Red Sox’ Matthew Lugo named co-Rookie of the Year in Puerto Rican Winter League

Red Sox infield prospect Matthew Lugo has been named co-Rookie of the Year in the Liga de Beisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente (Puerto Rican Winter League), the league announced on Wednesday.

Lugo, representing the Criollos de Caguas, received the same amount of votes as Leones de Ponce left-hander Miguel Ausua. In 39 games with Caguas this winter, the right-handed hitting 21-year-old batted .275/.360/.450 with three doubles, six home runs, 19 RBIs, 20 runs scored, two stolen bases, 11 walks, and 34 strikeouts over 140 plate appearances.

Defensively, Lugo saw playing time at three different positions for the Criollos. The 6-foot-1, 187 pounder logged 54 2/3 innings at second base, 152 1/3 innings at third base, and 85 2/3 innings at shortstop. His winter ball assignment ended on December 23.

The Red Sox originally selected Lugo in the second round of the 2019 amateur draft out of the Carlos Beltran (Lugo’s uncle) Baseball Academy in Puerto Rico. They swayed the Manati native away from his commitment to the University of Miami by signing him for $1.1 million. He is currently regarded by SoxProspects.com as the No. 14 prospect in Boston’s farm system.

Lugo spent the vast majority of the 2022 minor-league season with High-A Greenville. He slashed .288/.344/.500 with 18 home runs and 78 RBIs in 114 games (512 plate appearances) for the Drive before earning a promotion to and appearing in three games with Double-A Portland down the stretch in late September.

At season’s end, Minor League Baseball tabbed Lugo as one of Boston’s organizational All-Stars at shortstop. Interestingly enough, however, Lugo moved off short in August and mostly played third base from that point forward. It now appears as though he is slated to remain at the hot corner since he looked more comfortable there last summer, per SoxProspects.com’s Ian Cundall.

Lugo, who turns 22 in May, is projected to return to Portland for the start of the 2023 season in April. If he intends on having success against more advanced pitching with the Sea Dogs, he will need to work on raising his on-base percentage by drawing more walks while also cutting down on the number of times he expands the strike zone.

In other Puerto Rican Winter League-related news, infielder Edwin Diaz was named the league’s Most Valuable Player. Diaz reportedly signed a minor-league contract with the Red Sox earlier this week. Additionally, former Red Sox reliever Yacksel Rios was named Pitcher of the Year after allowing just two earned runs in 27 2/3 innings of work for Caguas.

(Picture of Matthew Lugo: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Red Sox officially promote Ramón Vázquez to bench coach

UPDATE: The Red Sox have officially named Vazquez as their next bench coach, the club announced on Tuesday. Vazquez becomes the fourth different bench coach Boston has had since the start of the 2018 season.

The Red Sox are promoting Ramon Vazquez from first base coach to bench coach, according to reporter Edwin Hernandez Jr. (@LBPRCinEnglish) on Twitter.

Vazquez, who has been managing the Criollos de Caguas of the Puerto Rican Winter League this offseason, will be taking over for Will Venable. After serving as Boston’s bench coach for the last two seasons, Venable left the club earlier this month to become the associate manager of the Rangers under Bruce Bochy.

A native of Puerto Rico himself, Vazquez first joined manager Alex Cora’s coaching staff as a statistical analysis coordinator in November 2017. He remained in that role for three seasons before taking on more responsibility as a quality control coach in 2021. When Tom Goodwin’s unvaccinated status kept him off the field, Vazquez filled in as the first base coach for the entirety of the Sox’ postseason run. He was named the full-time first base coach last December after the club elected to part ways with Goodwin.

Prior to joining the Red Sox as a coach, Vazquez spent three seasons (2014-2016) in the Astros organization. He served as Houston’s developmental specialist from 2014-15 and then managed its High-A minor-league affiliate in 2016. The following season, Vazquez got his first taste of life as a big-league coach with the Padres while working under Andy Green.

Going back to his playing days, the 46-year-old Vazquez is a veteran of nine major-league seasons (2001-2009) between the Mariners, Padres, Red Sox, Guardians, Rangers, and Pirates. In July 2005, Vazquez was traded from Boston to Cleveland in exchange for a fellow infielder (and Puerto Rican) in Cora.

