Eduard Bazardo tosses scoreless inning, picks up first career strikeout in major-league debut for Red Sox: ‘For us to accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish, he will be a factor during the season,’ Alex Cora says

Lost in the shuffle of the Red Sox sweeping their doubleheader against the Twins and extending their winning streak to nine consecutive games on Wednesday was Eduard Bazardo making his major-league debut.

The 25-year-old right-hander was called up by Boston from the alternate training site to serve as the team’s 27th man in Wednesday’s twin bill.

After not making an appearance in Game 1, Bazardo was called upon to work the seventh and final inning — a point in which the Sox already had a 7-1 lead, making for a low-leverage, low-pressure outing — of Game 2.

Bazardo, donning rec specs, high socks, and the No. 83, faced five Twins hitters in total; walking two, striking out one, and getting two more to ground out.

All in all, the Venezuelan hurler needed 24 pitches — 15 of which were strikes — to work a scoreless bottom half of the seventh and lock down the 7-1 victory for his side.

Of those 24 pitches, 11 were sliders, nine were four-seam fastballs, and four were curveballs. He induced four swings-and-misses with his slider while also sitting at 93-95 mph with his heater.

Though Bazardo was ultimately and unsurprisingly sent back down to the alternate training site in Worcester following Wednesday’s action, Red Sox manager Alex Cora seemed optimistic that this will not be the last time he sees the 6-foot, 190 pound hurler pitching for the Sox this season.

“I think throughout the season, this guy, he’ll help us,” Cora said of the young righty Wednesday morning. “Good fastball. The best breaking ball. Everybody talks about it in the organization, right? A strike thrower. A strike-throwing machine. He’s not afraid. He attacks the strike zone with good stuff. He impressed a lot of people last year. He impressed me in spring training. … For us to accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish, he will be a factor during the season.”

Bazardo, who does not turn 26 until September, was added to the Sox’ 40-man roster last November on the strength of an impressive showing at the team’s fall instructional league in Fort Myers.

He is currently regarded by MLB Pipeline as the 28th-ranked prospect in Boston’s farm system.

(Picture of Eduard Bazardo: David Berding/Getty Images)

Red Sox option Tanner Houck to Worcester: Chaim Bloom says rookie right-hander ‘is a capable major-league starting pitcher right now, but that doesn’t mean he’s a finished product’

The Red Sox optioning rookie right-hander Tanner Houck to the alternate training site in Worcester on Wednesday did not come as much of a surprise.

With Eduardo Rodriguez set to make his season debut against the Orioles on Thursday, the Sox needed to open up a roster spot in order to activate the left-hander from the injured list.

Considering the fact that Houck has minor-league options and Boston’s starting rotation already consists of Nathan Eovaldi, Garrett Richards, Nick Pivetta, and Martin Perez, optioning the young righty seemed like the most logical step to take so that Rodriguez could be slotted back into the rotation.

Since being called up by the Red Sox for the first time last September, Houck has posted a 1.17 ERA and 2.51 FIP over five outings (four starts) and 23 innings pitched. That includes his first start of the 2021 season against the Orioles over the weekend in which he gave up three runs (two earned) over five innings as well as a relief appearance in the 11th inning of Tuesday’s contest against the Rays in which he allowed one unearned run in one inning of work.

To say the 24-year-old out of Collinsville, Ill. has gotten his big-league career off to an impressive start would be an understatement, but the Sox still feel as though there are some things he can improve upon.

“Tanner pitched great, both in his start and his appearance out of the bullpen,” chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom told The Boston Herald’s Jason Mastrodonato on Wednesday. “Simply put, this is about depth. We’re fortunate to have five guys we feel are good and capable major league starters. Tanner, we feel, is a sixth. We want to keep them all starting and keep them all pitching.”

Bloom acknowledged that while Boston’s starting rotation is set for the time being, injuries are inevitable and having Houck available to come up from Worcester could prove to be extremely valuable.

While Houck will be limited to just throwing bullpen sessions and in simulated games at Polar Park for the time being before the minor-league season begins next month, one aspect of his game the Sox would like to see the former first-round pick build on is continuing to develop a third pitch.

That third pitch, a splitter, is one that is still relatively new to the 6-foot-5, 218 pound hurler. Of the 100 pitches the righty has thrown so far this season, only three have been splitters.

