Making Sense of the Assets Chaim Bloom Leaves Behind in Boston — Part 1, Position Players
If you’re reading this and haven’t yet read the introduction to this series, I suggest you read that first at this link. Otherwise, dig in. Below you’ll find an assessment of what can be expected of each of the Red Sox’s position players who are contracted long term to the ball club. Keep in mind the following: the easier to assess a given player is, the less airtime they’ve gotten in this piece. I’m not here to insult your intelligence by telling you good players are good; I’m here to talk about things you (hopefully) don’t know, or aren’t yet sure about. Let’s dig in.
I won’t go into too much detail here. He’s been one of the best hitters in baseball during the second half of the season. His plate discipline is nuts. His raw power is nuts. If his defense improves, which there’s no reason to believe it won’t, this guy is a lineup anchor for the next decade and a likely perennial 3.5–4.5 WAR player going forward.
Verdict: Cornerstone first baseman.
Connor Wong is fun. I want to love him. He’s a catcher with a 70 grade arm, tantalizing in-game power and elite speed relative to his position. The pitching staff also seemingly loves him. That’s a high level description of a guy who should be (and, frankly, is) a fan favorite.
However, there are definitely plenty of reasons to be cautious on Wong as well. Scouts don’t think he’s a very good framer. Baseball Savant agrees — Wong’s -5 grade on Statcast’s Framing metric places him in the 15th percentile league wide. This ultimately may not be consequential with the increasingly imminent arrival of The Roboump Who Was Promised in coming years, but for now framing remains the most valuable defensive contribution a catcher can make. Statcast also does not love his blocking ability, but that seems less likely to stick as an issue of his given his athleticism. In general this paints the picture of a guy who can perhaps give you above-average defense at catcher, but probably not truly elite production without a rule change behind the plate.
Where I’m really iffy on Wong is not behind the plate, but rather in the batter’s box. This year Wong has slashed a respectable .245/.299/.406 with 9 HRs in roughly 400 plate appearances. If Wong’s true talent level at the plate involves that slash line, and his defense winds up truly elite, then you have a perennial 3+ WAR catcher and franchise cornerstone on your hands. However, the numbers behind Wong’s tolerable performance at the plate are far less kind. For starters, his 31.9% K rate paired with a 5.9% BB rate affords him almost no margin for error — the contact he does make has to be very good contact, probably in the air, to have real value when striking out that much and walking so little. Unfortunately, that’s just not been true. He has a .347 BABIP (a high figure), but he’s done that without hitting the ball very hard (31.9% hard hit rate, 33rd percentile) and hitting it on the ground very often (41.8% GB rate). He’s not hitting lots of soft line drives like Luis Arraez, either. This indicates that, more likely than not, he’s just running a bit hot with the ball in play, and some regression is due. His expected batting average of .213 corroborates that.
That’s not to say that Wong can’t maintain offensive performance like what he managed this year, but rather that if he is to do so he’ll have to improve significantly in terms of his quality or frequency of contact. Neither of those things is impossible, but I wouldn’t say either is likely either. That leaves us in an odd place with Wong — a young, versatile player with some of (but not all) the necessary defensive skills at a premium position, albeit one who might be closer to a bad bat than a below-average one. My general feeling here is that replacing him would almost certainly be more expensive than it would be worth, but I can also see an argument for selling high here. It all depends on where you see his development going. Given that his game calling ability seems to be held in high regard, and the fact that the Sox really can’t risk putting a pitching staff with major holes at an even greater disadvantage, I’m inclined to regard Wong as a starter for next season. Worst case scenario he’s a pretty high end backup for the perhaps more-imminently-arriving-than-previously-anticipated Kyle Teel.
Verdict: Starting Catcher, for now, with a wide range of outcomes.
A year ago, a lot of people were upset about the trade of Christian Vazquez that sent the long time Sox catcher to Houston in exchange for two mid-level, high minors prospects. Though that dissatisfaction was understandable because of where the team were in the standings and how confusing that deadline was, the trade itself has proven to be (and, frankly, clearly was at the time) a prudent one. Vazquez has gone on to do very little in the way of actual major league production, World Series no-hitter notwithstanding, and the two prospects the Sox got in exchange both look to have value of some kind to the major league ball club.
