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Zolak & Bertrand

Zolak & Bertrand

Zolak & Bertrand

Pitchers and catchers reported, games started, and the Red Sox are now two weeks into spring training with several names making some noise in camp. It extends from veterans that are solidified on the big league roster to a certain teenager that resembles prime Christian Yelich. Plenty can change over the next month that will shape the Opening Day roster and the outlook for certain prospects moving forward, but these are the guys who have hit the ground running in 2024.

One quick note, I did want to dive into C.J. Cron agreeing to a minor-league deal with the Red Sox. If he makes the Opening Day roster, he’ll make $2 MM with up to $500,000 in possible bonuses. Due to his time in the big leagues, he also has an opt-out 5 days before Opening Day like Joely Rodriguez and Roberto Perez.

Throughout the offseason, the Red Sox have been attached to a number of right-handed bats ranging from Teoscar Hernandez to Adam Duvall, and it seems like they finally settled on one with Cron. He’ll be competing with Bobby Dalbec over the next few weeks for the final spot on the roster. Cron offers a higher floor with the bat, while Dalbec offers more versatility defensively.

Cron is coming off his worst offensive season since 2017 (98 OPS+), but a lingering back injury played a major part with him landing on the IL 3 different times. Currently, he seems best suited as a lefty masher that can give Triston Casas breathers and rotate through the DH spot from time to time. It feels like a tall order to expect him to be the 130 OPS+ slugger he was from 2020 to 2021, especially after leaving the likes of Coors Field.

Still, Cron has always shown that he’s not scared of lefties with a career slash line of .266/.324/.490/.814. For a Red Sox lineup lacking a bit from the right side, he has the chance to at least bridge the gap a bit. If he breaks out and forces himself into the lineup more than expected, then he becomes an intriguing chip around the trade deadline.

Tyler Milliken ⚾️ on Twitter: "According to @chadjennings22, the Red Sox have signed CJ Cron to a minor league deal.Looks like he'll going head to head with Bobby Dalbec for a spot on the Red Sox bench.pic.twitter.com/jpOeRpdGPz / Twitter"

According to @chadjennings22, the Red Sox have signed CJ Cron to a minor league deal.Looks like he'll going head to head with Bobby Dalbec for a spot on the Red Sox bench.pic.twitter.com/jpOeRpdGPz

It’s interesting to see how Cron’s lack of versatility didn’t stop him from landing in Boston. As Ceddanne Rafaela continues to surge early this spring, I can’t help but think Dalbec’s versatility becomes a lot less useful with the outfield picture being even more crowded. Cron’s track record at the plate should also protect them a bit if Rafaela needs some time to find himself offensively throughout the season.

Another thing that helps is Cron has excelled at Fenway Park in his career. On top of a 2-homer game at the ballpark in 2016, he’s hit .328/.377/.655/1.033 with 6 HR and 3 doubles in 16 games. Despite not being as pull heavy as someone like Duvall, his power has always made him a threat with the Green Monster in left field.

Clearly, the Red Sox have their doubts about Dalbec being able to produce regularly in a bench role. That might be a tough pillow to swallow for the former fourth-round pick, but this is good business for the Red Sox. There’s no risk in giving Cron a chance to run with the role.

Cron isn’t even far from his last season as an above-average bat, which was 2022. He put together a 108 OPS+ with 29 homers and 28 doubles in 105 games. That might not match Justin Turner and Adam Duvall’s production from 2023, but it’s at least a flier that has the potential to make up for some of it.

Ultimately, you wish they’d aim higher with nearly $31 MM remaining before they hit the first luxury tax. Yet, this is the reality of the parameters Craig Breslow has been working within and his focus on having a rotating cast at DH.

So, back to what’s been happening at Fenway South…

  • 1. Nick Sogard (7.6 OppQual)

    Tyler Milliken ⚾️ on Twitter: "Nick Sogard with a 2-run blast after the Red Sox melted down in the top of the inning. Eric Sogard's cousin.Feel like he'll stick around as a utility guy for a long time. pic.twitter.com/I6yBmWV8n0 / Twitter"

    Nick Sogard with a 2-run blast after the Red Sox melted down in the top of the inning. Eric Sogard's cousin.Feel like he'll stick around as a utility guy for a long time. pic.twitter.com/I6yBmWV8n0

    Over the years, there have been countless spring legends for the Red Sox ranging from Sam Travis to Ryan Fitzgerald and it feels like Nick Sogard might be adding his name to the mix. He’s already appeared in 5 out of the first 8 games of camp, going 4-for-10 with 2 homers, 1 double, and 5 RBI. His versatility has been on display as well, spending time at third base, second base, and shortstop, with more outfield work likely on the horizon. 

