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)

Red Sox’ Triston Casas unlikely to return to Dominican Winter League due to knee injury

UPDATE: Licey general manager Audo Vicente told reporters (including David Alcantara) on Tuesday that while Casas remains in Boston, he is expected to rejoin the team in the third week of November.

Red Sox first baseman Triston Casas is not expected to return to the Dominican Winter League this offseason, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom told reporters (including The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier) at the GM Meetings in Las Vegas on Monday.

Casas had been playing for the Tigres del Licey and went 2-for-9 (.222) with one RBI, two runs scored, five walks, and three strikeouts in his first three games with the club. The 22-year-old last suited up for Licey on October 17 and has since been sidelined with knee soreness.

Because of that discomfort, the Red Sox flew Casas to Boston so he could undergo further testing. An MRI revealed no structural damage, leaving Bloom and other team officials to believe Casas would be able to return to the Dominican Republic before Licey’s season ended. They no longer share that sense of optimism.

“He came back home, we looked at the knee, and we are not concerned,” Bloom said of Casas. “But just given that the soreness was still lingering, given what’s ahead of him — hopefully big things in 2023 — he ended up going back [home] to Florida. At this point, we don’t expect him to go back to [Licey].”

One of the reasons the Red Sox sent Casas to the Dominican because the former first-round draft pick missed nearly two months of the minor-league season with a high right ankle sprain. The idea was for him to make up for lost time, but this latest injury appears to have prevented that from happening in full.

Casas, who turns 23 in January, is expected to emerge as Boston’s everyday first baseman in 2023 if he can stay healthy. The left-handed hitter made his highly-anticipated major-league debut in September and batted .197/.358/.408 with one double, five home runs, 12 RBIs, 11 runs scored, one stolen base, 19 walks, and 23 strikeouts over 27 games (95 plate appearances) with the Red Sox.

(Picture of Triston Casas: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Franchy Cordero to play winter ball in Dominican Republic

Red Sox first baseman/outfielder Franchy Cordero intends on playing for the Leones del Escogido of the Dominican Winter League this off-season, he announced on Wednesday.

“I’ll be here in a few weeks,” Cordero said (in Spanish) to team reporter Natacha Pena.

Earlier this week, Escogido general manager Luis Rojas told reporters that he expected Cordero to join the team in mid-November or by the 20th at the latest.

Cordero was officially added to Escogido’s roster on Wednesday, per his MLB.com transaction log. The Azua native has spent the last five winters with the Santo Domingo-based club. He took home LIDOM (Liga de Béisbol Profesional de la República Dominicana) Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year honors at the conclusion of the 2017-2018 campaign.

This news is particularly noteworthy since Cordero is still technically recovering from a right ankle sprain that prematurely ended his 2022 season. In the fifth inning of 4-3 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field on September 5, the 28-year-old attempted to track down a 358-foot fly ball off the bat of Randy Arozarena in left field. He wound up jumping for the ball and his right cleat got caught in the fence’s padding. That caused him to land awkwardly and he was ultimately carted off the field.

An MRI revealed that Cordero had sprained both sides of his ankle and he was placed on the 60-day injured list two days later. All told, the left-handed hitter batted .219/.300/.397 with 17 doubles, one triple, eight home runs, 29 RBIs, 36 runs scored, four stolen bases, 28 walks, and 92 strikeouts over 84 games (275 plate appearances) in his second season with the Sox.

Since coming over from the Royals in the Andrew Benintendi trade last February, Cordero owns a .209/.279/.350 slash line across 132 career games in a Red Sox uniform. Although he possesses freakish tools, the 6-foot-3, 226-pounder has proven to be a below-average defender at first base who may be better suited for the outfield.

Because he was added back to Boston’s 40-man roster in April, Cordero is eligible for arbitration this winter. He is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn $1.5 million in 2023. The Red Sox could elect to non-tender Cordero and make him a free agent before then, but they will first have to activate him from the 60-day injured list by Nov. 15.

In short, it should be interesting to see what the Red Sox have planned for Cordero in the coming weeks. MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo took note of the fact that Cordero is well-liked within the organization, so that could play a role in their decision-making process moving forward.