Wilyer Abreu is one of those prospects.
The long story short on Abreu is that he has very good raw power (112.7 maximum exit velocity across all levels this season) and very good plate discipline (12% swinging strike rate, 11% walk rate). He also has a plus arm in the outfield, and his ability to steal bases is generally highly regarded by scouts, though he’s been running less for the Sox than he did in the Astros system. His range in the outfield is middling, but he can definitely play the corners at the very least.
Despite all of that, Abreu never really got much, if any, prospect hype. He was consistently in the teens in the system level prospect rankings across various sites, and most were down on his hit tool, casting doubt on his ability to make contact with the ball frequently enough to take advantage of his power. Fangraphs wrote the following of Abreu in June of this year:
The flimsiness of the hit tool is what separates him from a plug-and-play corner platoon bat like Seth Smith or Matt Joyce, the 45 FV prototypes of that role. His tools are still solid enough for him to impact the game in a low-end version of that role, and if it turns out his plate discipline is actually as good as it appeared to be on the surface of his 2022 and 2023 stats, then he belongs a tier above this.
And soxprospects.com has the following in his scouting report on their site:
Potential up-and-down depth outfielder. Ceiling of a major league platoon outfielder. Development of hit tool will determine his major league potential. Has raw power and will take a walk, but needs to cut down on his swing-and-miss and show he can consistently make contact and impact the baseball against advanced pitching.
The way it’s worked out in the MLB so far? Abreu is slashing .364/.435/.509 in a tiny sample size of 62 plate appearances. His walk rate and ISO are both down from triple A ball, and his BABIP is a smooth .500, but there has been a ton to like here. Abreu is still crushing the ball, and though his flyball rate is down a bit, that’s mostly been because he’s hitting line drives and rarely popping the ball up thus far. His baseball savant page looks like a murder scene — it’s red everywhere. Despite his aforementioned .500 BABIP (indicating he’s had some luck in terms of hits falling in), his expected SLG of .498 is basically exactly in line with his real SLG of .509. I could continue to list off all of the metrics that show he’s hitting very well, but I assume by now that you’ve got the idea. His plate discipline has translated well, his power clearly plays, and so far whatever holes may exist in his swing haven’t stopped him from tapping into said power. I’m certainly not saying the scouts were wrong, but I think it’s possible that the issues with his hit tool were slightly overblown, and that that is what accounts for the gap in projection here.
If what he’s shown so far is the player Abreu truly is, he has the potential to become an everyday player depending on how extreme his platoon splits wind up being. If his reported trouble with high fastballs and the steady diet of righties he’s been fed thus far means he can’t hit like this indefinitely, he could still be a very valuable platoon bat in the outfield. In fact, though I’m definitely getting ahead of myself with this small sample, there’s even a very reasonable world wherein Abreu and lefty-killer Rob Refsnyder can handle an outfield spot on their own next season if whoever’s in charge wants to get aggressive with some of the team’s more valuable trade chips in the outfield. I certainly wouldn’t champion this as The Way, but I don’t think it would be crazy to move, for instance, both of Alex Verdugo and Jarren Duran this offseason in trades for pitching if the Sox can’t get what they need in Free Agency. Abreu plays into that flexibility. Call me a fool, but I think I’m sold.
Verdict: Long term 4th Outfielder, upside for more.
In order to talk about Masataka Yoshida, we have to start with taking a look at the player he was from April through July, and the player he’s been since.
Basically, through July, Yoshida was one of the best hitters in baseball. He was extremely difficult to strikeout, he hit the ball hard, and he’d take a walk when the opportunity presented itself.
Since? Yoshida has quite literally been the worst position player in baseball. Out of 153 qualified hitters since July 27th, Yoshida is 153rd in WAR with -1.2. The next closest hitters are, amusingly, Giancarlo Stanton and Andrew Benintendi, who both have -0.5 WAR in that time.
What’s changed? For the most part, there’s been some rough batted ball luck. When Yoshida does put the ball in play, he’s still hitting the ball on the ground at the same rate, and the same goes for flyball/line drive splits. He’s even improved his hard hit rate. An 80 point drop in BABIP without changing your batted ball tendencies is generally bad luck.
