Verdugo is a former top 20 prospect with Baseball Prospectus. He had a 114 wRC+ in 2019 and isn’t a free agent until 2025. He joins a Red Sox club that won the World Series under two years ago.
In theory, the arrival of Verdugo should usher in a fresh era for Boston, a new-look competitive team. The sense, and widespread criticism, after the Betts trade, however, is vastly different. For financial reasons, they dealt one of the best players in the game, and a more than useful starting pitcher.
Verdugo arrives at Fenway Park under pressure. Filling Betts shoes is likely an ask too great, but the talent is there to blossom into an All-Star alongside two other exciting young outfielders in Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi.
Evaluating Verdugo longer term should be qualified with the fact that guessing the trajectory of any MLB player is far from an exact science. Walk rate is usually a useful stat to look at, but even that isn’t reliable in this instance. Verdugo walked just 6.9% of his plate appearances in 2019, a drop from 9% in AAA in 2018. His bat-to-ball skills remained good, however, with a strikeout rate of just 13%, which is marginally lower than Anthony Rendon and a bit higher than Alex Bregman.
Verdugo is a long way from elite hitters like Rendon and Bregman. Projections have Bregman posting a wRC+ in the 150s, and while they are less kind to Rendon, the Los Angeles Angels’ new signing is a serious MVP candidate. All projections have Verdugo above league average, but several think he could drop off from his 2019 performance.
An increased walk rate is expected and is a must if he is to blossom into anything like a Betts replacement.
If Verdugo can walk in 8% or more of his plate appearances, and continue to slug in the high 400s, his 2020 could look something like Bregman’s 2017 campaign. The Astros infielder finished with a 123 wRC+ and walked in 8.8% of his plate appearances.
|Verdugo 2020 Steamer||Bregman 2017|
Steamer is the most generous projection for Verdugo, but a 2020 that looks something like that isn’t unreasonable. A performance at that level, for someone who registered in the 72nd percentile in outs above average, will put him into the All-Star discussion.
If Verdugo achieves that level in his first season with the Red Sox, the expectation will raise further. It doesn’t guarantee the progression we have seen from Bregman, who increased his walk rate by a further 4.8% in 2018 and saw his wRC+ by 33 points, but it would perhaps show what Verdugo’s floor is.
Heading into his second full Major League season, Verdugo’s ultimate ceiling will not be revealed, though his floor could be. Setting a platform for the rest of his career at around 20% better than league average would be a win for the Red Sox despite losing Betts. Other highly rated prospects have shown what a season like Steamer projects for Verdugo can become.
All eyes are on the loaded Dodgers, and they’re one of the teams with the most to lose if the season is cancelled, but the other side of this offseason’s biggest trade is worth keeping an eye on, too. The legacy of that deal in Boston will rely on who Verdugo becomes, and even after a very solid 2019, there’s significant uncertainty.