Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo is ready for Opening Day.
The Boston Red Sox never got a chance to see Alex Verdugo on the field before spring training was shut down back in March. The 24-year-old outfielder was recovering from a stress fracture in his lower back, leaving his status to begin the regular season in doubt. As frustrating as the pandemic-delayed season has been for the rest of us, Verdugo is one of the few who benefits from the season’s late start.
Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom confirmed that Verdugo should be ready to participate in workouts without limitations when Spring Training 2.0 begins on July 1, according to MassLive’s Christopher Smith.
“With the caveat that we are going to be ramping people up in a fairly short period of time (three weeks), we want to make sure we do not take any shortcuts with him (Verdugo),” said Bloom. “He should be all systems go. The only limitation on him at this point is what we’ve been able to do by virtue of the fact that we’ve been shut down. He’s handled everything great. He should be ready to roll as we get him ramped up. This applies to everybody but it certainly applies to him given what he’s been through. We’re not going to cut corners. But we’re optimistic that he’s going to be ready to roll.”
The Red Sox were wise not to rush the young outfielder’s return from a back injury but long before the sport went on hiatus, the expectation was that Verdugo should be ready before mid-season. The new target date for Opening Day in late-July is well beyond that point.
Verdugo was acquired as the centerpiece of the blockbuster trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers that sent Mookie Betts and David Price to the west coast. Boston also received some appealing prospects in the deal but Verdugo is the only player they can count on to pay immediate dividends.
It would be extremely unfair to expect Verdugo to replace the hole that Betts leaves in right field but he still has enticing upside. It wasn’t long ago that Verdugo was one of the top prospects in a deep Dodgers farm system and he flashed that potential in a strong rookie campaign that saw him hit .294/.342/.475 with 12 home runs and 44 RBI in 106 games.
Those numbers were compiled while playing his home games in pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium so we can project some improvement with the change in venue. Fenway isn’t a great home run park for left-handed hitters but Verdugo has shown the ability to hit to the opposite field at an above-average rate of about 25 percent for his career. We can envision him lofting the ball the other way to pepper the Green Monster for doubles.
The Red Sox signed Kevin Pillar to be a fourth outfielder, in part because of the uncertainty with Verdugo’s availability. The expectation was that Pillar would see plenty of time in right field early in the season. Now that Verdugo should be available out of the gate, Pillar will primarily serve in a platoon role with his right-handed bat complementing Boston’s trio of lefty outfielders. Pillar could still steal some time in right field in order to give Verdugo additional rest so that he isn’t pushed too hard following his return from injury.
We won’t be getting nearly as many Red Sox games as we hoped for this year but at least the club should have a healthier roster than expected to open the season.