Portland Sea Dogs third baseman Matthew Lugo is all smiles after turning a double play during an April 22 game against Reading at Hadlock Field. After a tough 2023 season, Lugo has bounced back and is living up to his potential as a top Red Sox prospect. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

You can say Matthew Lugo has been dialed in from the start of the the season. Or you can say the versatile Portland Sea Dogs’ slugger is on a heater.

The 23-year old left fielder/third baseman said he simply thinks he’s finally living up to the potential he flashed in 2022.

Lugo, 23, is off to a strong start. He entered the week’s series at Somerset hitting .309 with a .404 on-base percentage.

His seven home runs and 22 RBI leads the Sea Dogs, as does his .679 slugging percentage and 1.083 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage).

“I feel like in the game, if I can control the strike zone, and focus on pitches I can do damage with, I’ll be good,” Lugo said recently at Hadlock Field.

Boston selected Lugo in the second round (69th overall) of the 2019 MLB draft out of the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy in Puerto Rico.

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A former major league All-Star, Beltran is Lugo’s uncle. Lugo excelled at High-A Greenville in 2022, hitting 18 home runs and driving in 78 runs in 114 games. He earned a modest three-game callup to the Sea Dogs to end that season.

When he began the 2023 season in Portland, Lugo was ranked among Boston’s top dozen prospects by Soxprospects.com. However, he struggled to find consistency, hitting just .242 with five home runs and 37 RBI in 83 games. He had just 110 total bases and finished with a paltry .297 on-base percentage.

His strikeout rate jumped from just under 20% of his plate appearances in 2022 to 27.5%.

“Last year, I hit pretty good on balls in the strike zone, but I chased a lot. I got myself out a lot,” Lugo said. “I hit the ball hard last year. Obviously, I didn’t put myself in good position to drive the ball. In ’22 I hit 18 homers. The power was there. This year it’s showing again just because I’m concentrating on just attacking the baseball.”

Portland Sea Dogs left fielder Matthew Lugo catches a fly ball during a May 7 game against New Hampshire in Portland. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Lugo already has 55 total bases through 24 games this season along with 13 walks after posting just 19 all last season, proving he is showing more patience at the plate. His .404 on-base percentage – the best in his five seasons of professional baseball – is second on the team only to catcher/first baseman Mickey Gasper (.423).

Lugo chose not to play in the Puerto Rican Winter League at the conclusion of the 2023 season as he had the winter before. Instead, he went home and focused on taking swings in the batting cage he built at home. The focus all offseason, like it is now, is to swing at pitches he can drive.

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“My offseason work and right now, I’m just working on my swing decisions. That’s it. I haven’t changed my swing a lot or my timing,” Lugo said. “In ’22 I played winter ball. Really, I played the whole year, and I was tired. This year, I took the chance of, ‘OK, I want to rest. I want to work on my batting and body’. I gained almost 20, 30 pounds (of muscle) in the offseason.”

Sea Dogs Manager Chad Epperson said it was evident from the start of spring training that Lugo had put in some work.

“He’s doing a better job taking care of himself, not that he was ever out of shape, but you can tell he’s in a much better place physically. I don’t think, for me, the power is surprising. He’s just making good swing decisions,” Epperson said.

Lugo isn’t chasing pitches as much this season. The ball also sounds better coming off his bat this season, Epperson said. Epperson uses the same phrase Lugo uses over and over, “do damage.”

“I think the power’s always been there. He showcased it in BP. We knew the power was there. It was more of him making good swing decisions, swinging at pitches he could do damage on. You watch him in the cage, the ball off the bat, it’s loud. It’s translating into the game here. You’ve heard it.”

A midseason position change in 2023 also affected Lugo’s season. Drafted in 2019 as a shortstop, Lugo began his first Double-A season at third base before moving to left field. This season, Lugo is more at ease in the outfield, having learned how to play the way the ball ricochets off the Maine Monster, Hadlock Field’s left-field wall that resembles Fenway Park’s Green Monster.

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Portland Sea Dogs third baseman Matthew Lugo reacts after making a double play to retire the side in the third inning of an April 22 game against Reading at Hadlock Field. Lugo moved to left field last season and has grown comfortable playing the position. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“I’m an athletic guy, so I feel comfortable out there to catch the ball and throw it to the cutoff,” Lugo said. “We play close to the wall, so basically, everything over your head is going to be off the wall. I just concentrate on catching fly balls and coming in.”

Lugo showed his growing aptitude in left field in the top of the third inning of a May 11 game against the Rumble Ponies. Lugo got a perfect jump on Rowdey Jordan’s sinking line drive, before making a sliding catch to record the out.

“He’s gotten real familiar with the wall. Kudos to him and his work. The guy’s putting in the work. He’s engaged. He’s put himself in the best place to make plays. He’s a lot more aggressive this year,” Epperson said. “It’s just like everything. You flip over to a new position, you become a little passive. That’s behind us, and you’re seeing him being a lot more aggressive in his steps.”

The rest of the season is about maintaining consistency, Lugo said. Sometimes, you can hit the ball perfectly but right at a fielder. Other times, your blooper will find space. If you work, Lugo said, the game is fair.

“You can’t control the results. Last year I was focused on results. I was swinging at everything. This year, I’m more concentrating on the plan and the process instead of the results,” Lugo said. “I believe that if you do that, at the end of the year, you’re going to have had a good year. You put yourself in position to help the team win.”


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