Red Sox

Notable sights, sounds from Day 1 of Red Sox training camp at Fenway Park

Notable sights, sounds from Day 1 of Red Sox training camp at Fenway Park

The first day of Boston Red Sox training camp at Fenway Park takes place Friday.

It's an exciting development as fans await the return of Major League Baseball. The shortened 60-game regular season is set to return July 23, although the schedules for each of the 30 teams have not yet been released.

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The Red Sox arrived at Fenway this week to a bunch of different changes -- all of which have been made to ensure the venue provides the safest environment possible amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker announced Thursday the state's pro sports teams could begin hosting games without fans later this month.

Here are some pictures and videos from the team's return to Fenway Park.

--It looks like the Red Sox have assigned two players per suite, which is a better way to provide a safe environment than putting every player in one clubhouse like normal. 

Here's more information from the Red Sox:

"To best adhere to the MLB guidelines promoting proper physical distancing, suites in Right Field have been converted to accommodate locker room space for two Red Sox players per suite. Spaces within the existing Red Sox clubhouse will be re-assigned and adjusted to provide players and staff with facilities that are in line with MLB’s health and safety guidelines."

--Other changes to Fenway Park have been made. NBC Boston's Perry Russom reports there are showers on the concourse level. The players also will walk through the stands to reach the field level.

The Boston Globe's Peter Abraham also shared details on new training areas inside the park.

The Red Sox provided further info on the concourse conversion:

"The Right Field Concourse, typically a concession area and walkway for fans, has been transformed into an expanded training and conditioning area that includes the installation of a new open-air batting cage. Located in close proximity to the existing Red Sox Clubhouse, the auxiliary space includes artificial turf with equipment like bikes and weights lining the walls. A covered pitcher’s mound has also been installed in a portion of the Big Concourse located under the Bleachers. In addition to the significant expanded space afforded in the concourses, enhanced air circulation is also a benefit of the covered but not fully enclosed areas."

--Here's one of the first player shifts of the day.

--It wouldn't be an MLB camp without batting practice. Here's some footage of Christian Vazquez getting some work in.

--The important pitching drills are underway as well. 

--Social distancing will be required in the Fenway press box, too.

Plummeting Red Sox could land one of these monster prospects atop 2021 MLB draft

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USA TODAY Sports photos

Plummeting Red Sox could land one of these monster prospects atop 2021 MLB draft

A 60-game baseball season creates unique opportunities for efficiency, none more than this:

Tanking.

Asking a fan base to endure six months and 162 games of misery could have serious brand implications. Doing so for 60 games that mostly overlap with the NBA and NHL playoffs, at a time when we're primarily concerned with hoarding hand sanitizer, is a much easier sell.

And that brings us to — you guessed it — the Red Sox.

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On Wednesday, they dropped their third straight to the Tampa Bay Rays. They're now 6-12, not only last in the AL East, but last in the entire American League. Only the 3-13 Pirates have a worse winning percentage than Boston's .333.

If the season ended today, the Red Sox would own the No. 2 pick in the draft — maybe. Under the March agreement between MLB and the MLBPA, commissioner Rob Manfred can modify the draft order if the season lasts fewer than 81 games. Because baseball belatedly imposed a 60-game schedule, that choice is now on the table.

There's no word yet on what Manfred plans to do — he probably won't decide until after the season — but for the purposes of this exercise, let's assume the draft is determined by winning percentage.

Nothing kickstarts a rebuild faster than a top-three selection, and if Chaim Bloom does nothing to address the gaping holes in his rotation, the Red Sox may very well challenge the lowly Pirates for the first overall pick.

Since baseball implemented the June draft in 1965, the Red Sox have picked in the top five just three times, all from 1965 through 1967, when they selected outfielder Billy Conigliaro (1965, 5th), left-hander Ken Brett (1966, 4th), and right-hander Mike Garman (1967, 3rd).

Since then, they've picked seventh three times: outfielder Trot Nixon (1993), left-hander Trey Ball (2013), and outfielder Andrew Benintendi (2015).

