Red Sox fans should understand the player Alex Verdugo really is.
It was inevitable but it appears that Alex Verdugo is going to face the challenge of drawing comparisons to Mookie Betts. The Boston Red Sox acquired the 24-year-old outfielder from the Dodgers as a part of the Betts blockbuster deal back in February.
Betts won the 2018 World Series and AL MVP, and he has finished top eight in the AL MVP award voting for four consecutive seasons. Headlining the return in the Betts trade, Verdugo faces extreme pressure to produce right away.
When any team makes the decision to trade away one of the best players in the game, they’re going to lose the trade in the short-term. It’s not that Verdugo could never get to the level Betts is at, but he’s certainly got a long way to go.
He’s seen encouraging consistent increases in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS throughout his first three seasons. However, it’s important to note that he only played in 15 games in 2017, 37 games in 2018, and 106 games in 2019.
This upcoming season RotoChamp projects Verdugo to set a new career-high in at-bats (483) along with a .296 AVG, .348 OBP, 15 HR, 56 RBI, and 59 R. Utilizing ZiPS projections via Dan Szymborski, FanGraphs projects the former Dodger to hit .285 with an OBP of .341, along with 13 HR, 54 RBI, and 55 R.
They’re both shortchanging him a bit. It’s essentially impossible but assuming there was a 162-game regular season, I’d project Verdugo to hit within the ballpark of .300 with 15-20 HR and 60-70 RBI.
MLB.com’s Prospect Watch had this to say about the Dodgers top prospect back in 2018.
"“One of the best pure hitting prospects in baseball, Verdugo recognizes pitches and controls the strike zone better than most players his age. He uses the whole field, repeatedly barreling balls with a quick left-handed stroke geared for line drives. Though he homered just seven times in 132 games last season, his hitting ability, bat speed and strength should translate into average power if he adds some loft to his swing.”"
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The important message that Red Sox fans should shy away from this is that Verdugo is not going to be a guy that hits for power. He’s not going to be a guy that consistently hits 30+ home runs a season. If I were asked to compare his style of play to any Major League Baseball player right now, I’d suggest that he’s the perfect blend between Astros OF Michael Brantley and St. Louis Cardinals 3B Matt Carpenter.
Verdugo brings Brantley’s exceptional contact ability, on-base percentage, and plate discipline to the table. Meanwhile statistically, his numbers will look very similar to Carpenter’s averages of 20-home runs and 40 doubles per season. Brantley and Carpenter have two of the purest swings in baseball and Verdugo’s fits right into that category.
The Astros left fielder is also one of the toughest players to strike out in the game today. Over the last five full seasons, he’s completed, he’s struck out just 57 times on average. To put that into perspective, Betts has struck out on average 87 times over the last five seasons. ZiPS projects Verdugo to strike out just 63 times in 2020.
Verdugo will benefit from Fenway’s short porch in right field and hitting in a lineup that features Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, and J.D. Martinez. He has the potential to become a real star with the Sox but it’s important to understand what type of player he is and to set realistic expectations. Nobody will ever replace the talent and skill of Mookie, but if we give Verdugo the room to breathe, he sure as hell can try.