Red Sox: Alex Cora will help Alex Verdugo thrive as “one of the best players” in MLB

Alex Verdugo of the Boston Red Sox reacts to hitting a solo home run. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Alex Verdugo of the Boston Red Sox reacts to hitting a solo home run. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora can help Alex Verdugo succeed.

One of Alex Cora‘s best traits as a manager is his ability to connect with his players. We saw several young players flourish under his watch during his first stint managing the Boston Red Sox and Alex Verdugo might be the next to benefit from Cora’s leadership.

Verdugo was acquired in last winter’s blockbuster trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers after the Red Sox had parted ways with Cora. After serving a one-year suspension for his role in the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal, the manager has returned to his rightful place in the dugout and he’s eager to work with his new right fielder.

In an interview with NESN’s Tom Caron, Cora praised Verdugo for the infectious energy that he brings to the team. He’s a player who shows emotion on the field and the manager views that as a positive attribute. When fans are allowed to pack Fenway Park again, the electric atmosphere they create is something Verdugo will feed on. He’s already starting to emerge as a fan-favorite, now Cora wants to help him take that next step to becoming a star.

"“He brings it every day, he shows emotion — which I’m OK with — he cares and he can be so much better too,” said Cora. “There’s a lot of things that he can do and I’m going to put him in a spot to become one of the best players in the league, and hopefully I can help him with that.”"

Verdugo impressed during his first season in Boston, hitting .308 with a .844 OPS, six home runs and four stolen bases in 53 games. This production earned him a 12th-place finish on the AL MVP ballot despite that his team was nowhere near contending.

He was arguably the team’s best player this year and one of few bright spots in an otherwise dismal season but we’re just scratching the surface of what Verdugo is capable of. The 24-year-old is only approaching his peak and still hasn’t completed a full season in the big leagues.

Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers both had the best years of their career under the guidance of Cora, only to take a step back during the manager’s one season of exile.

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The decline was particularly notable with Devers, who saw his .311 batting average and .916 OPS fall to a .263 AVG and .793 OPS this year. The improvements he made in the field vanished during the shortened season, as Devers reverted to being a liability at the hot corner. He went from being a borderline All-Star worth 4.9 WAR to barely above replacement level with 0.3 WAR.

The unpredictable nature of the shortened season amid a pandemic that interrupted their normal routine is partially responsible for these struggles but plenty of other players figured out how to succeed in this unprecedented environment. Devers simply looked lost and he wasn’t the only one.

Cora is the type of manager who can help these young players focus. His return should do wonders for helping Devers get back on track.

Now imagine what the manager can do with a player like Verdugo who already has his intensity amped up to 110 percent.

He has the skill set to be an elite player. Verdugo is a left-handed bat who can hit both right-handed pitching and southpaws. He proved capable of filling the lead-off spot after reluctantly taking over the role but he can hit anywhere in the lineup. Verdugo is a strong defensive player who adapted quickly to the quirky dimensions of Fenway.

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Verdugo has the upside to develop into one of the league’s best all-around players. He just needs the right manager to help him harness that ability. Considering his track record in bringing out the best in his players, Cora is the right man for the job.