Red Sox catching prospect Connor Wong ‘made a lot of progress’ in 2020, Jason Varitek says

Of the three players the Red Sox acquired from the Dodgers in the infamous Mookie Betts trade back in February, catching prospect Connor Wong is undoubtedly the least well-known and the least heralded.

Alex Verdugo — the headliner of the deal for Boston — has the makings to be an All-Star caliber major-league outfielder, Jeter Downs is the organization’s top prospect, and then there’s Wong.

This isn’t to say the 24-year-old is not a talented prospect, because he is. So much so that MLB Pipeline has him ranked as the top catching prospect in the Sox’ farm system.

In his last minor-league season with the Dodgers in 2019, Wong posted a solid .281/.336/.541 to go along with 24 home runs and 82 RBI over 111 total games played between High-A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Tulsa.

The majority of Wong’s playing time last year came behind the plate, but he also proved capable of playing multiple positions around the infield, which is something he did quite frequently at the University of Houston since he was originally recruited as a shortstop.

Despite that added dose of versatility, the Red Sox still view the 2017 third-round pick as a catcher primarily. Newly-promoted game planning coordinator and former Sox backstop Jason Varitek made that much clear when speaking with The Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham last week.

“I saw him a lot, from spring training and spring training 2.0, and probably three weeks when he was on the taxi squad and around the team,” Varitek said of Wong. “He works extremely hard. He didn’t get in any [major-league] games, but he showed his abilities and made a lot of progress. He can play other positions, but I think he’s a catcher. There’s a lot there we can work with.”

Indeed, Wong did not appear in any games for Boston this past season, but as noted by Varitek, he still spent plenty of time around the club during spring training as well as parts of the summer and fall on account of being included on the 60-man player pool for the entirety of the 2020 campaign.

On top of that, the Houston native was added to the Sox’ 40-man roster earlier this month, so it would appear he is primed to make his major-league debut sooner rather than later.

With Wong being added to the 40-man, the Red Sox currently have four catchers — Wong, Deivy Grullon, Kevin Plawecki, and Christian Vazquez — on their major-league roster.

Red Sox prospect Juan Chacon ‘caught some attention’ at fall instructs, Eddie Romero says

Like fellow prospect Chih-Jung Liu, Juan Chacon’s baseball experience in 2020 was anything but normal.

The 17-year-old was likely going to spend the majority of the year playing in the Dominican Summer League, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that caused the minor-league season to be cancelled prevented that from happening.

Instead of getting more exposure in the Dominican, where he played in the Tricky League last summer, Chacon had to wait until early October to get his first real opportunity of 2020.

Up until then, Chacon had been working out a facility in Miami, which likely gave him an edge in preparedness when he received an invite to the Sox’ fall instructional league in Fort Myers.

“It was our official version of seeing him, finally under supervision,” Red Sox assistant general manager Eddie Romero said of Chacon when speaking with WEEI’s Rob Bradford. “He has a tool-set. He is a plus-runner. It was something when we first saw him he kept getting faster every time and by signing day he was running a 6.6 60. He’s got above-average arm strength. We think he’s somebody who can stay in the middle of the field and cover a lot of range. He’s got a strong arm. And offensively, right now he’s got a projectable frame. He’s very athletic. He’s somebody from an offensive standpoint, he uses the whole field.”

The Red Sox signed Chacon, a right-handed hitter, out of Venezuela for $900,000 last July, making him the club’s highest-paid international signee for the 2019-2020 international signing period.

That is quite the investment, and with that investment comes somewhat lofty expectations; expectations which Chacon lived up to at fall instructs.

“He performed well at instructs,” Romero added. “Which for a first-year signee, usually [with those] those guys, there aren’t many of them we push straight to the stateside instructional league. We wanted to see him and he did well and I know he caught some attention.”

Regarded by SoxProspects.com as Boston’s No. 49 prospect, the 6-foot-2, 170 lb. outfielder will have the opportunity to ascend the prospect ranks some more once he actually gets the chance to see some in-game action. That will presumably happen in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League at some point in 2021.

