Casas, Duran carry Red Sox All-Stars

First baseman, outfielder find success in first full seasons

Triston Casas collected 51 extra-base hits in 120 games in his first full Minor League season. (Kevin Pataky/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | October 14, 2019 10:30 AM

Each offseason, MiLB.com goes position by position across each system and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. Click here to locate your favorite club.

It was no secret that the Red Sox farm system was expected to enter a down period in 2019. In fact, MiLB.com placed the group last in its preseason Farm System Rankings. Six months later, however, there are reasons to believe the arrow is pointing up in the Boston pipeline.

Michael Chavis graduated earlier than expected and looked like an American League Rookie of the Year contender before injuries ended his season prematurely. Triston Casas -- the club's top pick in 2018 -- showed enough offensive potential in his first full season to jump into MLB.com's Top-100 prospect list at No. 85. Hard-throwing right-hander Bryan Mata and big-time slugger Bobby Dalbec may not be far behind. Jarren Duran, a seventh-round pick last year, showed enough of a promising hit tool to represent the club at the Futures Game and in the Arizona Fall League. The U.S. team seeking Olympic qualification at the Premier12 tournament next month is full of Red Sox prospects in Dalbec, Tanner Houck, Noah Song and C.J. Chatham.

On a team level, the success may not have been there in 2019. Sox affiliates ranked 27th in winning percentage, and Class A Advanced Salem and Class A Short Season Lowell were the only two to make their respective playoffs. But there was enough individual progress to give fans hope that the farm could bear significant fruit en route to Fenway Park soon enough.

Red Sox Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Kole Cottam, Greenville (76 games), Salem (11 games): Boston grabbed Cottam in the fourth round of the 2018 Draft out of the University of Kentucky, mostly for his power. After all, the right-handed-hitting backstop went deep 19 times in his final spring in Lexington. Cottam didn't disappoint in the offensive department by producing a .255/.363/.424 line with eight homers, a triple and 25 doubles in 87 games at the two Class A full-season levels. His 132 wRC+ ranked fourth among Red Sox farmhands with at least 300 plate appearances, with no other catchers quite coming close. His defense remains a work in progress after Cottam threw out only 19 percent of attempted basestealers, but the offensive profile provides a nice foundation.

First baseman -- Triston Casas, Greenville (118 games), Salem (two games): The 2018 26th overall pick settled in nicely in his first full season. The 19-year-old left-handed slugger clobbered 20 homers and led the system with 51 extra-base hits across both stops in 2019, showing off the plus power potential that made him a high pick in the first place. He batted .254/.349/.472 with Greenville, finishing ninth among South Atlantic League qualifiers with a 136 wRC+. Even after moving across the diamond from third base, Casas showed enough bat to provide value at the new spot, and his offensive potential for his age has vaulted him to No. 85 on MLB.com's Top-100 prospect rankings.

"He was a plus defender at first for us," Red Sox vice president of player development Ben Crockett said. "He did play some third base, but he got that good chunk of time at first base. We can see the significant upside to him playing there and, ultimately, we felt like that was going to get him the best chance to play every day and make the biggest impact."

Video: Drive's Casas clubs solo homer

Honorable mention: Josh Ockimey led the system with 82 walks, was second with 25 homers and third with 44 extra-base hits in 122 games with Pawtucket. He finished with a .204/.353/.459 line.

Second baseman -- Josh Tobias, Portland (24 games), Pawtucket (44 games): The 26-year-old switch-hitter bounced between Triple-A and Double-A before a left hamstring injury shut him down in late July. But he made his presence felt in the limited time he was on the field, finishing fifth in the system with a .298 average and seventh with an .813 OPS among those with at least 200 plate appearances. The 2015 10th-rounder, who was acquired for Clay Buchholz in December 2016, also saw time at first and third as he tried to break through to the Majors for the first time.

