Jonathan Lucroy

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.

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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.

Three veterans you may have forgotten were on the Red Sox but could play a role in 2020

Three veterans you may have forgotten were on the Red Sox but could play a role in 2020

An All-Star catcher, a 19-game winner, and a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder. Don't feel bad if you forgot they were on the Red Sox.

It's been a while.

As baseball ramps back up for the start of "spring" training next week and the start of the season next month, it's worth revisiting the Red Sox roster for the first time since March.

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Three veterans could play pivotal roles in the truncated 2020 season or no roles at all, but it's worth getting reacquainted with catcher Jonathon Lucroy, right-hander Collin McHugh, and outfielder Kevin Pillar.

Start with Lucroy. The non-roster invitee was a force in Milwaukee under the tutelage of current Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke. In 2014, he hit .301 with 13 homers and a league-leading 53 doubles, making his first All-Star team and finishing fourth in the MVP voting.

He was an All-Star again in 2016 before being dealt to the Rangers at the deadline, thus beginning the nomadic portion of his career, which has also taken him to Colorado, Oakland, Anaheim, and the Cubs. A .274 lifetime hitter, the 34-year-old hasn't produced at everyday levels since 2016, but he's hoping offseason neck surgery will restore his bat speed and make him a dark horse in the race to back up starter Christian Vazquez. Veteran Kevin Plawecki started camp in that role.

With rosters expanded to 30 players to open the season and 28 thereafter, there could be room for a third catcher, and Lucroy's history with Roenicke makes him an intriguing possibility.

"He called me and he wanted me to come," Lucroy said earlier this spring. "It was a big thing. 'You have an opportunity here, you can come here and have an opportunity to make the team.' Right now that's all you can ask for as a guy in my position, so that's what I wanted to do."

He could be catching McHugh, an early March addition who wasn't expected back much before July anyway as he recovers from a right flexor strain. McHugh went 19-7 with the 2015 Astros to finish fourth in the AL Cy Young voting and as recently as 2018 posted a 1.99 ERA in 58 relief appearances.

McHugh went 4-5 with a 4.70 ERA in 35 appearances (8 starts) last year, shutting it down for the final month because of the elbow injury, which was addressed with a non-surgical procedure in December. According to a source, he is throwing off a mound and will be evaluated next week as he ramps up intensity.

If he's ready to go when the season opens on July 24, that would be a boon to a Red Sox rotation that currently features only three battle-tested arms in left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, and left-hander Martin Perez. If McHugh isn't ready, the Red Sox will turn to someone like soft-throwing Ryan Weber or an opener.

"It's the Red Sox," McHugh said after signing. "It's one of the most storied franchises in all of sports. I'm a huge baseball fan, so it's kind of a pinch-me moment to realize you're playing for this team that has been around for so long and had so many players go through here. You see your jersey hanging in your locker, and you start thinking through all the numbers and all the guys who put that uniform on. For me, it's a really cool opportunity and I'm hoping I can make the most of it and help this team win some ballgames."

That leaves Pillar. A high-flying, death-defying, fearless center fielder in Toronto, where he battled new teammate Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier for AL East defensive supremacy, he's actually coming off his best offensive season, which included 21 homers, 88 RBIs, and a couple of low MVP votes with the Giants.

Pillar never walks, which depresses his offensive value, but there's no questioning his glove, which should play in either center field in relief of Bradley, or right field in place of Mookie Betts, where Pillar's arm strength is a plus.

"I still have expectations for myself to go out there and be a guy who can play every single day," Pillar said at his introductory press conference in Fort Myers. "That's the way I'm going to treat this spring training. No different than any other spring training, I'm going to prepare myself to go out there and play as many games as possible."

New Red Sox catcher Jonathan Lucroy gives unique take on Astros' sign-stealing

New Red Sox catcher Jonathan Lucroy gives unique take on Astros' sign-stealing

Newly signed Boston Red Sox catcher Jonathan Lucroy had the unfortunate experience of seeing the Houston Astros' sign-stealing operation firsthand over the last three years.

Major League Baseball handed down unprecedented punishments to the Astros in January after completing an investigation on Houston's in-depth system created to illegally steal signs from opponents. 

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Lucroy played on three different American League West teams from 2016 through 2019, including the Oakland Athletics, Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels. Those teams play the Astros nearly 20 times per season as division rivals, so Lucroy was well aware of Houston's actions when it came to stealing signs and relaying them to batters.

Lucroy offered a unique perspective on that experience while speaking to reporters Thursday at spring training.

"I knew about that two years ago, that it was going on," Lucroy said. "I know it just recently came out, but everybody in baseball, especially in that division who played against them, we were all aware of the Astros doing those things. It was up to us to outsmart them, I guess you could say, which is kinda hard when you have a computer program that breaks your signs.

"We actively changed signs -- almost every pitch we were changing signs. You had to because they had them -- they would relay them to second base. They were stealing them from first, too, from between your legs. They had a very intricate system going on. We were well aware of it. It was a challenge. It was a mental challenge to really overcome that. It's easier said than done. It's a shame. I'm glad it came out and was brought to light because it needed to -- it was getting out of hand. I was in that division for three years on different teams playing against them.

"There were times they were on every single pitch, and you're like how are they doing this? How is this happening? When we found out how, it was like, we got to change up signs a lot, and we did, and the swings actually got worse whenever we started to change the signs up all the time."

Lucroy also revealed that during his Athletics tenure, the team alerted the MLB to what was going on, but he doesn't think the league did much to stop the Astros.

"It was crazy. Some of the pitches they would take, it was like, man, these guys are some of the best hitters I've ever seen," Lucroy said. "It all made sense when I found out how they were doing it. Then it was like, what are we going to do? I was with Oakland, and we had let MLB know, and they just called and said something. They didn't go through the whole investigation. It wasn't until (Mike) Fiers came out publicly that they went and looked at it really hard."

Players around the league have not been shy about bashing the Astros, the MLB, and commissioner Rob Manfred for how this scandal has been handled. Los Angeles Dodgers star Cody Bellinger even went so far to say Astros second baseman Jose Altuve stole the 2017 AL MVP from New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge.

The first matchup in between the Red Sox and Astros at Fenway Park is May 22. Every Red Sox fan should circle that date on their calendar. 

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