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First-round pick Teel showing traits of Boston great

No. 3 Red Sox prospect learning from catching coach Jason Varitek
March 15, 2024

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It’s impossible to avoid ruminating on the parallels. Two former All-ACC first-team catchers. Two 14th overall picks. Two players who reached Double-A in their first tastes of the Minor Leagues. One is just getting his career started with the Red Sox. The other won two World

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It’s impossible to avoid ruminating on the parallels.

Two former All-ACC first-team catchers. Two 14th overall picks. Two players who reached Double-A in their first tastes of the Minor Leagues.

One is just getting his career started with the Red Sox. The other won two World Series, a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger and was a three-time All-Star over a 15-year Major League career spent entirely in Boston.

MLB Pipeline’s No. 40 overall prospect Kyle Teel and Red Sox game planning coordinator and catching coach Jason Varitek may be just starting down the road of a mentoring relationship that could impact Boston’s long-term plans behind the plate.

The Red Sox selected Teel in the first round last summer after he won ACC Player of the Year honors by hitting .407/.475/.655 with 13 homers in 65 games for Virginia. His athleticism and arm strength pushed him to become MLB Pipeline’s No. 7 Draft prospect in the class, tops among all backstops. Teel signed for $4 million and was introduced to Fenway Park with a round of batting practice on July 21. It was there the potential sensei and student first crossed paths, if only for a brief handshake.

“That day went really, really fast,” Teel said. “I was just in the moment, I guess is the right way to put it. I don’t even remember what I asked him.”

What may have gone unsaid that day between the two was at least noted in public by the representative they both shared – another widening of the Venn diagram.

“One thing about ‘Tek, there was no stone unturned about how to prepare a team, how to prepare a pitching staff,” said agent Scott Boras in Teel’s introductory press conference. “And I think that Kyle has that same philosophy of waking up every day and it's all about baseball.”

After that first day at the Fens, Teel climbed three levels in the Minor Leagues, reaching Double-A Portland in September, and the left-handed slugger finished with a .363/.482/.495 line and 22/21 K/BB ratio over his first 26 Minor League games.

Varitek -- the former Golden Spikes Award winner at Georgia Tech -- was intrigued enough to watch tape of the club’s new top catching prospect and came away quickly impressed.

“Everything that I’ve heard and seen, he’s stepped right in and shown that he’s Kyle Teel and he’s a really good baseball player,” Varitek said. “There are always elements of this game that we’re still learning. I’m 51, and I learn every day. He’ll continue to do that. But right now, great character, great young man with great abilities.”

The pair crossed paths again during Boston’s Rookie Development Program in January, and in a more extended conversation, Teel was able to confirm Varitek as “a really down-to-earth guy, a really knowledgeable guy.”

“I ask him a lot of questions about defense and controlling the game,” said the former Cavalier. “He did such a good job with that.”

Part of those discussions revolve around Teel’s one-knee-down stance behind the dish, a move away from the squat behind the dish that was more popular in Varitek’s time.

“It’s very helpful when it comes to staying composed in the game,” Teel said. “You have a lot more energy. You’re not wasting energy as much, and with the receiving aspect, it’s a lot easier to get to that low pitch. I just think moving around with one knee down is a lot easier.”

Don’t expect a player with decades of experience to be stuck in his ways though.

“It’s not for all, it’s for some,” Varitek said. “There are some physical taxation issues that it can help with. You can debate it back and forth, but I think there’s great benefit to it.”

The two have some divergent paths in their stories, it should be noted.

For one, Teel reached Double-A quicker than Varitek did. The 1994 first-rounder didn’t sign with the Mariners until April of the next year following a bonus dispute that even saw him sign elsewhere for a time with the then-independent St. Paul Saints. When Varitek did report to Double-A Port City, he hit just .224 with a .701 OPS over 104 games with the Southern League club.

“Humility,” Varitek said when asked about what he learned at the Minors’ second-highest level. “I got punched in the mouth pretty good, a lot of failure right away.”

The switch-hitting catcher repeated Double-A as a 24-year-old in 1996, moved to Triple-A Tacoma in 1997 and was traded to Boston with Derek Lowe that July in a now-famous swap for closer Heathcliff Slocumb. He didn’t leave the Sox for the rest of his career, and it’s that New England longevity the Red Sox, whose Major League club has finished last in the AL East in three of the last four seasons, are most looking to emulate with their catcher of the future.

“I think ‘Tek provides a ton of consistency, a ton of understanding of what it takes to call a game and handle a pitching staff,” said Red Sox director of player development Brian Abraham. “Sometimes, catchers, when they’re amateurs, don’t have that ability because college coaches are calling pitches. Kyle’s not in Major League camp, but I think having someone like that at the top, having a strong relationship with our catching coordinator, Tyson Blaser, provides for continuity from Connor Wong and Reese McGuire all the way down to some of our young [Dominican Summer League] catchers, all working on the same thing.”

That road to Teel’s own continuity begins in earnest with Teel’s first Spring Training, and even if the younger player spends his mornings on the backfields, the big-league coach still wants to check in from time to time.

“Just watching his energy, sometimes you take a peak and watch him catch a side a few times,” Varitek said. “His athleticism really shows. That’s less on the conversation side, more on seeing a little bit. But now there are more hellos in passing. There’s a little bit more comfortability. Hopefully, that continues to grow as I spend more time with him.”

The more guidance Teel gets from Varitek, the higher the possibility that the parallels don’t stop for years to come.

“It’s an honor, honestly,” Teel said. “I’m so happy to be a part of this work. The culture in Boston and here at this Spring Training complex, it’s just amazing.”

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.