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Clemens, Schilling closing in on HOF

Mo, Edgar, Doc right on track for election; Moose sits on the bubble
MLB.com @mattkellyMLB

The Hot Stove has dominated conversation this winter, but believe it or not, it's almost Hall of Fame time.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame will announce the results of the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot today, live on MLB Network and simulcast on MLB.com (coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET, with the announcement shortly after 6 p.m.), and the baseball world will find out who will join Veterans Committee selections Harold Baines and Lee Smith in the Class of 2019. This year's class figures to follow suit with the last five elections that featured at least two BBWAA inductees, further clearing the ballot "logjam" that has characterized the most recent voting cycles.

The Hot Stove has dominated conversation this winter, but believe it or not, it's almost Hall of Fame time.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame will announce the results of the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot today, live on MLB Network and simulcast on MLB.com (coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET, with the announcement shortly after 6 p.m.), and the baseball world will find out who will join Veterans Committee selections Harold Baines and Lee Smith in the Class of 2019. This year's class figures to follow suit with the last five elections that featured at least two BBWAA inductees, further clearing the ballot "logjam" that has characterized the most recent voting cycles.

It seems that more and more BBWAA voters are making their ballots public with each passing year, and so while we don't know this year's results for certain, the 200-plus ballots aggregated by tracker Ryan Thibodaux (@NotMrTibbs) can help us make educated guesses (as a reminder, players need to be named on at least 75 percent of ballots to gain election). Scanning those public ballots, here are the storylines emerging from this year's Hall vote.

Video: Will Mariano Rivera be a unanimous Hall of Famer?

Mo still has a chance at perfection
Ken Griffey Jr. came oh-so-close to being the first unanimous Hall of Fame electee when he garnered a record 99.3 percent of the BBWAA vote in 2016, but longtime Yankees closer Mariano Rivera could claim that honor -- or at least break Griffey's record. Rivera's name had appeared on all public ballots compiled by Thibodaux as of Monday, for some obvious reasons: He was an essential part of five World Series championship teams in the Bronx, owns the all-time saves record and also the best league-adjusted ERA+ (205, where 100 represents the league average) in history by a wide margin.

But there's a reason why legends like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays (and countless others) were not voted in unanimously; getting roughly 400 people to agree on anything is nearly impossible. At least one voter will likely omit Rivera for a variety of factors, including his role as a reliever, a strategic decision to give his vote to another candidate more in need or to simply hold the line that no player should go in with a perfect vote. That won't take anything away from Rivera, who was destined for Cooperstown the moment he stepped off the mound for the last time in 2013.

There was some uncertainty whether the late Roy Halladay would also be a first-ballot choice, but the longtime ace now seems like a lock with his current percentage hovering around 94 percent.

This could be the year for Edgar and Moose
The past 10 players who have received between 70-74 percent of a BBWAA vote gained election the very next year, and Edgar Martinez looks like he'll be No. 11. The Mariners legend, who earned 70.4 percent of last year's vote, has already gained a net 17 ballots from returning voters. He now looks like a sure bet with more than 90 percent of the public ballots going his way.

Video: Roundtable breaks down Mussina's HOF candidacy

Mike Mussina has also gained a net 17 votes from 2018, when he improved his chances significantly by earning 63.5 percent. The former Orioles and Yankees stalwart needs to maintain that pace, as Thibodaux estimates Mussina will need to land on roughly 70 percent of the unknown ballots. That would give the Hall a four-player BBWAA class for just the fifth time ever, but it would be the third such class within the last five years.

Two ballot mainstays are changing the conversation
Larry Walker entered the BBWAA ballot in 2011 as Coors Field's first major test case in Hall of Fame voting, and now the conversation around Walker seems to be changing in his penultimate year of consideration. Many voters are recognizing Walker's excellent numbers away from Denver's mile-high altitude (along with his performances in Montreal and St. Louis), and that's helped him surge in the polls. The popular right fielder has already gained 37 net votes -- more than any other returning candidate -- from 2018, when he finished at just 34.1 percent. Walker stands to enjoy the same final-year push as Martinez and Mussina in 2020 if he can remain somewhere near his current 67-percent pace on public ballots. His case will likely have a lot of bearing on fellow Rockies great Todd Helton, who's currently hovering around 20 percent in his ballot debut.

Video: A look back at Walker's first and last MLB home runs

Slugging first baseman Fred McGriff is trending at roughly 36 percent and won't get into the Hall this year, but he should get serious consideration in his first Veterans Committee cycle (the "Today's Game" era electorate in 2022) thanks to a significant bump. McGriff has gained a net 32 ballots in his 10th and final year of eligibility as voters have begun to recognize his consistency and clutch postseason performances at the precipice of baseball's "Steroid Era."

The debate continues
Speaking of that high-octane era, the Hall conversation wouldn't be complete without mention of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Their numbers would be unassailable if there weren't questions as to how they attained them, and that complicated question has split the electorate ever since the pair landed on the ballot in 2013. Bonds and Clemens are currently trending right near the 75-percent threshold, but the pair has gained just three votes apiece from 2018, when they finished at 56.4 percent and 57.3 percent, respectively. They'll likely need much more than that over the next week, since private voters have historically left Bonds and Clemens off their ballots. More ballot stagnation would mean the superstars' candidacies could truly come down to the wire if they don't gain election before their final year of eligibility in 2022.

Video: Bonds Moments

Curt Schilling is another player who could already be in the Hall if not for off-field considerations, but his 13 net votes gained give him an outside chance of election as soon as this year. Schilling, like Bonds and Clemens, has until 2022 to get over the hump.

These stars are on the bubble
Former Yankees great Andy Pettitte started and won more postseason games than any pitcher in history, but nevertheless he's in some danger of being a one-and-done candidate. Pettitte has been named on 6.8 percent of public ballots to this point, and needs to stay above 5 percent to remain on the ballot. Ten-time Gold Glove Award winner Andruw Jones is also in jeopardy, having received roughly 9 percent of the vote so far. Fellow first-timers Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt and Michael Young will all need significant help to stick around for 2020.

Video: MLB Now debates Edgar Martinez, Lance Berkman for HOF

There are a handful of interesting cases in the middle of the pack. Manny Ramirez has gained just four points over his 22-percent total in 2018, and he needs to build significant momentum moving forward. Another pair of 500-homer hitters in Gary Sheffield and Sammy Sosa remain stagnant between 10 and 15 percent, and second baseman Jeff Kent and closer Billy Wagner remain stuck under 20 percent. Defensive stalwarts Scott Rolen and Omar Vizquel have gained a net 15 and 14 votes, respectively, with eight years of BBWAA consideration left.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.

Chavis among MLB's Top 10 3B prospects

MLB.com @JonathanMayo

MLB Pipeline will unveil its 2019 Top 100 Prospects list with a one-hour show on MLB Network and MLB.com on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. Leading up to the release, we look at baseball's top 10 prospects at each position.

There is obviously a lot of turnover in the prospect world. Players graduate, they fall off lists, rankings change frequently. Yet the very top of this year's Top 10 third base propsects list is identical to last year's version.

MLB Pipeline will unveil its 2019 Top 100 Prospects list with a one-hour show on MLB Network and MLB.com on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. Leading up to the release, we look at baseball's top 10 prospects at each position.

There is obviously a lot of turnover in the prospect world. Players graduate, they fall off lists, rankings change frequently. Yet the very top of this year's Top 10 third base propsects list is identical to last year's version.