However, that doesn’t explain the entire change. While Yoshida’s perhaps been hard done by with the outcomes of balls in play, his behavior at the plate has made things harder. His strikeout rate has nearly doubled, from an elite 11.5% to an extremely pedestrian 19.5%. His walk rate has also been halved, from an acceptable 7.3% to a miniscule 3.6%. This is down to a combination of a few things: his swing rate is up — both in and out of the zone — and his contact rate is down — once again, both in and out of the zone. He’s swinging a lot more than before, and making contact a lot less frequently than he was before. That’s a bad combination. Even if Yoshida’s BABIP comes back up to where it was pre-August, the version of him that strikes out 20% of the time and walks only 4% of the time is simply not a productive enough bat to justify enduring his defense in left field, much less making him the full time DH.
All that said, I think it’s too early to sell on Yoshida. Is there a chance that MLB pitching has simply found him out? Yoshida does appear to be seeing far more soft stuff down and away in the zone in the second half, and that no doubt has played a big part in his difficulty both making good swing decisions and making contact when he does swing. As mentioned in the introduction to this piece, this weakness is something scouts noticed about Yoshida’s swing prior to his arrival in Boston — it’s not outlandish to suggest this is who he’ll be as a hitter going forward.
That’s the pessimist’s reading of events. There’s also a more optimistic reading: This season Yoshida has played more baseball, at a higher intensity, than he’s ever played in his life. The late season fade could easily be due to fatigue, and with a full offseason of MLB conditioning and a full time move to DH, you could have the Yoshida of the first half back.
My best guess? He lands somewhere in between. I do think MLB pitchers are pitching Yoshida differently, and I don’t expect that to change. That said, I also believe, given how much airtime Alex Cora has given the issue in press conferences, Yoshida is almost certainly tiring. Tired players play worse. Sometimes drastically. Beyond that, I also think it would be wildly paternalistic and naïve to assume that Yoshida — a famously methodical hitter, with a long professional career — is incapable of making a counter adjustment to how MLB pitchers are pitching him. 2 bad months does not make a bad hitter. Ultimately I expect Yoshida to recover to somewhere near his pre-August offensive line next season, perhaps with a slightly higher K rate (13–15% let’s say?) and a slightly lower BB rate (somewhere around 6%). That’s maybe not what you paid for, but it’s still a useful player, worth a few WAR if managed properly. I’ll tack on one last thing: I’m not sure he has much trade value, so I have very little doubt he’s part of the left field/DH equation next season.
Verdict: Short-Medium term DH. Not a cornerstone.
I’ll be entirely candid: I have no idea what to make of Jarren Duran.
There’s the good: Duran was fantastic this year. He made massive strides at the plate to the tune of a 120 wRC+. He also made massive strides in the field, where his previously occasionally comical center field defense was suddenly just fine. Lastly, rule changes seemed to allow him to leverage his plus plus speed into genuinely elite output on the basepaths.
That’s a description of a franchise cornerstone, right? What more could you want?!
Well, the advanced metrics kind of rain on the parade.
Whereas Duran put up an above-average .353 wOBA this season, his expected wOBA was a below-average .319. This is mostly down to outcomes on balls in play: Duran ran a scorching hot .381 BABIP in 2023. Even with his 96th percentile sprint speed and strong hard hit rate, that’s not a sustainable number. You could argue he’s the type of player to whom you say ‘just put the ball in play and see what happens,’ but the reality is that Duran just doesn’t put the ball in play very often — he strikes out 25% of the time — and he doesn’t get on via the base on balls route very often either, walking just 6% of the time. That’s concerning stuff. At a 51.1% swing rate, Duran simply swings more than the majority of good hitters. The only way to get away with that is to make hard contact, very often when you swing. He does make a ton of contact, especially in the zone (91.2% zone contact rate, 2nd highest on the team after Justin Turner), but he doesn’t do damage at the same rate that someone like Rafael Devers or Vladimir Guerrero does (note: Duran’s 90th percentile exit velocity is actually higher than Devers, but, crucially, Devers hits the ball hard more often). I think all of these things together probably land Duran’s true talent level closer to a league average bat than what he was this season. He’s 27 now — he certainly could make another big jump, but I think it would be unwise team building to bank on him doing so.
