Why 2021 could prove to be pivotal year for Red Sox infield prospect Antoni Flores

In the summer of 2017, the Red Sox made infielder Antoni Flores one of their top priorities, as they signed the Venezuelan prospect for a hefty sum of $1,400,000 that July, which would go on to make him the third-highest paid international addition of that particular signing class for Boston.

Flores initially rewarded the Sox for their investment in him the following year in both the Dominican Summer League and Gulf Coast League.

Over 15 total games and 57 total plate appearances between the two affiliates, the young infielder, primarily playing shortstop, went 18-for-53 (.340) at the plate to go along with one home run and 14 RBI.

The reason Flores only managed to play in 15 games, in 2018 was due to the fact that he missed six weeks of action from mid-June until late July due to “general soreness.”

Upon returning and getting promoted from the DSL to GCL, Flores played in just two games before pulling his hamstring in early August, which wound wind up costing him the rest of the season.

The fact Flores was able to put on an impressive showing at the Red Sox’ fall instructional league that year in the wake of suffering that hamstring injury was certainly encouraging, but more red flags arose in 2019.

Entering the year regarded by SoxProspects.com as Boston’s No. 7 prospect, Flores struggled mightily in his first exposure to non-rookie-league baseball in the United States.

Playing in 55 games for the short-season Lowell Spinners, the then-18-year-old posted a dismal .193/.293/.227 slash line over 208 plate appearances while striking out 28.4% of the time. He also committed 10 errors in 410 defensive innings at shortstop, which would signal a transition to second base.

According to SoxProspects‘ director of scouting Ian Cundall, “scouts really soured on Flores” following his first full professional season, “as he showed a poor approach and limited offensive ability while simultaneously struggling in the field.”

Unfortunately, Flores would not get the chance to bounce back in a traditional manner in 2020, as the minor-league season was cancelled in June due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead, Flores, like most other Red Sox minor-leaguers, had to wait until the 2020 installment of fall instructs to try to continue on with their development.

Alas, a long break from organized baseball did the right-handed hitter no favors, as he continued to underwhelm in Fort Myers this past fall.

Per Cundall, Flores, now 20 years old, “again struggled and now seems to have moved to second base primarily. The athleticism he showed in the Fall Instructional League in 2018 is gone, and his speed has regressed to the point where he was consistently timed at 4.6 seconds down the line, which is a 20 on the 20-80 scouting scale.”

FanGraphs‘ Eric Longenhagen added on to this, writing last month that though he wished Flores’ disappointing 2019 was more of an outlier, it may have very well been the start of a negative trend.

“Flores was generating Willy Adames comps during the Fall of 2018, and has since regressed physically and technically,” Longenhagen wrote. “He no longer looks athletically capable of playing the middle infield and has continued to struggle with the bat.”

While Longenhagen still has Flores as his No. 43 prospect in the Red Sox farm system, he notes that “he’s in danger of slipping off the list entirely next year unless he performs statistically and looks more athletic early in the year.” 

SoxProspects projects Flores, who does not turn 21 until October, will start the 2021 minor-league season with Low-A Salem.

Before the 2021 season begins, though, there is still the minor-league portion of spring training — which will likely start later than usual this year — to look forward to.

Between the time fall instructs ended and the time in which minor-league spring training eventually starts up, it appears as though the Sox have given Flores some homework to do.

“Antoni has been working on his agility and quickness a lot this offseason,” Red Sox assistant general manager Eddie Romero, who played a significant role in Flores signing with the organization, told BloggingtheRedSox.com via email. “He’s made a lot of strides in the past few months, so we’re looking forward to seeing him in spring training.”

On that note, 2021 could prove to be a monumental year for Flores in terms of development and career trajectory.

Not only is the 6-foot-1, 190 lb. infielder looking to buck the trend that has seen his stock take a hit in recent years, but he is also Rule 5 eligible for the first time come December.

If he were to make an impact with Salem, or whichever affiliate he played with this year, Flores could be added to the Sox’ 40-man roster if Boston believes in his potential enough to not want to see him scooped up by another club.

