Alex Verdugo isn’t too particular about taking batting practice on the field. It’s easy to fall into bad habits, he said, watching where the ball lands, becoming too big with his swing.
Instead, he likes to keep his practice swings in the cage. The narrow space allows him to stay with his strengths: working in a direct line to the baseball and staying up the middle with his short, compact swing. If Verdugo wants velocity, he just cranks up the pitching machine.
“When you have a lot of guys throwing hard nowadays, you know, I just feel like, for me, seeing some hard velo in the cages is just more realistic than seeing, you know, just nice and easy BP on the field and trying to lift,” Verdugo said Thursday from Fort Myers, Fla.
“Obviously, I can go out there and hit on the field and keep a professional approach and do my line drives. But I just like the cage better.”
In an era defined by home runs and swings-and-misses, Verdugo is its antithesis. He sprays the ball to all fields. He has just a 15.8 percent career strikeout rate (in 709 plate appearances). He also has just 6.9 percent swing-and-miss and 84.3 percent contact rates.
Verdugo possesses elite bat-to-ball skills, which was part of what made him so successful in his first season with the Red Sox. In 221 plate appearances in 2020, Verdugo was unquestionably the Sox’ best hitter, slashing .308/.367/.478 with six homers and an .844 OPS.
“I think in this day and age a lot of people just want to hype up the homers, the strikeouts, and all that, and it kind of got away from the way the game used to be taught,” Verdugo said. “For me, it was you play hard. You’ve got to be a complete hitter, and the power will come.
“I’m just going to keep doing what I do. I know I have power in my swing, as well, it’s just a matter of when I want to take my shots.”
Verdugo would much rather let the guys behind him drive him in. He wants to remain a tough out.
And with some of the Sox’ most recent additions, Verdugo is even more important to the lineup’s stability. Franchy Cordero and Hunter Renfroe, for example, possess big-time power, but they also swing and miss a bunch. Cordero has a whopping 34.9 career strikeout percentage in 315 plate appearances, while Renfroe’s is 28 percent in 1,589 plate appearances.
“We can’t strike out all the time, right?” said manager Alex Cora. “And obviously, we cannot live and die with a home run. Making contact, it works. And [Verdugo] has a great feel of what he wants to do. That’s what everybody’s been telling me. Alex is a guy that he understands his swing; he knows what he wants to do.
“We need balance. People that can work the count, can hit with two strikes. And he brings that to the equation on a daily basis.”
On the defensive side, Verdugo will likely see a lot of time in center field with Jackie Bradley Jr. seemingly out of the equation. It’s a position Verdugo grew up playing, and he said he’s comfortable playing it at Fenway, despite its unique dimensions.
Verdugo’s numbers certainly indicate he can handle it. While not a burner, he ranked in the top 2 percent in outfielder jumps last season. And just like with his hitting, Verdugo is taking the simple approach.
“It’s the same game,” he said. “You have to go out there pre-pitch and be ready. When the ball is hit, get a good jump, have a good route, and get there.”
After a year-plus with the Sox, Verdugo remains the same confident player. He’s open and honest, not afraid of the big stage, and certainly not afraid to be himself.
“I’m big on playing the game, spraying the ball, and just hitting the ball hard, man.” Verdugo said. “I don’t really care about that launch angle stuff.”