    Sogard was traded to the Red Sox along with Ronaldo Hernandez for Jeffrey Springs right before the 2021 season. He made it up to AAA last year for 65 games and showed some intriguing on-base skills with a .266/.370/.391/.762 batting line. Not much power, but for a utility type that can help out almost anywhere defensively and put together consistent professional at-bats, there’s a chance to stick around in the bigs for a long time.

    I must add, Sogard is also the cousin of Eric Sogard, who finished second in MLB Network’s “Face of the MLB” competition back in 2014. It wouldn’t shock me one bit if this generation’s Sogard has a similar career. He might not have the highest ceiling, but we’ll likely see him on the Red Sox bench at some point in 2024, where his swiss army knife profile should shine through.

  • 2. Rafael Devers (7.2 OppQual)

    Tyler Milliken ⚾️ on Twitter: "Kinda wild that Rafael Devers didn't hit an oppo homer from June 10th through September 15th last year.2022 was his best offensive season with an OPS+ of 141. Oppo% of 26.6%.In 2023, he was at 24.1%. He's at his best when shooting the ball all over.pic.twitter.com/Y5D7uKuOhE / Twitter"

    Kinda wild that Rafael Devers didn't hit an oppo homer from June 10th through September 15th last year.2022 was his best offensive season with an OPS+ of 141. Oppo% of 26.6%.In 2023, he was at 24.1%. He's at his best when shooting the ball all over.pic.twitter.com/Y5D7uKuOhE

    From a 26-year-old utility prospect, to the face of the franchise in Rafael Devers. He’s only appeared in 3 games so far, but he’s 3-for-7 with two opposite field homers and hasn’t struck out once. It’s huge to see him consistently going the other way with the baseball again because he didn’t do that once from June 10th to September 15th last season.

    Nobody is expecting Devers to maintain a 57.1% Oppo% into the regular season, but his 24.1% mark last year was a step back from what he did in 2022 (26.6%). That was also his best offensive season, as he posted a 141 OPS+ that topped what he did in 2019 (132) and 2021 (134), where he finished higher in MVP voting. It looks like he’s made an adjustment by lowering his hands at the plate, which allows him to get in a hitting position quicker with a little less overall movement.

    If the Red Sox are going to surprise people in 2024, they’re going to need an MVP type season from Devers. Even off the field, he’s been stepping up as a leader and speaking out on the team needing more help. It feels like he’s growing into being the face of the franchise on and off the field, which makes sense considering this is the first season his 10-year, $313.5 MM extension kicks in.

    Also, loved this defense from Devers. He always makes the tough plays look easy and it’s the routine plays that eat him up. Still, I’m hoping this is a sign of things to come for him in 2024.

  • 3. Justin Slaten (8.0 OppQual)

    MLB: Boston Red Sox-Media Day

    Feb 20, 2024; Lee County, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Justin Slaten (63) poses for a photo during media day at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

    Heading into spring training, it felt like there was a showdown for the last bullpen spot between Justin Slaten and Bryan Mata. Both need to be on the Opening Day roster due to Slaten being a Rule 5 pick and Mata being completely out of options. But with Mata suffering a hamstring strain, he’s fallen behind and Slaten has run with the opportunity.

    In 3 outings, Slaten hasn’t given up a run and has racked up 3 strikeouts without a walk. He did allow two baserunners in his first outing thanks to a hit by pitch and a single, but since then he’s harnessed his control. Alex Cora made it a point that he wanted to see Slaten throw strikes this spring and so far he’s done a great job of that.

    Another big thing for Slaten is that he’s a Breslow guy. The Red Sox were gushing over him this winter when he came over from the Mets for Ryan Ammons and cash considerations. Mata doesn’t have that working in his favor, since he’s been in the organization for nearly a decade with more injuries than anyone can remember.