“I think Tanner Houck is a capable major league starting pitcher right now, but that doesn’t mean he’s a finished product,” Bloom told Mastrodonato. “We know his ceiling could be even higher if he gets really comfortable with a third pitch. We know he can get lefties out, executing the fastball and slider the way he has in his big league starts, but if he can get more comfortable with that splitter, he’ll be even better. While he’s in Worcester, it’ll be easier to work on that than it would be while he’s pitching in a close game at the big league level.”

To put it simply, Houck is still “a work in progress” in the Red Sox’ eyes.. The hope is that he will be able to make more developmental strides while at the alternate site before being called upon once again.

“Keep working on his craft, on his pitches,” Red Sox manager Alex said in regards to what Houck can do to improve in Worcester. “Keep throwing strikes. Keep developing his secondary pitches. And just be ready. That’s all he needs to do. Where we’re at right now, we knew that this was going to happen. You look at the guys that have pitched for us, they’ve done an amazing job. And the difference between this team and last year — and even 2019 — we’re a lot deeper.

“He was a professional when we talked to him,” Cora continued. “He understands. Whenever we need him, he’ll be here and he’ll perform.”

(Picture of Tanner Houck: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox option rookie right-hander Tanner Houck to alternate training site

The Red Sox have optioned rookie right-hander Tanner Houck to their alternate training site in Worcester, the team announced prior to Wednesday’s game against the Rays.

The move to option Houck comes as no surprise with Eduardo Rodriguez slated to be activated from the injured list and make his first start of the season against the Orioles on Thursday.

Houck, who turns 25 in June, was initially slated to open the year at the Sox’ alternate training site out of spring training, but Rodriguez being placed on the IL due to elbow inflammation led to the righty breaking camp as the team’s No. 2 starter.

In his first start of the season, which came against Baltimore this past Saturday, Houck yielded three runs — two of which were earned — on six hits, one walk, and eight strikeouts over five innings of work.

He also allowed one unearned run while working the 11th inning of Tuesday’s 6-5, extra-innings win over Tampa Bay.

Since making his major-league debut last September, the former first-round draft pick has posted a 1.17 ERA, a 2.51 FIP, and a 31:10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in five outings (four starts) spanning 23 innings pitched for the Sox.

Despite the success Houck has been enjoying at the big-league level thus far, the Red Sox still feel like the 6-foot-5, 218 pound hurler has some work to do in regards to his development. A prime example of this would be to continue working on his third pitch: a splitter.

“It all depends on what you mean check all the boxes,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters Tuesday (including MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo) in regards to why Houck was going to be sent down. “You can be successful here but that doesn’t mean you have checked all your boxes from our end. And you can keep getting better.”

Another reason why the Sox are sending down Houck is because of the starters they already have on their roster.

With Rodriguez set to make his return to the mound on Thursday, Boston’s starting rotation will consist of Nathan Eovaldi, Rodriguez, Garrett Richards, Nick Pivetta, and Martin Perez.

Because Cora and Co. are not currently considering the use of a six-man rotation, Houck becomes the odd man out and will instead serve as rotation depth in Worcester.

Per Cotillo, “the expectation is that Houck will come up and start games later in the year if one of the veteran starters is injured or struggles.”

Until then, he will be limited to simulated games and bullpen sessions at the alternate site at Polar Park before the Worcester Red Sox begin their season in May.

(Picture of Tanner Houck: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Red Sox roster moves: Franchy Cordero reinstated from COVID-19 injured list; Michael Chavis, Colten Brewer sent down to Worcester; John Schreiber designated for assignment

The Red Sox have reinstated outfielder Franchy Cordero from the COVID-19 related injured list, the team announced Tuesday morning.

In a corresponding move, right-hander John Schreiber was designated for assignment in order to make room for Cordero on the 40-man roster.

Additionally, both infielder Michael Chavis and right-hander Colten Brewer were optioned to the club’s alternate training site in Worcester.

Cordero being activated off the COVID-19 injured list most certainly means he will be good to go for Opening Day on Thursday.

Originally acquired from the Royals as part of the three-team trade that sent Andrew Benintendi to Kansas City, the 26-year-old has impressed thus far in Grapefruit League play.

Coming into Tuesday, Cordero is slashing .294/.333/.588 with one triple, one home run, and one RBI through his first six games and 18 plate appearances with the Sox. He played back-to-back games for the first time this spring on Sunday and Monday.

Upon arriving in Fort Myers last month, the Dominican native’s status for Opening Day became cloudy once he was placed on the COVID-19 injured list after testing positive for the virus back home.

The left-handed hitting slugger was not cleared to return to baseball activities until March 11, but it now appears as though he has the green light for Thursday’s season-opening contest against the Orioles at Fenway Park.

