyond what he did in Puerto Rico.

To begin his career at Texas, the Bridge City native pitched out of the bullpen during both his freshman and sophomore seasons before moving to the Longhorns’ starting rotation in 2018.

As Abraham alluded to in his conversation with the media on Monday, the Red Sox value relievers who can provide the club with multiple innings out of the bullpen when needed.

Given his history as a starting pitcher, Shugart could potentially fit that mold if he is going to become a reliever on a full-time basis. With that being said, Shugart is projected by SoxProspects.com to begin the 2022 minor-league season in Double-A Portland’s bullpen.

(Picture of Chase Shugart via his Instagram)

Red Sox first base coach Ramón Vázquez leads Criollos de Caguas to second straight Puerto Rican Winter League title

Red Sox first base coach Ramon Vazquez made some history on Thursday night by becoming just the third manager to ever win four titles in the Puerto Rican Winter League (Liga de Béisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente).

Vazquez’s Criollos de Caguas took down Indios de Mayaguez by a final score of 4-3 at Estadio Isidoro “Cholo” García on Thursday to win the best-of-seven championship series four games to one.

This marks the second straight year in which Caguas have come out on top in Puerto Rico. The back-to-back national titles brings their total up to 20, which is the most among teams in the LBPRC.

Alex Cora, of course, hails from Caguas, so it is safe to assume the Red Sox manager is proud of what his hometown team accomplished on Thursday.

Vazquez himself has been at the helm of Criollos for the most recent pair of those 20 championships. He previously won two titles as manager of Cangrejeros de Santurce in 2015-2016 and 2018-2019.

A veteran of nine major-league seasons, Vazquez originally joined Cora’s coaching staff in Boston in November 2017. After serving as a coach and interpreter through his first three years with the club, the Aibonito native was named quality control coach/interpreter upon Cora’s re-hiring in Nov. 2020.

Last season, Vazquez shifted from quality control coach to first base coach when it was revealed that unvaccinated individuals such as Tom Goodwin would not be granted on-field access during the playoffs.

Goodwin, who had served as Boston’s first base coach since 2018, was relieved of his duties in October. Two months later, the Red Sox announced that Vazquez would be taking over as first base coach on a full-time basis and that he would also be responsible for coordinating the team’s base-running instruction.

Now 45 years old, Vazquez is about to embark upon his fifth season as an integral member of the Red Sox coaching staff. Before that, though, he will be representing his home island of Puerto Rico in the 2022 Caribbean Series.

The tournament, which begins next Friday and runs through February 3, will feature winter league champions from Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Panama, Colombia, and host nation Dominican Republic.

Criollos de Caguas have won five Caribbean Series titles in their storied history. They most recently finished as the runner-ups behind Aguilas Cibaenas of the Dominican Winter League last year.

(Picture of Ramon Vazquez: Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

Red Sox infield prospect Matthew Lugo closed out his 2021 season with Low-A Salem on a high note

One of the youngest players the Red Sox selected in the 2019 amateur draft was second-round pick Matthew Lugo.

Lugo, then just 18 years old, was fresh out of the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy in Puerto Rico and ultimately forwent his commitment to the University of Miami to sign with the Sox for an over-slot deal of $1.1 million that June.

After beginning his professional career in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and closing out the year with the short-season Lowell Spinners, Lugo — like many minor-leaguers had his 2020 season taken away from him due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Lugo had the chance to participate in some organized baseball activities during the Sox’ fall instructional league in Fort Myers, the young infielder came into the 2021 campaign having not seen any real in-game action in nearly two years.

Now 20 years old, Lugo broke minor-league camp with Low-A Salem last spring and spent the entirety of the year there. In 105 games for Salem, the right-handed hitter batted .270/.338/.364 (95 wRC+) to go along with 21 doubles, three triples, four home runs, 50 RBIs, 61 runs scored, 15 stolen bases, 38 walks, and 94 strikeouts over 469 trips to the plate.

On the surface, those numbers may not look all that inspiring, but Lugo was among the youngest hitters to play in the Low-A East last year. Interestingly enough, the Manati native fared far better against right-handed pitchers (.294/.367/.402 slash line against in 387 plate appearances) than left-handers (.160/.198/.187 slash line in 82 plate appearances).