Top 10 Prospects by Position

That's for good reason. Blue Jays phenom Vladimir Guerrero Jr. cemented his place atop this, and pretty much every, list with his 2018 season. And while the Reds' Nick Senzel missed time because of injury, he showed that his all-around toolset is just about big league ready.

There should be change at the top soon enough, with both Guerrero and Senzel likely to graduate off the list at some point in 2019. Whether they'll prove to be as successful as the best players from previous versions of this list remains to be seen. The Rockies' Nolan Arenado, No. 1 on the list in 2012, has the highest cumulative Wins Above Replacement (33.1 bWAR) of any player on this list since we began ranking the Top 10 prospects by position in 2011. The Cubs' Kris Bryant, who topped this Top 10 in 2015, is next at 21.6, while Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon is third (21.1).

And there's continuity beyond the top of the list as well. With Michael Chavis still on the list, that makes six straight years the Red Sox have had at least one representative on this Top 10 (Garin Cecchini, 2014-15; Rafael Devers, 2014-17; Chavis, 2018-19). The Braves aren't far behind. Austin Riley is on the list for a fourth straight year, giving Atlanta five consecutive years of representation (Rio Ruiz, 2015).

The Top 10 (ETA)
1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays (2019)
2. Nick Senzel, Reds (2019)
3. Austin Riley, Braves (2019)
4. Ke'Bryan Hayes, Pirates (2019)
5. Jonathan India, Reds (2021)
6. Alec Bohm, Phillies (2021)
7. Nolan Gorman, Cardinals (2022)
8. Nolan Jones, Indians (2020)
9. Ryan Mountcastle, Orioles (2019)
10. Michael Chavis, Red Sox (2019)
Complete list »

Top tools

Best Hitter: Guerrero (80)
It's the first 80 hit grade we've ever given out, and for good reason. Guerrero now has a career .331/.414/.529 line heading into 2019, and he flirted with .400 for much of '18, finishing at .381/.437/.636 in Triple-A, at age 19. He's walked (146) more times than he's struck out (135) in his career.

Video: Top Prospects: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B, Blue Jays

Best Power: Guerrero (70)
He had 13 homers and 43 extra-base hits while slugging .485 as an 18-year-old in 2017. Last year, he upped that to 20 home runs, 50 extra-base hits and a .636 slugging percentage. The arrow is still pointing up for him in terms of his power potential, with 30-plus homers extremely realistic in the big leagues.

Fastest Runner: Senzel (60)
Senzel's speed has helped him to reach double-digits in steals in both 2016 and '17, and he's swiped 40 bases in 231 Minor League games through 2018. His athleticism has also allowed him to move around the field in addition to showing excellent range at the hot corner, showing an ability to play second and even a little shortstop, while trying the outfield on for size as well.

Video: Top Prospects: Nick Senzel, 3B, Reds

Best Arm: Guerrero, Senzel, Riley, Hayes, Jones (60)
All five have plus arms and may have flashed better than 60-grade at times. Riley was a pitcher in high school, one who was up to 92 mph from the mound as a senior, so we'll give him the slight edge.

Video: Top Prospects: Austin Riley, 3B, Braves

Best Defender: Hayes, Senzel (60)
Hayes was the third baseman on this year's All-Defense Prospect team, thanks to his outstanding range, hands, instincts and arm. Senzel isn't far behind and might only be 1A to Hayes because he missed time due to injury.

Video: Top Prospects: Ke'Bryan Hayes, 3B, Pirates

Superlatives

Highest Ceiling: Guerrero
Guerrero is one of the best offensive prospects we've ever seen, one who should hit well over .300 and hit more than 30 homers annually. That's a perennial All-Star, one who could wow big league crowds for a very long time to come.

Highest Floor: Guerrero
At worst, Guerrero moves to first and maybe doesn't hit more than 30 homers per year. He's as sure a bet to hit in the Majors as any prospect to come through a farm system.

Rookie of the Year Candidate: Guerrero
Senzel is competing for an Opening Day spot on the Reds' roster and if he stays healthy, he could compete for National League honors. But even if Vladdy starts the year in Triple-A, the impact he should have on the Blue Jays' roster should make him a front-runner in the American League.

Highest Riser: Riley
Everyone on this list came in with some prospect stock, but Riley has moved the most, especially considering many teams liked him as a pitcher coming out of high school in 2015. Then there were those who doubted he'd hit enough to tap into his considerable raw power. He debuted on the Braves' Top 30 at No. 20 post-Draft and initially moved up and down that list before cracking the Top 10 3B list in 2017.

Humblest Beginning: Jones
Everyone on this list was a first- or second-round pick, or a big international signing, so it's tough to give anyone this crown. Jones signed for nearly twice slot value in the second round. He had a rather humble pro debut in the rookie-level Arizona League and then spent a second summer in full-season ball. He really jumped up in 2018 by playing across two levels of Class A ball and reaching the Top 100 overall.

Video: Top Prospects: Nolan Jones, 3B, Indians

Most to Prove: Chavis
Chavis played in only 46 games in 2018 after serving an 80-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. Then he was unable to play in the Arizona Fall League to make up for lost time because of injury. He's eager to prove to the Red Sox that he's still the potential run-producer he looked like he was becoming after a huge 2017 campaign.

Video: Top Prospects: Michael Chavis, 3B, Red Sox

Keep An Eye On: Colton Welker, Rockies
All the 2016 fourth-round pick has done is hit, even when missing time because of injury. He's never hit below .329 in any of his three stops and carries a .337/.383/.492 line into his 2019 season, when he'll be making the move up to Double-A.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Red Sox CEO: We want Betts in Boston for life

Reigning AL MVP's contract runs through 2020 season
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- Superstar Mookie Betts has become the face of the Red Sox, and there's strong sentiment at the highest levels of the organization for that to be the case for many years to come.

Betts can be a free agent after the 2020 season, but the Red Sox have made it clear multiple times at Winter Weekend that they hope it never gets to that point.

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- Superstar Mookie Betts has become the face of the Red Sox, and there's strong sentiment at the highest levels of the organization for that to be the case for many years to come.

Betts can be a free agent after the 2020 season, but the Red Sox have made it clear multiple times at Winter Weekend that they hope it never gets to that point.

"He's the exact type of player you want to have on your team," Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy said. "Not just from what he does on the field, but off the field. He's such a great person and we'd love to have him be a Red Sox for his entire career."

Betts would love that also, but he knows that there are no guarantees when it comes to the business of baseball.

"Contract things are kind of tough to come up with, especially with both sides and kind of how the economics and all those things work," Betts said. "I love Boston, love my teammates, love the fans and all those types of things, so we'll just continue to see what happens."

What happened this winter is that the sides did what they couldn't last offseason and avoided an arbitration hearing. Betts instead signed a one-year, $20 million contract, which represented a raise of $9.5 million.

"I mean, those things are kind of tough. I'm happy with the result," Betts said. "Now, it's just time to play baseball."

Video: Betts signs record deal to avoid arbitration

And few can play it at the same level of Betts, who is a force in every way possible on both sides of the ball and just won the American League's Most Valuable Player Award.

For that reason, it's easy to see why the thought of him playing anywhere else is nauseating to the Red Sox.

"You certainly understand, you try to put yourself in the other person's shoes, he's going to want to see what the market looks like and we understand that," Kennedy said. "But we've made it crystal clear that we want him a part of the Red Sox organization long term. We were chatting last night, I don't know why a player would ever want to play anywhere else other than Boston.