Flaming out for the rest of this year could present a unique opportunity to add impact talent in a portion of the draft they typically watch from afar. And make no mistake, champions are built atop the draft, whether it's the Nationals nabbing Stephen Strasburg first overall in 2009, the Cubs landing Kris Bryant at No. 2 in 2013, or the Astros selecting Alex Bregman second in 2015.

So who might be available to the Red Sox if the land in the top three? The lack of spring seasons or summer showcases leaves us more in the dark than usual, but a scan of prospect rankings at MLB.com, Baseball America, and elsewhere suggests we should focus on three names.

The first is Vanderbilt right-hander Kumar Rocker, a 6-foot-4, 255-pounder who looks like he could play the Elephant role in a Bill Belichick defense, and with good reason: his father, Tracy Rocker, won the Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy as an Auburn defensive lineman in 1988 and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

Kumar Rocker burst onto the scene in 2019 at Vanderbilt, where he became Baseball America's Freshman of the Year after leading the Commodores to a national title. He threw a 19-strikeout no-hitter of Duke to avoid elimination and was named the Most Outstanding Player at the College World Series.

Rocker throws 99 mph with a dominating slider. He has earned comparisons to former Vanderbilt ace and No. 1 overall pick David Price. He went 12-5 with a 3.25 ERA as a freshman, striking out 114 in 99.2 innings. He was 2-1 with a 1.80 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 15 innings when the pandemic halted his sophomore season.

He might not be the best pitching prospect on Vanderbilt's staff, though, because next on the list is right-hander Jack Leiter, who's also blessed with strong bloodlines.

His dad, left-hander Al Leiter, made a pair of All-Star teams and won World Series rings with the Blue Jays and Marlins during a 19-year career. His uncle, Mark Leiter, pitched for 11 years, and his cousin, Mark Jr., spent two years with the Phillies and Jays.

Thanks in part to that impressive lineage, Leiter is considered a more polished prospect than Rocker, with a higher floor and lower ceiling, per MLB.com's prospect expert Jim Callis. He throws a fastball that touches 95 mph, as well as a slider, curveball, and changeup.

At 6 feet and 195 pounds, Leiter isn't as imposing as Rocker, and he lacks the track record, too, since he only threw 15.2 innings as a freshman, going 2-0 with a 1.72 ERA before the pandemic hit. If he's picked first overall, it will be because of his advanced arsenal.

Leaving the college ranks, the third prospect to watch is Georgia high school shortstop Brady House. Already built like a big leaguer at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, House has drawn comparisons to Bryant, who was similarly mature as a Las Vegas high schooler before dominating at the University of San Diego.

House throws 96 mph and is considered draft-worthy as a pitcher, but scouts agree that his future rests at the plate, where he hit .653 as a junior and projects to develop plus power. His size may necessitate a move to third base, but wherever House ends up, he's not short on confidence.

"If you're playing baseball right now, your main goal is, 'Hey, I want to play in the big leagues one day,'" he told Baseball America. "But my goal is to make it even further. I want to be the best of the best. The Hall of Fame is where the big dogs live."

The Red Sox would settle for an All-Star, and if they land atop the draft, that's what they should get.

Andrew Benintendi injury: Red Sox OF could be out 'a while' with rib strain

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USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Benintendi injury: Red Sox OF could be out 'a while' with rib strain

Andrew Benintendi's nightmare 2020 season is hitting pause.

The Boston Red Sox placed the 26-year-old outfielder on the 10-day injured list Wednesday with a right rib cage strain.

X-rays on Benintendi's rib came back negative, but Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke suggested the outfielder could be sidelined for some time.

"He’s going to be a while," Roenicke told reporters in a video conference. "It’s going to be more than that 10 days."

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Benintendi injured his rib while stumbling on the basepath between second and third base during Tuesday's loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.

The injury overshadowed Benintendi's rare night of success at the plate: He went 2-for-3 with a pair of singles, doubling his hit total for the 2020 season.

Yes, you read that right: The slumping outfielder has four hits in 52 plate appearances, sporting an abysmal .103 batting average with 17 strikeouts.

With Kevin Pillar and Alex Verdugo handling corner outfielder duties, the Red Sox likely will take their time bringing Benintendi back in what already feels like a lost season.

Boston lost its third straight game to Tampa Bay on Wednesday and sits last in the American League East at 6-12.