(Picture of Franchy Cordero: Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

Red Sox optimistic that Triston Casas will be able to return to Dominican Winter League before season’s end

Red Sox first baseman Triston Casas has not played for the Tigres del Licey of the Dominican Winter League since October 17 due to knee soreness.

Casas, who went 2-for-9 (.222) with an RBI, two runs scored, five walks, and three strikeouts in his first three games with Licey, recently flew back to Boston to undergo an MRI on his sore knee.

The imaging revealed no structural damage and the Red Sox are optimistic the 22-year-old will be able to return to the Dominican Republic in the near future, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom told The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier on Tuesday.

“We brought him back to Boston, just to make sure that we felt good about everything and get checked out here. We didn’t have concern [based] off of that,” Bloom said. “He’s still in the states right now. But hopefully, he’ll be back down there soon and get ramped up and play a little more.”

Prior to making his major-league debut in September, Casas missed nearly two months of the minor-league season with a high right ankle sprain. Because he was sidelined for so long over the summer, the Red Sox opted to have Casas play winter ball so he could make up for lost time by seeing more live pitching.

It also helps that Red Sox third base coach Carlos Febles is serving as Licey’s bench coach, so the organization has had boots on the ground when it comes to Casas’ wellbeing. If Casas is to return to Licey’s lineup in the coming days or weeks, it is worth mentioning that the Dominican Winter League regular season runs through December 16.

Casas, who turns 23 in January, appeared in 27 games for the Sox towards the end of the 2022 campaign. 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 across 95 trips to the plate.

If healthy, Casas is expected to emerge as Boston’s everyday first baseman in 2023. That said, he could have to compete with the likes of Bobby Dalbec and Eric Hosmer for the starting job during spring training.

(Picture of Triston Casas: Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Triston Casas dealing with knee discomfort in winter ball

Red Sox first baseman Triston Casas is dealing with minor knee discomfort as he plays for the Tigres del Licey of the Dominican Winter League, the team announced on Wednesday night.

Casas has been held out of Licey’s lineup since Monday. The team disclosed in a tweet that the 22-year-old underwent an MRI that revealed no structural damage. They are optimistic that he will be able to return to action for Friday’s contest against the Toros del Este.

While it is not yet known if Casas will be back in the lineup on Friday, the Red Sox do not appear to be too concerned about his injury. That is what a source with knowledge of the information told MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo on Friday. The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier also reported that Casas is expected to be able to play again before the Dominican Winter League season comes to a close.

Casas played three games for Licey before getting hurt. The left-handed hitter went 2-for-9 (.222) with an RBI, five walks, and three strikeouts. Red Sox third base coach Carlos Febles is serving as Licey’s bench coach this winter, so someone from the club will be able to keep tabs on Casas’ knee and exercise caution if necessary moving forward.

Still regarded by Baseball America as the No. 3 prospect in Boston’s farm system, Casas made his major-league debut for the Sox at the beginning of September. The former first-round pick batted .197/.358/.408 with one double, five home runs, 12 RBIs, 11 runs scored, one stolen base, 19 walks, and 23 strikeouts over 27 games (95 plate appearances) to close out the season.

Before getting called up from Triple-A Worcester, though, Casas missed nearly two month of the minor-league season due to a high right ankle sprain. The lack of seeing live pitching over the summer was likely a factor in the Red Sox opting to have Casas play winter ball in the Dominican Republic.

Casas, who turns 23 in January, is expected to have a strong chance at emerging as Boston’s everyday first baseman nest season, though he may have to compete with Eric Hosmer and Bobby Dalbec for the starting job in the spring.

(Picture of Triston Casas: Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

Ceddanne Rafaela named Baseball America’s 2022 Red Sox Minor League Player of the Year

Ceddanne Rafaela was named Baseball America’s Red Sox 2022 Minor League Player of the Year on Tuesday.

That should come as no surprise. Rafaela, who just turned 22 over the weekend, entered Baseball America’s Top 100 rankings back in July and is now regarded by the publication as the No. 81 prospect in the sport

Between High-A Greenville and Double-A Portland this season, Rafaela batted .299/.342/.538 (134 wRC+) with 32 doubles, 10 triples, 21 home runs, 86 RBIs, 82 runs scored, 28 stolen bases, 26 walks, and 113 strikeouts over 116 total games (522 plate appearances). The right-handed hitter slashed .278/.324/.500 (119 wRC+) with 12 homers, 50 runs driven in, 45 runs scored, and 14 stolen bases in 71 games (313 plate appearances) with the Sea Dogs upon being promoted in early June.

