Red Sox

Red Sox came close to losing Andrew Benintendi to Astros in '15 Draft

Red Sox came close to losing Andrew Benintendi to Astros in '15 Draft

BOSTON — Andrew Benintendi calmly walked to the rocket that fell from the front row of the Green Monster. Alex Bregman was circling the bases after lining a two-run homer way over Benintendi's head in left field, a shot that proved the difference in Friday's 3-2 Astros win. 

Benintendi picked up the fallen souvenir before chucking it into the stands, creating a moment of draft-class symbolism: from Bregman to Benintendi, one top 2015 pick to another.

It’s easy to imagine a world where Benintendi, the No. 7 pick in '15, and Bregman, the No. 2 pick, are Astros teammates today. 

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“It was definitely an option for us, that we could have drafted both players,” said Astros assistant general manager Mike Elias, the head of the amateur draft process in Houston. “We liked both players quite a bit. We were in a unique situation that year because we had the two picks [second and fifth overall].

“I can say with all honesty that if [Kyle] Tucker had been gone, like say if the Rangers took him right before us, we take Benintendi.”

As the Astros rebuilt their farm system and created the monster the Sox now have to slay, the ‘Stros wound up two years ago with not one, but two high amateur draft choices: Nos. 2 and 5. 

How'd they land the pair? The Astros did not sign their first overall draft pick in 2014 in a medical saga, and received the second pick in '15 as compensation — in addition to their usual pick based on their prior season's performance.

At No. 2, the Astros selected Bregman, a shortstop out of LSU who has Dustin Pedroia-like gamer qualities and top-notch athleticism. He played 155 games this season, most of them at third base, slashing .284/.352/.475 with 19 home runs. (Bregman also happens to be Blake Swihart’s best friend.) 

At No. 5 is where history could have changed. The Astros considered Benintendi, and made a phone call to gauge interest on draft day. But the Astros picked a high school outfielder from Florida, Kyle Tucker, instead. Benintendi went to the Sox at No. 7.

“Benintendi was a unique situation because he had burst on to the scene very late for a high-profile college player,” Elias recalled. “You almost never see this, but he was a sophomore, he was draft eligible due to age. He did not play much his freshman year at Arkansas. And then he stayed on campus all summer and worked out. He didn’t play on the Cape, he didn’t play on Team USA. It really wasn’t until the spring got going and he started putting up these ridiculous numbers that he was even on our radar. 

“And credit to the Red Sox, I heard that their area scouts did a great job of identifying him as early as the previous fall, and they were able to focus on him early. But we liked him a lot. It was basically between him and Kyle Tucker, who’s doing well for us. We liked the idea of coming away with a polished college player like Bregman and then an upside high school player like Tucker.”

Tucker, 20, has indeed done well for the Astros. He reached Double-A in 2017, and slashed .274/.346/.528 between there and High-A ball. He hit 25 home runs.

“Worked out well for us and worked out well for the Red Sox,” Elias said. “They did a great job getting on him early and really cementing their knowledge about it, where they didn’t have to scout him in a rush at the end.”

The ’15 draft has proven huge for both teams. The extra bonus money the Astros had that year because of those two top-five picks helped them land another top talent who fell in the draft, Daz Cameron, with a later pick. Cameron was then part of the trade for Justin Verlander in August.

Benintendi, meanwhile, finished the year as the second most productive player the Sox had at the plate, trailing only Mookie Betts.

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Tyler Thornburg wants a normal spring, but don't be surprised if it's bumpy

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Tyler Thornburg wants a normal spring, but don't be surprised if it's bumpy

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. — Don’t confuse the goal of a normal spring training with the likelihood one will follow.

Tyler Thornburg’s time with the Red Sox has been an ordeal. He’s optimistic he can have a regular spring training after undergoing surgery to treat thoracic outlet syndrome in June, a surgery that included the removal of a rib which is now on display at his parents’ house. 

He said Saturday, in fact, there’s a “very good chance” of a normal spring. But there’s also a chance his build up to regular-season form runs unevenly. And that would be OK.

