It’s an exciting time for a number of Red Sox prospects who are on the move.
Brayan Bello got promoted from Double A to Triple A a couple of weeks ago. This week, lefthander Brandon Walter followed him on that Portland-to-Worcester ascent. Bryan Mata, more than 15 months removed from Tommy John surgery, has left Fort Myers, Fla., to start a rehab assignment with Single A Salem.
Promotions serve as recognition of accomplishment, a combination of talent, work, and performance that is validating for a player trying to make his way to the big leagues. Yet, traditionally, those moves up the ladder came with an absurd degree of stress.
Through the years, players have been left to scramble for housing. The end of spring affiliate assignments led to rushes to find leases and set up utilities. In-season promotions often came with the hassle of getting out of one lease and starting a new one.
Most minor leaguers engaged in those undertakings while making sub-poverty-level wages. For many, after taxes and (until they were ended in 2020) clubhouse dues of roughly $10 per day, paychecks went almost entirely to housing — and sometimes proved inadequate for those expenses, leading to compromises on other elements such as nutrition.
“I added up all my paychecks from indy ball through last year, and it was, like, $25,000 through four years of professional baseball; I’ve been paying to play for the last five years now,” said Worcester infielder Ryan Fitzgerald, who has been able to pursue a pro career only because of the financial support of his parents. “I know a lot of guys that don’t have that and have to quit. It’s sad to see.”
There are endless stories of apartments crowded with minor league players sprawled across inflatable mattresses — hardly a recipe for on-field success.
“One bedroom, one bath, and someone lives in the living room — that’s what we normally do, and someone else gets a pool float and sleeps in the kitchen,” said Fitzgerald.
Increasingly in recent years, organizations such as Advocates for Minor Leaguers brought such conditions to light. Particularly with skyrocketing rents around the country, a growing number of players faced questions about the financial viability of continuing their careers.
This year, the landscape has shifted. Last November, Major League Baseball announced a new policy requiring teams to provide housing for all minor leaguers except those on the 40-man roster (who would have a larger salary) and those on minor league deals receiving salaries of more than $100,000. Teams are required to provide players with furnished accommodations, with no more than two players assigned to a room, while also paying some utilities.
The Red Sox wanted to go a step further. At a cost of close to $1 million for the season, the Sox elected to provide every player with a private room (something that 14 of the 30 big league organizations have done), mostly in two-bedroom apartments.
They also wanted to ensure that players with families would have their own apartments. Additionally, the Sox made housing available to all players, regardless of salary and 40-man-roster status.
“The Red Sox have done things the right way this year,” said Harry Marino, executive director of Advocates for Minor Leaguers.
Red Sox manager of minor league operations Patrick McLaughlin worked with the general managers of the club’s affiliates to get six-month leases on apartments that were close to home ballparks and within walking distance of a number of eating options.
“We wanted to provide them with the same type of place that they would want to go out and get on their own,” said McLaughlin. “We saw this as an opportunity to provide something to them and take some of the stress out of some of the other things they had to deal with so they can continue to just focus on their development and focus on playing baseball.”
“They killed it,” said Fitzgerald. “It’s top-notch.”
Players are elated with the change. A year ago, Walter found himself on an air mattress in a living room when he was promoted from Salem to Greenville. This year, the move from Portland to Worcester was turnkey.
“It’s way different,” said Walter. “When you get moved up, you’re thinking about the baseball stuff, not thinking about, ‘Where am I going to live? How am I going to eat? How am I going to get [to the park]?’ ”
Bello likewise could make himself literally at home the moment he arrived in Worcester.
“Having an apartment all set up, it’s something that changed completely my mind-set and focus on not having to worry about where I’m staying and actually being able to perform on the field,” Bello said through WooSox bench coach Jose Flores.
Those sentiments are precisely what the Sox hoped for. They believe that removing the longstanding stresses of housing will put minor leaguers in better position to realize their potential as players.
“The more resources we provide to these guys, the better their development is going to go, whether that’s housing, nutrition, technology, and other stuff,” said McLaughlin.
“As an organization, we’re committed to being towards the top echelon in terms of the resources we provide to these guys and I think it’ll pay back tenfold on their development as they go through the system.”
▪ Righthander Brayan Bello moved him from the No. 79 prospect to No. 49 in Baseball America’s rankings after he went 3-0 with a 3.18 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 17 innings with Worcester.
▪ After struggling to start the year, WooSox catchers Ronaldo Hernández and Connor Wong are both on tears. Hernández has stopped striking out while going 15 for 28 with 2 homers and 5 extra-base hits in his last seven games, good for a .536/.563/.857 line. Wong is hitting .391/.451/.522 with 5 walks and 8 strikeouts over his last 11 games.
▪ Infielder Christian Koss has a run of four straight multi-hit games with Double A Portland in which he’s hitting .563/.588/1.125.
▪ Triple A righthander Kutter Crawford has gotten shelled in his last two outings, allowing eight runs on 13 hits in six innings, including a pair of homers on hanging breaking balls.
▪ Worcester first baseman Triston Casas remains sidelined with a high ankle sprain suffered in mid-May. As of Tuesday, he had yet to start hitting or doing agility work.
▪ Nick Yorke landed on High A Greenville’s injured list with turf toe. Yorke, 20, who has been out since May 26, is hitting .245/.319/.361 for the season.