     

  • 4. Ceddanne Rafaela (8.3 OppQual)

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - AUGUST 30: Ceddanne Rafaela #43 of the Boston Red Sox hits an RBI double during the sixth inning against the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 30, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Paul Rutherford/Getty Images)

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – AUGUST 30: Ceddanne Rafaela #43 of the Boston Red Sox hits an RBI double during the sixth inning against the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 30, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Paul Rutherford/Getty Images)

    On the first day of spring training, Cora made headlines by saying Ceddanne Rafaela would have a shot at the starting center fielder job. So far, he’s showing that he deserves to be in Seattle on Opening Day. It’s not about just the numbers either, but the decisions he’s making at the plate.

    Rafaela is 4-for-11 with a double, which is a nice sign, but what catches my eye is that he has walked (4) more than he’s struckout (3). Just looking at this at-bat from yesterday’s game against the Tigers, it’s clear he’s spitting on pitches that are right outside the strike zone. If he can sustain that approach, it should stop him from getting exposed like he did in September last season.

    As usual, Rafaela has also impressed defensively with a couple nice plays in center field. On the basepaths, he’s been extremely aggressive with 2 steals and 1 caught stealing. He’d only have one stolen base if it wasn’t for a nifty slide against the Cardinals, which is something to keep an eye since he was getting thrown out a lot at AAA last year, but this is the type of athleticism the Red Sox have been yearning for.

  • 5. Roman Anthony (6.7 OppQual)

    Roman Anthony is only 19. It doesn’t come off that way with how he’s carried himself on and off the field this spring. But despite playing the least amount of games of anyone on this list, I can’t help but think about how mature he’s looked at the plate.

    Anthony has only 5 plate appearances and he’s reached base in 4 of them thanks to 2 walks and 2 singles. Initially, the Red Sox were hesitant to put him in big league spring training games, but third base coach/outfield instructor Kyle Hudson kept begging until they caved. Now, Anthony has become a name fans are checking the lineup for each day.

    Not that Anthony has been brutal in center field, but he did get a tough jump on a ball against the Twins that fell in for a single. That serves as more of a sign of what he still needs to work on defensively, which will be a major part of his development since evaluators expect him to eventually land in a corner. He just screams Yelich with his current profile at the plate and the chance to stick in center early in his career.

  • 6. Justin Hagenman (5.2 OppQual)

    Tyler Milliken ⚾️ on Twitter: "According to @TomCaron, Justin Hagenman is one of the relievers coming back to the Red Sox.Has spent all of 2023 in AAA:55 IP2.78 ERA/4.88 FIP9.8 K/91.8 BB/91.6 HR/9Age-26 season. pic.twitter.com/PyUF2VmKMv / Twitter"

    According to @TomCaron, Justin Hagenman is one of the relievers coming back to the Red Sox.Has spent all of 2023 in AAA:55 IP2.78 ERA/4.88 FIP9.8 K/91.8 BB/91.6 HR/9Age-26 season. pic.twitter.com/PyUF2VmKMv

    Justin Hangenman went under the radar after coming over from the Dodgers in the Kiké Hernandez trade last summer, but he’s shown to at least be an intriguing depth arm. So far this spring, he’s put together 3 scoreless outings (3 IP) with 5 strikeouts and no walks. For a guy who didn’t miss a ton of bats last season (8.3 K/9) and allowed his fair share of walks (4.2), this is a nice trend.

    It’s not hard to imagine Hagenman becoming an up-and-down swingman for the Red Sox over the next few years. He’s worked as both a multi-inning reliever and starter, so he can fill a bunch of roles in a pinch. Plus his slider generates some whiffs, with 5 against the Tigers in just 1 inning of work yesterday.

  • 7. Trevor Story (6.6 OppQual)

    One of the most talked about storylines this spring has been whether Trevor Story’s bat will finally bounce back and so far the results have been good in this small sample. He’s only appeared in 3 games but has doubled twice in 7 at-bats. The strikeouts are still there with 3 so far, which he definitely needs to cut down in 2024, nevertheless he’s also walked twice.

    Another component to Story’s doubles is that they have come on breaking balls. He struggled immensely with them after returning from his interior brace procedure last year, resulting in an .070 batting average and .088 slugging percentage. Getting his timing back against those pitches will only help avoid his third straight season with a K% over 30%.