“He feels great,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of Cordero this past Sunday. “There’s a good chance he will be with us Opening Day. Let’s see how he reacts out of this one. But everything is very positive with the way he has been able to bounce back. The game in Tampa, he hit a triple, he move around in the outfield. He’s in a good position.”

Cordero, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 232 pounds, has played in just 95 games since making his major-league debut with the Padres in 2017 on account of multiple stints on the injured list. He has been hampered by a right wrist sprain, a right elbow sprain, a tight forearm strain, and a left abductor strain in the past three years alone.

Because of his history, the Red Sox will clearly have to be cautious in how they manage Cordero to ensure that he can stay healthy and play as many games as possible.

With Cordero being reinstated on Tuesday, the Sox needed to clear a 40-man roster spot for the outfielder, and they did so by designating right-hander John Schreiber for assignment.

Schreiber, who turned 27 earlier this month, was claimed off waivers from the Tigers back in February.

The 6-foot-2, 210 pound righty appeared in just two games for the Sox this spring, allowing a pair of earned runs on five hits, one walk, and one strikeout over 1 1/3 total innings pitched in those two appearances. He was optioned to the alternate training site on March 16.

The Red Sox now have seven days to either trade, release, or sneak Schreiber through waivers if he is not claimed by another club first.

Turning to the next move made by the Sox on Tuesday, infielder Michael Chavis and right-handed reliever Colten Brewer were both optioned to the club’s alternate training site in Worcester.

The 25-year-old Chavis had been competing with fellow infielder Christian Arroyo for one of Boston’s final bench spots, and it even seemed like both could make the team’s Opening Day roster if Cordero was not going to be ready in time.

But with Cordero getting the go-ahead, Arroyo and Chavis essentially become redundant since they both hit from the right side of the plate. And with Arroyo being out of minor-league options, the decision became clear that Chavis would be the one receiving a demotion.

This news comes in spite of the fact that Chavis had a solid spring (.892 OPS in 65 plate appearances), but it goes without saying that the Georgia native still has some things to work on at the plate after struggling to the tune of a .212/.259/.377 slash line across 42 games in 2020.

Having written all that, it would not be all that surprising to see Chavis back up with the Sox sooner rather than later. He has, after all, only played 29 career games at the Triple-A level, so perhaps he can use this demotion as a way to better himself once the Triple-A season begins in May.

As for Brewer, the 28-year-old was also embroiled in a spring competition for one of Boston’s final bullpen spots. That competition was ultimately won by fellow righty Phillips Valdez, though neither Valdez (9.35 ERA in 8 1/3 innings) nor Brewer (9.95 ERA in 6 1/3 innings) looked particularly sharp in Grapefruit League play.

As noted by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo, “Valdez and Brewer will be easily interchangeable, as both can be optioned to and from Worcester as the Red Sox choose. Brewer (4.59 ERA in 80 ⅓ innings in two seasons with Boston) will likely be one of the first relievers called up if Boston needs a relief arm.”

With all these moves being made, the Red Sox’ 40-man roster is at full capacity. More transactions are likely to come — with Eduardo Rodriguez and Ryan Brasier being placed on the injured list among them — but for now, here’s how Boston’s 26-man Opening Day roster should shape up come Thursday morning:

Starting rotation (5): Nathan Eovaldi, Tanner Houck, Martin Perez, Nick Pivetta, Garrett Richards

Bullpen (9): Matt Andriese, Garrett Whitlock, Austin Brice, Darwinzon Hernandez, Josh Taylor, Hirokazu Sawamura, Phillips Valdez, Adam Ottavino, Matt Barnes

Catchers (2): Christian Vazquez, Kevin Plawecki

Infielders (6): Bobby Dalbec, Enrique Hernandez, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Marwin Gonzalez, Christian Arroyo

Outfielders (4): Alex Verdugo, Hunter Renfroe, J.D. Martinez, Franchy Cordero

(Picture of Michael Chavis: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Red Sox pitching prospect Bryan Mata ‘will get back into a throwing program before too long to test’ out elbow following slight UCL tear

Earlier this month, an MRI revealed that top Red Sox pitching prospect Bryan Mata suffered a slight tear in his right ulnar collateral ligament after he experienced soreness behind his right triceps.

At that time, Red Sox manager Alex Cora said the plan would be to shut down Mata for an extended period before treating his injury without surgery.

It’s been a little less than three weeks since Cora revealed these plans regarding Mata’s road to recovery, and Red Sox pitching coach Dave Bush provided an update Wednesday afternoon on how the 21-year-old right-hander is holding up.