On the defensive side of the ball, he’s certainly serviceable in center field. OAA (baseball savant’s defensive metric) has him as a league average defender, while DRS and UZR (Fangraph’s varieties) have him below average, albeit not by a huge margin. That tracks with the eye test. His arm looks weak for center field, but his legs make up for it to a great extent. His first step is still a work in progress, but far better than it once was.
As for his baserunning? No notes. He’s just a freak. Fangraphs’ primary baserunning metric even has him down as having been more valuable than Ronald Acuna on the bases this campaign.
This all works out to a good player. Average bat, average defense, very good baserunner. A regular, certainly. But an all-star? A cornerstone? I think not. And given his strong season at the plate, the talent coming through in the outfield in the farm system, and the needs at other positions, it’s my belief that Duran should and will be strongly pushed in trade talks. His value could very well be at an all time high, and the strongest indicators don’t scream that this is the kind of player who’s going to anchor a championship team. That’s not to say there’s no place for him on this Red Sox team; just that turning good players who masquerade as great ones into truly great ones is a great way to add value in trades, and something a Boston outfit wanting for elite talent should be looking to do.
Verdict: Everyday outfielder. Potential trade chip.
The Red Sox’s internal assessment of Ceddanne Rafaela will probably drive a lot of what they do this winter when it comes to team construction for next season. By now you probably know the story: Rafaela is an elite defender, perhaps even the best defensive prospect in baseball, in particular when used center field. However, for as much of a sure thing he is in the field, he’s an equally big question mark at the plate.
The signs are confusing.
Green light: Rafaela crushed AAA pitching to the tune of a .312/.370/.618 slash line.
Red light: He walked only 12 times total at the level, with 4 of those walks coming in one game.
Green light: He struck out only 21.9% of the time in AAA.
Red light: He chased pitches outside of the zone more than 40% of the time at the level, according to soxprospects.com.
Green light: In 61 PA at the major league level, he’s slashing .305/.328/.492.
Red light: In those same 61 PA he has an expected wOBA of just .258, with a ton of soft contact and a chase rate that’s predictably still above 40%.
It’s not easy to guess where Rafaela is going to land here. He swings at basically everything, but he can also make contact with just about anything. You’d think it wouldn’t matter if he can keep his K rate as low as 22%, but the reality is all that chasing induces tons of weak contact. Weak contact leads to outs, and outs, needless to say, are bad. With any other player who chases this much you’d almost certainly bet hard against the bat, but Rafaela’s shown a surprising amount of power for his size. His exit velocities are nothing inspiring, but he’s certainly not a slap hitter. This all works out to a very weird picture — very good contact skills, average power, horrible plate discipline. What kind of hitter is that?
Well, only 5 qualified hitters have run a chase rate over 40% this season at MLB level. They’re all above-average hitters by wRC+, but there’s survivorship bias going on there: you don’t stick around in the MLB as a regular with a 40% chase rate unless you’re doing something out of the ordinary. Specifically, these guys are very good at one thing: impacting the baseball. 4 of the 5 have an ISO over .200, and the fifth is sitting at a still strong .189. 3 of the 5 are in the league’s top 10% for maximum exit velocity (a noisy metric that nonetheless has a certain degree of correlation with raw power). The 2 that aren’t in the top 10% of the league for maximum exit velocity are, for related reasons, running expected wOBA’s below league average. Basically, based on their quality of contact and plate discipline, they shouldn’t even be above average bats. In order to live life above 40%, your contact has to be extremely loud.
As much as Rafaela’s power outpaces that of most hitters his size, it would still be stretching the evidence in front of us to project him out to have Julio Rodriguez/Luis Robert Jr. type power (two of the three guys with a chase rate over 40% who are adding real value with their bat this season). Given that, a more likely positive outcome for Rafaela at the plate is probably something like what Eddie Rosario has done this season: a .259/.310/.460 slash line at the plate with a 24% K rate and 21 home runs. Even that, though, is optimistic. For every 1 player who does stick as a regular in the major leagues with a 40% chase rate (remember, there are only 5 this season), there are are 2 or 3 who have been relegated to defensive replacement status or platoon duties, and likely even more still who have washed out of professional baseball entirely. Rafaela’s elite glove puts him in a place where he could still be a value added regular either way, but the reality is that the most likely developmental outcome for Rafaela probably involves him contributing something more like an 80–90 wRC+ (markedly below average) at the plate.
