Red Sox infield prospect Matthew Lugo has sleeper potential heading into 2022 season

In the process of ranking the top 20 prospects in the Red Sox farm system for The Athletic, Keith Law identified one under-the-radar-minor-leaguer who has a chance to take a big step forward in 2022.

His name? Matthew Lugo, who Law regards as the No. 9 prospect in Boston’s farm system behind left-hander Brandon Walter and ahead of right-hander Bryan Mata.

Lugo, who turns 21 in May, was originally selected by the Sox in the second round of the 2019 amateur draft out of the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy in Puerto Rico. He spent the entirety of the 2021 minor-league season with Low-A Salem.

There, the right-handed hitting shortstop batted  .270/.338/.364 (95 wRC+) with 21 doubles, three triples, four home runs, 50 RBIs, 61 runs scored, 15 stolen bases, 38 walks, and 94 strikeouts over 105 games spanning 469 plate appearances.

On paper, a below-average wRC+ of 95 obviously does not stick out. However, in Lugo’s case, he closed out his season by slashing an impressive .349/.432/.587 (171 wRC+) over 17 games (74 plate appearances) in the month of September while being among the youngest hitters in the Low-A East.

“He’s an athletic shortstop who should get to at least average power, and showed solid zone awareness last year in Low-A, with just a 20 percent strikeout rate despite having played just two games outside the complex league before last year,” Law wrote of Lugo on Tuesday. “His defense at shortstop has improved significantly, and the quality of his at-bats also improved over the course of 2021. He might be a level per year guy but projects to be an everyday player at shortstop when he gets there.”

That Law has ranked Lugo as highly as he did is somewhat surprising. Baseball America does not have the 20-year-old infielder included in their top 10 Red Sox prospects list, while SoxProspects.com has him ranked at No. 28 in the organization.

As for why Law believes Lugo could take a step forward this year, he also listed the Manati native as Boston’s sleeper prospect, writing: “I think this is Lugo’s year to take that big step forward at the plate, with harder contact and better at-bats translating at least into doubles power.”

Lugo, who is listed at 6-foot-1 and 187 pounds, was one of 28 Red Sox minor-leaguers who participated in the team’s Winter Warm-Up program in Fort Myers last month. He is projected to begin the 2022 season with High-A Greenville.

(Picture of Matthew Lugo: Gary Streiffer/Flickr)

Nick Yorke recognized by MLB Pipeline as Red Sox’ breakout prospect in 2021

To nobody’s surprise, Nick Yorke was recently recognized by MLB Pipeline as the Red Sox’ breakout prospect in 2021.

Boston’s top pick — and 17th overall selection — in last year’s amateur draft, Yorke made a strong impression at major-league camp this spring before beginning the minor-league season with Low-A Salem.

After initially getting off to a slow start, Yorke wound up slashing an impressive .323/.413/.500 to go along with 14 doubles, four triples, 10 home runs, 47 RBIs, 59 runs scored, 11 stolen bases, 41 walks, and 47 strikeouts over 76 games (346 plate appearances) with the Salem Sox.

Around the same time he was named the Low-A East Player of the Month for August, Yorke earned a promotion to High-A Greenville on Aug. 24. The right-handed hitting infielder capped off his professional debut by batting .333/.406/.751 with six doubles, one triple, four home runs, 15 RBIs, 17 runs scored, two stolen bases, 11 walks, and 22 strikeouts across 21 games (96 plate appearances) with the Drive.

Among all qualified hitters who played at either Low-A or High-A this year, Yorke ranked fourth in batting average (.325), ninth in on-base percentage (.412), 25th in slugging percentage (.516), 13th in OPS (.928), and 12th in wRC+ (149), per FanGraphs.

As a result of such a strong campaign at the plate between Salem and Greenville, the 19-year-old was named Boston’s Offensive Player of the Year in September and was recognized at Fenway Park for earning the honor.

Defensively, Yorke was used strictly as a second baseman this season and committed a total of nine errors in 741 2/3 innings at the position. Despite there being some concerns that Yorke may not be able to stick at second base in the long-term, the Red Sox remain committed to keeping him there as he continues to develop.

“He showed how much improvement he can make in one offseason, just with his body, his athleticism, his improvements on defense,” Sox director of player development Brian Abraham said of Yorke when speaking with The Athletic’s Chad Jennings earlier this month. “To me, there’s no reason to think he couldn’t continue to improve and be an impact player there.”

