Red Sox add right-hander Zac Grotz on minor-league deal

The Red Sox have signed free-agent right-hander Zac Grotz to a minor-league contract for the 2021 season, according to MLB.com’s transaction wire.

The deal includes an invite to major-league spring training, per MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.

Grotz, who turns 28 next month, was originally drafted by the Astros in the 28th round of the 2015 amateur draft out of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Shortly after getting drafted, though, Houston released the righty the following April, and it wasn’t until August 2016 when he was picked up by the Dodgers.

Since then, Grotz has spent time with the Dodgers, Mets, and Mariners organizations as well as three independent league teams. He made his major-league debut for Seattle on August 2, 2019.

In 19 appearances out of the Mariners bullpen between the 2019 and 2020 seasons, the California native posted a 7.30 ERA and 6.45 FIP to go along with 22 strikeouts and 19 walks over 24 2/3 innings of work. It is worth noting that he was far better in 2019 than he was in 2020, as was the case with many players.

Looking at what he’s done in the minors, Grotz owns a lifetime 3.29 ERA over 65 outings, 21 of which were starts, and 180 1/3 innings pitched across five levels.

Per Baseball Savant, the 6-foot-2, 195 lb. hurler’s pitch mix consists of a slider, a curveball, a split-finger fastball, and a slider.

With his addition, Grotz figures to vie for a spot in the Red Sox’ bullpen at the onset of spring training next month. In all likelihood, though, he’ll probably begin the 2021 season with Triple-A Worcester.

So far this offseason, the Red Sox have either signed or re-signed the following players to minor-league deals:

C Roldani Baldwin
C Jhonny Pereda
1B Joey Meneses
1B Josh Ockimey
INF Jeremy Rivera
OF Cesar Puello
OF Michael Gettys
OF Johan Mieses
LHP Emmanuel De Jesus
LHP Stephen Gonsalves
RHP Kevin McCarthy
RHP Seth Blair
RHP Raynel Espinal
RHP Caleb Simpson
RHP Zack Kelly
RHP Jose Disla
RHP Daniel Gossett
RHP Zac Grotz

(Picture of Zac Grotz: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Red Sox feel top prospect Jeter Downs needs to gain more experience at second base in minors before getting big-league consideration

While the Red Sox continue to explore their options at second base this offseason, one thing is apparent: Don’t expect top prospect Jeter Downs to fill that gap next year, at least not right away.

This is the case because according to WEEI’s Rob Bradford, the Red Sox would like to see the 22-year-old infielder gain more experience at second base at the minor-league level.

“The organizational perception is that [Downs] needs to experience the ups and downs of a semi-normal Triple-A season at this new position,” Bradford wrote over the weekend.

One of the three players (two prospects) Boston got in return from the Dodgers in the blockbuster Mookie Betts trade back in February, Downs has accrued significant playing time as a middle infielder in the minors, but little of that playing time as come at second.

Since being selected by the Reds with the 32nd overall pick in the 2017 amateur draft out of Monsignor Pace High School (Fla.), the Colombia native has played 195 games (1,672 2/3 innings) at shortstop and just 84 games (698 1/3 innings) at second, with just one of those 84 coming above the High-A level in 2019.

FanGraphs does not get too in-depth with defensive metrics for minor-leaguers, but Downs recorded one error and helped turn seven double plays while patrolling second base for High-A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Tulsa last year.

This year, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic prevented the minor-league season from taking place, so coveted prospects such as Downs were limited to working out at their club’s respective training sites, which in Downs’ case was in Pawtucket.

There, as noted by SoxProspects.com, the young infielder primarily focused on improving his defense with coach Bruce Crabbe.

“Crabby’s amazing,” Downs said via Zoom back in August. “Almost everyday now we go out there and we get a little work in with a couple other guys as well. It’s a good learning curve, everybody does extra hitting, so I felt like I wanted to do that same thing with my defense. As much as I hit, I also want to do the same amount of defense. I want to be elite at both sides of the ball, so that’s where I’m trying to get it to.”

