DUNEDIN, Fla. — For Miguel Bleis, one of the top Red Sox prospects, the future seems boundless.
The 19-year-old outfielder features ridiculous bat speed that allows him to handle fastballs of any velocity — “That is a gift that God gave me,” he said through translator Carlos Villoria-Benitez — and displays the size (6 feet 3 inches), speed, and strength to create shoot-the-moon potential.
He identifies Ronald Acuña Jr. when describing the type of player he wants to become. Why?
“Cinco herramientas,” Bleis said, employing the Spanish phrase for “five tools.”
On Monday, in his first Grapefruit League start, Bleis had an opportunity to showcase his skills — as well as the developmental needs in front of him.
With the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the second inning, Bleis opened an at-bat against Blue Jays All-Star Alek Manoah with back-to-back swings-and-misses (fastball, slider). But he took an 0-and-2 slider for a ball, a take that convinced him that a two-seamer was coming next. That’s what Manoah threw, and Bleis fought off a fastball on the hands for an impressive two-run single to right, then showed his jets going from first to third on a single.
Bleis also threw out a runner at the plate from right field in the first inning and made a fine running backhanded catch on a flare by Jays leadoff hitter Whit Merrifield in the third. Such moments suggest the potential that has the Sox and prospect watchers agog.
“Tools-wise, he’s impressive,” said manager Alex Cora.
Yet Bleis also offered reminders that he’s very early in his career. While his ability to handle fastballs stands out, Manoah struck him out on a pair of nasty sliders in the next at-bat. And defensively, Bleis overran a ground single to right for a two-base error that yielded an unearned run.
Of course, Bleis isn’t supposed to be a finished product. Far from it. While he excelled last year (.301/.353/.542) in the rookie-level Florida Complex League, he has yet to play a game at a full-season affiliate. He’ll open this year in Single A Salem, years from the big leagues.
“There’s a passion [among fans] about this kid, but at the same time, I played with guys that were the second coming of whoever and didn’t pan out,” said Cora. “There’s a process. Obviously these kids are learning.”
Bleis embraces the chance to do just that. While expressing excitement for Monday’s exhibition game, he recognizes that there’s a long path through the minors in front of him.
“I have a goal. In my mind, at the end of my 21-year old season, that will be a nice thing to do if I make my debut in the big leagues,” said Bleis. “I’m going to play hard and show the team I’m getting ready in all the aspects they want me to.”
Red Sox decision-makers will meet Wednesday to share thoughts on the season-opening structure of the pitching staff. “The big conversation starts Wednesday,” said Cora. “I have an idea. Obviously other people probably have an idea. We have ideas, but let’s get in the same room, talk about it, start attacking it, and be ready.” Durability questions surround Chris Sale, Garrett Whitlock (possibly available to join the rotation in mid-April), and Brayan Bello (possibly late April). As such, the Sox see multi-inning relievers as necessary to manage pitcher workloads to start the year. “We need guys that can go multiple [innings],” said Cora. “It’s not only one. We probably need two.” Cora identified Josh Winckowski, Ryan Brasier, Kaleb Ort, Zack Kelly, and Wyatt Mills as candidates to contribute in such a role at the start of the year … Whitlock is on track to throw two innings in either a big league or minor league game Wednesday, and Bello will throw two simulated innings that day. Sale will pitch in a game Thursday, though with no games in either big league or minor league camp that day, the Sox were trying to figure out the circumstances of such an undertaking. “Maybe it’s going to be at his house,” said Cora … After Monday’s game, the Sox optioned center fielder/shortstop Ceddanne Rafaela, middle infielder David Hamilton, and lefty Brandon Walter to Triple A Worcester.
Turning a corner
In Fort Myers, Justin Turner had a second consecutive day of baseball activities as he makes his way back from being hit in the face by a pitch March 6. Turner could get back in a game later this week … Connor Wong, who strained his left hamstring March 2, caught two bullpen sessions and took batting practice. “I feel like I’m over it for the most part and now I’m building back up,” Wong said. “I felt fine catching.” … Lefthander James Paxton, who strained his right hamstring in his start March 3, played long toss and is close to getting back on the mound.
In the World Baseball Classic, Rafael Devers (1 for 4) notched his first hit, jump-starting the Dominican Republic’s offense with a first-inning double in its 6-1 win over Nicaragua … Kiké Hernández was 2 for 4 with a double, two RBIs and a walk as Puerto Rico beat Israel, 10-0, in a game called after eight innings. Four pitchers combined on a perfect gane with 12 strikeouts for the winners.
Peter Abraham of the Globe staff contributed to this report.