Red Sox prospect Brainer Bonaci ‘showed a solid blend of instincts and physical ability’ at fall instructs

Brainer Bonaci has been a professional baseball player for just over two years and he doesn’t turn 19 years old until next July, but he is already looking like one of the more exciting young infielders in the Red Sox’ minor-league pipeline.

The 18-year-old shortstop is coming off an impressive showing at the Sox’ fall instructional league in Fort Myers. According to SoxProspects’ Ian Cundall, Bonaci “looked the best of the young shortstops [at fall instructs] and showed a solid blend of instincts and physical ability. He has a plus arm and both his glove and hit tool showed average potential.”

Signed out of Venezuela by Manny Padron and Eddie Romero for $290,000 on his 16th birthday in 2018, Bonaci is starting to get some legitimate attention thanks to what he did this fall.

Had there been a minor-league season in 2020, Bonaci likely would have began the year with the Gulf Coast League Red Sox. Instead, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, he was limited in what he could do until October, when fall instructs began.

In his only organized action as a minor-leaguer thus far, the 5-foot-10 switch-hitter posted a solid .279/.356/.379 slash line (111 wRC+) to go along with three home runs, 37 RBI, and 18 stolen bases over 61 games played for the Dominican Summer League Red Sox last year.

Because he is still only 18 years old, Bonaci still has plenty of room to grow physically and developmentally. That said, there’s still reason to be excited about his potential, and SoxProspects’ latest prospect rankings reflect that.

Yes, Bonaci is now the No. 14 prospect in Boston’s farm system according to SoxProspects, good for the fifth highest ranking among infielders after Triston Casas, Jeter Downs, Bobby Dalbec, and Nick Yorke.

Going back to April 1, Bonaci was regarded by SoxProspects as the club’s 20th-ranked prospect, so it is clear he is trending in the right direction. And with Dalbec set to graduate from his prospect status next season, it’s safe to assume Bonaci will only continue to rise through the prospect ranks in 2021.

If we look even further ahead, Bonaci will become Rule 5 eligible for the first time in late 2022, so it’s not like he is too far out from garnering 40-man roster consideration as his development continues.

Red Sox Prospect Hudson Potts Made Positive First Impression in Pawtucket This Year, Has Chance To Be ‘Interesting’ Player in 2021

Infielder Hudson Potts was a late addition to the Red Sox’ player pool this season on account of the fact he was acquired from the Padres on August 30.

The 21-year-old arrived at the Sox’ alternate training site in Pawtucket in early September and, unlike the majority of players and prospects who were already there, did not have a ton of time to get acclimated to a completely new environment.

Still, Potts impressed and showed glimpses of promises in his first go-around as a Red Sox prospect. PawSox manager Billy McMillon, who was one of the main authority figures at the alternate site these past two-plus months, made that much clear when speaking with reporters via Zoom on Friday.

“I was really, really impressed with his approach at the plate,” McMillon said of Potts. “He would hit a ball to the pull side 400 feet and then hit a line drive to right-center field. Big, strong kid. He showed a little bit of defensive versatility, too. We played him some at second base. The lion’s share of his work was at third base.”

Originally drafted by San Diego as a shortstop out of high school in the first round of the 2016 amateur draft, Potts is listed at 6-foot-3 and 218 lbs. Those measurements seemed to remind McMillon of a former Red Sox prospect who could play third base.

“If you look at him physically, body type, he kind of reminds you of a Will Middlebrooks,” the Pawtucket skipper added. “That’s the first person I thought about when I saw him. Good kid. Very, very hard worker. I like him. He’s going to be an interesting person when we try to slot him in next year with a full year of Double-A under his belt. We got something from San Diego with him.”

Potts, who along with outfielder Jeisson Rosario was dealt to Boston in the trade that saw Mitch Moreland go to the Padres, is currently regarded by MLB Pipeline as the No. 20 prospect in the Sox’ farm system.

As McMillon mentioned, Potts played a full season’s worth of Double-A baseball last year. In 107 games for the Amarillo Sod Poodles, the Southlake, Texas native posted a .227/.290/.406 slash line to go along with 16 home runs and 59 RBI over 448 plate appearances.