As it turns out, Downs did put in the work at the alternate site to improve his defensive capabilities at both middle infield positions. At least that’s what Worcester Red Sox manager Billy McMillon said when speaking with reporters in October.

“He made tremendous strides defensively,” McMillon said of Downs. “There are some things he needs to work on, like his makeup and his confidence and things like that. I think those issues affected how he did offensively. As far as Jeter, I see tremendous upside. His track record of offensive performance indicates that at 7:05, when the lights are on, he shows up at the plate. I’m hopeful his track record offensively meshes well with the strides he made defensively. If that happens, I think you’ve got a pretty good player. I don’t want to give a comp or anything, but I think he would more than hold his own based on what he did defensively and how much better and more consistent he got.

“I think he would be a better second baseman longterm, but I do believe he could play shortstop,” added McMillon. “He made some plays that were just unbelievable at shortstop. I personally would see him a better fit at second base if we were talking about 162 games. I think his athleticism, his skills, would be a little better at second base. But he’s still young. I don’t want it to seem like he can’t play shortstop. I think he could do a fine job over there. In my eyes, I see second base when I see him.”

Depending on how the rest of the offseason pans out, Downs will presumably get the opportunity to play second base on an everyday basis with Triple-A Worcester in 2021.

There, as Bradford alluded to, the Red Sox will obviously be keeping a close eye on the right-handed hitter as he prepares to make the jump to the majors — or at least Boston’s 40-man roster — in the months leading up to him being eligible for the 2021 Rule 5 Draft.

In the meantime, The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier wrote earlier this month that while the plan is for Downs to continue to develop at Triple-A, the Sox could pursue free-agent second base options, like Kike Hernandez or Kolten Wong, who would sign one or two-year deals in order to “serve as a bridge to Downs.”

Of course, as Speier points out, it’s not out of the question that chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. could use Downs as a trade chip in order to acquire a bigger piece from another club.

That possibility likely depends on how the club views Downs, as well as its other second base candidates such as Jonathan Arauz, Christian Arroyo, and Michael Chavis, internally.

Red Sox cut ties with Lowell Spinners for 2021, extend invites to four other minor-league affiliates

As part of Major League Baseball’s new minor-league player development structure, the Red Sox’ farm system got a bit shaken up earlier Wednesday afternoon.

Boston invited four of its previous affiliates — Worcester Red Sox, Portland Sea Dogs, Greenville Drive, Salem Red Sox — “for continued professional affiliation,” per a team release.

While the Sox’ Triple-A club will be moving from Pawtucket to Worcester next season and its Double-A affiliate will remain in Portland, the full-season, Class-A affiliates were the ones reshuffled the most.

For starters, Boston’s High-A affiliate had been Salem and its Low-A affiliate had been Greenville. Those two clubs will now switch roles for 2021 and beyond, with the Drive being the Red Sox’ new High-A team and the Salem Sox being its new Low-A team.

Greenville will be a part of the new Mid-Atlantic League, while Salem will head to the South Atlantic League.

On top of that, the short-season Lowell Spinners will not be affiliated with the Red Sox in 2021, though the club and the City of Lowell “are in the early stages of evaluating various opportunities for the 2021 season, and will continue to discuss longer-term options in the weeks ahead.”

According to The Boston Globe’s Michael Silverman, Lowell could host either an independent league team or a team in the brand new MLB Draft League next year. The possibility also still remains that Lowell could once again realign itself with the Red Sox in 2022.

The Spinners had been part of the Sox’ minor-league pipeline since 1996.

Could Red Sox Welcome Soon-To-Be Free Agent Stephen Gonsalves Back in 2021?

Excluding position players, 27 different pitchers took the mound for the Red Sox in 2020. Left-hander Stephen Gonsalves was not one of them.