If Flores were not to be added, which does seem unlikely at this point given the fact that other prospects such as Jarren Duran, Jeter Downs, Thad Ward, and Gilberto Jimenez will be in need of protection, then as previously mentioned, an opposing team could pick him up if they felt he was ready to make an impact at the major-league level.

That, too, seems unlikely, but there’s a reason why Flores was once considered one of the top prospects in the Sox’ farm system. The talent is still there somewhere, and so is a relatively high ceiling given his age.

Having written all that, it’s fair to say that 2021 could be a ‘make-or-break’ type year for Flores. We will have to wait and see how he performs.

(Picture of Antoni Flores: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Red Sox manager Alex Cora hoping Xander Bogaerts can become ‘elite defender’ at shortstop

Xander Bogaerts has proven to be one of the best shortstops in all of baseball in recent years, but that’s not stopping Red Sox manager Alex Cora from wanting more out of the 28-year-old moving forward.

Bogaerts just wrapped up a 2020 campaign in which he finished 17th in American League MVP voting thanks to putting up a .300/.364/.502 slash line to go along with 11 home runs and 28 RBI over 56 games played.

Impressive offensive production, per usual. However, the Aruban-born infielder put up rather unimpressive defensive numbers, as has been the trend since he made his first career Opening Day roster back in 2014.

Among 20 qualified major-league shortstops this past season, Bogaerts ranked 19th in Defensive Runs Saved (-5), which essentially means he cost the Red Sox five runs, and 13th in Ultimate Zone Rating (0.3).

Going back to 2014, the two-time All-Star has posted negative DRS totals in each of his last seven seasons with Boston, per FanGraphs.

The Red Sox, with Cora back at the helm, would like to see Bogaerts put it all together and become just as adequate with the glove as he is with the bat in his hands.

“Xander, for instance, when you talk about about the shortstops around the league and now you add [Corey] Seager to that equation, he’s up there with them,” Cora said of Bogaerts when speaking with NESN’s Tom Caron earlier this week. “Maybe the next step for us is to push Xander to be a better defender — and he’s not a bad defender — but to become an elite defender.”

This isn’t the first time Cora has brought up Bogaerts’ need to improve defensively, either. The Sox skipper said something along these same lines at least year’s winter meetings in San Diego.

Now that he is back, perhaps Cora will get on his shortstop in a similar fashion to the way he got on Rafael Devers in 2019. Of course, Devers has his own defensive kinks to work out, and Cora spoke about that process with Caron, too.

“With Raffy, we know what we have to work with,” he said. Expect both Bogaerts and Devers to be a focal point at the start of spring training in February.

Red Sox’ Xander Bogaerts Says It Would ‘Be Hard’ to Have All MLB Games Played in One City This Season If Baseball Does Return

With no baseball to be played for the time being while the world deals with the coronavirus pandemic, Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts has had more time on his hands recently, and he spent some of that time talking to GQ’s Alex Shultz last week.

Discussing a wide range of topics, the two-time All-Star went into depth on what he’s been doing in his native Aruba since Red Sox players and staff went back to their homes last month.

“I don’t wake up at 8 AM doing workouts no more because we don’t have a timetable for returning,” he said when describing what the average day has looked for him recently. “I usually wake up and go to my PlayStation right away, playing lots of FIFA and Fortnite. Then I have breakfast, maybe some eggs or cereal, and do a workout afterwards in the afternoon. I don’t have much to do. If it’s not a workout or PlayStation, I’m playing dominoes with my buddies. Here in Aruba, they want you to social distance, so no more than four people in a group.”

Bogaerts emphasized how he is just trying to maintain right now, telling Shultz that “This is a crazy time and we don’t know if we’re even going to have a season. I don’t want to be the one who’s not doing anything, and then they tell you the season is starting and I’m so far behind. It’s really tough mentally to try and stay in shape.”

