The Red Sox had nothing short of an eventful offseason but not in the way that would excite anyone, given how they felt trading Mookie Betts — the second-best player in all of baseball since his 2014 debut — was the best course of action for the franchise. Not all their offseason moves were blockbusters, however. Back in December, the Red Sox participated in the Rule-5 Draft, something the club typically has not participated or qualified for in the past few years. Held each December at the conclusion of the winter meetings, the Rule-5 Draft allows clubs without a full 40-man roster to select other non-40-man roster players from other clubs. Those that select a player must pay the club they’re taking the player from $100,000 and the draft pick is automatically assigned to his new team’s 26-man roster. Typically these players are younger guys who have shown potential at the minor league level, sometimes as even one of the club’s top prospects, even if they were listed as such some years ago. This year, the Red Sox selected 22-year-old Jonathan Araúz from the Astros organization.
A Panama native, Araúz, originally a Phillies prospect, was traded to Houston in 2016 as part of the Ken Giles trade. In the three years with Houston, he never played above Double-A ball, hitting .249 last season bouncing between High-A and Double-A. By most assumptions, Araúz’s stint on the Red Sox major league roster this season was expected to be more so of an experiment than anything else. Instead, in these weird times, he’s found himself earning a spot in the starting lineup more regularly as of late and it’s been well-deserved.
Certainly, the Red Sox seem to think quite highly of the young infielder. Intended to serve more of a role as a bench player, he’s now made four starts, three at second base and one at third base filling in for a banged up Rafael Devers Monday night against Tampa Bay. Despite the 8-7 defeat Monday night, it was a big night for Araúz, who collected his first major league hit and then another two, finishing the night 3-f0r-4 with two RBIs. Prior to that, he was 0-10, and while by no means was it necessarily worrisome, it seemed he was just another player not clicking in the disaster that has been the 2020 Boston Red Sox.
Perhaps his 3-for-4 night gave Araúz the confidence boost he needed, as he’s added another five hits and two RBI in three games since then. Sox manager Ron Roenicke spoke highly of Araúz’s performance thus far in the major leagues to the media Monday night. “With him, I tell you, he continues to not act like he’s out of A-ball. He’s calm, he’s good from both sides of the plate, does a great job, made a nice play defensively. He’s doing a great job,” he told MassLive’s Chris Cotillo.
The Red Sox had to make the decision as to whether or not they intended to keep Araúz at the end of July when it came to cutting the roster from 30 to 28 men. With the Rule-5 Draft, either a selected player must remain on the active roster for the entirety of the season, or he must be returned to his previous club in exchange for $50,000. Surely such a rule always makes for a difficult decision, even in a normal season: do you put your trust in this young guy, or do you throw him away entirely? Now imagine making such a decision in a 60-game season, with only a 15-game sample size, and those 15 games are the first major league games Araúz has played in where he started 0-10 at the plate.
Roenicke put it best prior to the reduction of the 30-man roster, saying, “When you have these Rule-5 guys, that’s why they are so difficult [to assess] because you obviously picked them up for a reason. And you picked them up for the future,” he told MassLive back in July. “We like Jonathan. I’m liking what I see offensively being a switch hitter. He’s patient. He sees the ball well. And on defense, he’s got good hands. He’s got a really good arm, an accurate arm. His mind doesn’t speed upon him. He’s pretty slow thinking, which you need to be. And for a young age, I would say he’s pretty advanced that way.” All this praise before Araúz even had his first major league hit seemed to be an indicator the Sox planned to keep him around. It’s been a decision that’s worked out in their favor, in a season that has otherwise provided very few feel-good storylines.
As Araúz continues to progress at the major league level, he’s found himself garnering much more playing time than anyone expected, and far more starts as well. The Red Sox started a four-game series in the Bronx yesterday, facing off against Yankees ace Gerrit Cole to begin the series. Araúz was given the start at second base over Jose Peraza, batting 9th in the lineup. Despite Boston’s many woes, perhaps now is the best time to develop a young talent like Araúz at the major league level.
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