"That comes from a very biased person. I'm a Bostonian. But you look around at the fan support, you look at this ownership group. The commitment to winning, the great history and tradition. Talk to a lot of alums who have been here and gone other places. And I just think a lot of them wish they had stayed in Boston and finished their careers here. We're now approaching a 20-year run of an era in Boston sports unlike any other in the history of professional sports. This is where you want to be."

Betts appreciates hearing how much the club would like to keep him beyond 2020.

"Yeah, it means a lot," Betts said. "I've done something well, obviously, and I have the utmost respect for those guys. They're great people. Just to be able to put on the uniform in general is a blessing, and when it says Red Sox on it, it makes it that much better."

It has been a whirlwind offseason for Betts. Just a week after winning the World Series, his first child (a girl) was born.

"It's a lot. You know, I think it's just another responsibility. She's another responsibility you have to take care of. Can't just worry about yourself," Betts said. "So it kind of teaches you perspective . Now I have a new perspective on life and taking care of things. Just have to try and find a way to get some sleep. That's going to be the most important thing right now."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox, Mookie Betts

Patriots AFC title game win makes MLB history

As a result of their overtime win over the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday night, Tom Brady and the Patriots are marching into yet another Super Bowl -- this time, matched up with Jared Goff and the Los Angeles Rams.

If the matchup of a Boston-area (OK, the Patriots technically play in Foxborough, but close enough) versus Los Angeles title game seems familiar, well ... 

Sale healthy, open to potential extension talks

At Winter Weekend, lefty encouraged by workouts, eyes another ring
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- When last you saw Chris Sale, he was putting away Manny Machado, who fell to one knee, to end the World Series with about the most wicked slider humanly possible. But in the days and weeks leading up to that, you saw a lefty ace who was trying to get his full health back after an unsettling bout of left shoulder inflammation.

So when it comes to encouraging developments at Red Sox Winter Weekend, the fact that Sale is a full go again and feeling great about where he's at with his shoulder is at or near the top of the list.

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- When last you saw Chris Sale, he was putting away Manny Machado, who fell to one knee, to end the World Series with about the most wicked slider humanly possible. But in the days and weeks leading up to that, you saw a lefty ace who was trying to get his full health back after an unsettling bout of left shoulder inflammation.

So when it comes to encouraging developments at Red Sox Winter Weekend, the fact that Sale is a full go again and feeling great about where he's at with his shoulder is at or near the top of the list.

"Good, really good," said Sale on Saturday. "I've been working out at JetBlue the entire offseason, going up there four or five days a week and training, so we have a good setup going."

Video: WS2018 Gm5: Sale strikes out the side to clinch WS

While Sale is always a focal point with the Red Sox, it will have an added element in 2019 because the lanky lefty is eligible for free agency after the season.

Would Sale talk extension with the club before that?

"My phone is on if they call me," said Sale. "Obviously nothing has happened up until this point. If they call, I'd answer."

Tweet from @RedSox: The kind of greeting Chris Sale should receive every time he walks into a room. 👏👏👏#SoxWinterWeekend pic.twitter.com/GlOGS8EZ0w

Sale doesn't think that the specter of free agency will have any impact on his preparation or performance for 2019.

"I'm not doing anything different," Sale said. "Just more of the same. I think for me personally, I just keep doing what I've always done. I've never really paid attention to stats or numbers or dollars and cents and all this other stuff. I just look at the left and right column and try and get more in the left than the right.

"My goals, my mindset, my everything doesn't change. I just keep playing baseball, and we'll either figure it out over the next couple months or figure it out in a few months. One or the other."

The key to Sale's short- and long-term success is the strength of his left shoulder, which betrayed him starting in late July of last season.

Sale is doing everything he can to make sure there's no repeat of that in '19.

"I've been playing catch for a couple of months and doing some things to strengthen my shoulder in the training room, but also doing some motions in the weight room to strengthen the shoulder and stuff like that," said Sale. "It's been good. Everything has been going well."

All Sale needs to do to feel the difference in his health is to play catch.

"Obviously I felt normal again, being able to throw free and easy and feel loose and kind of have that whip back; it's obviously a nice feeling," Sale said. "We're just kind of building up with a normal offseason and getting ready for Spring Training."

Video: WS2018 Gm5: Sale thrilled on winning first WS

For the first time in his career, Sale will enter Spring Training already having won a World Series. How does that change things for him?

"Instead of winning [one] World Series, I want to win another one," Sale said. "Nothing changes. My wife asked me that same question. You work your entire life to achieve this goal, so what do you do once you achieve it? I said, 'You do it again.' It's why we sign up. You win once and you want to keep winning, and when you don't win, all you want to do is win. Our goal is to continue to keep winning games and win a couple of those trophies."

To get another one, the Red Sox will need a lot more wipeout sliders from Sale, who did get a few chances to look at the ones that ended the 2018 baseball season at Dodger Stadium.

"I've watched it maybe a couple hundred thousand times," quipped Sale. "It never gets old. Those last few, even just watching kind of the highlights from the entire series, it's really special. It's cool. I've worked my entire life, and we as a team worked from Day 1 of Spring Training to get there. And we got it. It was everything you can dream of."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox, Chris Sale

Sale: 'I would love it' if Kimbrel rejoined Sox

Benintendi excited to hit leadoff; Bogaerts open to staying in Boston beyond current contract
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- Though there's a tendency to think about Craig Kimbrel in the past tense as it relates to the Red Sox, a reunion shouldn't be entirely ruled out until the fireballing closer signs somewhere else.

And if he does come back, many of his teammates would welcome it.

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- Though there's a tendency to think about Craig Kimbrel in the past tense as it relates to the Red Sox, a reunion shouldn't be entirely ruled out until the fireballing closer signs somewhere else.

And if he does come back, many of his teammates would welcome it.

"I would love it," said Red Sox ace Chris Sale. "I clearly don't have any say in it, but he's as good as it gets on and off the field as far as being a good guy in the clubhouse and a fun guy to be around. Obviously his numbers and what he does on the field speak for themselves. He's been the best. I would love to have that guy locking down wins for us again."

Though Kimbrel was an All-Star in all three of his seasons for the Red Sox, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has stated throughout the offseason he doesn't anticipate a big expenditure at closer due to a payroll that is already expected to be above $240 million.

Hot Stove Tracker

If Kimbrel does sign with another team, the Red Sox could promote an internal candidate such as Matt Barnes.

"I'd definitely relish the challenge. Would definitely look forward to it," said Barnes. "But at the same time I'm not going to sit here and wish that we don't sign Craig. Craig's a good friend. The organization is going to make the best decision that they think possible for the organization. But if we don't sign him, then I'll be ready or whoever it will be will be ready. And we'll be just fine."

Benintendi "all for" switch to leadoff
One of the first decisions Red Sox manager Alex Cora made about 2019 was to flip-flop the top of his batting order from last season and have Andrew Benintendi bat first while shifting MVP Mookie Betts to the No. 2 slot. Both players spoke publicly about the move for the first time on Saturday during the team's Winter Weekend.

"I'm going to try to set the tone like Mookie did last year and we'll see. It will be fun," said Benintendi. "I was all for it. It makes sense. I'm going to try to do my job as the leadoff guy and we'll see what happens."

Despite the strong season the Red Sox had offensively, Benintendi wasn't surprised when Cora told him about the switch.

"No, not really. I feel like you've got the MVP. He's capable of driving in 100-plus," Benintendi said. "I think that maybe me hitting leadoff and him hitting second, it will give him a chance to drive in some more runs. But yeah, I'm looking forward to it. I'm excited."

Betts appreciated the way Cora presented the information to him while relaying the switch.