To stay in shape, Bogaerts said that he tries to throw with his twin brother Jair everyday in addition to going to the beach, but “in Aruba, you can only go [to the beach] if it’s for workouts. No one can go to chill. Makes the beach a little more boring. But I do some running drills that strengthen your legs and lower body.”

The 27-year-old is coming off a breakout campaign in 2019 in which he finished fifth in American League MVP voting. He accredited that breakout to gaining more experience last season, and how in “the year prior, we had some coaching changes that helped unpack some stuff that I had hidden. It made me become a much better player. All of my hitting coaches have had good, different philosophies, but this one kind of took me to another level.”

In regards to holding out hope for there to be a baseball season in 2020, Bogaerts added that it can be hard to focus at times while working out because there is no set date for a return yet.

Said Bogaerts, “In the offseason, you work out and look forward to February reporting day. You know you have to be ready for that specific day. Now, you don’t have anything like that. We’ll have to wait and see when the experts say it’s the right time to play.”

Another factor in all that uncertainty also includes where games will be played in 2020 if baseball does indeed return.

Several proposals–such as playing games in Arizona, Florida, or even Texas–have been thrown out there, but nothing is definite nor agreed upon at this point in time.

As an international player signed out of Aruba in August 2009, Bogaerts has grown accustomed to being away from his family back home for months at a time. However, he understands that it would be more challenging for American-born players to make such a sacrifice if teams play all their games in one city in 2020.

“That’s going to be hard,” Bogaerts said of the proposed neutral location plan. “I don’t know how they would do that.”

Since signing a six-year, $120 million extension with Boston last April, Bogaerts has emerged as a veteran presence and a leader in the Red Sox clubhouse. It would be nice to see him build on a successful 2019 season sometime this year. We’ll have to wait and see on that, though.

To read Bogaerts’ full interview with GQ, click here.

To follow Bogaerts on Instagram, click here.

Red Sox’ Xander Bogaerts Set to Make Spring Debut Against Tigers

For the first time this spring, Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts is set to make a Grapefruit League start.

Yes, after being sidelined with a sore left ankle since reporting to camp last month, the 27-year-old will serve as designated hitter and bat out of the three-hole for Boston against the Tigers at JetBlue Park on Wednesday.

Bogaerts initially suffered the injury while partaking in offseason workouts in his home country of Aruba back in early February, but he has progressed nicely over the past week or so.

“He’s pretty close to getting in a game,” interim manager Ron Roenicke said of Bogaerts Tuesday. “We’ll probably start him at DH. I guess he’s made a lot of progress over the last couple days.”

Lo and behold, Bogaerts is starting at DH for the Sox on Wednesday. He’ll probably get anywhere between two to three plate appearances.

And despite this setback, Bogaerts is still expected to be ready for Opening Day on March 26th.

Red Sox’ Xander Bogaerts Dealing With Sore Left Ankle

Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts is currently dealing with a sore left ankle, according to interim manager Ron Roenicke. The 27-year-old apparently aggravated it while going through offseason drills in his home country of Aruba last month.

“His ankle is a little bit sore,” Roenicke said of Bogaerts’ ankle. “So these couple, three days we’re probably going to go a little bit easy on him. It’s nothing alarming. But it is a little sore. So we’re going to back off on him a little bit.”

When speaking with reporters for the first time Sunday, Bogaerts echoed the same sort of sentiment, saying, “There’s no reason for us to force it [at spring training]. Just trying to make sure we get it right and when I start, I can finish.”

Entering his seventh full season in the majors, Bogaerts has emerged as an important veteran leader in the Red Sox clubhouse, and he may even be the face of the franchise now that Mookie Betts is a Dodger.

The two-time All-Star slashed .309/.384/.555 with a career-best 33 home runs and 117 RBI over 155 games last season en route to a Silver Slugger award and a top-five finish in American League MVP voting.

While obviously a bit concerning, this sore left ankle for Bogaerts does not seem to be all that worrisome. It will be interesting to see how he is holding up later next week.

Other Red Sox players on the 40-man roster that could play shortstop include Jonathan Arauz, C.J. Chatham, Tzu-Wei Lin, and Jose Peraza.