Boston Red Sox’s Alex Verdugo Has His Eyes On Qualifying For Defensive Awards In 2021; ‘I like the center’

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Alex Verdugo made most of his starts at right field for the Red Sox in 2020. But he is expected to start at center field this year with Jackie Bradley Jr. likely headed to another club.

Bradley remains a free agent. He is unlikely to re-sign with Boston.

“I love the center,” Verdugo said during a Zoom call Thursday. “I wouldn’t say it’s my natural position. It’s just what I played the most growing up. I played a lot in the center. This is where many of my representatives were. I’ve always been proud to be good in any of the three outfield positions. It will therefore be the same this year. Every stadium you go to, we all do it, you kind of get the right dimensions, get a few balls on the wall. Understand the angles.

Verdugo should be solid center for Boston. He ranked in the 98th percentile in vaulting, 69th percentile in above-average outs and 68th percentile in sprint speed in 2020, per Baseball Savant.

“I think my biggest thing this year – and it’s more of a selfish thing in that regard – I just want to rack up enough innings in one position to qualify for certain things like defensive awards,” said Verdugo.

But Verdugo is ready to move into the outfield.

“As far as versatility and stuff like that, if I’m in the lineup I see my name in pencil in the lineup and stuff, I don’t care where I’m playing,” said Verdugo. “I’m happy to go out there and compete.”

During his career, Verdugo recorded 14 defensive points saved in left field (369 innings), a 5 DRS in right field (463 ⅔ innings) and a 2 DRS in central field (556 ⅔ innings).

Manager Alex Cora mentioned recently that Kiké Hernández could sometimes start a game in the outfield and then move up to second goal as the game progressed. Hernández has 18 defensive points saved in career 1,263 ⅓ innings at second base. He has a 21 DFS in 2,054 ⅔ innings at all three outfield positions.

Verdugo said he could move well from right field to center or vice versa during games as the Red Sox try to use Hernández’s versatility to their advantage.

“Physically, you also have to be careful when moving people,” Cora said. “He can play in the middle. He can play well. Last year they settled with him in right field. At the start of the season, he played on the left. But we’ll talk about it and make the decision later in the spring. One thing is certain: he is a great defender. He’s a very good defender. It will be very important wherever he plays in the outfield.

Verdugo said Bradley’s best plays last year motivated him to want to be a better defender.

“If he gets that ball or if he drops that ball in the gap, I’m like, ‘Alright, I have the next one,'” said Verdugo. “You watch him play every day, you kind of see the way he goes about it, the effort he puts in, and I think that just inspires you to get more of it.”

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