"Cora hasn't put us in the wrong position yet, so there's no reason to start questioning him now. We'll just kind of see what happens," said Betts. "You know he came in and said it and was fully prepared to kind of state his why, and once he did that, I didn't say much. 'Alright, I got you.'"

Xander nearing crossroads
Shortstop Xander Bogaerts, a hitting machine with the Red Sox for the past five seasons, is eligible for free agency at the end of the '19 season.

The Red Sox did approach his representation about an extension this offseason before agreeing with him on a one-year, $12 million contract.

Bogaerts is certainly open to staying in Boston beyond that deal.

"I mean, I enjoy playing here," Bogaerts said. "Obviously it's a winning city. It's a winning team. I mean, we've been to the playoffs three times in a row. So I don't see what's not to like about here. I mean, the contract stuff is pretty much left to my agents. I think if we can figure out something right, there's always room to talk. But I enjoy it.

"Yeah, man. It's an awesome city. As I said again, winning is a main priority here."

Video: Bogaerts talks about incredible World Series parade

Kennedy expands on White House decision
Red Sox president/CEO Sam Kennedy said that many discussions are taking place within the upper levels of the organization on whether the tentative plan to visit the White House on Feb. 15 will come to fruition.

The issue is the lingering government shutdown.

"Alex [Cora], and I and John [Henry] and Tom [Werner] and Dave [Dombrowski] and the whole front office have been in constant communication about the trip. The conversation we've been having around the appropriateness of going during a government shutdown," said Kennedy.

"We're going to continue to talk to the White House, continue to talk to Major League Baseball and see what is the best path forward. There is a desire to go and we have a date, but we just want to make sure [going during] the shutdown doesn't send a wrong message. There's a lot of people out there suffering and we want to be sensitive to that. We'll have more information probably in the coming days ahead."

As Kennedy explained, it is a sensitive topic that goes far beyond the Red Sox.

"It's hard, you've got 800,000 federal workers who are not working right now … some are working, some are not working, but not receiving paychecks and it's hit people hard in the New England area," Kennedy said. "Not sure it's appropriate to be celebrating in such a public way while there's people who are struggling right now. That's been the internal conversation and we'll continue to examine it and make a decision here pretty soon."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox, Craig Kimbrel, Chris Sale

Red Sox hungry for elusive World Series repeat

'I think this year is a real test,' Henry says on Day 1 of Winter Weekend
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- One of the precious few accomplishments that Red Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner have yet to see during their stewardship is a repeat World Series championship.

But as the team's annual Winter Weekend kicked off on Friday night at Foxwoods Resort Casino, the two executives both displayed optimism that the team's 2019 edition is better positioned to pull this off than the unsuccessful quests of '05, '08 and '14.

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- One of the precious few accomplishments that Red Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner have yet to see during their stewardship is a repeat World Series championship.

But as the team's annual Winter Weekend kicked off on Friday night at Foxwoods Resort Casino, the two executives both displayed optimism that the team's 2019 edition is better positioned to pull this off than the unsuccessful quests of '05, '08 and '14.

The same stacked roster that went 119-57 last year (including the postseason) is largely back. And the core remains rich in star players in their prime led by a manager in Alex Cora who seems to push every right button.

Tweet from @RedSox: 2018 #WorldSeries Champs! 🏆Your 2019 #RedSox! #SoxWinterWeekend pic.twitter.com/sIscJ5VAE4

"It was a terrific team last year, a fantastic team last year. To be able to bring them back, almost intact, it's difficult these days and rare," said Henry. "You know it's just so hard to repeat, as we've seen over the years, because 162 games is such an endurance. There's so much endurance required that it's difficult to do, and it's difficult to keep your focus.

"And we were very focused last year. I remember in '13 we were really focused. We weren't in '14 and it showed so I think this year is a real test. Because we know how talented this group is. It's a real test. And we saw in the playoffs, when you test these guys, this is a pretty good group. So it should be a lot of fun to watch this year."

Tweet from @John_W_Henry: pic.twitter.com/zrCaOiAdDR

In other words, it's a good time to be leading the Red Sox.

"This is a great time to think about how we're going to repeat next year," said Werner.

Cora, by the way, remains unabashedly enthused by what his team is capable of for an encore performance.

"If you guys thought last year was special, wait until this year!" Cora roared to the crowd at Thursday's Boston Baseball Writers Dinner.

"Let's do it again next year. Why not?" Cora said to the packed house at Friday's Town Hall event.

For that repeat to become possible, the Red Sox might have to find some upgrades for the back end of the bullpen, whether it is prior to the season or during the season. Joe Kelly went to the Dodgers as a free agent. Though perennial All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel hasn't signed with another team yet, it seems more likely than not that he will.

Video: Red Sox not worried about signing proven closer

The Red Sox had the highest payroll in MLB last season and went over the highest luxury-tax threshold. They are currently just under that threshold with the 2019 payroll but they might go over it to add a key reliever.

"Would we get another reliever? Our budget is below that," said Henry. "But last year we exceeded our budget. But it's not necessarily the CBT that is your constraint. It's how much money are you willing to lose."

A year ago, the Sox signed J.D. Martinez during Spring Training -- adding a major piece of payroll. Though a reliever wouldn't cost that much, Henry's ownership group has typically been willing to spend to fill a last remaining need.

"Our goal has always been to field a competitive team," said Werner. "Some years we're under [the luxury-tax penalty]. Last year as everybody knows we had the highest payroll in baseball. Our intention is to fuel a very competitive team every year. I know there's been a lot of talk about the CBT being a salary cap but every team can decide what they want to do.

"We looked at our team last year and made the decision to go sign J.D. Martinez in Spring Training. That's six weeks from today. I think we signed him in the last week of February. Our intention is to field a competitive team."

Tweet from @RedSox: No big deal... Just the WS Champs! #SoxWinterWeekend ������ pic.twitter.com/HevS1mZpQc

Momentum with Mookie
American League Most Valuable Player Award winner Mookie Betts has two more seasons before free agency, and ownership was able to avoid an arbitration hearing with its star right fielder. Betts agreed to a one-year, $20 million deal a week ago, setting a record for a player in his second year of arbitration eligibility. Last year, Betts did go to arbitration with the Sox.

The next goal is for the Red Sox to sign Betts to a long-term extension before he hits free agency.

"He's one of the great players of our generation," said Werner. "Obviously if we have conversations, they will be private, but it's our hope that he'll be a Red Sox player for his whole baseball career."

Video: Betts signs record deal to avoid arbitration

Keeping an eye on government shutdown
Though Feb. 15 is still the target date for the Red Sox to go to the White House and to celebrate their most recent World Series championship, the current government shutdown is the reason the trip is still not set in stone.

"It's tough with the government shutdown. It's something we'll be watching," said Henry. "It would be tough [to go with a government shutdown]."

The shutdown started on Dec. 22, and there's yet to be any indication of when it will end. Henry and Werner both plan on making the trip, which is optional to the players.

"It's our intention to go. We went when President Bush honored the team, we went when President Obama honored the team, and we look at it as a way to celebrate what the team accomplished," said Werner. "But as John said, it's awkward if there's a shutdown."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox

Red Sox stay confident after Yankees' moves

With core intact, Dombrowski, Cora not worried about signing proven closer
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

BOSTON -- Another potential Red Sox closing target was taken off the free-agent market on Thursday when Adam Ottavino signed with the rival Yankees, sources confirmed to MLB.com.

With less than a month before Spring Training, this leaves the defending World Series champions with a loaded roster that lacks one thing: a proven closer.

BOSTON -- Another potential Red Sox closing target was taken off the free-agent market on Thursday when Adam Ottavino signed with the rival Yankees, sources confirmed to MLB.com.