In spite of those reverse splits, Lugo saved his best for last in terms of offensive production by batting a scorching .349/.432/.587 (171 wRC+) with five doubles, two triples, two homers, 13 RBIs, 18 runs scored, one stolen base, eight walks, and 16 strikeouts over 17 games (74 plate appearances) in the month of September.

Defensively, Lugo saw time at both second base and shortstop with the Salem Sox in 2021. The 6-foot-1, 187 pounder logged 53 innings at second base and 797 1/3 innings at shortstop, committing a total of 35 errors while turning 44 double plays.

Going into the off-season, Lugo was assigned to Criollos de Caguas of the Puerto Rican Winter League back in November. He had previously played for his hometown Atenienses de Manati during the 2019-2020 off-season but has yet to appear in a game for Caguas.

Lugo, who turns 21 in May, is the nephew of former All-Star outfielder Carlos Beltran — a close friend of Red Sox manager Alex Cora. He ended the 2021 season ranked by Baseball America as the No. 18 prospect in Boston’s farm system.

Per his Baseball America scouting report, Lugo “is described as strikingly mature in his routines and work, including strength work that led one evaluator to describe him as, pound for pound, the strongest prospect in the system. While many expected him to move to second base in pro ball, he has made significant strides at shortstop and many with the Red Sox now believe he can stick at the position.”

On that note, Lugo is projected by SoxProspects.com to begin the 2022 season at High-A Greenville. He will not become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft until next year.

Picture of Matthew Lugo: Gary Streiffer/Flickr)

Red Sox’ Christian Vázquez crushes game-winning home run for Cangrejeros de Santurce in winter ball action

Down to their final two outs while facing the possibility of extra innings, Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez provided a late boost for the Cangrejeros de Santurce of the Puerto Rican Winter League on Wednesday night.

With one out in the top of the ninth inning of a scoreless game against the Indios de Mayaguez, Vazquez came to the plate having already gone hitless with a strikeout through his first three at-bats of the evening.

Matched up against Mayaguez reliever Braden Webb with the bases empty this time around, Vazquez greeted the right-hander by clubbing a go-ahead solo shot to deep left-center field to give his side their first lead of the night at 1-0.

Vazquez’s first home run of the winter — and first in Puerto Rico since 2016-2017 — lifted Santurce to a tightly-contested 1-0 victory over Mayaguez, allowing them to improve to 16-14 on the season.

Following Wednesday’s clutch performance, the right-handed hitting backstop is now batting .179/.207/.357 through his first eight games (29 plate appearances) with the Crabbers.

Vazquez originally revealed last week that he would be returning to his home island to play winter ball for the first time since before the 2017 major-league season began.

While catcher is obviously Vazquez’s primary position with the Red Sox, the 31-year-old has yet to see any time behind the plate for Santurce and has instead served as either the club’s first baseman (like he did on Wednesday) or designated hitter.

As The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier wrote over the weekend, Vazquez is back in Puerto Rico with the hope that the extra reps he is getting there will allow him “to hit the ground running this coming spring.”

Back in November, the Red Sox — after some internal debate — picked up Vazquez’s $7 million club option for 2022, meaning he can become a free agent next winter. Under normal circumstances, they may not have permitted him to play in Puerto Rico this off-season, but the ongoing lockout allowed Vazquez to act on his own volition since clubs cannot contact their players.

On another note, Red Sox pitching prospect struck out one while tossing a scoreless eighth inning for Mayaguez in this very same game on Wednesday. The 25-year-old righty was added to the Indios’ roster earlier this month and has posted a 1.80 ERA in four appearances (five innings pitched) with the team.

(Picture of Christian Vazquez: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Christian Vázquez playing winter ball in Puerto Rico with hopes of hitting the ground running in 2022

Last week, it was revealed that Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez would be playing for Cangrejeros de Santurce of the Puerto Rican Winter League this off-season.

Since making his season debut for Santurce on Wednesday, Vazquez has gone 2-for-17 (.118) at the plate with a single, a double, a walk, and one strikeout over five games played. He has yet to see any time behind the plate for the Crabbers and has instead served as the team’s first baseman or designated hitter thus far.

