A year ago, a game like Wednesday night’s might have inspired panic in Franchy Cordero.
An 0-for-4 with three strikeouts against the Reds? Such a line would have come with thought bubbles about a loss of playing time in the big leagues or perhaps even a demotion to Triple A Worcester.
Now, however, Cordero and the Sox can both approach such a game — or even his recent three-game 0-for-10 skid that includes five strikeouts — with a different perspective. More than seven months removed from being designated for assignment and passing through waivers unclaimed before being outrighted to Worcester, Cordero is winning the trust of the Red Sox.
Since Cordero was called up by the Sox April 29, he has played in 28 of 31 games, starting 23. The 27-year-old is arriving at the park anticipating chances to contribute rather than wondering whether his role might vanish.
“It feels great to see that all the hard work has paid off,” Cordero said through translator Carlos Villoria Benítez. “I’m glad to see that the manager has confidence in me. It feels great to have the opportunity to play every day and try to contribute to the team. For me, I’m just trying to do the little things on the field that can help the team win.”
Cordero has spent years as more myth than player. His combination of strength and speed has few peers in the game. In multiple years, according to Statcast data, he has registered exit velocities in the top 1 percent in baseball as well as sprint speeds that landed in the top 6 percent.
But a succession of injuries limited his playing time. Between the minors and big leagues, he played in 47 games in 2018, 24 in 2019, and 16 in 2020. Instead of progressing into an everyday player from ages 23 through 25, Cordero’s development was stunted.
“The kid has every tool you could imagine,” said Sox lefthander Matt Strahm, who was teammates with Cordero in San Diego in 2019. “Every player would say, ‘Dang, if I could create a player in MLB, it would be Franchy.’ Obviously, just staying healthy was the big issue.”
The Sox recognized there was considerable risk with Cordero when they acquired him as part of the return for sending Andrew Benintendi and cash to the Royals in February 2021. They understood that he needed regular playing time. after the lack of it in the prior years.
But while Cordero performed well last year in Worcester (.300/.398/.533 in 334 plate appearances), he looked overmatched in the big leagues (.189/.237/.260 in 134 PAs). He proved vulnerable to chasing pitches out of the strike zone and too indecisive when he did swing at strikes.
That combination led the Sox to designate Cordero for assignment last October. But when he went unclaimed by the other 29 teams and was outrighted off the 40-man roster to Triple A, the Sox offered Cordero a glimpse of a path forward.
“We had a group meeting where they told me that I have a bright future and I just needed to work on some little things,” said Cordero, relaying that the team wanted him to emphasize pitch selection and strike zone discipline. “That was a big motivation for me to take it into the winter league. I knew what to work on. That’s what I did.”
After Cordero struck out in 38 percent of his plate appearances in the big leagues in 2021, he cut that to 20.6 percent in the Dominican Winter League. He carried that approach into the minor league season, and by late April was walking as much as he was striking out. With Travis Shaw no longer producing, the Red Sox were ready to give Cordero another shot.
His improved plate discipline became evident almost immediately, taking pitches outside the strike zone to earn walks. As pitchers recognized they’d have to start attacking him in the strike zone, Cordero made contact — first just putting the ball in play, but over time, doing so with increased authority.
“It started with plate discipline when he got here with his walks and [not] expanding the zone, and little by little, he’s hitting the ball hard,” said Sox manager Alex Cora. “Most of the time it’s solid contact. There’s a lot of confidence. You can see the athlete finally coming out and doing his thing.”
Cordero is hitting .247 with a .308 OBP and .420 slugging mark, and making sufficiently consistent, hard contact that those solid numbers — near or above the league averages — may not quite capture the quality of his performance.
He has offered enough production that the Red Sox have sought ways to keep him in the lineup, mixing him between first base (where he’s still in the early stages of his education) and the corner outfield spots.
“[There is] a calmness and not necessarily feeling like he has to produce in every single at-bat or he’s going back to Worcester,” said Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom. “The quality of his at-bats is just completely different than last year. The approach is just totally different, and it’s more defined for him.
“He understands what he can do, and the beauty of it is that his physical talent is such that he can hit anything out of the ballpark. He can hit mis-hit balls out of the ballpark.”
For Cordero, the quest for both consistent health and with it consistent playing time has been an elusive grail. He takes neither for granted, nor what he’s done to take advantage of a long-awaited big league opportunity.
“That’s the beauty about it,” said Cordero. “When you work hard, good things will happen.”
The Red Sox anticipate that Cordero — whose walkoff grand slam against the Mariners May 22 represented an unquestioned career zenith — is still just beginning to tap into his reserves of talent.
“I hadn’t seen this Franchy,” said Strahm. “Now that he’s staying healthy, it’s fun to watch him.”