With less than a month before Spring Training, this leaves the defending World Series champions with a loaded roster that lacks one thing: a proven closer.

While the uncertainty in the ninth inning is unsettling to fans, Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and manager Alex Cora both expressed confidence that the team will be fine regardless of whether it acquires another reliever before the season starts.

Latest Hot Stove rumors

It seems obvious that payroll concerns have prevented the Red Sox from being aggressive, while the likes of Andrew Miller, David Robertson, Zach Britton, Kelvin Herrera and Ottavino have found new homes is payroll.

"Sometimes you have to evaluate where you're going to spend your dollars," Dombrowski said prior to Thursday night's Boston Baseball Writers Dinner. "We decided to keep back the rest of the core of the club. We like our team a great deal, and we think some of the guys internally can do the job. Can we get better? Perhaps. We'll see what takes place in that regard."

The Red Sox already have a projected payroll of close to $240 million and would like to avoid going over the luxury-tax penalty for the second straight year. That threshold this year is $246 million.

"Well, I'd love to [avoid the penalty]," Dombrowski said. "I mean, we don't have any mandate to do that, but again, it really hasn't changed. There is a reason why they call it a penalty, and the higher you go, the penalty is quite significant. Ideally we'd like to stay there, but that was really our goal last year before the season started, and we did end up going over."

There are three scenarios left for Dombrowski. One would be to promote someone internally. Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier are the top options.

Inbox: Should Red Sox improve behind the dish?

There's always the possibility of a trade, which is how the Sox got Craig Kimbrel three years ago.

And the least likely scenario would be to bring back Kimbrel, who remains on the market and is going to come at a substantial cost.

Video: ALCS Gm2: Barnes gets Sox out of jam, earns win

"Again, there's a lot of players that are out there at this point. It could [come from within]," Dombrowski said. "But that's also one decision that we don't have to really make that decision until March 28, which is our first game."

When asked directly about Kimbrel, Dombrowski maintained the stance he has taken since the Winter Meetings.

"I wouldn't really comment on individual situations other than to say I still don't expect us to have a high expenditure in our closer situation," said Dombrowski.

If you go by the numbers from 2018, Barnes (96 strikeouts in 61 2/3 innings) at least has the potential to be a strong option in the ninth inning.

Video: BOS@NYY Gm4: Brasier completes a 1-2-3 7th inning

Brasier came out of nowhere last year, but he is heavily in the team's plans this season to the point that he could compete to be the closer.

And don't forget about Tyler Thornburg. Though his first two seasons in Boston have been almost a complete loss due to injuries or recovering from them, the righty could at last be healthy enough to resume being the major weapon he was for Milwaukee in 2016. Dare to dream?

Knuckleballer Steven Wright can also be an important factor in the late innings, though it would be unorthodox but not unheard of for him to close.

"I mean, we've got some capable guys," said Cora. "We can maximize the guys that we have."

If the bullpen doesn't stack up on paper with the Yankees -- and right now it clearly doesn't -- Cora thinks the Red Sox can accentuate their other strengths.

"People get caught up obviously in what New York is doing. We knew that they were going to make moves," Cora said. "They have a great bullpen, obviously. But we have a great rotation. It balances out. Our strength is the rotation. If that's the only question mark we have, so be it."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox, Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier

Pedroia 'doing well' as running program begins

MLB.com @IanMBrowne

BOSTON -- How are the early stages of Dustin Pedroia's running program going?

"Well, if you listen to him, he's doing great," said Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. "He sent me a text the other night with [a video of] him running and said, 'Don't worry, I'll be ready.' So, he's started to run. I mean, he's doing well from his own perspective. He has started the program. He's done, basically, the pace that was described to me. But only time will tell. I can't really give that answer at this time. But he sent me a note with him running and he said, 'You can count on me.'"

BOSTON -- How are the early stages of Dustin Pedroia's running program going?

"Well, if you listen to him, he's doing great," said Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. "He sent me a text the other night with [a video of] him running and said, 'Don't worry, I'll be ready.' So, he's started to run. I mean, he's doing well from his own perspective. He has started the program. He's done, basically, the pace that was described to me. But only time will tell. I can't really give that answer at this time. But he sent me a note with him running and he said, 'You can count on me.'"

The Red Sox would love to count on Pedroia, but they know it's important to take a wait-and-see approach.

Video: Dombrowski hoping Pedroia is ready for Opening Day

The veteran second baseman's left knee has been a mess since the start of the 2017 season, and he played just three games during last season's championship campaign.

"I actually talked to him two days ago," said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. "He's in a good mood, going through his progression. I just want him to be patient. I think that's the most important thing. In his case we know it's very difficult. It's been a good offseason for him from everything he says. Hopefully when he gets there in Spring Training, he's a go and we can see him bouncing back and doing all the good things offensively and defensively and see him move around and see him smile again.

"For how great he was last year it was a tough one. But he was a great teammate. He was very helpful for us. But on the field he's more helpful than on the bench. We just have to be patient. I think the whole organization has to be that way. But we believe in him."

If Pedroia has a setback, the Red Sox feel good about their depth at second base between Brock Holt and Eduardo Nunez.

Catching logjam
Though Dombrowski has been open about the fact the Red Sox don't want to carry three catchers again, it's possible that Christian Vazquez, Sandy Leon and Blake Swihart will still be on the roster when Spring Training starts.

But Dombrowski said he still expects to move one of them before Opening Day, which is set for March 28 at Seattle.

Swihart is the most untapped resource of the three due to injuries earlier in his career and a lack of playing time last season. Due to his offensive potential and the fact he is still relatively young at 26, Swihart could be the player who would bring back the best return in a trade.

In town for Thursday's Boston Baseball Writers Dinner, Swihart was unfazed by the uncertainty.

"It's kind of been the same situation the last three years," Swihart said. "Just go in there, compete, try to show them what I've been working on and the improvements I've made and trying to just let my ability take over. I think I've been in every trade talk since the day I was drafted, I think you guys know that. It's kind of just the same thing over and over from the trade-talk stuff. I just wake up every morning and get my work in and I'm still part of the Boston Red Sox right now so that's what I'm focused on."

Camp plans
Cora is already contemplating the speech he will give to his team prior to the first full-squad workout on Feb. 18. It will obviously center on the opportunity to become baseball's first repeat champion since the Yankees won for the third time in a row in 2000.

"Oh yeah, we'll talk about hangovers and all that stuff, and the banquet circuit. We'll challenge them," said Cora. "One thing about this group, and that's a cool thing, throughout the offseason they're staying locked in. We text and we call and we talk about next year. Yeah, we're celebrating and we're enjoying the whole thing but it looks like they turned the page a month ago.

"They're locked in. [Pitching coach] Dana [LeVangie] went to Fort Myers about 10 days ago. He met with Chris [Sale] and David [Price] and saw Jackie [Bradley Jr.], and [Matt Barnes] was there. It's business as usual. I'm looking forward to being in front of the group and talking to them."

Part of the method to Cora's repeat efforts will be to exercise caution with the starting pitchers early in Spring Training, much like he did this past season.