For established veterans such as Vazquez, it is unusual to see them dedicate part of their off-season to playing winter ball. The Bayamon native participated in the Puerto Rican Winter League on a consistent basis while coming up through the minors and early on in his major-league career, but had not done so in nearly five years.

Under normal circumstances, the Red Sox may not have allowed Vazquez to suit up for Santurce this winter since they only recently picked up his $7 million club option for the 2022 season. As a result of the ongoing Major League Baseball lockout, however, teams are not allowed to contact their players.

Perhaps taking advantage of this loophole, Vazquez made the decision on his own volition to return to his home island with the hopes of setting in motion a plan to rebound from an underwhelming 2021 campaign.

After putting up a 105 wRC+ from 2019-2020, the 31-year-old backstop slashed an uninspiring .258/.308/.352 (77 wRC+) to go along with 23 doubles, one triple, six home runs, 49 RBIs, 51 runs scored, eight stolen bases, 33 walks, and 84 strikeouts over 138 games (458 plate appearances) this past season.

In order to bounce back in 2022, The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier reports that Vazquez “felt that his best way to hit the ground running this coming spring was to play winter ball.” As noted by Speier, the right-handed hitter “last played winter ball before 2017 — a year in which he solidified his everyday big-league role by hitting .290/.330/.404.”

While it’s unknown if the Red Sox would have approved of his decision to play in Puerto Rico this winter, Vazquez is suiting up for Santurce with some motivational factors in mind.

Not only is Vazquez coming off a down season, but he is slated to become a free agent next winter. And even though Boston prolonged Vazquez’s free agency by picking up his $7 million club option in October, the decision to do so “was not a no-brainer” as “there was internal debate over whether he was worth that salary after a down year in 2021,” according to MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.

Even in the wake of exercising Vazquez’s option earlier this fall, the Sox reportedly made an attempt to acquire Gold Glove catcher Jacob Stallings from the Pirates, who ultimately dealt him to the Marlins in late November.

With that being said, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. could be on the lookout for a controllable backstop via trade since both Vazquez and Kevin Plawecki can become free agents after next season.

At the moment, Vazquez is in line to remain as Boston’s top catcher heading into the spring. But, as Speier writes, he “is preparing for 2022 with eyes wide open about the possibility that the Sox may move on from him after the season — or perhaps even during or before it.”

(Picture of Christian Vazquez: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Red Sox catcher Christian Vázquez to play in Puerto Rican Winter League for first time in 5 years

For the first time since the 2016-17 off-season, Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez will suit up for his home island of Puerto Rico this winter.

Vazquez will play for Cangrejeros de Santurce of the Puerto Rican Winter League and is expected to make his season debut on Wednesday, according to Edwin Hernández Jr. on Twitter.

The 31-year-old backstop was born and raised in Puerto Rico and was drafted by the Red Sox in 2008 out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy in Gurabo. This will mark his seventh season playing in the Liga de Béisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente and his first in five years.

As alluded to by SoxProspects.com’s Chris Hatfield, established big-league veterans typically do not participate in winter ball, which makes it seem likely that someone of Vazquez’s stature is there to get in some reps as a designated hitter before the start of spring training.

Besides Vazquez, the Red Sox have had four other players on their 40-man roster participate in winter ball this year. Right-handers Kutter Crawford and Phillips Valdez have pitched for Estrellas Orientales of the Dominican League, outfield prospect Jeisson Rosario has appeared in one game for Tigres Del Licey of the Dominican League, and infielder Jonathan Arauz has been playing in Panama.

On the flip side of that, first baseman/outfielder Franchy Cordero lost his spot on Boston’s 40-man roster in October, but has been playing for Leones del Escogido of the Dominican League throughout the off-season.

As Vazquez prepares to make his 2021 debut for Santurce on Wednesday, it is worth mentioning just how important the 2022 season should be for him. The right-handed hitter is coming off a down year in which he batted .258/.308/.352 with 23 doubles, one triple, six home runs, 49 RBIs, 51 runs scored, eight stolen bases, 33 walks, and 84 strikeouts over 138 games spanning 498 plate appearances.

Despite those underwhelming numbers, the Red Sox still picked up Vazquez’s $7 million club option for 2022, though there was reportedly some internal debate before the final decision was made.

