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)

What happens if Red Sox’ Triston Casas wins American League Rookie of the Year Award this season?

In a recent poll run by MLB.com, executives from across baseball were asked who they believe will win American and National League Rookie of the Year honors in 2023.

Five different players from the American League received votes, including Red Sox first baseman Triston Casas. Orioles infielder Gunnar Henderson (73 percent of the vote) finished atop the leaderboard while Casas and Astros right-hander Hunter Brown (nine percent each) tied for second. Yankees shortstop Anthony Volpe (six percent) and Rangers third baseman Josh Jung (three percent) rounded it out.

Casas made his major-league debut in September but did not register enough plate appearances to graduate from his rookie status. In his first 27 games with the Red Sox, the left-handed hitter batted .197/.358/.408 with one double, five home runs, 12 RBIs, 11 runs scored, one stolen base, 19 walks, and 23 strikeouts over 95 trips to the plate.

On the surface, a .197 batting average may indicate poor results offensively. But Casas impressed the Red Sox with his plate discipline down the stretch and wound up leading all American League rookies (min. 90 PAs) with a 20 percent walk rate. Using that same parameter, he also ranked fourth in on-base percentage and sixth in isolated power (.211), per FanGraphs.

Defensively, Casas made all 22 of his starts at first base and logged 198 innings at the position. While over there, 6-foot-4, 252-pounder was worth negative-two defensive runs saved, but he also accrued an ultimate zone rating of 0.2 and one out above average, according to Baseball Savant.

Prior to making his highly-anticipated debut last summer, Casas had missed a significant chunk of the minor-league season with a high right ankle sprain he sustained in May. As a result of all that missed time, the Red Sox sent Casas to the Dominican Republic to play winter ball for the Tigres del Licey back in October.

Casas appeared in three games for Licey before being shut down with knee discomfort. He flew back to Boston shortly thereafter to undergo further testing and an MRI revealed there was no structural damage. As opposed to sending him back to the Dominican, the Red Sox prescribed Casas rest and sent him home to Pembroke Pines, Fla. to recuperate. He just recently began incorporating baseball activities into his offseason workouts.

I’m progressing well with all my workouts and my swing progression has been on point,” Casas told Joe McDonald of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette last month. “I’m starting to incorporate some defensive drills. Defense for me is a lot of footwork, so I’ve been working on my agility and I’m confident it will translate onto the field.”

Casas, who turns 23 later this week, is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 2 prospect in Boston’s farm system and the No. 19 prospect in the sport. He was originally selected by the Red Sox with the 26th overall pick in the 2018 amateur draft out of American Heritage High School.

When the hot stove season began in November, Casas was one of two left-handed hitting first baseman on the Sox’ 40-man roster alongside fellow Florida native Eric Hosmer. Hosmer has since been designated for assignment and subsequently released, so Casas — barring a surprising trade — appears to be on his way to becoming Boston’s everyday first baseman heading into spring training.

Since releasing Hosmer, however, the Red Sox have signed veteran infielder Justin Turner to a one-year, $15 million deal that includes a player option for 2024. Turner, primarily a third baseman in his nine seasons with the Dodgers, is expected to serve as Boston’s primary designated hitter, but the 38-year-old could also spell Casas at first base on occasion since he hits from the right side of the plate.

While that, in theory, could take away playing time from Casas, Casas himself will be looking to become the first Red Sox player to win Rookie of the Year Honors since Dustin Pedroia did so in 2007. And thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement, winning Rookie of the Year now goes beyond personal achievement.

When Major League Baseball and the MLB Players’ Association ratified a new collective bargaining agreement last March, a “prospect promotion incentive” was implemented to combat against service time manipulation. Teams who promote players with less than 60 days of service time to their Opening Day roster become eligible to receive an additional draft pick if one of those players goes on to win Rookie of the Year in the respective league.

The Mariners, for instance, were awarded an extra selection in the 2023 draft after Julio Rodriguez took home 2022 AL Rookie of the Year honors. Rodriguez and runner-up Adley Rutschman of the Orioles were each credited with a full year of service time as well since they finished first and second in voting and were included on two or more preseason top-100 prospect lists put out by Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, or ESPN.

Casas comes into the 2023 campaign with 32 days of service time under his belt and will more than likely be included on at least two of these three publications’ top prospect lists. As such, he would be in line to receive a full year of big-league service time if he places first or second in AL Rookie of the Year voting this fall. The Red Sox, meanwhile, would pick up an extra draft pick in 2024 if Casas were to win the award outright.

(Picture of Triston Casas: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox shut out in American League Rookie of the Year voting

The Red Sox were totally shut out in American League Rookie of the Year voting on Monday night.

Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena took home American League Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year honors, while Astros right-hander Luis Garcia and Rays infielder Wander Franco finished second and third, respectively.

This was to be expected, as all three of Arozarena, Garcia, and Franco were the three Rookie of the Year finalists selected by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America last week.

What was not expected by some, though, was the Red Sox not sniffing a single ballot despite receiving key contributions from three different rookies throughout the 2021 season.

Per the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s website, eight different players received A.L. Rookie of the Year votes from 30 different writers, but none were Red Sox.