On the other side of the ball, Rafaela saw the majority of his playing time this season come at either shortstop or center field. In Portland in particular, the versatile 5-foot-8, 152-pounder logged 103 innings at short and 498 2/3 innings at center while making highlight reel plays at both positions.

“I truly believe this: You put him in the big leagues right now, he wins the Gold Glove as an outfielder,” Red Sox infield coordinator Darren Fenster told The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier recently. “He’s not there yet as an infielder, but talent-wise and with some more reps and some more polish, he has Gold Glove potential as a shortstop as well. It’s wild the talent that this kid has.”

The Red Sox originally signed Rafaela for just $10,000 as an international free-agent coming out of Curacao in July 2017. Shortly after the five-year anniversary of his signing passed, the Willemstad native represented Boston in the All-Star Futures Game in Los Angeles.

On the heels of such an impressive minor-league season, Rafaela is a sure bet to be added to Boston’s 40-man roster this fall in order to receive protection from the Rule 5 Draft. He is also slated to play winter ball in Puerto Rico for he Criollos de Caguas, who are managed by Red Sox first base coach Ramon Vazquez.

Alex Cora, who previously managed the Criollos and spends his off-seasons in his hometown of Caguas, told reporters (including MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith) last week that he was looking forward to getting to know Rafaela better this winter.

“We’re going to be able to enjoy it,” Cora said. “Just try to meet him, know who he is as a person. That’s something that I’m looking forward to. We had that opportunity with Jarren (Duran) a few years ago, but it was limited because of the whole pandemic and the restrictions. But now that we can actually interact with others, it would be fun just to have him around, bring him to the house and talk to him and embrace him.”

In the meantime, Rafaela will look to lead the Sea Dogs to an Eastern League title. After winning 17 of its last 20 regular-season games, Portland opens a best-of-three playoff series against the Somerset Patriots at Hadlock Field on Tuesday night.

(Picture of Ceddanne Rafaela: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Red Sox prospect Ceddanne Rafaela to play winter ball in Puerto Rico

Versatile Red Sox prospect Ceddanne Rafaela will play for the Criollos de Caguas of the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League this winter, the club announced on Monday.

The Criollos, who have won the last two league championships, are managed by Red Sox first base coach Ramon Vazquez. Alex Cora, a native of Caguas himself, previously served as the team’s general manager.

Rafaela, who turns 22 next month, has never played winter ball before. The native Curacaoan is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 4 prospect in Boston’s farm system and the No. 82 prospect in all of baseball.

The 2022 season has served as a breakout campaign for Rafaela. After being named the organization’s Minor League Defensive Player of the Year last fall, the 21-year-old broke camp this spring with High-A Greenville and batted .330/.368/.594 in 45 games (209 plate appearances) for the Drive before earning a promotion to Double-A Portland in early June.

Since then, Rafaela has slashed .279/.337/.513 with 15 doubles, four triples, 10 home runs, 32 RBIs, 38 runs scored, 12 stolen bases, 15 walks, and 51 strikeouts over 57 games (250 plate appearances) with the Sea Dogs. He has not played since last Thursday after being hit on the left wrist by a pitch in the third inning of a 9-0 win over the Hartford Yard Goats at Hadlock Field.

Among those in the Eastern League who have made at least 250 trips to the plate this season, the right-handed hitter ranks 11th in batting average, ninth in slugging percentage, 10th in OPS (.851), eighth in isolated power (.235), fourth in speed score (8.0), and 15th in wRC+ (128), per FanGraphs.

On the other side of the ball, Rafaela has played both shortstop and centerfield since making the jump to Portland earlier this summer. While the 5-foot-8, 152-pounder has made a habit of making highlight reel plays at either position, he also has past experience at second base, third base, left field, and right field.

Rafaela, who represented the Red Sox in last month’s All-Star Futures Game in Los Angeles, has clearly come a long way since signing with Boston for a mere $10,000 out of Willemstad a little more than five years ago.