Yorke, who does not turn 20 until next April, is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 3 prospect in Boston’s farm system heading into 2022. The 6-foot, 200 pound California native is projected by SoxProspects.com to begin next season where he ended this season: Greenville.

That being said, it’s certainly possible Yorke could find himself at Double-A Portland sooner rather than later next year if he gets off to a hot start come April.

(Picture of Nick Yorke: Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

New Podding the Red Sox episode: The Athletic’s Alec Lewis joins the show to discuss the Andrew Benintendi trade

On this week’s installment of Podding the Red Sox: A BloggingtheRedSox.com Podcast, I am joined by The Athletic’s Alec Lewis, who covers the Kansas City Royals for the site.

Alec and I mostly talked about the trade between the Red Sox and Royals last week that sent Andrew Benintendi to Kansas City and Franchy Cordero and two players to be named later from K.C. to Boston.

We also discussed how Benintendi will have to adjust to the dimensions at Kauffman Stadium, how Cordero needs to stay healthy as a member of the Sox, and much more.

The episode is available to listen to on iTunes and Spotify, among other platforms.

Thanks to Alec for taking some time out of his busy schedule to have a conversation with me. You can follow him on Twitter by clicking here, and you can check out his work for The Athletic by clicking here.

Thank you for listening and we will see you next time! Please make sure to subscribe and leave a five-star review if you can!

(Picture of Andrew Benintendi: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox pitching prospect Andrew Politi, a potential sleeper for 2021, receives invite to major-league spring training

Along with Durbin Feltman, fellow right-handed pitching prospect Andrew Politi was one of 22 Red Sox minor-leaguers to receive an invite to major-league spring training on Friday.

The 24-year-old was originally selected by Boston in the 15th round of the 2018 amateur draft out of Seton Hall University. He signed with the team for only $25,000 that June, and according to The Athletic’s Keith Law, he could be a major sleeper this year.

“Politi was Boston’s 15th-round pick in 2018, a senior signed out of Seton Hall,” Law, who ranked Politi as the No. 15 prospect in the Sox’ farm system, wrote on Thursday, “but his stuff picked up over the last two years and he’s now showing mid-90s velocity with a curveball and cutter — even as he moved from a relief role to the rotation. He needs better control and command, and he’s on the smaller side for a starter, but there’s some starter upside here.

“Politi could make a jump this year, at least into their top 10 if not the global list,” Law added.

Last time he saw any organized minor-league action, the New Jersey native posted a 3.55 ERA and 3.17 xFIP over 33 appearances (five starts) and 78 2/3 innings of work for High-A Salem in 2019.

Politi emerged as a regular starter for Salem towards the tail end of the 2019 campaign in late August, and he dazzled by yielding just three runs (two earned) on three hits, five walks, and 17 strikeouts over his final three starts (13 1/3 innings pitched) of the season.

While he was not included in the Sox’ 60-man player pool nor invited to the Sox’ alternate training site any point in 2020, the 6-foot, 191 lb. hurler did participate in the club’s fall instructional league.

There in Fort Myers, according to SoxProspects.com’s director of scouting Ian Cundall, Politi put his diverse pitch mix on display for scouts to see.

“Though he worked his way into the Salem rotation at the end of 2019, scouts see right-hander Andrew Politi as a reliever all the way,” Cundall wrote back in November. “His delivery has a lot of effort, and his command was inconsistent at Instructs. His fastball sat 93-95 mph and he mixed in an average slider. He also showed a changeup and curveball, and seemed to be working on a cutter as well. “

What Cundall gathered about Politi seems to differ from what Law gathered, but one thing is clear: Politi has potential. Whether that be as a starter or reliever has yet to be determined, but that notion became clear on Friday when he received an invite to big-league camp.

Like Feltman, Politi is also eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the first time in his career this December, so it goes without saying that 2021 will be an important year for him.

Projected to begin the upcoming minor-league season with Double-A Portland, Politi, who turns 25 in June, is currently regarded by SoxProspects.com as the organization’s 40th-ranked prospect.

(Picture of Andrew Politi: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

New Podding the Red Sox episode: The Athletic’s Jen McCaffrey joins the show

On this week’s installment of Podding the Red Sox: A BloggingtheRedSox.com Podcast, I am joined by one of the Red Sox’ beat writers for The Athletic in Jen McCaffrey.

Among the topics Jen and I discussed were her journalism career before joining The Athletic, what it was like to cover a Major League Baseball team during a pandemic-shortened season, how Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom interacts with the media, what to expect from the Red Sox in 2021, and much more.

The episode is available to listen to on iTunes and Spotify, among other platforms.