Going back to 2017, Potts has clubbed at least 15 homers in each of his last three minor-league seasons, so he has rightfully earned the reputation of being a power-hitting prospect. On top of that, FanGraphs regards the young infielder’s power tool as one of the best in the organization.

Despite those accolades, Potts is striving to improve his approach at the plate to show that he is capable of being an all-around hitter opposed to just a power hitter.

“I know that’s probably one of the things that has been one of my better things throughout my career,” he said in regards to his slugging abilities back in September. “But, once I learn and make adjustments to my approach that I need to make, I feel like I can be a lot more than just a power guy. I feel like I can be a complete hitter and I just need to work on that and get to that spot I know I’m capable of doing. That’s what I’m striving to be, an all-around hitter, not just a power hitter.”

Because he signed with the Padres as a 17-year-old back in 2016, Potts is now eligible for this year’s Rule 5 Draft in December. In order to not expose him to that, the Red Sox will have to add Potts to their 40-man roster by late November.

Red Sox To Add Top Prospect Triston Casas To Alternate Training Site, per Report

The Red Sox are reportedly adding top prospect Triston Casas to the club’s alternate training site in Pawtucket, according to MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo. As Cotillo notes, this would suggest that Casas will also be added to the club’s 60-man player pool.

Regarded by MLB Pipeline as Boston’s second-ranked prospect behind only Jeter Downs, Casas was somewhat surprisingly not added to the Sox’ initial Summer Camp roster pool last month after putting together a solid 2019 campaign in the minors.

In 120 games between full-season Greenville and High-A Salem last year, the 20-year-old posted a .256/.350/.480 slash line to go along with 20 home runs and 80 RBI over 500 total plate appearances.

Taken by the Sox with the 26th overall pick in the 2018 amateur draft out of American Heritage High School in Plantation, Fla., Casas forwent his commitment to the University of Miami and signed with Boston for $2.55 million. He has seen the majority of his playing time as a professional come at third base but he can play a little first base as well.

While in Pawtucket, Casas will be under the watchful eye of Red Sox minor and major-league staffers alike as he continues to develop and hone his craft at McCoy Stadium. Of course, the move to add Casas to the player pool doesn’t necessarily mean the Red Sox think he is almost ready for the majors, but rather with no minor-league season, this time is pivotal for young prospects across baseball and the organization clearly think highly of Casas.

Also worth noting, as this is being typed, the Red Sox’ player pool is currently at full capacity at 60, so a roster move will likely need to be made in order for Casas to be added in the coming days.

Red Sox Top Pitching Prospect Jay Groome Faces Live Hitters at McCoy Stadium

For the first time since being added to the Red Sox’ 60-man player pool last month, Jay Groome, the club’s top left-handed pitching prospect, faced live hitters at McCoy Stadium earlier Tuesday morning.

Getting some work in during a live batting practice session, Groome threw 25-30 pitches and faced the likes of other top prospects in the organization such as Jarren Duran, Jeter Downs, and Connor Wong, as well as Jhonny Pereda, and reached 94 mph with his fastball while also mixing in his curveball and changeup.

There were no umpires and very few fielders around him, but as WEEI’s Rob Bradford puts it, “Tuesday represented a big step forward” for Groome.

Turning 22 years old later this month, the New Jersey native was originally taken by Boston with the 12th overall pick in the 2016 amateur draft out of Barnegat High School and later signed for $3.65 million.

Since that time, though, Groome has only made 20 professional starts across three minor-league levels as he has been hampered with different arm ailments, most recently undergoing Tommy John surgery in May 2018.

Upon recovering from TJS, the 6-foot-6 southpaw was able to make three starts with the Gulf Coast League Red Sox and short-season Lowell Spinners last year, and now, he’s inching closer to appearing in a simulated game in Pawtucket.

Of course, under normal circumstances, Groome would likely be pushing for a promotion to Double-A Portland right about now, but because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the hurler’s development path has certainly been disrupted.

PawSox pitching coach Paul Abbott said as much about Groome when speaking to reporters via Zoom on Tuesday.

“Obviously he needs to log innings,” stated Abbott. “He’s missed some valuable development periods for him to get on the mound and learn how to pitch as you go every step of the way.  Here’s a way how everything is looking, how everything is working so we have a good, solid idea going into spring training next year.”