“I started throwing Oct. 2, that’s when they kind of gave me the go-ahead to go tossing,” Thornburg said Saturday at Winter Weekend. “So I’ve been building up slowly since then, just trying to make sure we don’t have any setbacks or things like that, and ramp it up at a good pace. I’m throwing at 120-140 feet, so it’s about the pace I’d normally be on, granted I’d know 100 percent before where I was [under normal circumstances]. So things could be a little different."

Consider a few other things Thornburg said Saturday at Foxwoods.

“I don’t really think any of us really know how quick I’m going to bounce back necessarily as far as how quickly the recovery’s going to go in spring training after an outing,” Thornburg said. “But hopefully I mean it’s fantastic, and we can kind of just keep going.”

A bit of natural uncertainty. He missed an entire season, and the reason he missed an entire season is had a lot going on medically. 

What appeared to be a shoulder injury was far from your usual, say, rotator cuff matter. His was a nerve issue.

“Two of the neck muscles were incredibly hypertrophied, like overgrown, and they just started squeezing on the brachial plexus, where all the nerves run down,” Thornburg said. “I’d be sitting there watching a game and just a nerve thing would hit me and I’d almost get knocked over by it. As well as the first rib was getting pulled up and my hand would just turn red some days if I was just standing there, cutting off the blood circulation. Then all the scar tissue and buildup along the nerves they had to go and dissect all that off there.”

So the injury wasn’t simple, and now, the recovery process is really a whole body matter. 

"There’s a lot off things your arm has to get used to between using different muscles, as well as my arm was kind of working through a scenario where it was trying to overcompensate for this and [trying] to relieve that,” Thornburg said. “So just worked a different way. Now your body has to remember how to actually properly work again. It’s a lot of neuromuscular stuff.”

Thornburg noted the possibility too he could be ready to go to start the season but not really ready to go back to back yet. Would the Sox then carry him on the big league roster, or continue to build him up elsewhere? 

Velocity won’t be there right away for Thornburg, he said: “But I mean that’s what spring training is for for most guys anyway.”

There’s a lot of optimism, but naturally, there’s a lot to be seen. 

“The rehab process, it's been a massive rollercoaster,” Thornburg said. “It really has. But I mean, I've been trying to take it week to week which has been a lot easier. There's the good days and bad days, just different kinds.”

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Kimbrel's newborn daughter treated in Boston for heart condition

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Kimbrel's newborn daughter treated in Boston for heart condition

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. — Coming off a phenomenal season, Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel spent the offseason in Boston. Not to be closer to Fenway Park, but for proximity to something far more important: the city’s first-rate medical community.

Kimbrel’s daughter, Lydia Joy, was born in November with a heart issue.

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“It’s been a lot,” Kimbrel said Saturday at Red Sox Winter Weekend at Foxwoods. “My wife and I, we’ve kept it kind of private. But when she was born, she had some heart defects so we decided to stay in Boston and work with Children’s Hospital and just been going through that ordeal and it’s had its ups and downs but she’s doing great right now."

Focusing wasn't always easy in season, but Kimbrel said his daughter's condition has motivated him even more.

“They always say when you have a child, things change and they have," he said. "I’m definitely more focused towards her and her needs and our family needs. It’s just one day at a time and give everything I got. It’s real easy to look at her and understand everything I’m doing is for her and it makes it a lot easier.”

Kimbrel and his wife, Ashley, found out early in the 2017 season that they would be staying in Boston for the winter and were preparing.

“Everything has kind of gone as planned so far,” Kimbrel said. “She’ll have another surgery during spring training, so I’ll come back to Boston for a week and do that, but it’s been good. It’s definitely been tough, but one of the happiest, joyful times of our life.”

"Being in Boston, we feel blessed, because the doctors are the best in the world. Being able to work with them has been great.”

Kimbrel said his wife has stayed in touch with Travis Shaw’s wife. The Shaw family has had a similar experience, Kimbrel said.

“It seems like they’re doing pretty good,” Kimbrel said. “It’s been very encouraging to see.”

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