Did Sox get steal in Renfroe trade?

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Dec. 6—There was a lot to like about Alex Binelas’ freshman year at the University of Louisville.

The Wisconsin native earned a starting role on the talent rich squad, hit 14 home runs in 59 games and helped lead Louisville to a third-place finish in the 2019 College World Series, hitting a walk-off single to advance to the Super Regionals along the way.

But arguably most impressive was what happened after he broke his wrist getting hit by a pitch in the team’s final College World Series game against Vanderbilt.

“He played through the game, he didn’t come out, and he then tried to go to the USA Trials and thought he could make the team,” said Louisville head coach Dan McDonnell. “He tried to downplay the injury and keep it on the down low.

“You’re at USA Trials and you’re facing everyone who is mid-90s, and he got to like Day 3 of the trials before he couldn’t take it anymore.”

That’s the type of player the Red Sox are getting, the Louisville coach said. A tough-as-nails, no-nonsense midwesterner with first-round talent and extraordinary power.

Binelas was one of the prospects acquired in last week’s Hunter Renfroe trade, which also brought longtime centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. back to Boston and netted the club fellow Brewers prospect David Hamilton. Binelas was a third-round selection in this summer’s 2021 MLB Draft, but McDonnell and other talent evaluators believe he could have gone in the first round if not for the dreadful start to his junior year.

“The batting average and some of the numbers aren’t as sexy as you’d like but what I remind people is he had 19 home runs. I don’t know how many guys in college baseball hit more than him, I’m sure there’s a few, but all 19 were against the ACC and SEC,” McDonnell said. “So this guy hit them man, and he hit them against good pitching too. So that’s where I get excited when I think of his bat. It’s a real power bat.”

“I think he’ll take advantage of the left field wall,” he added later. “He’s not trying to yank, this isn’t a guy who has to play in Yankee Stadium, there’s real power to left center and right center. He really knows how to stay on the ball.”

The slow start is understandable given the trajectory of Binelas’ career. After the wrist injury kept him out for the summer of 2019, Binelas effectively missed his entire sophomore year after suffering a hamate injury in his right hand two games into the 2020 season. Then the pandemic hit, which closed off another offseason’s worth of opportunities, and going into his junior year he was still playing catchup.

He also moved from third base to first base, which was an adjustment in its own right, and all of that culminated with Binelas starting 2021 by going 2 for 31 (.065) over the first eight games.

“He’s pressing and trying too hard and struggling against not great competition, but man, he figures it out and it clicks when we get to ACC play,” McDonnell said. “I’m watching him hit balls against Virginia’s pitching staff, basically the farthest home run in the history of that program, that he hit against their superstar lefty. He hit one out of the stadium, one off the top of the scoreboard and one off the eyedrop against maybe the best pitching staff in our league.”

By the time 2021 was over, Binelas recovered to post a respectable .256 batting average along with a .968 OPS. His 19 home runs were fourth in the ACC and tied for 11th in Division 1, and he once again looked like a star playing alongside teammate and eventual No. 1 overall pick Henry Davis.

“Those two kids were working at another level. They didn’t look like college kids, they didn’t act like college kids, they weren’t in college to be college kids. They were in college to be big leaguers. They weren’t afraid to say it and they lived it out. Everything was baseball,” McDonnell said. “You’d have thought these guys were getting paid $5 million a year to play college baseball, that’s the way they approached it.”

Once his professional career began Binelas quickly emerged as one of the breakout stars of his draft class. He hit .314 with nine home runs and a 1.014 OPS in 29 games at Low-A, and by season’s end he was ranked as the No. 17 prospect in the Milwaukee Brewers system.

Now he becomes the latest acclaimed prospect to join the Red Sox since Chaim Bloom took over in late 2019, and McDonnell believes Boston can expect big things in the coming years.

“I think the scariest thing is he has a chip on his shoulder,” McDonnell said. “I don’t know if he’ll admit it or not but I’ve coached the kid for three years, and him not being a first-rounder, he’ll say all the right things but I promise you there’s a chip on his shoulder.

“Alex is going to be fun to watch,” he added. “I think the sky is the limit for him, I really do.”

Email: [email protected] Twitter: @MacCerullo.

Email: [email protected] Twitter: @MacCerullo.

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