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.

Baseball America: ‘Difficult to Gauge’ Who Red Sox Are Targeting With Top Draft Pick

The 2020 MLB Draft is less than two days away, and according to Baseball America’s Carlos Collazo, “it’s difficult to gauge what the Red Sox are targeting” with their top pick at No. 17 overall.

Collazo has the Sox taking Harvard-Westlake High School (Calif.) outfielder Pete-Crow Armstrong in his latest mock draft for BA. You can read more about Crow-Armstrong here.

Crow-Armstrong, 18, was the best hitter available at the time Boston made their pick in this mock draft, but as Collazo notes, the club “could also be intrigued with college arms like Cade Cavalli or Garrett Crochet.”

Despite that possibility, it seems like the Red Sox, led by chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and amateur scouting director Paul Toboni, are locked in on targeting a prep prospect with high upside with their top pick in this year’s draft.

Jesuit High School (Ore.) right-hander Mick Abel has been a popular pick to go the Sox in other mock drafts, but some seem to believe that Bloom and Co. are headed in another direction in terms of playing position.

One of those guys is The Athletic’s Keith Law, who in a web chat from last week said there’s “zero chance” that Boston takes a high school arm in the first round. That coming a day after he wrote that he has “heard the Red Sox would like to grab one of the top high school position players with this pick, assuming the right one falls.”

Law also has Crow-Armstrong going to the Red Sox in his latest mock draft, for what it’s worth.

Whoever they wind up taking, it will be of the utmost importance that the Sox hit on their first-round selection. That being the case since they were stripped of their second-round pick due to their illegal stealing of signs in 2018, resulting in their total slot value for this year’s draft being capped at just $5,129,900.

 

 

Red Sox’ Andrew Benintendi Is the Ninth-Best Left Fielder in Baseball, per One Former Executive

In his most recent Big Board for The Athletic, former Reds and Nationals general manager Jim Bowden ranked Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi as the ninth-best left fielder in baseball.

Listed behind Washington’s Juan Soto, Houston’s Michael Brantley, Tampa Bay’s Austin Meadows, San Diego’s Tommy Pham, Atlanta’s Marcell Ozuna, Chicago’s Eloy Jimenez, Pittsburgh’s Bryan Reynolds, and Oakland’s Mark Canha, Benintendi, per Bowden, “is the most disappointing left fielder in baseball.”

Leading with that is certainly an interesting way to make your case that Benintendi is one of the best left fielders in the game, but Bowden defends his ranking by saying “Now you’re probably wondering how [Benintendi] made this list. It’s simple. I’m betting on him and the fact that he’s only 25 years old and is primed for a breakout season.”

As we know, Benintendi, a former first-round pick out of Arkansas in 2015, had a very underwhelming 2019 campaign in what was initially supposed to be a breakout year.

One of the reasons for Benintendi’s struggles, as Bowden notes, is that he bulked up a bit in the months following the 2018 World Series, which the Red Sox believe may have actually slowed down his swing and mechanics, resulting in an all-around down year in terms of offensive production.

Now though, after slimming back down and getting the chance to work with hitting coach Tim Hyers and assistant hitting coach Peter Fatse during the offseason, the club believes that “they’ve been able to get [Benintendi] mechanically back to where he was in 2017 when he hit 20 homers, stole 20 bases and was on base over 35 percent of the time” en route to finishing second in American League Rookie of the Year voting.

After dealing with some adversity and tough injury luck in 2019, Benintendi inked a two-year, $10 million contract extension with Boston in February that essentially buys out his first two seasons of arbitration eligibility.

If baseball is played in 2020, the 25-year-old Cincinnati native will be counted on to be a surefire presence at the top of the Red Sox lineup. Even more so now that Mookie Betts is a Dodger.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m a big Andrew Benintendi guy. Have been for quite awhile. But, from what I’ve seen online, he definitely has plenty of doubters, and what better way to silence those doubters than to put together your best season in the majors in 2020?

 

Potential Red Sox Draft Targets: University of Louisville Right-Hander Bobby Miller

In his latest 2020 mock draft for The Athletic, Keith Law has the Red Sox taking University of Louisville right-hander Bobby Miller with their top pick at No. 17 overall.

Law writes the following of Miller:

Miller has been up to 98 mph as a starter with an above-average slider, showing some effort in the delivery but missing plenty of bats for the Cardinals, with mid-rotation or closer potential.

