By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Red Sox traded Mookie Betts. It happened. And while it’s alright to be sad the organization traded their most talented homegrown player of at least the last two decades, pitchers and catchers reporting is just six days away. While the Sox move forward into Spring Training without Betts, we should as well. That being said, let’s take a look at the players the Red Sox got in return for Betts, starting with outfielder Alex Verdugo.
Verdugo isn’t quite a prospect given he spent the majority of 2019 in the majors with the Dodgers. In 106 games, he hit .294 with 12 home runs and 44 RBIs while playing all three outfield positions (52 games in center field, 16 in right, 14 in left). At just 23 years old though, he possesses major offensive upside and at the very least should become an above-average offensive weapon and a capable fielder.
Verdugo is a rarity in the modern MLB, a pure contact hitter with average-at-best power. And while his pop could improve with time, his ability to barrel balls and spray line drives to all fields plays in any era. Spending 81 games a year at Fenway Park should help his overall production, with a short right field line but a lot of ground for the right fielder to cover. Here’s how he distributed the ball in 2019 (via Fangraphs):
Defensively, the most impressive part of Verdugo’s game is his arm. He originally drew interest from MLB teams as a hard-throwing lefty in high school, but wanted to play as a position player at the next level. Check out this throw he made while playing at Fenway against the Red Sox last season:
While he unquestionably has the arm to play right field at Fenway, his speed and ability to cover ground could be a concern. It would make sense if the Red Sox plan to start him out in right field but move him to center, his natural position, after trading or not re-signing Jackie Bradley at the end of the season.
The issues with Verdugo come off the field. There are legitimate questions when it comes to his maturity. On a ‘red flag’ level, there was an incident involving an assault in a hotel room during Verdugo’s time in the minor leagues that was never fully investigated.
On a more superficial level, he seems to have a strong personality that could clash in a veteran locker room. In fact, there was an incident last year that involved him being scolded publicly by long-time major leaguer Rich Hill.
There are a number of videos on the Dodgers YouTube page that show what Verdugo is like when he’s not playing the game. They paint a picture of a young, cocky player who may expect more from his teammates and the game than he has earned. While that certainly doesn’t guarantee he will be an issue (many athletes have used this mindset to fuel great careers), it’s an interesting dynamic to add to a locker room chemistry that has now lost two of its key voices (Betts, Alex Cora) in a little under a month.
On the field, Verdugo is an electric player with superstar potential. His game strongly resembles his now-teammate Andrew Benintendi, although the 23-year-old seems to be miles ahead of Benintendi’s developmental curve. If the Red Sox can help him grow up and keep him in control off the field, he may be able to prove that trading Mookie Betts was almost worth it.
Now on to pitcher Brusdar Graterol. The 21-year-old righty throws a fastball-slider-changeup combo, although it’s the heater that’s his signature pitch. He has the ability to regularly run it into the 100-plus MPH range, and with movement.
Graterol made his MLB debut last September, throwing 9.2 innings of relief over 10 games. He posted a 4.66 ERA (with a very limited sample size), while striking out 10 hitters and walking just two. That kind of control, paired with his electric fastball and above-average slider are a rare combination and what make him one of the elite pitching prospects in the game.
The concern with Graterol is health. He missed two months last season with an injury to his throwing shoulder, and before that missed all of 2016 and part of 2017 due to elbow surgery. These issues combined with his hard-throwing style beg the question, can the Red Sox keep him in the starting rotation, or is his ultimate place in the bullpen to limit wear and tear. Either way, there will need to be a buildup. He has never thrown more than 102 innings in a season. So having him in the rotation starting in April seems out of the question. His 6-foot-1, 265 pound frame is a lot to carry which doesn’t help, although keep in mind pitchers dropping weight can be more detrimental than helpful, as was the case a few years ago with CC Sabathia.
Basically, the Red Sox’ return for Mookie Betts and David Price boils down to a potential perennial All-Star bat at the top of the lineup if he continues to develop at his current pace, and a possible front-end to middle of the rotation starter if he can stay healthy. Far from a sure thing, but not quite the bust of a return it’s being portrayed as either. While it certainly won’t be the same watching the Red Sox without Mookie Betts, the Red Sox didn’t leave themselves empty-handed either. It’ll be a few years before we know if either or both investments pay off, but Verdugo and Graterol are far from a bad starting spot to reset the roster.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Hate mail? Let him hear it on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at Alexander.Barth@bbgi.com.