It’s hard to know exactly what instructional league performances meant and to distinguish the steps forward that were real from those that might prove a mirage.
Numerous pitchers, after spending quarantine working out and freed of the wear and tear of a season, arrived throwing harder than they had in the past, and it will require a more normal minor league setting to evaluate whether those gains stick.
Nonetheless, among Red Sox pitchers who showed up in instructional league, none showed more dramatic improvements in stuff than 20-year-old righthander Bradley Blalock.
Boston drafted Blalock in the 32nd round in 2019 and signed him from Grayson High in Loganville, Ga., for $250,000.
At the time, he was throwing his fastball at 87-91 mph, but with a projectable 6-foot-2 frame that suggested room for more. He got his feet wet with 6.2 innings in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2019, then joined the prospect diaspora when minor league camp shut down in mid-March 2020.
When he arrived in instructional league, he had added 10 pounds of good weight, with what one evaluator described as “eye-opening” improvements in his stuff.
“He came in as a different guy,” said another.
With an easy, repeatable delivery, Blalock was sitting in the low 90s and regularly touching 95 mph while showing the ability to shape a curveball, slider and changeup. His slider currently looks like an average pitch with the chance for more, and his delivery, fastball quality and feel to pitch offer starter potential if he can develop his secondary offerings.
It remains to be seen whether the promising signs of that brief instructional league glimpse hold moving forward, but at least in that setting, Blalocks’ hoped-for gains in a projectable high school pitcher took shape in unexpectedly dramatic fashion.
The gains put Blalock—who will pitch all of 2021 at age 20—on a rotation development path moving forward.
— Righthander Denyi Reyes, 24, threw 14.2 innings of three-run ball ball for Escogido in the Dominican League. He struck out 15 and walked one.
— Though hampered by a wrist injury that kept him from hitting in games, Matthew Lugo impressed defensively in instructional league. While many foresaw a move to second base or third base when he was drafted in the second round in 2019, evaluators now believe his chances of staying at shortstop have improved.