Instead, it was Rangers outfielder Adolis Garcia who finished in fourth, Guardians reliever Emmanuel Clase who finished in fifth, Orioles outfielder Ryan Mountcastle who finished in sixth, Rays left-hander Shane McClanahan finishing in seventh, and Blue Jays right-hander Alex Manoah finishing in eighth.

At first glance, one has to wonder how one of Bobby Dalbec, Tanner Houck, or Garrett Whitlock were all unable to crack the list as one of the top eight rookies in the junior circuit this year.

After a slow start to his first full season in the majors, Dalbec wound up slashing .240/.298/.494 on the year to go along with 21 doubles, five triples, 25 home runs, 78 RBIs, 50 runs scored, two stolen bases, 28 walks, and 156 strikeouts over 133 games spanning 453 plate appearances.

Among qualified American League rookie hitters this season, the 26-year-old first baseman ranked third in home runs, third in RBIs, seventh in runs scored, third in isolated power (.254), second in slugging percentage, and 11th in wRC+ (107).

Houck, like Dalbec, debuted for Boston during the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign but exceeded his rookie limits in 2021. Across several stints between Triple-A and the majors this year, the right-hander posted a 3.52 ERA and 2.58 FIP with 87 strikeouts to 21 walks over 18 appearances (13 starts) and 69 innings of work.

Among qualified American League rookie hurlers this season, the 25-year-old ranked fifth in strikeout rate (30.5%), second in FIP, third in xFIP (3.20), and eighth in SIERA (3.28), per FanGraphs.

Whitlock, on the other hand, is perhaps the biggest snub here considering that he underwent Tommy John surgery in July 2019 and came over from the Yankees organization in last December’s Rule 5 Draft.

While expectations were likely low out of the gate for Whitlock, the 25-year-old right-hander proved to be one of — if not the most effective reliever out of Red Sox manager Alex Cora’s bullpen this season.

In 46 outings, Whitlock produced a 1.96 ERA and 2.84 FIP while recording 81 strikeouts and 17 walks across 73 1/3 total innings of relief for Boston. Among qualified A.L. rookie pitchers, he ranked second in ERA, fifth in FIP, fourth in xFIP (3.22), and fourth in SIERA (3.06), per FanGraphs.

Still, despite those three — particularly Whitlock — putting up those kind of numbers in their rookie seasons, none of them received any sort of recognition on Monday, much to the dismay of Red Sox fans.

There is, however, a reason as to why neither Dalbec, Houck, or Whitlock wound up on any ballots. According to the BBWAA’s Voting FAQ page, there are only three spots on members’ ballots when it comes to Rookie of the Year voting as opposed to 10 for Most Valuable Player voting and five for Cy Young voting.

In last year’s American League MVP voting, for instance, 21 different players received votes on account of there being 10 different spots for writers to fill out.

If this were the case in Rookie of the Year voting, it’s likely that someone such as Whitlock would have received some recognition in the form of one or several 4th-10th place votes on Monday.

(Picture of Garrett Whitlock: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox catching prospect Jhonny Pereda takes home Venezuelan winter ball Rookie of the Year honors

Red Sox catching prospect Jhonny Pereda took home Rookie of the Year honors in the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League Saturday night.

The 24-year-old, playing for Leones del Caracas, slashed an impressive .338/.421/.421 to go along with one home run and 16 RBI over 39 games and 153 plate appearances this season, which ended on January 10.

He also threw out six of a possible 13 runners on the base paths, which translates to a 46% success rate.

Pereda received 37 of 50 possible first-place votes in the league’s MVP race while also finishing with 205 voting points, 105 more than the runner-up.

“This makes me very happy because last year was a strong year because of the virus. There were no minor-leagues and that affected many players, both me and many, because there was no season,” Pereda said (in Spanish) of winning the award. “But I kept working to come to Venezuela. Thank God and Leones, who gave me the opportunity to play here.”

The Red Sox originally acquired Pereda from the Cubs back in March as the player to be named later in a January trade that involved right-hander Travis Lakins.

The club briefly released the Venezuelan from his contract on July 15 only to re-sign him to a two-year minor-league deal on July 17 and promptly add him to their 60-man player pool. He would go on to spend the rest of the summer at the alternate training site in Pawtucket.

After baseball activities ended at the alternate training site in late September, Pereda did not attend the Red Sox’ fall instructional league in Fort Myers, but he did receive an invite to major-league spring training in December.

In addition to his catching abilities that netted him a minor-league Gold Glove Award in 2019, the right-handed hitting backstop can play a little first base as well, as evidenced by what he did this winter.

Going into spring training next month, Pereda should figure to be an intriguing component of the Red Sox’ catching depth equation given the fact Deivy Grullon was lost on a waiver claim by the Cincinnati Reds in December.

As of this writing, the 6-foot-1, 202 lb. catcher is Boston’s top backstop not included on their 40-man roster, according to SoxProspects.com’s depth charts.

Pereda, along with fellow catching prospect Connor Wong, is expected to begin the 2021 minor-league season with Triple-A Pawtucket.

“I know that this season here in Venezuela will help me. It gave me many experiences that I will put into practice in the training field,” said Pereda (in Spanish) of his time in his home country. “I played with a very experienced team. I had teammates who have played in the major-leagues, who have been in pro ball for many years and I always tried to listen to what they talked about baseball, and those little details that can help me.”

(Picture of Jhonny Pereda: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)