Although there are still some things he could improve upon (plate discipline, for example), it seems all but certain that Rafaela will be added to the Red Sox’ 40-man roster in November so that he can receive protection from the upcoming Rule 5 Draft.

In the meantime, Rafaela will be looking to end the 2022 season on a strong note. The Sea Dogs open a six-game series on the road against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats on Tuesday, so it should be interesting to see how soon it will be until he is able to return to the lineup.

(Picture of Ceddanne Rafaela: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Red Sox pitching prospect Chase Shugart ‘had a lot of success in Puerto Rico’ this winter, Brian Abraham says; ‘It was a really good experience for him’

Chase Shugart was one of several Red Sox minor-leaguers who spent part of their off-season playing winter ball outside of the United States.

Suiting up for Indios de Mayaguez of the Puerto Rican Winter League, Shugart posted a 2.84 ERA and 1.11 WHIP with nine strikeouts to two walks over five relief appearances spanning 6 1/3 innings of work during the regular season.

In the postseason, Shugart’s star shined even brighter. The right-handed pitching prospect allowed a total of one run on five hits, two walks, and nine strikeouts across six outings (6 1/3 innings pitched) out of the bullpen for Mayaguez. That’s good for an ERA of 1.42.

Prior to making the trek to Puerto Rico in December, Shugart had only been used as a starter since being drafted by the Red Sox in the 12th round of the 2018 amateur draft out of the University of Texas.

Last season alone, the 25-year-old pitched to the tune of a 4.78 ERA and 4.34 FIP to go along with 93 strikeouts to 24 walks over 22 starts (105 1/3 innings) for High-A Greenville.

Upon returning from Puerto Rico earlier this month, Shugart was one of 28 Red Sox minor-leaguers to receive an invite to the team’s weeklong Winter Warm-Up minicamp in Fort Myers.

That minicamp commenced at the Fenway South complex on Monday, and it also gave reporters (including MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith) an opportunity to speak with Sox director of player development Brian Abraham.

When asked about the long-term role of certain pitchers in the organization such as Shugart, Abraham seemed to indicate that Boston will attempt to maintain as much flexibility as they can moving forward.

“I think there’s still an opportunity to start, but I think ultimately we see him more as a bulk reliever type role,” Abraham said of Shugart. “He had a lot of success in Puerto Rico in the short amount of time he had down there. It was a really good experience for him based on the conversations we had with him today.”

Shugart, who is listed at 5-foot-10 and 198 pounds, is a four-pitch pitcher who operates with a fastball that hovers around 93-95 mph and tops out at 97 mph, a 74-80 mph curveball, an 81-84 mph slider, and an 84-87 mph changeup, per his SoxProspects.com scouting report.

While he may have only been used as a starter to this point in his professional career, Shugart does have experience in the bullpen that goes beyond what he did in Puerto Rico.

To begin his career at Texas, the Bridge City native pitched out of the bullpen during both his freshman and sophomore seasons before moving to the Longhorns’ starting rotation in 2018.

As Abraham alluded to in his conversation with the media on Monday, the Red Sox value relievers who can provide the club with multiple innings out of the bullpen when needed.

Given his history as a starting pitcher, Shugart could potentially fit that mold if he is going to become a reliever on a full-time basis. With that being said, Shugart is projected by SoxProspects.com to begin the 2022 minor-league season in Double-A Portland’s bullpen.

(Picture of Chase Shugart via his Instagram)

Red Sox’ Christian Vázquez crushes game-winning home run for Cangrejeros de Santurce in winter ball action

Down to their final two outs while facing the possibility of extra innings, Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez provided a late boost for the Cangrejeros de Santurce of the Puerto Rican Winter League on Wednesday night.

With one out in the top of the ninth inning of a scoreless game against the Indios de Mayaguez, Vazquez came to the plate having already gone hitless with a strikeout through his first three at-bats of the evening.

Matched up against Mayaguez reliever Braden Webb with the bases empty this time around, Vazquez greeted the right-hander by clubbing a go-ahead solo shot to deep left-center field to give his side their first lead of the night at 1-0.

Vazquez’s first home run of the winter — and first in Puerto Rico since 2016-2017 — lifted Santurce to a tightly-contested 1-0 victory over Mayaguez, allowing them to improve to 16-14 on the season.

