Mayer isn't short on star potential for Red Sox
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- You may have noticed that the Red Sox lost a franchise shortstop this offseason. You also may have noticed the club didn’t go after one of the big-name shortstops as a replacement. And then you may have noticed that the organization’s top prospect happens to play ... shortstop.
It’s hard to look at Boston’s situation at the six and not believe the system is leaving space for Marcelo Mayer, the 2021 fourth overall pick and MLB Pipeline’s No. 9 overall prospect.
“He knows he's really good,” said Red Sox director of player development Brian Abraham. “Players gravitate towards him. We’re making sure that he knows that he can be a leader on and off the field with the work he's putting in and with the conversations he's had with all of our players because he's bilingual. We’re empowering him to be that leader, be someone who players want to follow and look up to.”
The year ahead could be critical to the 20-year-old Mayer securing his long-term place at Fenway Park.
The California native got off to a strong start in his first full season, hitting .280/.399/.489 with 13 homers and 17 steals in 91 games at Single-A Salem and High-A Greenville despite dealing with some wrist issues. He was considered one of the best defenders in his Draft class, and that reputation continues as he’s shown the right actions, hands and arm to be a plus glovesman on the dirt.
But all of that work was about setting a foundation. Now with a year of experience under his belt, it’s about taking the success to a new level in 2023, starting with sticking to pitches he can drive.
“I think having a good understanding of, one, what the strike zone is and using the and tools that we have and, two, what pitches he can actually hit and handle will be a huge thing for him,” Abraham said. “That’s something that he did towards the end of the season last year as he faced better pitching and had a better understanding of his routine and what he could do really well. Just being able to control the strike zone more consistently can help him show the power he has to all fields.”
Adding even more playable pop to his already plus hit tool would likely help Mayer reach Double-A Portland or even Triple-A Worcester by the end of 2023. And once that happens, he’ll be knocking on the door of Boston before his 21st birthday. That’s getting ahead of things, but you may have noticed that’s easy to do with a Top 10 overall prospect like Mayer.
“Putting in that work on a consistent basis is valuable,” Abraham said, “but in terms of having the total package and embracing it, he's one of those guys.”
Camp standout: Miguel Bleis
A lot of eyes were going to be on Bleis in his first Spring Training as a Top 100 prospect. The 19-year-old outfielder showed plus power and above-average speed, arm and fielding tools last season in the Florida Complex League, and he continued to exhibit wiry strength and those same promising wheels on the backfields ... until manager Alex Cora and his staff called the Dominican Republic native over for his Grapefruit League debut on Sunday. The teenager followed up the next day by taking a two-strike fastball from All-Star right-hander Alek Manoah the other way to right field for a two-run single in his first at-bat, bringing a solid approach for such a young player.
It was just a single at-bat, but it was indicative of the hurdles the Red Sox plan on putting ahead of Bleis in 2023 and beyond and the hurdles they plan on him clearing.
“It’s really easy to say, ‘Hey, I want to be a really good baseball player,’ but you want guys to be great baseball players, to be All-Stars,” Abraham said. “You want them to be someone that could impact this organization for years to come. He definitely has that drive.”
Breakout candidate: Luis Perales
The Boston system is notably light on high-ceiling arms, but it may have one coming up in its No. 13 prospect.
The 6-foot-1 right-hander was able to dominate the FCL and Salem in ‘22 because of his mid-90s heater that can touch 99 and features impressive ride at the top of the strike zone. Abraham mentioned in one extended game that 50 of Perales’ 60 pitches were fastballs, leading to only one hit and seven strikeouts over nine batters faced. He’ll need more than that if he’s going to leap in 2023, but the building blocks are there, especially with his mid-80s slider.
“I think number one is slowing things down and really challenging the strike zone with the stuff he has,” Abraham said. “He has really good stuff. Now, we want him to challenge the strike zone, challenge hitters because it's really hard to hit what he has. From there, it’s continuing to develop a slider and a changeup so he has a mix.”
Something to prove: Nick Yorke
When the Sox made a surprise decision to select Yorke 17th overall in 2020, the organization insisted it was because it believed in his bat, and he made it look good with a .325 average and .928 OPS across two A-ball levels in his first full season.
Last year was a different story.
The right-handed slugger hit just .231/.303/.365 in 80 games at High-A Salem, leading to a below-average 84 wRC+. The overall impact in his bat dropped, and various toe, back and wrist injuries may have played a large role in the decline. Abraham said Yorke highly anticipated his assignment to the Arizona Fall League as a chance to rebound, and that’s what he did with a .342/.424/.526 line over 92 plate appearances.