Boston is going to hope that the two players it got in the Mookie Betts/David Price deal — Alex Verdugo and Brusdar Graterol — can help the team this season.
The Mookie Betts era is suddenly over in Boston, and with that, so is David Price’s after the Red Sox completed a blockbuster trade Tuesday night to send both to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
So, now what?
A year after a disappointing 84-win season, the Red Sox were a week away from reporting to Fort Myers with virtually the same roster. By dealing Betts, the 2018 American League MVP who’s still in his prime, and Price, a key starter, the Red Sox inarguably got worse Tuesday. A bridge year in 2020 just became almost a certain reality.
Now, the Red Sox trek on by building for the future, and they’re hoping the two players they received in the trade — outfielder Alex Verdugo from the Dodgers and right-handed pitcher Brusdar Graterol from the Twins — can be significant parts of that.
In the 23-year-old Verdugo, who turns 24 in May, the Red Sox found their logical replacement for Betts, even if he needs some more time to develop.
He entered 2019 as the No. 35-ranked prospect by Baseball America, and eventually assumed an everyday role for the Dodgers in the wake of A.J. Pollock’s injury. Verdugo batted .294 with an .817 OPS, 12 homers, 22 doubles and 44 RBI while playing good defense in 106 games, but injuries ended his season early. He’s still recovering from a back injury but is hopeful to be ready by Opening Day.
The left-handed Verdugo was considered one of the best pure hitting prospects in baseball with his ability to control the strike zone, and he showed that in his opportunities last season. He’s more of a line-drive hitter, but at 6-feet, 205 pounds, he has room to become more of a power hitter.
“Verdugo is the purest hitter in the Dodgers system with a simple, balanced swing,” Baseball America wrote in its scouting report of him before last season.
“He generates hard line drives to all fields and is extremely patient, recording nearly as many walks (86) as strikeouts (97) over the last two years. Verdugo’s average home run power is mostly to his pull side, but he can drive the ball hard the other way, too.”
Verdugo may be as skilled defensively as he is at the plate, which will be critical if he finds himself playing every day in Fenway Park’s right field. He played mostly center for the Dodgers last season, but he should be able to transition well if he is asked to play right on a regular basis in Boston.
MLB.com’s report on Verdugo prior to last season said his instincts make up for average speed, and “no one doubts his arm would play in right.”
The biggest question surrounding Verdugo may be his focus and effort. In 2017, then a September call-up, he overslept and was late to the park for a game, which earned him a lashing out from veteran pitcher Rich Hill. He’s also shown some bad habits in the field, according to Baseball America.
“Verdugo stays dialed in at the plate, but an indifferent attitude affects the rest of his game,” Baseball America wrote last year. “He has average speed and gets good jumps in right field when he’s focused, but he often isn’t and lets balls drop that shouldn’t. His slow motor also shows up on the bases, frustrating teammates and coaches alike.”
The 21-year-old Graterol projects as a top-of-the-rotation starter with time. Injuries have slowed the righty’s development, but he showed encouragement last season, going 7-0 with a 1.92 ERA combined in three levels in the minors, and was named the top pitching prospect in the Southern League. He made 10 appearances for the Twins last season, all as a reliever.
Graterol, the No. 55-ranked prospect by Baseball America before last season, already has a troubling injury record. The Twins signed the Venezuelan as a 16-year-old in 2015, but he lasted just four starts in the Dominican Summer League before tearing his UCL and undergoing Tommy John surgery. Last season, a shoulder impingement held Graterol out for more than two months.
The Tommy John surgery kept Graterol out of baseball for two years, when he put on considerable weight — he’s now listed at 6-foot-1, 265 pounds. His increased muscle has helped him gain a fastball that touches 100 mph and sits consistently in the high 90s. He also possesses a plus-slider, but he’ll need to continue to develop his secondary pitches, particularly his changeup, to realize his potential.
How Graterol grows from here is yet to be determined, but he has the raw talent.
“He has ability that very few people have,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said late last season.
“The pure velocity in and of itself is pretty unique. When it comes out of his hand, everybody in the ballpark notices that it looks and appears different than everybody else.
“He’s a young guy and is going to have a lot of time to figure things out, but he’s been good for us and it’s really nice to see him go out there and have the success early on. It’s real. The stuff is real and he seems like a great young man, too.”