"It's pretty similar to what we did last year," Cora said. "It's already mapped out. I think last year, if I'm not mistaken, Chris threw his first game on March 14. I think it's kind of like the same thing. If you look around, you have the four guys: Rick [Porcello], Chris, David and Nate [Eovaldi]. And in the bullpen, [Ryan] Brasier, Barnes, they pitched a lot. But the other guys didn't pitch that much. It wasn't like they pitched a lot in October. There are certain guys that are going to be on a regular routine. The other ones, we'll take care of them. Our goal is to be ready for Seattle. That's the most important thing."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

Boston Red Sox, Dustin Pedroia

Yanks have been active, but don't sleep on Sox

MLB.com @MikeLupica

Sometimes, the ebb and flow of the rivalry between the Red Sox and the Yankees is as predictable as, well, the tide. The Yankees make some kind of move in the offseason -- the latest being a three-year deal for Adam Ottavino that makes a formidable bullpen into perhaps the best ever -- and the coverage, especially in New York, is that the other teams in their league are going to be afraid to come out of the clubhouse this season. It was the same way last offseason after New York traded for Giancarlo Stanton.

And there is often a reaction in Boston that the sky is, once again, falling. With the Ottavino signing, that is because a strength for the Yankees just got even stronger. And the Red Sox's bullpen, at least in the eyes of Red Sox Nation, has gotten considerably weaker since they were all posing with the World Series trophy in Los Angeles. Joe Kelly has gone to L.A. to pitch for the Dodgers. Craig Kimbrel, who was such a reliable closer for the Red Sox until he became a scary theme-park ride in the postseason, is still out there as a free agent.

Sometimes, the ebb and flow of the rivalry between the Red Sox and the Yankees is as predictable as, well, the tide. The Yankees make some kind of move in the offseason -- the latest being a three-year deal for Adam Ottavino that makes a formidable bullpen into perhaps the best ever -- and the coverage, especially in New York, is that the other teams in their league are going to be afraid to come out of the clubhouse this season. It was the same way last offseason after New York traded for Giancarlo Stanton.

And there is often a reaction in Boston that the sky is, once again, falling. With the Ottavino signing, that is because a strength for the Yankees just got even stronger. And the Red Sox's bullpen, at least in the eyes of Red Sox Nation, has gotten considerably weaker since they were all posing with the World Series trophy in Los Angeles. Joe Kelly has gone to L.A. to pitch for the Dodgers. Craig Kimbrel, who was such a reliable closer for the Red Sox until he became a scary theme-park ride in the postseason, is still out there as a free agent.

• Latest Hot Stove rumors

So the narrative, at least for now, is that the Yankees are winning this offseason the way the Red Sox won the last one simply by signing J.D. Martinez, who did for Boston what we all thought Stanton was going to do for New York.

Video: Ottavino reportedly signs with the Yankees

Maybe that's why Ottavino, who had such a fine season for the Rockies, is now being covered as if he's a young Mariano Rivera.

The Yankees have added Ottavino, retained Zach Britton, lost David Robertson to the Phillies, and still have Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances.

Video: Ottavino will reportedly bring filthy stuff to Yanks

The Red Sox retained starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi (whom I still think could be their closer someday), and have not replaced either Kimbrel or Kelly, at least for now. If president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, who did hardly anything wrong last season, makes no further bullpen moves, his closer in 2019 will either be Matt Barnes or Ryan Brasier.

So on Friday morning, I had two questions for Mr. Dombrowski.

The first was if he would be comfortable starting the season with the bullpen he has now.

Dombrowski: "Yes, we would."

The second question wasn't about Kimbrel specifically. I just wanted to know if he was done, this close to pitchers and catchers reporting.

Dombrowski: "Not sure if we are done or not. Nothing is imminent at this time."

Video: Justice on Kimbrel's market after Ottavino signing

If there was one thing that was supposed to separate the Yankees from the Red Sox in the postseason, it was the Yankees' bullpen: Chapman, Betances, Britton, Robertson, Chad Green. Of course, by the time the Red Sox won the World Series, the Sox had turned their bullpen into a great strength, mostly because Boston manager Alex Cora had brilliantly used four starting pitchers in key relief roles: David Price, Chris Sale, Rick Porcello and Eovaldi. In fact, you could argue that Eovaldi was every bit as much a pitching star as Price was in October. And it was Sale who eventually got the last three outs of Game 5 of the Series, striking out the side in the bottom of the ninth.

Video: WS2018 Gm5: Sale strikes out the side to clinch WS

I now see the Yankees' bullpen called a "super bullpen" and the greatest of all time. But, really, is it all that much better than the one with which they ended the 2018 season? Is Ottavino all that much better than Roberston, an inning at a time?

Listen: Have the Yankees clearly improved their team and their chances of beating the Red Sox since the season ended? They have. They picked up James Paxton, who is the kind of big arm they need in their rotation, and now we'll see if things work out better for him in New York than the last big arm they got from the Mariners (Michael Pineda). They picked up Troy Tulowitzki for a song and signed DJ LeMahieu to play all over the infield. Now they have Ottavino. It seems that spending the money they have takes them out of the game on Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, but who knows? They're the Yankees.

But the Yankees are in the heavyweight division of Major League Baseball -- the American League -- which means they must compete with the two most recent World Series winners in Boston and Houston. And just because neither the Astros nor Red Sox have made a really big deal in this offseason doesn't mean that Jeff Luhnow and Dombrowski are going to sit things out between now and Spring Training, or beyond.

Dombrowski, in particular, is coming off as good a year as a baseball executive can have, after having added Cora, Martinez, World Series MVP Steve Pearce, Eovaldi, Brasier and even Ian Kinsler to the Red Sox team that lost in the 2017 AL Division Series to the Astros. I won't be shocked if he adds another starter and reliever between now and Spring Training.

Dombrowski made some of those moves in-season -- he didn't build his World Series winner last offseason, and he probably won't this time around. He still has the best team. A bad bet right now in baseball is betting against him.

Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.

Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees

30 best defensive prospects -- 1 for each team

MLB.com

MLB Pipeline recently unveiled its annual All-Defense Team, but there were only so many spots to fill. It made us realize there were so many outstanding defenders across all 30 organizations.

Evaluating defense is still very much subjective, with metrics measuring fielding still imperfect. Still, each system has glovework that stands out more than others, and we considered many to present one best defender from each organization.

MLB Pipeline recently unveiled its annual All-Defense Team, but there were only so many spots to fill. It made us realize there were so many outstanding defenders across all 30 organizations.

Evaluating defense is still very much subjective, with metrics measuring fielding still imperfect. Still, each system has glovework that stands out more than others, and we considered many to present one best defender from each organization.

American League East

Orioles: Cadyn Grenier, SS, No. 9
Grenier's stellar glovework at shortstop was key in helping Oregon State win the 2018 College World Series, and in the process, he established himself as one of the best defensive prospects in the Draft before going to the Orioles as the No. 37 overall pick. With good hands, plus arm strength and plenty of range, Grenier has all the ingredients needed to stick at the position long term.

Red Sox: Bobby Dalbec, 3B, No. 6
Dalbec has always possessed a strong arm and has worked hard to improve his agility and range at third base, with several Red Sox officials rating him as a plus defender and scouts outside the organization grading him more as solid. He also owns prodigious raw power and ranked second in the Minors in extra-base hits (70) and RBIs (109) last year, and fourth in homers (32).

Yankees: Estevan Florial, OF, No. 1 (MLB No. 45)
Florial has some of the best all-around tools in the Minors, with well-above-average raw power, speed and arm strength. He continues to improve as a center fielder, projecting as a plus defender, and has an exceptionally strong arm for the position.

Rays: Lucius Fox, SS, No. 9
While there's no shortage of standout defenders in the highly athletic Rays system, Fox, a top-flight athlete with plus-plus speed, could be the best. He's played shortstop exclusively as a pro and committed 15 errors in 105 games last season while reaching Double-A at age 21. His athleticism makes him an electrifying defender, and he has the requisite physical tools to remain at the position for the long haul.