In becoming the Red Sox’ next bench coach, Vazquez has opted to step down as Caguas’ manager in order to focus on his new duties. This comes just 10 months after he became the third manager ever to win four titles in the Puerto Rican Winter League.

With Vazquez taking over for Venable as Cora’s top lieutenant, the Red Sox now have an opening at first base coach. It remains to be seen how they will go about filling that vacancy. As far as internal candidates are concerned, major-league field coordinator Andy Fox and Triple-A Worcester bench coach Jose David Flores could garner consideration since they have prior experience at the position. Fox was the Marlins’ first base coach from 2007-2009 while Flores served in the role with the Phillies in 2018.

(Picture of Ramon Vazquez: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Will Red Sox protect Christian Koss from Rule 5 Draft by adding him to 40-man roster?

By this time next Tuesday, the Red Sox will have added a number of minor-leaguers to their 40-man roster in order to protect them from December’s Rule 5 Draft.

Ceddanne Rafaela will almost certainly be protected. Wilyer Abreu, David Hamilton, Chris Murphy, Brandon Walter, and Thad Ward are also eligible and have interesting cases to be made. The same can be said for Christian Koss, who MLB Pipeline recently identified as Boston’s toughest Rule 5 decision.

Koss, 24, spent the entirety of the 2022 season with Double-A Portland. The versatile right-handed hitter batted .260/.309/.430 with 22 doubles, five triples, 17 home runs, 84 RBIs, 69 runs scored, 16 stolen bases, 25 walks, and 137 strikeouts over 125 games (532 plate appearances) en route to being named the Sea Dogs’ Most Valuable Player.

Among qualified Eastern League hitters, Koss ranked fourth in hits (125), third in RBIs, 11th in runs scored, 19th in stolen bases, 18th in batting average, 16th in speed score (6.5). He also ranked 35th in strikeout rate (25.8 percent), 57th in walk rate (4.7 percent), 43rd in on-base percentage, 35th in wRC+ (99), 60th in line-drive rate (14.4 percent), 57th in groundball rate (48.9 percent), and 48th in swinging-strike rate (14.7 percent), per FanGraphs.

Defensively, Koss saw playing time at five different positions in 2022. The 6-foot-1, 182-pounder logged 214 1/3 innings at second base, 185 innings at third base, 601 2/3 innings at shortstop, nine innings in left field, and 37 innings in right field. This year marked the first time he had ever played the outfield in his professional career.

Koss’ pro career dates back to June 2019, when he was selected by the Rockies in the 12th round of the amateur draft out of the University of California, Irvine. The Red Sox acquired the Riverside native from Colorado in exchange for left-hander Yoan Aybar the following December.

The Red Sox made that trade in order to clear a spot on their 40-man roster. Koss now finds himself in a similar position. As noted by MLB Pipeline, what makes Koss appealing is the fact that he “has solid raw power and speed, not to mention a high baseball IQ.” At the same time, however, Koss’ high strikeout rate and low walk rate indicate that “his lack of plate discipline could be a problem at higher levels” of the minor-leagues.

Koss, who turns 25 in January, is currently regarded by MLB Pipeline as the No. 20 prospect in Boston’s farm system. The former Anteater has spent his offseason playing for the Criollos de Caguas of the Puerto Rican Winter League. There, he has been under the watchful eyes of Red Sox first base coach Ramon Vazquez (Caguas’ manager), WooSox bench coach Jose Flores (Caguas’ infield coach), and Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who hails from Caguas.

If the Red Sox were to add Koss to their 40-man roster by next Tuesday’s deadline, they would retain his rights moving forward. In that scenario, Koss would be in line to make the jump to Triple-A Worcester while providing Boston with infield and outfield depth in 2023.

If the Red Sox do not add Koss to their 40-man roster by November 15, another club could acquire him for $100,000 during next month’s Rule 5 Draft. That team would then be responsible for carrying Koss on their major-league roster for the entirety of the 2023 season. If they were unable to do so, Koss would have to be offered back to the Red Sox for $50,000.

(Picture of Christian Koss: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

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)