Red Sox

Andrew Benintendi, Alex Verdugo highlight thin class of Red Sox breakout candidates

Andrew Benintendi, Alex Verdugo highlight thin class of Red Sox breakout candidates

If all goes according to plan, the Red Sox will field a roster of breakout candidates sometime soon.

That time is not now.

Unlike 2019, when Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts emerged as MVP-caliber talents, Christian Vazquez set career-highs in everything, and Eduardo Rodriguez won 19 games, the 2020 Red Sox are light on true breakout candidates.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

That's life when your farm system is thin and your roster is in transition, but it doesn't mean a handful of players couldn't surprise us.

So let's examine three of them.

1. Andrew Benintendi

Some of us have been saying that Benintendi could win a batting title for four years. But the sad truth is the outfielder has really delivered only one good half season, the first half of 2018, when he was a borderline All-Star on a team loaded with the genuine item.

Benintendi hit .297 with 14 homers and an .897 OPS in the first half of 2018. Take away those three and a half months, and his career numbers become even more pedestrian: .272 with a .772 OPS. That puts Benintendi in a class of players like former Orioles infielder Jonathan Villar or Rangers outfielder Nomar Mazara, and no one's predicting a batting title for either of them.

The good news is the 25-year-old is entering his prime. It's also encouraging that he showed up to spring training looking leaner and stronger. The talent that made him the seventh pick in the 2015 draft is still there, as is the sweet line drive swing that raced him to the majors in barely a year in the first place.

He'll get every opportunity to impact 2020 out of the leadoff spot, where he'll try to make amends for a strikeout-riddled 2019. Benintendi was a mental and mechanical mess last season, swinging at balls off the plate and taking offerings down the middle.

Plenty of hitters need three or four years before they break out, and Benintendi is the best candidate on the Red Sox to do just that.

2. Alex Verdugo

Yes, his back must first heal. And then he must regain lost strength. It's possible we won't see him until May.

But if there's one player capable of delivering on the promise that made him a top prospect, it's Verdugo.

Take everything we just said about Benintendi and apply it to his fellow corner outfielder, because Verdugo might reach Benintendi's best-case scenario before Benintendi does. A former consensus top-35 prospect, Verdugo gave a taste of what he could be with the Dodgers last year, hitting .294 with an .817 OPS in 106 games before suffering a season-ending back injury that continues to linger.

Before getting hurt, Verdugo had displaced veteran A.J. Pollock as the starting center fielder for the Dodgers, and until a September setback during rehab, the Dodgers held out hope that he'd be able to return for the playoffs.

When Verdugo is right, he's got the power to hit the ball out to dead center, but also the discipline to inside-out balls to the left-center gap. He's also excitable, with an exuberant style of play that energized crowds in L.A. and could translate to Boston, if he can get healthy.

3. Jose Peraza

Ugh. The third spot on this list is a tossup between Peraza and second-year man Michael Chavis. We'll side with the former primarily for reasons of opportunity. He's likely to open the season as the starting second baseman, and the 25-year-old was once a top-50 prospect with the Braves.

A lifetime .302 hitter in the minors, he hasn't made the same offensive impact in the big leagues, though he did hit .288 with 14 homers and 23 steals in 2018. The free swinger almost never walks — he posted a miserable .285 on base percentage last year before being non-tendered — but he doesn't strike out much, either.

If he delivered league-average production, that would count as a breakthrough.

MLB Rumors: Yasiel Puig to sign with 2020 Red Sox opponent Braves

MLB Rumors: Yasiel Puig to sign with 2020 Red Sox opponent Braves

The Boston Red Sox aren't acquiring Yasiel Puig, but they'll still see him in 2020.

The free-agent outfielder is signing with the Atlanta Braves, MLB.com's Mark Feinsand reported Tuesday. Puig's deal with the Braves is still tentative pending a physical, per The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal.

The Red Sox reportedly were among a few teams interested in signing Puig, who split the 2019 season between the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians.

Get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App

The Baltimore Orioles reportedly made Puig a contract offer, but it appears the 29-year-old is headed to Atlanta, where he'll play two three-game series -- from Aug. 31 to Sept. 2 and from Sept. 25 to 27 -- against the Red Sox during the shortened 2020 MLB season.