With that being said, it was hinted at by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo last week that Boston could “make a surprising move to upgrade at catcher — and add a controllable player — sooner rather than later.”

Until then, though, Vazquez and backup Kevin Plawecki figure to be the Sox’ top two catching options heading into 2022 followed by prospects Connor Wong and Ronaldo Hernandez.

(Picture of Christian Vazquez: Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Alex Cora returning home to Puerto Rico for daughter’s high school graduation during this weekend’s series against Marlins; Will Venable will manage in his place

While the Red Sox are surely looking forward to welcoming in a full crowd to Fenway Park for the first time in nearly two years on Saturday as part of this weekend’s series against the Marlins, they will be doing so without manager Alex Cora.

The reason being: Cora is heading back home to Puerto Rico on Friday night for his daughter Camila’s graduation from high school, which will take place on Saturday.

“It’s our time to root for her,” Cora said of his only daughter when speaking with reporters prior to Wednesday’s game against the Braves. “I cannot wait for Saturday. It’s probably the biggest day of my life, to be able to see Camila graduate from high school. It’s amazing. She’s actually the life of our family, the vibe of our family and she’s the leader of our family. I cannot wait for that. It will be a special day.”

As noted by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo, Camila Cora is the daughter of Alex and his ex-wife, Nilda, and is the second of Cora’s four children. Considering the fact that Camila is his only daughter, it would appear that the two have a tight relationship.

“This girl, she means the world to us,” said Cora. “She has been through a lot in her life. A child of divorced parents — that’s not easy — but the fact we’ve been able to work together and put her in the situation where she’s at right now. She’s going to college, she has been great to us throughout the process. She has suffered a lot the last 16 months with everything that happened with me, but at the same time, our relationship has grown. I explained her a lot of stuff. She had a lot of questions and I answered all of them.”

In Cora’s place, Red Sox bench coach Will Venable will handle managerial duties on Saturday. Cora does plan on being back in Boston for Sunday’s series finale against Miami, though.

For Venable, Saturday’s contest against the Marlins will mark his big-league managerial debut. The 38-year-old was one of several candidates who originally interviewed for the Sox’ managerial opening last fall before Cora ultimately won the job again.

“For Will, no pressure at all,” Cora said. “Just go out there and try to win a ballgame. I told him, ‘No texting. No calling. Just get ready for that.’ He’ll be fine. He’ll be fine. So looking forward for Saturday on a personal note, and also to see Will go out there and do his thing.”

As for when Cora will get to see more of Camila once he returns to Boston from Puerto Rico on Sunday, that time will come later this year since she will be attending Boston College beginning in the fall.

“It has been a sprint, but now it starts, actually,” Cora said. “The fact she’s going to go to college and we’re going to enjoy that, too, it’s going to be amazing.”

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

Red Sox’ Kiké Hernández on playing for Alex Cora: ‘It’s an honor and I feel extremely proud to be playing for a Puerto Rican manager’

Since making his major-league debut with the Astros in 2014, Kiké Hernández has played for four different managers in his time with the ‘Stros, the Marlins, and Dodgers.

Never before has Hernandez played under a manager who hails from his home island of Puerto Rico. That will all change on Thursday afternoon when the 29-year-old takes the field for a Red Sox team led by the Puerto Rican-born Alex Cora.

“It’s an honor and I feel extremely proud to be playing for a Puerto Rican manager,” Hernandez explained Wednesday. “Growing up, almost every manager — if not every manager — was an American. So for me to be playing for a Puerto Rican manager, it means a lot. It’s something that the island is very proud of — I’m very proud of.”

The relationship between Hernandez and Cora goes back well before the former inked a two-year, $14 million deal with Boston back in February.

While growing up in Puerto Rico in the late 90s/early 2000s, Hernandez served as batboy for the same winter ball team Cora was playing for at that time, so the two got to know one another through that and their bond has only evolved since then.

“To play for Alex, the guy that I’ve known for 20 years, I’m just really happy,” the right-handed hitting Hernandez said. “I feel really comfortable because I feel like we’ve had this relationship for so long. I feel like we were friends before that. To have that relationship with your manager, it means a lot.

