Alex Verdugo has worked exclusively as an outfielder to this point in his professional career, but the 25-year-old is hoping for an expanded role at some point in the future. Verdugo told reporters (including Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald) he’s hoping to serve as a two-way player by the 2023 season.
The Red Sox outfielder plans to begin a throwing program this offseason to kick off that process. While Verdugo cautioned that he didn’t want to take on a rotation role, he expressed an earnest desire to work out of the bullpen. “I don’t know if I’ll pitch next year, but definitely by 2023 I want to try to just be a two-way player,” Verdugo said “Not a (Shohei Ohtani), where he is starting and all that. I just want to be a reliever. Come in, help the boys out, something like that.”
Two-way players obviously remain quite infrequent, but they’re not without recent precedent. Ohtani is the AL MVP favorite for his stellar contributions on both sides of the ball. A two-way star of Ohtani’s caliber is unlike anything in recent memory, but a limited outfield/relief role seems more plausible. The Reds dabbled in that kind of experiment with Michael Lorenzen, giving him 83 1/3 innings of relief and six starts in center field in 2019. Anthony Gose hasn’t worked as a two-way player concurrently, but he played in the big leagues as an outfielder from 2012-16 before returning as a reliever with the Indians this season.
Verdugo certainly has the arm strength to at least make the notion of him working in relief potentially realistic. The left-handed hitter and thrower was a two-way star in high school, and he flashed intriguing upside on the mound. Baseball America named Verdugo the #55 prospect in the 2014 draft class, writing at the time that he worked his fastball into the 90s with a promising slider and changeup. BA noted that most amateur scouts actually favored Verdugo as a pitcher, with the broad consensus that his “professional future is definitely on the mound.”
The concept of Verdugo as a two-way weapon is certainly intriguing, although it sounds he’ll first have to convince his own manager to give him the opportunity. Alex Cora seemed less enthused about the prospect, telling reporters “(Verdugo) feels he can throw 97, 98 mph. I guess he used to do that. We’re like, ‘No, you’re not doing that. You’re actually going to get better physically and you have to take care of yourself.”
It’s easy to understand Cora’s seeming trepidation, since Verdugo’s plenty valuable working solely as an outfielder. He hit .289/.351/.426 (107 wRC+) over 604 plate appearances while splitting his time between all three spots on the grass this season. It remains to be seen if the Sox would allow Verdugo to take on additional work on the mound — or, of course, whether Verdugo progresses enough as a pitcher to even make that a viable question — but it’ll be an intriguing storyline to follow over the offseason and through next year. For his part, Boston chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom didn’t dismiss the idea out of hand, saying that while the Sox hadn’t discussed the matter too deeply, he wouldn’t past it past Verdugo developing into a useful pitcher based on his high school form (via Mastrodonato).