How Red Sox turned two DFA'd pitchers into Rays' best catching prospect

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John Tomase
·4 min read
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Tomase: What Red Sox are getting in Rays' best catching prospect originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

At some point, Chaim Bloom was going to acquire one of his old prospects from the Tampa Bay Rays. Few observers expected it to be Ronaldo Hernandez.

Pitchers Jeffrey Springs and Chris Mazza didn't project to make much of an impact after being designated for assignment this month and removed from the 40-man roster.

So it opened eyes when the two of them were enough to pry a power-hitting catching prospect from the Rays on Wednesday in a trade between division rivals.

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The 23-year-old Colombian was considered Tampa's top catching prospect. Baseball America had ranked him the No. 56 overall prospect in baseball following a breakout 2018 season at Low-A Bowling Green, where he slammed 21 homers and compiled an .832 OPS.

Though his performance lagged the following season at High-A Charlotte (.265 with 9 homers and 60 RBIs in 103 games), he was still considered a top-15 prospect in Tampa's loaded system with the potential to be a lot more.

So how did the Red Sox get him? For one, they exploited some timing. Because the Rays are constantly turning over their roster once players become too expensive, their 40-man requires a lot of finessing.

As part of this winter's annual purge, they traded former Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell to the Padres, receiving young catcher Blake Hunt, among others. They added two other young catchers -- Francisco Mejia and Heriberto Hernandez -- in other deals. That made Ronaldo Hernandez somewhat expendable.

At the same time, they recognized a need to balance their roster with additional arms, and general manager Erik Neander told Rays reporters (including the Tampa Bay Times) that they believe the left-handed Springs (0-2, 7.08 ERA) and right-handed Mazza (1-2, 4.80 ERA) have more to offer than their middling 2020 stats, the former in short relief and the latter eating bulk innings. The Rays seemed particularly intrigued by Springs, who struck out over 12 batters per nine innings with an above-average changeup.

Rare deal

Number of Red Sox-Rays trades since Rays' first season in 1998

3

Variation

Single

That created an opening for Bloom, and the Red Sox pounced. While there are questions about Hernandez's defensive viability behind the plate (he's a converted infielder), there's a chance that he justifies his place in the lineup with a power bat and a rifle arm.

Though he spent most of 2020 at Tampa's alternate site, the season still largely goes down as a lost one in terms of development.

"He did all that he could last year," Neander said, per the Times. "In our opinion, he still has some work to do, but no knock on him. The depth that we have acquired certainly helps. But this is as much, I think it's safe to say, the two pitchers we have coming back, that we like them more than most.

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"We like Ronaldo," Neander added. "As much as anybody, he was really a victim of the lost time last year. He's a player that is a strong offensive catcher. Last year, the at-bats, in regular games would have done him as much good as anybody, to go out there to escape the Florida State League and play in more neutral ballparks. I think that probably would have done a lot of good to reestablish himself offensively, and defensively just to continue to get reps."

So, what kind of player are the Red Sox getting? The 6-foot-1, 230-pounder is ruggedly built and capable of generating tremendous power with a dead-pull stroke from the right side. His strikeouts crept up and his walks slipped from 2018 to 2019, but he doesn't do a ton of either. He had a propensity in 2019 to chase and produce bad contact.

His receiving remains very much a work in progress, but his arm is the real deal. He threw out 39 percent of potential base stealers at High A.

It's worth noting that Bloom was in Tampa for both his breakout 2018 season and then his comedown a year later. The Red Sox chief baseball officer seems to put more stock in the former than the latter, which is why Hernandez now calls the Red Sox organization home.