6 things to know about Alex Verdugo, the outfielder acquired in the Mookie Betts trade
"Guys rally around him and pull for him," said Dave Roberts in a 2019 interview about Verdugo.
The player that the Red Sox acquired from the Dodgers in the deal that sent Mookie Betts to Los Angeles will — pending a medical clearance — be 23-year-old outfielder Alex Verdugo.
Clearly, the task of replacing Betts promises to be immense for a single player (Boston will also receive pitching prospect Brusdar Graterol from the Twins), but Verdugo is an undeniably talented candidate.
Taken in the second round of the 2014 MLB draft, Verdugo made his Major League debut when he was 21 in 2017. In 158 games with the Dodgers, he has a career OPS of .784. And the Arizona native has logged at least 37 games in every outfield position.
Here are a few other things to know about Verdugo:
He has a lot of natural talent, including a “plus-plus arm.”
A 2018 MLB.com scouting report of Verdugo labeled him “One of the best pure hitting prospects in baseball.”
In 2017, he hit .314 at the Triple-A level of the Dodgers’ system, improving in 2018 to hit for a .329 average. In 106 games a season ago at the Major League level, Verdugo hit .294 with a .342 on-base percentage.
Like Betts, Verdugo isn’t merely a one-tool player.
“As good as he is in the batter’s box,” read the 2018 scouting report, “Verdugo’s best tool actually is his plus-plus arm.”
During a game against the Red Sox in 2019, Verdugo threw out Rafael Devers at home plate from left field. The throw’s velocity topped out at 97 miles per hour, demonstrating how he was also once seen as a high school pitching prospect:
97.1 mph from Alex Verdugo =
No chance for Rafael Devers.
What a throw by the @Dodgers left fielder on Sunday night at Fenway. pic.twitter.com/FTHy2C1rEn
— #Statcast (@statcast) July 15, 2019
This wasn’t the first trade he was linked with.
Given that he’s been a top-100 prospect ranking for several years, Verdugo’s name has come up in other trade rumors before. The involvement helped him mature as a professional.
Sources: #Rangers initial ask from #Dodgers for Yu Darvish was RHP Walker Buehler or OF Alex Verdugo, plus others. @MLB @MLBNetwork
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) July 29, 2017
“It kind of got in my head a little bit,” Verdugo noted of the earlier rumors in a 2019 interview. “But I feel like the last few years, I’m like, hey man it’s a compliment, really. It just means that other teams see you as a good player, good enough to be in a lot of these big, headliner trades.”
His enthusiasm and energy have drawn praise.
One of the aspects of replacing Betts that’s especially tough to measure are intangibles, like a player’s day-to-day enthusiasm. Luckily for Boston, it appears that the Dodgers were fans of the energy Verdugo regularly brought to the team.
“I love Dugie,” said Clayton Kershaw in 2019. “I love him. He’s great. Ton of energy, every single day. And good energy too, super competitive. Incredible instincts on the baseball field. Can put him in any outfield spot.”
“Guys rally around him and pull for him,” Dodger manager Dave Roberts said last May. “When he gets out there, the fans get into it. The players get into it. I get into it.”
This contrasts with a well-publicized incident in 2017 when Verdugo — recently called up for the first time — was late arriving for a game, and was promptly yelled at by Dodgers pitcher Rich Hill. It appears Verdugo was able to learn from his mistake.
He’s recovery from a back injury.
One thing that Red Sox fans might have to maintain with Verdugo in the short term is patience. He missed the final two months of the 2019 season (and playoffs) with a back injury, and is still working his way back.
In January, speaking with reporters at a holiday event in Los Angeles, Verdugo said he’s being cautious, given the location of the injury.
“Any activity you do, any daily, regular [activity], your back helps you with a lot of it,” Verdugo told reporters. “You kind of do one little thing and then you realize the toll it takes on everything else. So it is frustrating, but at the end of the day all I can do is stay positive and just be blessed that I’m going in the right direction.”
“My goal is obviously going to be starting Opening Day,” Verdugo added. “I want to be out there Opening Day. We’ll just go from there see how the days and weeks start compiling and how I recover.”
He represented Mexico at the World Baseball Classic.
Verdugo is Mexican-American, and played for Mexico at the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
Then just a minor league prospect with the Dodgers, Verdugo impressed. He hit .357 (5-14) and scored three runs in three games.
While playing in Los Angeles, Verdugo received strong support from Dodgers fans for his usage of “Volver, Volver” as a walk-up song.
“That is something I like to listen to,” Verdugo explained of the song, and its meaning to him. “My father, growing up, every time I am in the car with him, anytime I am cleaning the house, he would be playing Vicente [Fernandez] and all these other artists. It is just something I grew up listening to. Being Mexican, we like to dance and we get emotional so when they listen, they love to hear it.”
He’s already signed inside the Green Monster.
During the Dodgers’ visit to Fenway Park in 2019, Verdugo was given a tour of the ballpark, including inside the Green Monster.
Verdugo’s signature included an ending addition that might require amending.
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