“He’s in a rehab protocol right now,” Bush said. “There’s some strengthening exercises they’re doing. A whole variety. I’m not even sure exactly what they all are. But he will get back into a throwing program before too long to test it out and build from there. I don’t have a lot of specifics on it just because he’s [spent] more time with the trainers lately. Certainly he’s not throwing, not on the mound. But I still see him every day. He’s in here every day doing his rehab work and working back towards the throwing program.”

Mata, who turns 22 in May, is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 4 prospect in Boston’s farm system, ranking tops among pitchers in the organization.

The Venezuelan hurler — listed at 6-foot-3 and 227 pounds — spent the entirety of the 2020 season at the Sox’ alternate training site in Worcester, where his fastball sat between 96-97 mph.

He also took part in the club’s fall instructional league and came into the spring projected to begin the 2021 campaign at the alternate site, which is now in Worcester, with the chance to perhaps make his big-league debut later this year.

Now that he has been sidelined for the time being, though, the Red Sox will have to look elsewhere for internal starting rotation depth.

“With Bryan Mata on the IL right now, I’d probably say Connor Seabold is in that mix,” said Bush. “We also have a handful of minor league free agents that we signed. Some of them we signed last year and had at the alternate site.”

Stephen Gonsalves, Daniel Gossett, Kyle Hart, and Matt Hall were among the pitchers Bush named who are not currently on Boston’s 40-man roster but do have big-league experience.

As noted by MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith, this group of pitchers will likely start out the year at the alternate training site.

“So we have a clump of guys that we’re going to get stretched out in Worcester,” Bush said. “And [we will] have them available for whatever we need, whenever we need it.”

(Picture of Bryan Mata: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox top prospect Jeter Downs suffers injury to left side in Sunday’s game against Twins, will be evaluated on Monday

After coming on as a defensive replacement at shortstop for Marwin Gonzalez in the sixth inning of Sunday’s 5-5 draw against the Twins, Red Sox infield prospect Jeter Downs would have to leave the game an inning later.

Fielding a ground ball off the bat of Jose Miranda to lead off the bottom half of the seventh, the 22-year-old dove to his left, landed hard on his side, and as NESN’s Jerry Remy put it, “never got a handle on the baseball” as Miranda reached first base safely without a throw.

Upon getting back on his feet, it appeared that Downs was a bit shaken up as he crouched down in front of second base, leading to Red Sox manager Alex Cora and associate head athletic trainer Brandon Henry coming out to check up on the young infielder.

Following a brief conversation between the three, Downs exited the game and was replaced by Chad De La Guerra at shortstop while fellow top prospect Triston Casas took over at third base.

During his postgame media availability, Cora couldn’t get into the specifics about what was hampering Downs, only assuring that more information will be revealed on Monday.

“They checked him and it seems like he’s OK,” Cora said via Zoom. “They’re going to obviously wait for him tomorrow, see how he feels at night, and we’ll have more tomorrow.

“It was his left side,” he added. “We can’t say it’s an oblique injury or just a bruise. We’ll wait until tomorrow.”

Downs, who was one of three players the Red Sox acquired from the Dodgers in the Mookie Betts/David Price trade last February, is currently regarded by Baseball America as Boston’s No. 2 prospect behind only Casas.

The right-handed hitting middle infielder out of Colombia was reassigned to minor-league camp on Friday and is projected to begin the 2021 season at the Sox’ alternate training site in Worcester.

(Picture of Alex Cora, Jeter Downs, and Brandon Henry: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Might recently-signed Danny Santana cost Christian Arroyo his spot on Red Sox’ roster?

Could the Red Sox signing utilityman Danny Santana to a minor-league contract on Thursday ultimately cost Christian Arroyo his spot on the club’s 40-man roster. One writer in particular — MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo — thinks that may be the case.

In his weekly notes column for MassLive, Cotillo made 10 predictions for the Sox’ 2021 season, and one of those predictions was that Santana makes the team out of spring training after winning the competition for the final bench spot.

“Though he’s a late entrant into the competition for Boston’s final bench spot, Santana is actually a better fit for the roster than the club’s other options,” Cotillo wrote Friday. “The other three competitors — Christian Arroyo, Michael Chavis and Yairo Muñoz — are all right-handed hitters, which limits Alex Cora to an extent.”

Cotillo notes that while the handedness of the hitters on the Red Sox’ bench would change on a game-to-game basis, “the fact that the backup catcher (Kevin Plawecki) is right-handed means a left-handed bat would be preferable.”