Ranked by MLB Pipeline as the No. 26 overall draft-eligible prospect and seventh among right-handed hurlers out of college, Miller posted a 2.31 ERA and .181 batting average against over four starts and 23 1/3 innings pitched for the Cardinals this season before the COVID-19 pandemic halted collegiate athletics across the country.

Listed at 6’5″ and 220 lbs., the 21-year-old junior was a 38th round selection of the Baltimore Orioles three years ago, but he opted to honor his commitment to Louisville rather than sign with the club out of high school

Per his MLB Pipeline scouting report, the Illinois native’s “fastball is notable for both its heat — he sat at 95-96 mph throughout his dominance of East Carolina and worked at 97-99 in shorter stints in the fall — and its heavy life. He also can miss bats with a slider/cutter that usually operates at 85-87 and reached 90 during the fall. He has faith in a splitter/changeup with similar velocity and employs a more traditional change in the low 80s.”

One thing to watch with Miller though, as Law mentions, is his delivery, which “limits his control and has some scouts wondering if he’s destined to be a reliever in the long run.”

In the months leading up to the 2020 draft, which is now just under two weeks away, the Red Sox have been linked to a handful of college pitchers, but according to MLB.com’s Jim Callis, Boston seems more likely to take a prep prospect like Mick Abel, Jared Kelley, Nick Bitsko, Ed Howard, or Pete-Crow Armstrong if one of them is still on the board at No. 17.

With chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and amateur scouting director Paul Toboni leading the charge, the Sox will be limited to just four picks in this year’s five-round draft, the shortest in MLB’s history, and will have a grand total of $5,129,200 in slot money to spend on whichever four prospects they select from June 10 through the 11th.

Red Sox Pitching Coach Dave Bush Tells His Pitchers to Maintain ‘Normal Throwing Programs’ While Awaiting MLB’s Return

At this point exactly one year ago, Red Sox pitchers had combined to throw exactly 411 innings through the club’s first 46 games of the 2019 season.

Flash forward to 2020, and that number of innings pitched on the same date stands at zero, and it appears that it will stay at zero until at least early July.

First-year Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush, who was appointed to the position last October in place of Dana LeVangie, would be learning the ropes of his new post under normal circumstances. Instead, due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has put Major League Baseball on hold for the time being, Bush, like many across the sport, have to find new ways to coach up his players.

In a recent conversation with The Athletic’s Peter Gammons, Bush, 40, said that he has told the Boston pitching staff to stick with “normal throwing programs” until they know when they can get back to a spring training setting and can “begin a supervised program for the season” from there.

This is the same sort of sentiment Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom echoed earlier this month in a radio interview with WEEI’s Ordway, Merloni, and Fauria regarding the pandemic-induced shutdown’s effect on players.

“Even if we have a spring training, however long that spring training is, guys will need to get ramped up well in advance of that to make sure they’re in shape and make sure they can safely get back up to ready to roll whenever the season does start,” he said. “We are so used to working backward from a specific start date and we can’t do that right now. So we’re trying to keep them at a level that is responsible where we’re not trying to get them at too high a gear and then ask them to hold. But we also want to make sure they don’t run out of time to get up to speed if and when we do get a specific start date. So we’re just trying to find that happy medium.”

The conventional version of spring training was suspended by MLB on March 13th. The majority of Red Sox players left Fort Myers at the time to return to their respective homes, but it appears that some individuals, such as Alex Verdugo and Chris Sale, have returned to work out at the Fenway South complex in recent weeks. More could return relatively soon, too, considering how Florida has been loosening its COVID-19-related restrictions across the state.

According to Gammons, MLB clubs are currently terrified of two things. The first being a potential second wave of the coronavirus and all the ramifications that come with it, and the second being “that the re-ramping-up process, coming four-plus months after the initial ramping-up process, will result in a rash of injuries.”

To add on to that, Gammons writes, “Two prominent orthopedic surgeons with significant baseball experience have predicted waiting lines at the doors of Dr. James Andrews, Dr. Neal ElAttrache and the many other physicians who have preserved so many careers.”

The re-ramping up process that Gammons mentions should be a concern for pitching coaches and general managers across the league. I can’t say for sure, but it seems like these guys went into ‘prepare for the season mode’ around the same time they are accustomed to and then all of a sudden were told to go into ‘offseason mode’ just like that. I’m no pitching guru, but disrupting someone’s routine like that has to have negative connotations, right?

For now, it will be fascinating to see how Bush continues to coach his pitching staff without being in the same physical location as them.