The Red Sox protected righthanders Brayan Bello, Kutter Crawford, and Josh Winckowski, and infielder Jeter Downs, from the Rule 5 Draft by adding them to the 40-man roster.
Friday was the deadline for teams to protect draft-eligible minor leaguers — those with either four (if signed at 19 or older) or five (18 or younger) seasons of experience — from being chosen by placing them on their 40-man. The Red Sox 40-man stands at 37 following the additions, leaving room for free agents, trades, or Rule 5 players from other organizations.
Bello thrust himself on the scene last year, posting a 3.87 ERA between High A Greenville and Double A Portland. In 95⅓ innings, Bello fanned 132 batters — 12.5 per nine innings. Bello, just 22 years old, touched triple digits with his fastball and matched that with a devastating changeup while also incorporating a slider.
The hope is that Bello can continue to contribute as a starter, a third pitch key to remaining in that role.
“I look at hitters and they tell me a lot about the way they react, and there are a lot of uncomfortable swings off his slider,” Portland manager Corey Wimberly said last summer. “Even though he’s still working on it, I think he’s in a good position right now with that pitch.”
Crawford missed all of 2019 due to Tommy John surgery and all of 2020 to the COVID-19 minor league shutdown. It turned out to be a positive, as Crawford spent much of 2020 rehabbing his body and his mentality. If you ask Triple A Worcester pitching coach Paul Abbott, the fact that Crawford turned 25 on April 1 and could have been left unprotected motivated him.
“There’s a sense of urgency behind him because he lost a year from surgery and then from the pandemic,” Abbott said during the WooSox season. “And he’s older. And time is, unfortunately, not on anybody’s side. He realized that and he’s been aggressive.”
Despite his 4.28 ERA between Portland and Worcester, Crawford made his big league debut with two innings in early September when the Sox dealt with their COVID-19 outbreak.
Winckowski, who was acquired in the Andrew Benintendi trade, posted a 4.86 ERA in 21 games (20 starts) at Portland. The Sox pride themselves on depth, and Winckowski fits that mold.
Downs was the lone position player protected Friday, the Sox doing so despite him hitting just .190 with 131 strikeouts in 405 plate appearances during his first season at Triple A. Perhaps the Sox rushed the middle infielder, who was left without a season in 2020.
He’s still just 23 years old, though, and was a key piece in the Mookie Betts trade. A full second season at Worcester might benefit Downs.
“I think he’ll calm it down some as he gets a little older,” WooSox hiting coach Rich Gedman said last year. “He’s already started to make those adjustments. He’s been successful. So therefore, if you find yourself struggling, you sit there and go, ‘OK, what do I have to do to make a correction?’
“He’s a pretty smart kid. It’s about creating some adjustability in that swing, allowing him to fire when he wants to fire instead of feeling like he’s out of control.”
Outfielders Gilberto Jimenez and Ceddanne Rafaela, in addition to pitchers Thad Ward and Durbin Feltman, were left unprotected.
Jimenez, 21, hit .306 this year at Low A Salem, but his failure to ascend above that level left the Sox with a tough decision. He still has a long way to go to the majors, and teams which take a player in the Rule 5 Draft must keep them on their major-league roster for the full season or risk losing them, either via waivers or by a mandatory offer back to their original club. Rafaela fell into that same category.
Ward led the Sox system with 157 strikeouts between two Single-A stops in 2019, but threw just eight innings in 2021 before Tommy John surgery this summer. Feltman, even though he had a 2.96 ERA between Double A and Triple A, likely projects as just a middle reliever.
. . .
The Red Sox have hired Mike Groopman as an assistant general manager, a league source confirmed Friday evening. Groopman, who previously served as the director of international scouting for the Milwaukee Brewers, will oversee the Sox’ analytics department.