Red Sox prospect Bryan Mata, 20, relied on his slider last season to help improve his strikeout percentage. He is likely to start the 2020 season with the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs. Joel Page/Staff Photographer

FT. MYERS, Fla. — Boston Red Sox top pitching prospect Bryan Mata throws a mid-90s fastball and added a swing-and-miss slider to his repertoire last spring, helping him improve his command considerably.

He’s only 20 and he struggled in several starts after his promotion to the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs last year. But he has high expectations for himself entering 2020.

“My goal is to obviously pitch in the major leagues this year,” Mata said through translator Bryan Almonte. “But all I can control is my performance. Wherever the team feels like it’s best for me to pitch to start the year, that’s fine. But I know I’ll keep working hard so I’ll eventually get up to the major leagues this year.”

Mata is participating in his first big league spring training camp. He’s expected to begin 2020 at Double-A Portland. Boston must add him to its 40-man roster by next November to protect from the 2020 Rule 5 Draft.

He dominated at High-A Salem with a 1.75 ERA, .201 batting average against, 1.09 WHIP, 52 strikeouts and 18 walks in 10 starts (51 2/3 innings) to begin the 2019 season. He then struggled in some of his starts after a promotion to Double-A Portland (5.03 ERA, 11 starts, 53 2/3 innings), but he was one of the youngest pitchers in the Eastern League.

Baseball America ranks the righty as Boston’s top pitching prospect. It lists him as the No. 4 overall prospect in the system behind position players Triston Casas, Bobby Dalbec and Jeter Downs.

He throws a four-seamer, two-seamer, slider, curveball and changeup. Baseball America noted “he has No. 3 starter potential.”

“It’s something I worked hard on during the spring last year to incorporate that slider,” Mata said. “And it really helped me a lot in the season because I was able to get a lot of swing-and-misses and also a lot of soft contact when they did hit it.”

Per his Baseball America scouting report, “The Red Sox determined that his arm slot was better suited to a two-seamer as a primary offering.” He began throwing his two-seamer more in 2018 and struggled with command.

But he showed much better command in 2019. He averaged 3.6 walks per nine innings in 2019, down considerably from 7.3 walks per nine innings in 2018.

Meanwhile, his strikeout percentage increased from 7.6 per innings innings in 2018 to 9.5 last year.

“It was mostly just my confidence in that pitch (slider), especially when I got behind 2-0 or 3-1 (in the count),” Mata said. “Being able to throw that pitch – and guys expecting it to be a fastball – and instead it was a slider, it really helped me with my confidence and being able to get batters out. Because I knew I had that pitch to be able to bail me out.”

His two-seamer helped him post a 65.9  ground-ball percentage at Salem and 52.1 ground-ball percentage at Portland in 2019.

“I really focused on working on my mechanics (this past offseason) to be a little bit more consistent with my control,” Mata said. “That’s something I really worked on because I feel like that was lacking.”

WIL MYERS UPDATE: The Red Sox and Padres are still discussing a trade involving outfielder Wil Myers, according to Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Any trade appears contingent on the Red Sox “assuming about half of the $61 million” owed to Myers over the next three seasons.

Acee reports Boston has interest in three young Padres players – pitcher Cal Quantrill, catcher Luis Campusano and shortstop Gabriel Arias – and that any deal would serve primarily as a salary dump for San Diego. Quantrill, a 25-year-old former first-round pick who made 23 appearances in 2019, is considered “a central piece” in the discussions.

Any deal consummated by the sides would likely send Myers and a young player to Boston, assuming the Red Sox are willing to pay about half of his remaining salary. It’s unclear which players would go back to San Diego, though the Padres appear to highly value the idea of shedding a large portion of Myers’ salary and probably wouldn’t ask for valuable pieces in return.

WHY PRACTICE BUNTING? Under a new manager, the 2020 Red Sox will continue to bunt infrequently.

“What are we teaching guys to bunt for, when I may give two sacrifices a year?” said interim manager Ron Roenicke. “Why spend all your time doing something that doesn’t really happen in the game? Back when I played, (former Dodgers manager Tommy) Lasorda would put me in to pinch-hit to bunt somebody over. It was a huge part of the game. The fundamentals and things we stressed every day were a big part of the game at that time. The game has changed. It’s not that way anymore. So to put that emphasis on that part doesn’t make any sense.”

The Red Sox had just 27 total sacrifices in two years under former manager Alex Cora. They ranked among the bottom in the league in both years.

“The only guy we really had last year who was good at it was Sandy Leon,” Roenicke said. “We don’t have him this year. Jackie (Bradley Jr.) works on it some. I can remember (Blake) Swihart a couple of years ago. We were in a situation we thought that would be a good time to sac bunt and later on I talked to him he said he had never sac bunted before in the minor leagues, so that’s kind of scary.”

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