While Puig's career with the Los Angeles Dodgers got off to a promising start, the Cuba native has struggled to sustain that success, hitting no better than .267 over the last five seasons. Puig hit .297 with 23 RBIs in 49 games with Cleveland, though, and perhaps he'll benefit from another change in scenery.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, are rolling with an outfield of Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., Alex Verdugo and platoon man Kevin Pillar after trading star right fielder Mookie Betts this offseason.

2020 MLB Season: Five newcomers who could make an impact for Red Sox

2020 MLB Season: Five newcomers who could make an impact for Red Sox

The Red Sox weren't good enough in 2019 to make the playoffs, so it stands to reason that if they're going to find a way over the hump in this dine-and-dash 2020 campaign, some new faces will have to deliver.

Because chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom was only able to spend what he could scrounge from Dave Dombrowski's old couch this winter, the Red Sox did most of their tinkering on the fringes of the roster.

Get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App

They added one potential impact piece in outfielder Alex Verdugo, albeit at the steep cost of former MVP Mookie Betts. Otherwise, they're seeking contributions from a host of under-the-radar sources.

Perhaps we'll be pleasantly surprised. Here are five newcomers to watch.

1. Alex Verdugo

We wrote about the new right fielder on Monday, and he's the closest thing to an All-Star the Red Sox added. Verdugo does a little bit of everything from the left side, hitting for average, developing power, and not fearing the moment. He owns one of the strongest arms in the game and could be a plus defender as well.

Andrew Benintendi has already been penciled into the leadoff spot, which leaves Verdugo batting fifth in all likelihood. But if Benintendi falters, as he did last year, Verdugo could easily end up hitting in front of No. 2 man Rafael Devers and trying to make the offense go.

2. Jose Peraza

There's a reason Peraza was one of Bloom's first moves, signed back on Dec. 13. The 26-year-old Venezuelan is a former top prospect who was non-tendered by the Reds after hitting .239 in 141 games last year.

He once ranked as high as 54th in Baseball America's list of the game's top 100 prospects, however, and he's only two years removed from hitting .288 with a career-high 14 homers. Peraza is in a battle with Michael Chavis for the starting second base job, and if Peraza has an edge, it's his glove. While Chavis was drafted as a third baseman and profiles as more of a corner infielder, Peraza has spent his entire career at second and short.

He's considered an above-average defender at second, and his speed plays as well, with three straight 20-steal seasons before sliding back to seven thefts last year.

3. Martin Perez

This one could go either way. Perez's ceiling is as a league-average left-hander, which certainly has value. The problem is, he hasn't reached that ceiling in three years. He's the best candidate to replace what Rick Porcello gave the Red Sox last year, which is 175 innings (prorated, of course) of a 5.00 ERA.

That may not sound like much, but on a team desperate for pitching, there's a value in taking the ball every five days and lasting six innings.

The Red Sox hope they can tinker with Perez by rediscovering the cutter that made him so effective last spring before abandoning him for most of the summer. In a perfect world, he wouldn't be the team's third starter, but these are far from perfect times.

4. Jonathan Lucroy

Red Sox history is littered with veteran reclamation projects who never really went anywhere after some early promise, from Ramon Martinez to John Smoltz to Grady Sizemore. Lucroy represents the latest attempt at reclaiming some past magic.

A two-time All-Star who finished fourth in the 2014 MVP voting after blasting a league-leading 53 doubles with the Brewers, Lucroy has been savaged by neck issues over the last three years. He underwent surgery to repair a ruptured disc this winter, however, and claims to have restored his former bat speed.

If that's true, then the 34-year-old could still have something to give, whether it's at catcher, first base, or DH. It also doesn't hurt that he's a favorite of manager Ron Roenicke from their days together in Milwaukee, where they led the Brewers to the playoffs in 2011 for just the second time in 30 years.

5. Collin McHugh

Speaking of reclamation projects, McHugh might have the highest upside of any newcomer, provided he can actually make it back to action. A former 19-game winner and Cy Young contender with the Astros, McHugh is only two years removed from posting a 1.99 ERA in 58 relief appearances.

He returned to the Houston rotation last season and won three of his first four starts with a 1.96 ERA before elbow soreness took its toll. He was bounced from the rotation in May and shut it down for good at the end of August with a flexor strain.

It seems unlikely that McHugh will be ready for Opening Day as he continues throwing bullpens and side sessions, but the hope is that he's available before the end of the season.