Thanks to Jen for taking some time out of her busy schedule to have a conversation with me. You can follow her on Twitter by clicking here, and you can check out her work for The Athletic by clicking here.

Thank you for listening and we will see you next time! Please make sure to subscribe and leave a five-star review if you can!

(Picture of Fenway Park: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Rays viewed Red Sox’ Nick Pivetta as another potential Tyler Glasnow before right-hander was traded to Boston

Red Sox pitchers and catchers may not report to spring training in Fort Myers until next week, but it goes without saying that Nick Pivetta will be one of the more intriguing players to watch during camp.

The soon-to-be 28-year-old right-hander yielded just two earned runs on eight hits, five walks, and 13 strikeouts over two September starts spanning 10 innings pitched with Boston last season after being acquired from the Phillies in August.

By impressing Red Sox brass in 2020, Pivetta seems to be on track for a spot in Boston’s starting rotation in 2021.

The thing is though, the Sox, led by chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, were not the only team interested in trading for Pivetta before last summer’s trade deadline.

According to The Athletic’s Peter Gammons, the Phillies believed Pivetta was in need of a change of scenery, and “the Rays tried hard to beat Bloom to him.

“We think he can be another [Tyler] Glasnow,” one Rays official said of Pivetta when speaking with Gammons.

Boston ultimately won the Pivetta sweepstakes, acquiring him as well as right-handed pitching prospect Connor Seabold from Philadelphia in exchange for right-handed relievers Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree on August 21.

That said, it’s not difficult to see why the Rays would want another reclamation project such as Pivetta given their track record with starting pitchers.

Using Glasnow as an example here, both he and Pivetta have similar baseball backgrounds.

Glasnow, who like Pivetta is also 27 years old, is a former fifth-round draft pick of the Pirates and was once regarded as one of the top pitching prospects in Pittsburgh’s farm system.

The California native couldn’t quite put it together upon getting called up to the majors in 2016, though, as he produced a 5.79 ERA and 4.90 FIP over 56 appearances (17 starts) in parts of 2 1/2 seasons with the Pirates.

Once Glasnow, as well as outfielder Austin Meadows and right-handed pitching prospect Shane Baz, was traded to Tampa Bay in exchange for veteran righty Chris Archer in July 2018, things started to turn around for the better.

Since then, Glasnow has for the most part found his footing at the major-league level, posting a 3.32 ERA and 3.40 FIP through his first 34 starts (173 2/3 innings pitched) with the Rays.

Pivetta, meanwhile, got his big-league career with the Phillies off to a rocky start as well.

The former fourth-round draft pick of the Washington Nationals (traded to Philadelphia for Jonathan Papelbon in 2015) struggled to the tune of of a 5.50 ERA and 4.64 FIP through 92 outings (71 starts) and 396 1/3 innings with the Phils from 2017-2020 before the organization ultimately gave up on him.

It’s a much smaller sample size than what Glasnow has done in Tampa Bay thus far, but as previously mentioned, Pivetta impressed in his two turns through Boston’s rotation last September. Some of that success is likely due to what he worked on at the club’s alternate training site in Pawtucket after he was traded.

“Nick has had success in the big leagues before. The game can be your friend one minute and your enemy the second,” Worcester Red Sox pitching coach Paul Abbott said of Pivetta back in October. “You can be on top of the world, an up-and-coming young guy with four pitches that grade out highly, and then all of the sudden, you lose all confidence. A change of scenery can do a guy a lot of good. He came down here with a purpose, with a mission. Very determined. He’s got all of it. All of the pitches. It’s just a matter of him… I think his two starts were really good for him to get back into that mindset where he can definitely pitch at that level. When a guy can get that mindset with the stuff that he had, we have, potentially, a front-of-the-rotation type guy.”

Like Abbott said, perhaps a change of scenery was what Pivetta, who is listed at 6-foot-5 and 214 lbs., needed to revitalize his major-league career; especially if he locks up a spot in Boston’s Opening Day starting rotation.

As noted by MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith, Pivetta is out of minor-league options, so the 2021 season, which is his last before becoming eligible for salary arbitration in 2022, could prove to be quite impactful for the British Columbian.

(Picture of Nick Pivetta: Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

Red Sox in ‘serious trade talks’ with other teams regarding Andrew Benintendi, per report

The Red Sox have reportedly been engaged in serious trade talks regarding outfielder Andrew Benintendi, per The Athletic’s Jim Bowden.