With that in mind, the plan over the next six weeks is to see how Groome handles facing different levels of hitters so that the Red Sox have a good idea on where he will be at going into spring training next year.

Red Sox Top Prospect Bobby Dalbec Joins Club’s Taxi Squad in Tampa Bay for Series Against Rays

Top prospect Bobby Dalbec has joined the Red Sox for the final leg of their seven-game road trip in Tampa Bay this week, although the 25-year-old will be part of the club’s taxi squad, not their active roster, according to ABC6’s Ian Steele and The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier.

This news comes as Dalbec was not present at the Sox’ alternate training site in Pawtucket on Monday, as he was likely on a flight to St. Petersburg instead.

Regarded by MLB Pipeline as Boston’s No. 3 prospect, the 6-foot-4, 227 lb. corner infielder was cleared to return to baseball activities last month after a bout with COVID-19 in which he never experienced any symptoms. He was added to the Sox’ 60-man player pool on July 17 and unlike Darwinzon Hernandez, Eduardo Rodriguez, or Josh Taylor, avoided a stint on the injured list.

Originally taken by the Sox in the fourth round of the 2016 amateur draft out of The University of Arizona, Dalbec, a native of Washington state, has emerged as one of the top power-hitting prospects in the organization. Just last season, he slugged 27 home runs in 135 total games between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket.

Already a member of Boston’s 40-man roster, Dalbec will not accrue any service time while he is “up” with the club’s taxi squad, but as was the case last September, the right-handed hitter will be able to familiarize himself with the big-league environment once more.

He’ll have to wait a little bit longer to make his major-league debut, but I would have to think Dalbec’s time is coming relatively soon.

Red Sox Prospect Jay Groome and the 2020 Rule 5 Draft

Jay Groome is one of 49 Red Sox minor-leaguers who will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this winter. That means that he will have to be added to Boston’s 40-man roster before the November deadline in order to avoid being eligible for said draft.

On upside alone, the former 2016 first-round pick will presumably make the cut, and will likely be part of the Sox’ 30-man taxi squad in Pawtucket for the upcoming, truncated 2020 season.

That being said, with it looking more and more likely that there won’t be any organized minor-league baseball at all this year, Groome loses the opportunity to further develop coming off an injury-shortened 2019 campaign.

Recovering from Tommy John surgery underwent in May 2018, the New Jersey native was not able to see any in-game action until last August, where he made a total of three starts between the Gulf Coast League Red Sox and short-season Lowell Spinners before the minor-league season came to a close.

A small sample size, the left-hander allowed one run on five hits and one walk to go along with six strikeouts over four innings of work in those three outings.

Since signing with the Sox out of Barnegat High School in July 2016, Groome has made just 20 starts and pitched 66 innings between three minor-league levels over that time period.

As mentioned earlier, injuries have played a factor in that. Not only did Groome undergo Tommy John surgery in 2018, but before that, he missed time in 2017 due to a strained lat muscle and forearm strain.

Before Major League Baseball shut down spring training in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it seemed as though Groome was looking forward to the full season of work ahead of him at the time.

He told WEEI’s Rob Bradford earlier in the year, “I have my family pushing me because they know I’m back where I need to be. I’m healthy. They just want to see me finally start up a full season again. It has been a long time.”

Things have obviously changed since then, though, and it would appear that the only in-game action the 21-year-old will see this year will be of the intra-squad variety.

Clubs across MLB have until 4 PM eastern time on Sunday to submit their 60-man player pools, half of which will make up the active roster to begin the season while the other half will serve as a taxi squad that will essentially remain on standby.

Many teams have already announced that a number of their top prospects will make up their respective taxi squads.

Although no official announcement has come from the Red Sox yet, expect Groome, Boston’s seventh-ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline, to be one of the club’s touted youngsters to make the cut.

Jeter Downs, Triston Casas, Bobby Dalbec, Jarren Duran, Tanner Houck, Bryan Mata, Thad Ward, and Marcus Wilson are among the other Sox prospects who could also make up the club’s taxi squad.