Video: EAST@WEST: Fox showcases range, slick glove in 3rd

Blue Jays: Kevin Vicuna, SS, unranked
The Blue Jays felt so good about Vicuna's defense in 2017 that they had the then-19-year-old handle shortstop duties for Class A Advanced Dunedin from April 23-June 1, even though Vicuna previously had never played above the Rookie Gulf Coast League. He's an athletic and, at times, flashy defender, with quick, twitchy hands that help him absorb anything hit his way and a quick release that causes his average arm strength to play up across the infield.

AL Central

White Sox: Nick Madrigal, 2B, No. 5 (MLB No. 49)
The White Sox may try Madrigal at shortstop, because he has the hands and actions to thrive there, but his average arm makes him a better fit at second base. With his quickness and instincts, he could be a Gold Glove Award winner at the keystone, and he also rated as the best pure hitter in the 2018 Draft, where he went No. 4 overall.

Video: Top Prospects: Nick Madrigal, 2B, White Sox

Indians: Eric Haase, C, No. 27
Haase reached the Majors for the first time late last season, seven years after the Indians took him in the seventh round of the 2011 Draft. Though he's blossomed on both sides of the ball during the past two seasons, it's been Haase's defensive gains that have helped him climb the Tribe's depth chart. After throwing out 37 percent of attempted basestealers in 2017, Haase improved that mark to nearly 49 percent in '18 (33 of 68).

Tigers: Jake Rogers, C, No. 12
The Tigers got Rogers as part of the Justin Verlander deal, and in Rogers' first full season with the organization, he cemented himself as the game's best defensive catching prospect, earning a spot on MLB Pipeline's All-Defense Team for the second year in a row. He threw out 55.6 percent of potential basestealers in 2018, upping his career rate to 48.5 percent.

Royals: Sebastian Rivero, C, unranked
M.J. Melendez is very athletic for a catcher and has a chance to become a plus defender with an arm to match. Yet South Atlantic League managers rated Rivero, his teammate at Lexington last summer, the low Class A circuit's best defensive backstop in a Baseball America survey last year. The Royals liken Rivero to a young Salvador Perez, and in addition to his physical ability, Rivero also draws raves for his leadership skills, intelligence and work ethic.

Twins: Gilberto Celestino, OF, No. 14
Signed by the Astros for $2.5 million in 2015, Celestino made his United States debut in '17, then got dealt to the Twins in the Ryan Pressly trade last season. He's drawn comparisons to Albert Almora Jr. for his instincts in center, and coaches in Elizabethton feel he's one of the best defenders they've ever seen.

AL West

Astros: Myles Straw, OF, No. 15
Straw has double-plus speed that gives him tremendous range in center field, where his plus arm also stands out at a position not noted for strong throwers. That quickness also plays well on the bases (he topped the Minors with 70 steals in only 79 attempts in 2018) and allows him to beat out hits (he led the Minors with a .358 batting average in '16).

Angels: Jordyn Adams, OF, No. 6
The Angels signed Adams away from playing football and baseball at North Carolina, and he immediately put his tools on display during his pro debut and during instructs. He's still raw, but the Angels feel he has elite range and the highest ceiling as a defender in the organization.

A's: Nick Allen, SS, No. 15
Allen was viewed by many scouts as perhaps the best defensive prospect available in the 2017 Draft, and he's done nothing to diminish that reputation after signing for more than double slot value as the A's third-round pick. There is no doubt among scouts that Allen can stick at shortstop. He's already a plus defender there, with outstanding range that leads to many highlight-reel plays and plus arm strength that allows him to make throws from all over the diamond.

Mariners: Evan White, 1B, No. 5
It's not often a first baseman is mentioned as one of the premier defensive players in the Minors, but that's the reality with White, who recently was named to the All-Defense Team. All signs point to him becoming a Gold Glove Award winner at the position, as he's athletic with outstanding footwork, a strong arm and plus range. His ability to pick throws is elite, and he makes every infielder on his team better as a result.

Video: Top Prospects: Evan White, 1B, Mariners

Rangers: Jose Trevino, C, No. 28
Trevino won Rawlings Minor League Gold Gloves in both 2016 and '17, before surgery on his non-throwing shoulder last July squashed any chances of a three-peat. He's an outstanding receiver and blocker, gets the most out of his strong arm with a quick release and accurate throws and also earns high marks for his ability to run a pitching staff.

National League East

Braves: Cristian Pache, OF, No. 6  (MLB No. 68)
Pache is generally considered to be the best defender in the Minor Leagues, leading our All-Defense Prospect Team. He has the speed and instincts to be a Gold Glove center fielder to go along with a right fielder's arm.

Video: Mayo looks at MLB Pipeline's 2019 All-Defense Team

Marlins: Jose Devers, SS/2B, No. 13
The cousin of Red Sox third basemen Rafael Devers, Jose was acquired by the Marlins last offseason in the blockbuster trade that sent Giancarlo Stanton to the Bronx. While he doesn't have his cousin's offensive profile, Devers is a far superior defender, with the soft hands, slick footwork and strong arm needed to be a big league shortstop. He showcased his defensive prowess last season, committing only seven errors and posting a .971 fielding percentage as an 18-year-old in full-season ball.

Mets: Andres Gimenez, SS, No. 1 (MLB No. 55)
The shortstop on our All-Defense Team, Gimenez reached Double-A in 2018 as a teenager. While he needs to add strength offensively, he has everything he needs to play shortstop defensively in the big leagues. He has plus hands, range and the internal clock to allow him to slow the game down.

Phillies: Luis Garcia, SS, No. 14
Signed for $2.5 million in July 2017, Garcia had a tremendous debut in the Gulf Coast League in '18 on both sides of the ball. He has a strong arm to go along with terrific hands and feet, and speed that gives him excellent range to stay at shortstop long term. He's only going to get better as he matures.

Nationals: Victor Robles, OF, No. 1 (MLB No. 4)
Revered as one of the top defenders in the Minor Leagues and a member of MLB Pipeline's All-Defense Team, Robles has game-changing abilities in center field. His near top-of-the-scale speed gives him range for days in center field, and he's made strides in improving both his reads and routes in the past two years. His plus-plus arm is among the strongest in the Minors, and he totaled 29 outfield assists from 2016-17 before an injury-plagued campaign in '18.

Video: Top Prospects: Victor Robles, OF, Nationals

NL Central

Cubs: Miguel Amaya, C, No. 1 (MLB No. 87)
Amaya's defensive ability and makeup led the Cubs to sign him for $1.25 million out of Panama in 2015, and he continues to impress even though he has been pushed aggressively in the Minors. His aptitude to frame and block pitches is advanced for a teenager, and his arm strength has improved to at least solid and plays up because of his quick transfer and accuracy.

Reds: Mike Siani, OF, No. 9
The Reds' fourth-round pick got first-round money to sign because of his all-around tools. But his defensive skills have long stood out, and he might have been the best defensive outfielder in the 2018 Draft class, with the ability to cover a ton of ground in center and an arm that allowed him to throw low-90s fastballs from the mound in high school.

Brewers: Payton Henry, C, No. 11
A sixth-round pick in 2016 who signed for nearly twice his slot value, Henry threw out nearly 44 percent (46 of 105) of attempted basestealers and had only six passed balls in his first full season. A quick release and a strong, accurate arm help Henry to combat the running game, and evaluators have been impressed with how he's developed a receiving style that utilizes his big, athletic frame. Henry is also praised for his energy and leadership skills.