    While Story has carried a different tone than Devers off the field, I have a ton of respect for it. He doesn’t have the standing to call out ownership in any capacity with his struggles since signing in Boston, so he’s letting everyone know not to sleep on this club. It’s something that has been lacking with the departure of Turner, so props to him for trying to fill that role and putting his arm around the younger guys with Camp Story.

  • HONORABLE MENTIONS

    Zach Penrod, LHP

    Tyler Milliken ⚾️ on Twitter: "Zach Penrod has been named an American League Fall Star in the AFL.Hell of a journey considering he signed out of indy ball in August.14 IP (4 GS)1.29 ERA14 K8 BB9 HitsHe's 26, but 94-97 from the left side will always open some eyes.pic.twitter.com/IW0hlkbzmk / Twitter"

    Zach Penrod has been named an American League Fall Star in the AFL.Hell of a journey considering he signed out of indy ball in August.14 IP (4 GS)1.29 ERA14 K8 BB9 HitsHe's 26, but 94-97 from the left side will always open some eyes.pic.twitter.com/IW0hlkbzmk

    Zach Penrod has been one of the better stories in the Red Sox organization after getting signed out of independent ball last summer and shining at High-A and in the Arizona Fall League. He’s only pitched in one official game this spring, where he struck out the side after walking two batters and giving up a hit. But he did make his 2024 debut against Northeastern, where he also struck out the side and caught some eyes.

    While Penrod will be pitching in his age-27 season this year, he’s an arm to follow. If he can throw more strikes, there’s potential for a dangerous multi-inning lefty out of the bullpen.

  • Blaze Jordan (OppQual 7.2)

    Tyler Milliken ⚾️ on Twitter: "Blaze Jordan puts the Red Sox up 1-0 with an RBI single.He looks great this spring. You can really tell the difference with the weight he lost. pic.twitter.com/kMWDcgn7Sq / Twitter"

    Blaze Jordan puts the Red Sox up 1-0 with an RBI single.He looks great this spring. You can really tell the difference with the weight he lost. pic.twitter.com/kMWDcgn7Sq

    It’s been only 4 at-bats for Jordan but he’s done his thing and smoked 3 singles. I’m more focused on his body, where he put in the work this offseason by dropping roughly 20 pounds. He looks a lot more athletic in the field and this could set the stage for him to start making some noise in the prospect rankings again.

  • Chris Murphy (OppQual 8.2)

    Jul 30, 2023; San Francisco, California, USA; Boston Red Sox pitcher Chris Murphy (72) delivers a pitch against the San Francisco Giants during the sixth inning at Oracle Park. Mandatory Credit: D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

    Jul 30, 2023; San Francisco, California, USA; Boston Red Sox pitcher Chris Murphy (72) delivers a pitch against the San Francisco Giants during the sixth inning at Oracle Park. Mandatory Credit: D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

    Chris Murphy has a chance to be the best lefty in the Red Sox bullpen if he gets back to the arm we saw for a majority of last summer. He’s faced good competition this spring and hasn’t given up any runs in 4 innings of work. That includes 4 strikeouts and no walks, which is what you’re hoping for with the stuff he offers from the left side.

    Mark Contreras (OppQual 7.9)

    If everything goes right, Mark Contreras will only be depth for the Red Sox, but he’s hit well to start the spring. He smoked a home run against Northeastern and then went deep again against the Orioles. That’s left him with an .855 OPS through 12 at-bats.

  • Connor Wong/Mark Kolozsvary/Tyler Heineman:

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - MAY 02: Connor Wong #12 of the Boston Red Sox celebrates in front of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 of the Toronto Blue Jays after hitting a home run during the sixth inning at Fenway Park on May 02, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – MAY 02: Connor Wong #12 of the Boston Red Sox celebrates in front of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. #27 of the Toronto Blue Jays after hitting a home run during the sixth inning at Fenway Park on May 02, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    I’m going to combine these three since they all factor into the catching situation. Connor Wong finally returns to the defensive side of things today after dealing with elbow soreness and a bruised knuckle. Even with those nagging issues, he’s swung the bat well going 3-for-7 with a double in 3 games.

    Mark Kolozsvary and Tyler Heineman have both been red hot against solid competition, which is nice considering they’re here for their defense. Cora didn’t commit to Reese McGuire as the back-up catcher at the start of camp, but it’s clear they still like him. Roberto Perez will factor into this conversation as well, especially since he finally made his spring debut yesterday.

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