“Even when he wasn’t saying anything, when I was just watching him as a kid, I was learning a lot from him,” added Hernandez. “Once I grew up and I started playing winter ball and he was managing against me, every once in a while he would hit me up and give me little hints or help me out on defense, on double plays or whatever. So he’s had a huge impact on my career and I’m really proud and really happy to be playing for him.”

While he is happy and proud to play for Cora, Hernandez is also looking forward to soaking in his first official regular season game as a member of the Red Sox.

Fenway Park is a venue the 5-foot-11, 198 pounder has played inside plenty of times as a visitor, but Wednesday marked the first time he could experience the ballpark from the other side of the field.

“One of the first things I did was go into the dugout,” Hernandez recounted. “And the view from the first base dugout is a lot more special in this stadium than the view from the third base dugout. I can tell you that. It felt special. The magic of Fenway, you can actually feel it from the first base dugout.

“Like I’ve said, there’s a lot I’m looking forward to, a lot that I’m excited about, and it’s nothing that I take for granted,” he said. “There’s been times and there will be times [Thursday] where I’m going to sit back and think about everything. Just really happy to be here.”

(Picture of Kiké Hernández: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Jarren Duran, top Red Sox outfield prospect, homers in second start of spring: ‘He lifts, he sleeps, he eats, and he plays baseball’

Outfield prospect Jarren Duran started his second game of the spring in center field for the Red Sox on Tuesday.

The 24-year-old, hitting out of the two-hole, went 1-for-3 with a solo home run and a walk before being lifted at the start of the seventh inning.

That homer, which came on a 1-0 breaking ball from Rays right-hander David Hess, was belted deep to right field — well over the Boston bullpen, for Duran’s first big fly of the spring.

Even without a minor-league season last year, Duran still got plenty of time to develop between spending time at the Sox’ alternate training site in Pawtucket and playing winter ball in Puerto Rico.

Over 16 regular season games for Criollos de Caguas, a team managed by Red Sox quality control coach Ramon Vazquez, the California native slashed a modest .236/.386/.273 to go along with two doubles, six stolen bases, and 10 RBI.

Duran did turn things around in the Puerto Rican postseason by posting a 1.046 OPS en route to being named the Most Valuable Player of the league’s championship series.

The fact that Caguas won its respective league allowed the club to represent Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Series, which led to Duran becoming a Caribbean League All-Star after going 10-for-25 (.400) at the plate with one double, one triple, one home run, and three RBI over seven games played.

While continuing to develop at the alternate site and in winter ball these past few months, it’s clear that Duran has grown stronger, as evidenced by his uptick in power as well as physique.

“He’s strong,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said Tuesday. “That’s the Puerto Rican diet: rice and beans and chicken the whole offseason. And two brunches with the manager. I took care of that.

“Like I said earlier, he lifts, he sleeps, he eats, and he plays baseball,” continued Cora. “That’s what he does. And he enjoys it.”

It wasn’t too long ago when it seemed like Duran — who Boston took in the seventh round of the 2018 amateur draft out of Long Beach State — was going to be someone who relied on his speed more than anything. He did after all steal 46 bases between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland in 2019.

Taking his speed into account, Cora told Duran that as a left-handed hitter, he should consider dropping down a couple of bunts because of where the Rays were positioning their third baseman.

“It’s funny, because we were talking about certain situations,” the Sox skipper said. “With the third baseman back early in the count, with his speed, it would be good for him to drop a few bunts down just to get on base. And then he hits a home run.”

Cora’s first exposure to Duran as Red Sox manager came during spring training in 2019. The speedy outfielder appeared in seven games back then, but it’s safe to say he has grown a lot in the last two years.

“He’s a lot stronger than what he was two years ago,” stated Cora. “He’s in-tune with the game, and he’s going to keep developing and he’s going to be a good one.”

Listed at 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds, Duran has one of the best speed tools among Red Sox minor-leaguers, according to FanGraphs.

The second baseman-turned-outfielder is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 5 prospect in Boston’s farm system.

If all goes according to plan, Duran — who last played at Double-A Portland in 2019 — could make his major-league debut at some point this summer, if not sooner.

For now, he will have the chance to continue to dazzle the masses in Grapefruit League play in southwest Florida.

(Picture of Jarren Duran: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)