Per Bowden, the Sox are in serious talks with multiple teams and are looking for a prospect-centered return focused on young pitchers and outfielders. It is worth noting that nothing is imminent as of this moment.

Benintendi, 26, is coming off his worst season in the majors in 2020.

Over just 14 games played, the former first-round pick posted an abysmal .103/.314/.128 slash line to go along with just one extra-base hit and one RBI.

That lone extra-base hit, a double, came against the Rays on August 11, the same night Benintendi suffered a right rib cage strain on the base paths, which would place him on the injured list and wind up costing him the rest of the year.

Benintendi’s struggles in 2020 added on to an underwhelming 2019 campaign in which he yielded a wRC+ of 100 (league average), adding on to the notion that the Cincinnati native has been trending in the wrong direction recently.

Even with that concerning trend in mind, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom spoke quite highly of Benintendi during his end-of-the season presser back in September.

“I think talent-wise, I wouldn’t factor this year into an evaluation of his talent at all,” Bloom said of Benintendi’s performance in 2020. “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.

“This is a guy who has shown the ability to perform at a really high level, including in some really critical situations,” added Bloom. Still young, still has all that ability. It’s just a shame that his year kind of got wiped out.”

Benintendi’s manager for the time being, Alex Cora, also appeared confident that the young outfielder could return to form in 2021 when speaking with reporters last month.

“The Andrew that we saw in October 2018, that’s the Andrew we want,” Cora said. “The swings-and-misses — we talked about it in ’19, we saw it in ’20 — we need to find a balance between driving the ball and not swinging and missing. I’ll take Andrew Benintendi, the complete player. I don’t want Andrew to hit 35-40 home runs. I want him to get on base, be fast in the base paths, steal bases, play better defense — the way he played in October [2018] — and if we get that guy back, we’re in a good position.”

Seeing how Benintendi has not lived up to his promising potential over the past few seasons, it would seem like if the Red Sox were to trade the former top prospect now, they would be selling relatively low on him.

There is still plenty of optimism that Benintendi can bounce back in 2021, which would lead to the belief that 2020 was a fluke.

With that in mind, “the Sox wouldn’t want to sell [Benintendi] at a low-value point. Given his potential upside and the likely modest return [he] would bring, the risk of dealing him likely exceeds the payoff,” as The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier noted back in November.

Benintendi, who does not turn 27 until July, is under team control for two more seasons. He is set to earn $6.6 million in 2021, which will mark his sixth season in the major-leagues.

UPDATE: WEEI’s Rob Bradford adds that “at least one interested team is more interested in what happened [for Benintendi] in ’19 rather than small sample ’20.”

(Picture of Andrew Benintendi: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Right-hander Aldo Ramirez ‘most underrated’ prospect in Red Sox farm system, according to MLB front offices

In his most recent work for The Athletic, former Reds and Nationals general manager Jim Bowden writes that he reached out to all 30 major-league front offices “to  uncover the most underrated and undervalued prospects” in baseball for 2021.

By doing this, Bowden identified 30 under-the-radar prospects across the minor-leagues.

Who from the Red Sox’ minor-league pipeline made this exclusive list? None other than rising right-hander Aldo Ramirez.

“Ramirez performed well in the New York/Penn League in 2019 as an 18-year-old, as shown by his 63 strikeouts and 16 walks in 61.2 innings,” writes Bowden. “However, he was noticeably stronger this year in instructional league, with his fastball up to 96 mph with riding life. He’s a physical, athletic pitcher with a repeatable delivery and a three-pitch mix that includes a fastball, curveball and changeup. He profiles as a future mid-rotation-type starter.”

Regarded by SoxProspects.com as Boston’s No. 10 prospect (No. 5 among pitchers), Ramirez was one of the stars of the club’s fall instructional league in Fort Myers.

The 19-year-old hurler, originally signed out of the Mexican League for $550,000 in 2018, “was the consensus top pitcher at Red Sox Fall Instructs,” according to SoxProspects‘ director of scouting Ian Cundall.

“Ramirez sat 92-95 mph [with his fastball], with a potential plus changeup at 85-89 mph and average curveball at 77-81 mph,” Cundall wrote of the young righty last month. “His changeup is a potential weapon and could develop into a plus-to-better pitch given he already shows advanced feel for it and has a lot of confidence in it.”

Bowden gave the following scouting grades (20-80 scale) for each of Ramirez’s three pitches as well as his control and command:

Fastball: 60
Curveball: 55
Changeup: 50
Control: 50
Command: 45

After missing out on a minor-league season to further continue his development in 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Ramirez — who is listed at 6-foot, 180 lbs. — is projected to begin the 2021 campaign with Low-A Salem as a member of their starting rotation.