As currently constructed, Jonathan Arauz and Marwin Gonzalez are the only infielders on Boston’s 40-man roster who can hit from the left side of the plate, as both are switch-hitters.

Arauz, who is still just 22 years old, figures to begin the 2021 season at the Sox’ alternate training site in Worcester to continue his development, while Gonzalez, who inked a one-year, $3 million pact with Boston last month, figures to see most of his playing time come in left field as opposed to the infield.

Having said that, Cora and Co. are somewhat limited in what they can do in regards to bench flexibility. That is where Santana — a switch-hitter — comes into play.

In seven major-league seasons between the Twins, Braves, and Rangers, the 30-year-old out of the Dominican owns a lifetime .266/.304/.422 slash line against right-handed pitching and a lifetime .243/.287/.407 slash line against left-handed pitching going back to 2014. He has also seen playing time at every defensive position besides pitcher and catcher.

Arroyo, who unlike Chavis is out of minor-league options and unlike Munoz is on Boston’s 40-man roster, unsurprisingly owns a lifetime .213/.297/.381 slash line in 176 career plate appearances against righties dating back to 2017. He has seen playing time at just three different positions: second base, third base, and shortstop.

Taking those points into consideration, Santana — as noted by Cotillo — “makes more sense than the others,” including Arroyo.

Coming into the spring, Arroyo seemed like almost a lock to make the Red Sox’ Opening Day roster considering the fact that he is out of minor-league options like Nick Pivetta is.

The 25-year-old former top prospect had a decent showing in limited action with the Sox last season, going 12-for-50 (.240) at the plate with three home runs, eight RBI, and four walks over 14 September contests (54 plate appearances).

If Boston were to roll with Santana over Arroyo out of the gate, though, that would likely mark the end of Arroyo’s run on the club’s 40-man roster.

In other words, you could see a transaction where the Red Sox purchase Santana’s contract — and in doing so add him to their major-league roster — while designating Arroyo for assignment to clear a roster spot.

The goal then, as Cotillo writes, would be for the Red Sox “to try to sneak Arroyo through waivers” while both Chavis and Munoz would be optioned down to the alternate site.

In this scenario, this would not be the first time the Sox designated Arroyo, as they did the very same thing just days after claiming the Florida native off waivers from the Indians last August.

For what it’s worth, Santana, who turns 31 in November, is only under club control through the end of the 2021 season. Arroyo, meanwhile, turns 26 in May and is under club control through the 2024 season.

According to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, Santana will earn a base salary of $1.75 million if he makes it to the majors with the Red Sox this year with the chance to earn an additional $1 million in incentives and another $100,000 in the form of a bonus if he starts at Triple-A.

Those contract details, per Cotillo, makes it “seem like the Red Sox have plans to bring him up to the majors.”

We will have to wait and see if those hypothetical plans come to fruition before Opening Day.

(Picture of Christian Arroyo: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox add veteran catcher Jett Bandy to spring training roster

The Red Sox have added catcher Jett Bandy to their 2021 spring training roster as a non-roster invitee, the team announced Monday morning.

Bandy, 31 in March, spent the entirety of the 2020 season in Boston’s 60-man player pool, though he never saw any major-league action and was instead limited to taxi squad duties.

The Sox originally signed the California native to a minor-league contract in December 2019, likely with the idea that he would serve as upper-minors catching depth with Triple-A Pawtucket alongside Juan Centeno.

That vision never came to fruition, though, as the 2020 minor-league season was eventually cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Bandy did however make the cut for Boston’s 60-man player pool, which resulted in him spending the year at the club’s alternate training site in Pawtucket when he was not part of the aforementioned taxi squad.

Prior to signing with the Red Sox, the veteran backstop had spent parts of four big-league seasons with the Angels and Brewers from 2015-2018.

Over that span in which he appeared in 156 total games and accrued 492 plate appearances, Bandy slashed .218/.282/.365 to go along with 16 home runs and 45 RBI. He also threw out 31 of the 98 base runners (32%) who attempted to steal against him.

With the addition of Bandy, Boston now has nine catchers at big-league camp not named Kevin Plawecki, who is still on the team’s COVID-19 related injured list.

The addition of Bandy also increases the Sox’ spring training roster to 72 players (excluding Plawecki). Teams this spring are not allowed to carry more than 75 players at any given time.

Taking that into consideration, the Red Sox will likely need to do a little bit of roster shuffling once Plawecki is ready to come back and once the Marwin Gonzalez signing is made official. So stay tuned for that.

(Picture of Jett Bandy: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

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.