Red Sox Prospects: The Ultimate Top 30 Rankings for 2020

You ever visit those fantasy sports sites like ESPN or FantasyPros and notice how they compile their rankings into one elaborate chart that curates information from multiple sources/analysts? Well, I decided to do that with the top 30 prospects in the Red Sox farm system.

There might not even be any minor-league baseball played this year due to the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, but I thought it would nonetheless be interesting to compare how different sites–MLB Pipeline, SoxProspects, and FanGraphs–view the top talent that Boston has to offer at the minor-league level.

The following Red Sox prospects were ranked by one of the aforementioned three sites, but not the other two: SS Ceddanne Rafaela, 1B Pedro Castellanos, OF Bryan Gonzalez, OF Eduardo Lopez, OF Juan Chacon, and C Naysbel Marcano.

Prospects Danny Diaz and Tyler Esplin, meanwhile, were ranked by two of the aforementioned sites and left off by the other. They made the list.

Prospect MLB Pipeline SoxProspects FanGraphs Average
IF Jeter Downs 1 2 1 1.33
1B/3B Triston Casas 2 1 2 1.67
RHP Bryan Mata 4 3 3 3.33
1B/3B Bobby Dalbec 3 6 4 4.33
OF Gilberto Jimenez 5 5 6 5.33
RHP Noah Song 6 9 5 6.67
OF Jarren Duran 8 7 10 8.33
LHP Jay Groome 7 4 15 8.67
RHP Tanner Houck 10 8 9 9
RHP Thad Ward 9 11 11 10.33
SS Matthew Lugo 11 15 7 11
OF Nick Decker 12 17 14 14.33
IF Cameron Cannon 17 18 8 14.33
IF C.J. Chatham 13 10 21 14.67
C/IF Connor Wong 16 12 16 14.67
RHP Brayan Bello 18 19 12 16.33
IF Brainer Bonaci 14 20 18 17.33
RHP Chih-Jung Liu 15 27 13 18.33
SS Antoni Flores 19 21 17 19
LHP Chris Murphy 20 16 23 19.67
RHP Ryan Zeferjahn 22 13 29 21.33
3B Brandon Howlett 23 25 20 22.67
OF Marcus Wilson 21 23 25 23
RHP Aldo Ramirez 27 14 31 24
IF Jonathan Arauz 30 28 22 26.67
RHP Durbin Feltman 25 29 28 27.33
IF Danny Diaz 24 32 NR 28
RHP Andrew Politi 26 37 27 30
LHP Yoan Aybar 29 31 34 31.33
OF Tyler Esplin 28 60 NR 44

So, to boil it all down, here’s a more simplified top-30 list based off the math you see in the chart above.

  1. IF Jeter Downs
  2. 1B/3B Triston Casas
  3. RHP Bryan Mata
  4. 1B/3B Bobby Dalbec
  5. OF Gilberto Jimenez
  6. RHP Noah Song
  7. OF Jarren Duran
  8. LHP Jay Groome
  9. RHP Tanner Houck
  10. RHP Thad Ward
  11. SS Matthew Lugo
  12. OF Nick Decker
  13. IF Cameron Cannon
  14. IF C.J. Chatham
  15. C/IF Connor Wong
  16. RHP Brayan Bello
  17. IF Brainer Bonaci
  18. RHP Chih-Jung Liu
  19. SS Antoni Flores
  20. LHP Chris Murphy
  21. RHP Ryan Zeferjahn
  22. 3B Brandon Howlett
  23. OF Marcus Wilson
  24. RHP Aldo Ramirez
  25. IF Jonathan Arauz
  26. RHP Durbin Feltman
  27. IF Danny Diaz
  28. RHP Andrew Politi
  29. LHP Yoan Aybar
  30. OF Tyler Esplin

In total, 26 of the above 30 players were either drafted or signed by the Red Sox, while three were traded for, and one was acquired in the Rule 5 Draft.

For more in-depth analysis, information, and scouting reports on these prospects and even more players, check out one of the sites I used for this piece in SoxProspects.com. Those guys do a great job in covering the Red Sox farm system. You can even read more abut them and how they got their start here.