A starting role is one the fiery right-hander could maintain for the foreseeable future, too.

“[Ramirez] has a very good chance to remain a starter and has already shown solid strike-throwing ability,” Cundall added. “[He] was on the younger side of the arms in camp but is remarkably polished for his age and gives the Red Sox someone to dream on as a back-end starter with a chance for more given his youth and constantly improving stuff.” 

(Photo of Aldo Ramirez: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Fall instructs allowed Red Sox prospect Chih-Jung Liu to get ‘into more of a professional routine,’ Ben Crockett says

Chih-Jung Liu’s first exposure to professional baseball in the United States has been hindered by unprecedented circumstances.

The 21-year-old right-handed pitching prospect was originally signed by the Red Sox out of Taiwan for $750,000 last October, and the 2020 season was supposed to serve as his springboard into the organization

Instead, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic caused plans to change in a variety of ways, as Liu had to quarantine in his Fort Myers hotel room upon arriving from Taipei for spring training in late February.

While the pandemic continued to roll on in the United States as the calendars flipped to March, Major League Baseball was eventually forced to shut down all spring training camps on March 12.

With the majority of players returning to their homes as a result of that decision, Liu, too, decided to go back to Taiwan so he could work out in a familiar environment given all the uncertainties the U.S. was facing at that time.

Liu would remain in his home country until late September, when he made the trek back to Florida after receiving an invitation to participate in the Red Sox’ fall instructional league.

Once fall instructs began the following week, the Red Sox finally had the chance to see what exactly Liu brought to the table over an extended period of time.

Based off what vice president of player development Ben Crockett told The Athletic’s Chad Jennings, the club was quite impressed with what they saw from the right-hander.

“He was in spring training for such a short period of time,” Crockett said of Liu. “[It was] great to actually see him. [He was] really interesting. Showed good stuff. Good fastball with carry. Showed pitch-ability. Showed an ability to use multiple pitches that will ultimately help him. It was definitely nice to kind of get him into more of a professional routine.”

Regarded by MLB Pipeline as Boston’s No. 18 prospect, the 6-foot, 180 lb. hurler operates with a three-pitch mix that includes a 92-96 mph that can top out at 98 mph, an 86-88 mph slider, and a low-80s changeup “with some fade,” per his SoxProspects.com scouting report.

Because so little has been seen of him to this point, it’s difficult to project what Lui’s 2021 season will look like in terms of which minor-league level he starts at.

Wherever he does start out next spring, Liu does figure to work as a starting pitcher for the time being despite the fact he was a two-way player in high school and excelled as a switch-hitting infielder in college while taking a two-year break from pitching.

(Top photo of Liu: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Could Red Sox Really Entertain Idea of Trading Xander Bogaerts Before August 31 Trade Deadline?

Statistically speaking, Xander Bogaerts has been one of the best shortstops in baseball over the last three seasons. On top of that, the two-time All-Star is by all accounts a clubhouse leader and is on a relatively team friendly contract after signing a six-year, $120 million extension with the Red Sox last spring.

With all that being said, could the Sox actually consider trading one of their cornerstone players just six months after dealing Mookie Betts to the Dodgers? Well, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, it is at least somewhat of a possibility given the circumstances.

Those circumstances being that in Bogaerts’ current contract, the 27-year-old will receive a full no-trade clause once he reaches seven years of major-league service time next month.

On top of that, Bogaerts can also opt out of his deal at the end of the 2022 season, which as Rosenthal notes, could very well happen considering the fact that the likes of Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez, and Trevor Story are all slated to hit free agency the winter before and in turn could reset the market for shortstops.

Considering these two pieces of information, if Boston were to ever trade Bogaerts, doing so before this year’s August 31 trading deadline would likely be the best time seeing how the Aruba native could be moved with virtually no restrictions.

Of course, the idea of trading Bogaerts really is quite ludicrous, to be frank. The idea that the Red Sox would want to trade a player they consider “extremely important” does not make all that much sense.

Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy may have said in a radio interview last week that no Boston players are “untouchable” ahead of the trade deadline, but he did also say, “There are certainly guys who have grown up in the system that we’d like to keep with the Sox for a long, long time.”

Bogaerts, as well as third baseman Rafael Devers, certainly fit that description. And despite what Rosenthal says, I do not feel the Red Sox are “almost obligated” to shop around the shortstop.