That lands Rafaela as something like a 2–2.5 WAR per season player, depending on how good his defense ultimately is, and assuming he winds up in center field. It’s worth noting that there’s a very real chance that Rafaela instead plays major innings at second base next season, which would be a whole other can of worms, but for now I’m treating him as part of the outfield equation because that’s where I see him contributing the most value. A 2 WAR Center Fielder is nothing to snuff at, but it’s worth noting that Jarren Duran put up 2.4 WAR this season in just 364 plate appearances playing predominantly the same position. Rafaela is definitely a piece of the puzzle, but I’m not confident he’s a guy you can count on to carry you to the playoffs consistently. I’d be open to trading him, but I figure he has less trade value than Duran, while likely offering similar (albeit less) value going forward.
Verdict: Everyday outfielder, but with a wider range of outcomes than Duran.
Valdez was the other piece in the trade that sent Christian Vazquez to Houston last year. He absolutely torched Triple-A pitching after that trade, and early this year when the Sox encountered middle infield trouble he made his first of two trips to Boston this season. At major league level he’s basically been exactly as advertised: an average to above average bat against right handed pitching with significant pop, a major hole in his swing, and barely acceptable infield defense. His power is so tantalizing you almost want him to be more, but at the end of the day he’s probably exactly what he’s shown. There’s an argument to be made that he breaks camp next season as half of a 2nd base platoon, but frankly he’s so bad defensively that it’s hard to imagine that winds up being Plan A. There’s upside here, but you don’t plan a roster on the basis of upside.
Verdict: Up and down platoon bat. Expendable.
The aptly named Pablo Reyes — seeing as he was king amongst Chaim Bloom’s lost-and-found haul on the waiver wire this season — was nothing short of a revelation for the Red Sox this season given that he was acquired for essentially nothing. Across 175 plate appearances this season, Reyes slashed .289/.335/.384 and played solid defense across the infield diamond, good for 0.5 WAR in what would wind up being the best contribution the club got from any middle infielder all season. Reyes crushed left handed pitching in particular, hitting a red hot .333 against southpaws. On a team full of left-handed hitters, Reyes numbered amongst the few right handers who consistently delivered for the Sox. He hardly ever chases out of the strike zone (18.7% chase rate), he hardly ever whiffs (14.7% whiff rate) and, you guessed it, as a result he hardly ever strikes out (11.4% K rate). Reyes, to whatever extent you can call a utility middle infielder with a league average bat ‘the real deal,’ is ‘the real deal.’
Verdict: Ideally? Your medium-term number one utility infielder. Likely? Half of a platoon at 2nd base in 2024.
Devers started this season cold. He finished it so hot that if you looked at his season slash line you wouldn’t even know the cold streak happened. The bat is elite, if a bit streaky as a product of a swing-heavy, ball-in-play heavy approach. The glove was, to put it lightly, very bad this season. That said, his defense has gotten a lot better since Story’s return, indicating that perhaps he was pressing to cover for the revolving door of shortstops beside him. Given that Masataka Yoshida’s capacity for improvement in left field seems far more limited than Devers’ at third base, and that the former Orix Buffalo’s production at the plate appears far more dependent on consistent rest, a move to designated hitter simply does not make sense. Devers is a huge value added at third base. He’s a multi-time all star. Lamenting his spotty defense is missing the forest for the trees.
Verdict: Cornerstone, but imagine that I’m screaming it at the top of my lungs.
Overall, this is a big group of good, controllable position players. It’s perhaps a bit light in the way of plug-and-play regulars, but there are quite a few guys here who still could be that. Along with the 6 or so top 150 prospects in the organization, there is a ton to be excited about here.
I hope you enjoyed! If you did — when you’re ready — take a deep breath, get yourself a fresh cup of coffee, and dig into part 2 of this series on the Red Sox pitching staff.