Pirates: Ke'Bryan Hayes, 3B, No. 2 (MLB No. 48)
Hayes was the third baseman on our All-Defense Team, and for good reason. He entered pro ball as one of the better defenders at the hot corner, but he's gotten even better as he's committed himself to his conditioning, adding to his agility and range to make him the best in the Minors at the position.

Cardinals: Delvin Perez, SS, No. 28
The Cardinals' first-round pick in 2016 has had trouble finding any traction offensively, but there are no concerns about his defensive chops. He gets plus grades on his arm and his overall fielding, thanks to a plus arm when he needs it, above-average hands and plus speed that helps him cover a lot of ground.

NL West

D-backs: Geraldo Perdomo, SS, No. 21
Perdomo's United States debut in 2018 was solid all-around, and he even earned a promotion from the Arizona Rookie League to the Pioneer League in the process. Tall and rangy, the teenager has shown the tools to stay at shortstop long term with outstanding range, actions and hands to go with a strong arm.

Rockies: Yonathan Daza, OF, No. 18
Thanks to his plus speed and fine instincts, Daza covers a lot of ground in center field, and he possesses a plus-plus arm that stands out at his position. He's also a career .310 hitter who won the Class A Advanced California League batting title in 2017 with a .341 mark.

Dodgers: Will Smith, C, No. 5
An outstanding athlete for a catcher, Smith has already shown that he's capable of playing third base and filling in at second. He has very soft hands and impressive agility, making him a fine receiver and framer, and he has a solid arm that plays better than that because of his fast footwork.

Padres: Buddy Reed, OF, No. 13
A member of MLB Pipeline's All-Defense Team, Reed's 70-grade speed and long, gliding strides allow him to cover huge swaths of territory in center field -- and he showcased that with his catch in last year's SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game. Reed also has a strong arm and recorded 12 outfield assists in 2018, surpassing his combined total from his first two seasons.

Video: WLD@USA: Reed wired up, makes great grab at the wall

Giants: Joey Bart, C, No. 1 (MLB No. 23)
The No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 Draft, Bart draws more attention with his bat, but his work behind the plate is impressive as well. He has improved markedly since high school, when scouts wondered if he could stay at catcher, enhancing his agility and receiving and improving the accuracy of his strong arm.

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.

Casas among MLB's Top 10 1B prospects

MLB.com @JimCallisMLB

MLB Pipeline will unveil its 2019 Top 100 Prospects list with a one-hour show on MLB Network and MLB.com on Saturday, Jan. 26, at 8 p.m. ET. Leading up to the release, we look at baseball's top 10 prospects at each position.

First basemen don't usually draw a lot of acclaim as prospects, in large part because they tend to be less well-rounded players than those at other positions. When MLB Pipeline releases its new Top 100 next week, Minor League home run leader Peter Alonso will be the only first baseman who's not a two-way performer on the list.

MLB Pipeline will unveil its 2019 Top 100 Prospects list with a one-hour show on MLB Network and MLB.com on Saturday, Jan. 26, at 8 p.m. ET. Leading up to the release, we look at baseball's top 10 prospects at each position.

First basemen don't usually draw a lot of acclaim as prospects, in large part because they tend to be less well-rounded players than those at other positions. When MLB Pipeline releases its new Top 100 next week, Minor League home run leader Peter Alonso will be the only first baseman who's not a two-way performer on the list.

However, there has been a resurgence in first-base prospects in the last couple of years. The 2017 Draft featured five first basemen in the top 35 picks, and four of them -- Brendan McKay (Rays), Nick Pratto (Royals), Evan White (Mariners) and Brent Rooker (Twins) -- rank among the 10 best in the Minors at this moment.

Last June, Triston Casas (Red Sox) and Grant Lavigne (Rockies) went before the second round and quickly claimed spots on our first base Top 10. Another Rockies farmhand, Tyler Nevin, boosted his stock by leading the Arizona Fall League in all three slash categories (.426/.535/.593).

Top 10 Prospects by Position

While first base may not be loaded with five-tool prospects, the position possesses more depth than it typically does.

The Top 10 (ETA)
1. Peter Alonso, Mets (2019)
2. Evan White, Mariners (2020)
3. Nathaniel Lowe, Rays (2019)
4. Brendan McKay, Rays (2020)
5. Brent Rooker, Twins (2019)
6. Nick Pratto, Royals (2021)
7. Triston Casas, Red Sox (2022)
8. Grant Lavigne, Rockies (2022)
9. Tyler Nevin, Rockies (2020)
10. Matt Thaiss, Angels (2019)
Complete list »

Top Tools

Best Hitter: White, Lowe, McKay, Pratto, Lavigne, Nevin, Thaiss (55)
Lowe always had good plate discipline, but he broke out in 2018 by driving more balls in the air and tightening his strike zone further. He batted .330 and ranked fifth in the Minors with a .985 OPS. Nevin opened eyes in the AFL with his pure hitting ability and mastery of the strike zone, while organization mate Lavigne did the same in his pro debut by batting .350 and topping the Rookie-level Pioneer League with a .477 on-base percentage.

Video: Top Prospects: Tyler Nevin, 1B, Rockies

Best Power: Alonso, Rooker, Casas (60)
Alonso led the Minors with 36 homers during the regular season and the Arizona Fall League with six more, not including a shot off a 103-mph Nate Pearson fastball during the Fall Stars Game. His bat speed and strength produce tremendous exit velocities and translate his impressive raw power into game production.

Video: Top Prospects: Peter Alonso, 1B, Mets

Fastest Runner: White (60)
White has a highly unusual profile for a first baseman, as he bats right-handed and throws lefty, his hitting ability stands out more than his power and he's as athletic as it gets at the position. He's a plus runner, though his quickness is more apparent in the field than on the bases.

Video: Top Prospects: Evan White, 1B, Mariners

Best Arm: McKay, Pratto, Casas (60)
Both McKay and Casas had low-90s fastballs when they pitched as amateurs, and McKay continues to deal that kind of heat as he tries to make it as a two-way player. Pratto also was a two-way star as an amateur, throwing in the upper 80s and helping the U.S. national 18-and-under team win a pair of gold medals at international events.

Video: Top Prospects: Triston Casas, 1B, Red Sox

Best Defender: White (70)
White's defense gets the same rave reviews that Cody Bellinger's did when the Dodgers slugger was rising through the Minors. It's easy to envision him winning Gold Gloves in the big leagues, but he also has the quickness and solid arm strength to fit anywhere in the outfield if needed.

Superlatives

Highest Ceiling: Pratto
Pratto has the best chance to be a plus hitter for both average and power, and he also has Gold Glove potential at first base. After a slow start in his first full pro season, he batted .322/.394/.518 in the second half in the low Class A South Atlantic League and helped Lexington win the championship.

Video: Top Prospects: Nick Pratto, 1B, Royals

Highest Floor: White
White is a safe bet to hit thanks to his advanced approach and ability to barrel the ball, and he's beginning to unlock the power potential in his 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame. He's also an outstanding defender and has the versatility to play all three outfield spots.

Rookie of the Year Candidate: Alonso
The Mets have crowded their infield by trading for Robinson Cano and J.D. Davis and signing Jed Lowrie, and they have plenty of candidates to play first base. None of them can match Alonso's power, however, and he has little to prove in the Minors except for upgrading his defense.

Highest Riser: Lowe
Lowe hit just seven homers in his first full pro season and ranked 13th on MLB Pipeline's Rays Top 30 Prospects list a year ago. After making adjustments to his swing, he slammed 27 homers during his coming-out party in 2018 an