The development of Alex Verdugo and Jeter Downs will go a long way toward determining how history remembers the trade that sent Mookie Betts and David Price from the Boston Red Sox to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
While it’s impossible to dissect the deal from Boston’s point of view without mentioning Betts’ contract situation — he’s set to become a free agent after the 2020 season — and the possibility he would have signed elsewhere upon hitting the open market, the reality is the Red Sox have high hopes for both Verdugo and Downs, and their emergence (of lack thereof) will help shape the public’s perception of the blockbuster moving forward.
That said, perhaps we should pay more attention to the other guy involved in the trade: Connor Wong.
Wong, a third-round pick in 2017, isn’t as highly touted as Verdugo or Downs, but the 23-year-old catcher made a strong first impression with the Red Sox this spring before being reassigned to minor league camp on Sunday. He showed impressive power, despite being relatively small in stature — he’s listed at 6-foot-1, 181 pounds — and it’s fair to wonder whether he’s just scratching the surface of his offensive potential.
Wong recently explained to WEEI’s Rob Bradford he made an important adjustment toward the tail end of last season after looking at his swing with advanced technology. He’ll now enter his first season in the Red Sox organization with a refined approach, which could allow for his hit tool to catch up with the raw power he displayed throughout much of 2019 when he launched 24 home runs in 111 games split between High-A and Double-A.
“I noticed with MoCap (Motion Capture), being able to overlay my swing on top of major league guys just to see the differences and see how the body works,” Wong told Bradford. “We put my swing on top of Justin Turner’s swing. It wasn’t even about the power, I just had a lot of swing and miss in my bat because my hips kept rotating, whereas his would stop and his bat would go through center field and my hips would keep rotating and my barrel would follow and I would be off pitches sooner than he would. That one really opened my eyes.
“It’s really cool. The data we have now can really be useful. But it’s a trap. You have to be careful. You can get caught up in it and be consumed with it. But using it the right way can be really useful.”
It’d be foolish to suddenly label Wong a future star. He’s currently the No. 16 prospect in Boston’s system, according to MLB.com, and it’s still unclear where his long-term future resides on the diamond, as he’s a backstop who also is capable of playing both second base and third base.
But Wong’s promotion last July coincided with an uptick in production — he hit .349 with nine homers, 31 RBIs and a .997 OPS in 40 games at Double-A — and that momentum seemingly carried over into his first spring training with the Red Sox, highlighted by two tape-measure shots, including a grand slam, that almost certainly caught the eye of those who scouted him before last month’s trade involving Betts and Price.
Even if Wong never blossoms into an impact everyday player, he could become far more than just a throw-in. He could become a very nice roster piece thanks to his versatility and his offensive upside, which seems to be growing in wake of the adjustments he made last season while in the Dodgers organization.
Thumbnail photo via David Dermer/USA TODAY Sports Images