As we inch closer to spring training, one of the key storylines for the 2023 Boston Red Sox season will be how young players like Triston Casas and Brayan Bello develop. For the Red Sox to make the playoffs, these young players will need to be successful. Given the current roster construction, the Red Sox may need key contributions this season from another young player in Enmanuel Valdez.
Valdez was acquired along with Wilyer Abreu from the Houston Astros in the Christian Vazquez trade last season. The Astros signed the 24-year-old out of the Dominican Republic in 2015. He spent the majority of his minor league career with various Astros affiliates. He has primarily played at second and third base in his career. After being promoted to the Triple-A Sugar Land Space Cowboys in 2022, he played 38 games with a .907 OPS with 10 home runs and 32 RBI. After his trade to the Red Sox, he spent the remainder of his 2022 season in Triple-A Worcester where, in 44 games, he had a .731 OPS with seven home runs. Between AA and AAA in 2022, he played 126 games with a .918 OPS, 28 home runs, and 107 RBI.
Soxprospects.com ranks Valdez as the 17th-best prospect in the team's minor league system. They predict him to have the ceiling of a bat-first utility player, though he's noted to have difficulties hitting against lefties and is a below-average defender.
In November 2022, the Red Sox added Valdez to the 40-man roster to protect him becoming a minor-league free agent. Additionally, he participated in the team’s 2023 Rookie Development Program, which includes seminars on adjusting to Major League Baseball. These seem to hint that the Red Sox are expecting contributions from him in the near future.
Given the team's current middle infield depth, Valdez may need to contribute as soon as this season. After the departure of Xander Bogaerts, the Red Sox find themselves very thin up the middle. It's expected that the team will start with a middle infield combination of Kiké Hernandez and Christian Arroyo, with recently acquired Adalberto Mondesi providing depth. However, all three players missed significant time last season with injuries. Though Valdez will likely start the season in Worcester, he could be called up, especially if Hernandez, Arroyo or Mondesi miss any time.
Valdez also provides the added benefit of batting left-handed, which could allow him to be a valuable platoon combination with the right-handed Arroyo and switch-hitting Mondesi. This could provide Alex Cora more versatility in lineup construction and will enable him to capitalize on specific matchups. Though he's considered a below-average defender, Valdez has played multiple positions, including second base, third base, and the outfield. This positional versatility would also help his chances of sticking with the major league club. It will be an essential spring training for Valdez as he tries to prove he can contribute to the Red Sox.
There are about three until the Red Sox play their first spring training game, so it's possible they will add another veteran free-agent middle infielder to the mix. If they don't, it might be an affirmation of how the team views Valdez. Though he won't arrive to the 2023 Boston Red Sox with as much fanfare as Casas and Bello, he might need to be a key contributor if the Red Sox are to remain competitive.