Following Wednesday’s clutch performance, the right-handed hitting backstop is now batting .179/.207/.357 through his first eight games (29 plate appearances) with the Crabbers.

Vazquez originally revealed last week that he would be returning to his home island to play winter ball for the first time since before the 2017 major-league season began.

While catcher is obviously Vazquez’s primary position with the Red Sox, the 31-year-old has yet to see any time behind the plate for Santurce and has instead served as either the club’s first baseman (like he did on Wednesday) or designated hitter.

As The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier wrote over the weekend, Vazquez is back in Puerto Rico with the hope that the extra reps he is getting there will allow him “to hit the ground running this coming spring.”

Back in November, the Red Sox — after some internal debate — picked up Vazquez’s $7 million club option for 2022, meaning he can become a free agent next winter. Under normal circumstances, they may not have permitted him to play in Puerto Rico this off-season, but the ongoing lockout allowed Vazquez to act on his own volition since clubs cannot contact their players.

On another note, Red Sox pitching prospect struck out one while tossing a scoreless eighth inning for Mayaguez in this very same game on Wednesday. The 25-year-old righty was added to the Indios’ roster earlier this month and has posted a 1.80 ERA in four appearances (five innings pitched) with the team.

(Picture of Christian Vazquez: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Christian Vázquez playing winter ball in Puerto Rico with hopes of hitting the ground running in 2022

Last week, it was revealed that Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez would be playing for Cangrejeros de Santurce of the Puerto Rican Winter League this off-season.

Since making his season debut for Santurce on Wednesday, Vazquez has gone 2-for-17 (.118) at the plate with a single, a double, a walk, and one strikeout over five games played. He has yet to see any time behind the plate for the Crabbers and has instead served as the team’s first baseman or designated hitter thus far.

For established veterans such as Vazquez, it is unusual to see them dedicate part of their off-season to playing winter ball. The Bayamon native participated in the Puerto Rican Winter League on a consistent basis while coming up through the minors and early on in his major-league career, but had not done so in nearly five years.

Under normal circumstances, the Red Sox may not have allowed Vazquez to suit up for Santurce this winter since they only recently picked up his $7 million club option for the 2022 season. As a result of the ongoing Major League Baseball lockout, however, teams are not allowed to contact their players.

Perhaps taking advantage of this loophole, Vazquez made the decision on his own volition to return to his home island with the hopes of setting in motion a plan to rebound from an underwhelming 2021 campaign.

After putting up a 105 wRC+ from 2019-2020, the 31-year-old backstop slashed an uninspiring .258/.308/.352 (77 wRC+) to go along with 23 doubles, one triple, six home runs, 49 RBIs, 51 runs scored, eight stolen bases, 33 walks, and 84 strikeouts over 138 games (458 plate appearances) this past season.

In order to bounce back in 2022, The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier reports that Vazquez “felt that his best way to hit the ground running this coming spring was to play winter ball.” As noted by Speier, the right-handed hitter “last played winter ball before 2017 — a year in which he solidified his everyday big-league role by hitting .290/.330/.404.”

While it’s unknown if the Red Sox would have approved of his decision to play in Puerto Rico this winter, Vazquez is suiting up for Santurce with some motivational factors in mind.

Not only is Vazquez coming off a down season, but he is slated to become a free agent next winter. And even though Boston prolonged Vazquez’s free agency by picking up his $7 million club option in October, the decision to do so “was not a no-brainer” as “there was internal debate over whether he was worth that salary after a down year in 2021,” according to MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.

Even in the wake of exercising Vazquez’s option earlier this fall, the Sox reportedly made an attempt to acquire Gold Glove catcher Jacob Stallings from the Pirates, who ultimately dealt him to the Marlins in late November.

With that being said, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. could be on the lookout for a controllable backstop via trade since both Vazquez and Kevin Plawecki can become free agents after next season.

At the moment, Vazquez is in line to remain as Boston’s top catcher heading into the spring. But, as Speier writes, he “is preparing for 2022 with eyes wide open about the possibility that the Sox may move on from him after the season — or perhaps even during or before it.”

(Picture of Christian Vazquez: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)