The 26-year-old was claimed off waivers by Boston from the Mets early in the season and was subsequently optioned to the club’s alternate training site in Pawtucket, where he remained on the Sox’ 40-man roster up until August 19.

At that point, Gonsalves was designated for assignment in order to make room on the 40-man roster for veteran right-hander Andrew Triggs.

A week went by and Gonsalves went unclaimed, which resulted in his being outrighted to Pawtucket.

As he spent the final few weeks of his 2020 campaign working out at McCoy Stadium, the San Diego native was actually very impressive, which is important when you consider the fact that he will become a minor-league free agent this winter. Worcester Red Sox pitching coach Paul Abbott made that much clear when speaking with reporters via Zoom last week.

“Gonsalves is a guy that can make an impact next year if we bring him back,” Abbott said. “I know he’s a minor-league free agent. His velo went from 89-90 mph — and he already had a highly rated fastball that had some carry — the velo jumped up to 94-96 mph. He got better as we went along and I know he was close to getting an opportunity because they brought him up there.”

A former fourth-round pick of the Twins out of high school in 2013, Gonsalves only has seven major-league outings under his belt. In those seven appearances, four of which were starts, towards the end of the 2018 season, the one-time University of San Diego commit posted a 6.57 ERA and .822 OPS against over 24 2/3 innings pitched.

At the start of the 2019 campaign, Gonsalves suffered an elbow strain in April and a stress reaction to that same elbow in May, which resulted in the former top prospect accruing just 13 innings of work across three minor-league levels last year prior to ultimately getting designated by Minnesota in November.

Since joining the Red Sox organization over the summer, Gonsalves obviously has not had the chance to showcase himself in any real, meaningful games. But, as Abbott mentioned, an uptick in the 6-foot-5 southpaw’s fastball velocity could mesh well with his other three pitches — changeup, slider, curveball — moving forward.

With that being said, in addition to how highly Abbott spoke of him, Gonsalves may be someone the Red Sox look to bring back early on in free agency this offseason.

Assuming he is brought back by chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. on a minor-league deal, Gonsalves could prove to be an interesting hurler to monitor during spring training next year given the fact he has experience as both a starter and reliever.

Red Sox Add Right-Hander Seth Blair, Release Outfielder John Andreoli From Player Pool

Before opening up a three-game weekend series against the Blue Jays on Friday, the Red Sox made a minor roster shake-up, as the club added right-handed pitcher Seth Blair to their player pool and in a corresponding move released outfielder John Andreoli.

Blair, 31, was originally drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the first round of the 2010 amateur draft out of Arizona State University and spent six years in the organization before getting released in April 2015.

From there, according to this New York Times feature on Blair, the Illinois native “took a five-year break from baseball” before signing a minor-league deal with the Padres last May.

While in San Diego’s farm system, Blair posted a 4.11 ERA and 3.64 xFIP over 17 outings (two starts) and 35 innings pitched for High-A Lake Elsinore before once again getting released on August 9.

Since then, again going back to that NYT piece, the former Sun Devil had been running a training facility for major and minor-leaguers in the backyard of his Scottsdale home to provide players a place to work out during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Based off said article and Blair’s own Instagram page, it would appear that the flame-throwing right-hander has bought into the whole Driveline revolution in baseball that was started by the likes of Trevor Bauer and Kyle Boddy in Washington state. What he’s learned there could be useful to other pitchers in the Red Sox organization who are currently working out in Pawtucket.

As for Andreoli, the 30-year-old outfielder out of Worcester, Mass. inked a minor-league pact with Boston back in December after spending the 2019 season with the Giants, Twins, and Mariners organizations.

The UCONN product was added the Sox’ 60-man player pool last month, but his stint there obviously did not last too long seeing how he was cut loose on Friday.

By essentially swapping Andreoli for Blair, the Red Sox’ 60-man player pool is still at full capacity. Blair will presumably report to McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket within the next few days.