Third baseman -- Bobby Dalbec, Portland (105 games), Pawtucket (30 games): It was a typically powerful season for the No. 2 Red Sox prospect. Dalbec led the system with 27 homers and finished second behind only Casas with 48 extra-base hits at the top two levels of the Minors. His .825 OPS also was highest among Red Sox full-season Minor Leaguers, while his 132 wRC+ placed third.

Just as exciting as his power was the fact that Dalbec made more contact in 2019. His strikeout rate dropped from a high 32.4 percent in 2018 to a much more palatable 24.7. His hit tool remains far away from the ceiling of his power -- Dalbec hit .239 in 135 games -- but his ability to take walks (73 this season) and swing for the fences make the right-handed slugger one of the most exciting bats heading toward Fenway. Seeing 24 games at first base should help his case to visit the Green Monster before long as well.

"Bobby continues to work hard at identifying the pitches he can drive," Crockett said. "As he becomes more consistent with that, he'll continue to move into position to push himself higher. He does damage to all fields, and everyone knows he has that power and that loft to really drive the ball. It's no secret that he can drive it as far or farther than anyone on the field."

Video: Pawtucket's Dalbec homers again

Shortstop -- C.J. Chatham, Portland (90 games), Pawtucket (20 games): When it comes to Boston's No. 9 prospect, the value comes almost entirely from the hit tool. Chatham batted .298/.333/.408 with five homers, a triple and 31 doubles in 110 games, ranking second behind only Jarren Duran in average and hits (130) among Red Sox farmhands. His 31 doubles topped the system, showing how his power is primarily to the gaps, even at Triple-A. Chatham is considered an above-average fielder at short but began to see time at second base as he closes in on Xander Bogaerts. The 2016 second-rounder out of Florida Atlantic is Rule 5-eligible for the first time and seems to be headed toward 40-man protection before the November deadline.


MiLB.com 2019 Organization All-Stars: Team by Team >>


"We think he can play shortstop, for sure," Crockett said. "Given the situation with Xander, we've bounced him around a little, like we're doing now at second in the AFL. It's all to work on his versatility. But we think he can be a solid defender and he certainly has the ability to hit. He's got good barrel control and pitch recognition. The ability is there to get the barrel on the right pitches to hit."

Outfielders

Jarren Duran, Salem (50 games), Portland (82 games): A 2018 seventh-round pick out of Long Beach State, Duran flew out of the gate in the Carolina League, batting .387/.456/.543 with 20 extra-base hits and 18 steals in 50 games before making the jump to Portland in early June. He cooled considerably with a .250/.309/.325 line at the higher level, but he still led the organization in hits (157), runs scored (90), stolen bases (46) and average (.303) and finished second with 212 total bases.

The fourth-ranked Red Sox prospect thrives on hitting line drives from the left side and has the plus-plus speed to steal a few hits and more than a few bases. That speed also allows him to cover plenty of ground in center, which he played exclusively during the regular season after getting reps in right and at second base during his pro debut in 2018. Duran has moved to the AFL, where he's seen some time in left field as he tries to add even more prestige to what was already a breakout season.

"It was really good exposure for him to get off to that really hot start in Salem and then be moved to a challenge in Portland, where he was pitched differently," Crockett said. "I think for him, it comes down to trusting yourself and the process that got you there. He was pitched differently and that can be tough, but he's got all the tools to figure it out and make the adjustments. This was just about getting him that exposure to Double-A."

Video: Duran's fourth knock for Portland

Marcus Wilson, Salem (45 games), Portland (62 games), Jackson (12 games): It was a roller coaster of a season for Boston's No. 17 prospect. Wilson was acquired from the D-backs for Blake Swihart in April and moved straight to Double-A Portland. After some early struggles, he was sent to Class A Advanced Salem and took off in the Carolina League, hitting .342/.413/.603 with eight homers in 45 games. He returned to the Sea Dogs in mid-July with improved form and produced a .250/.325/.486 line with seven homers over his final 43 contests. 

Through it all, Wilson led all Red Sox full-season farmhands with a 146 wRC+, .489 slugging percentage and .847 OPS. The 23-year-old can strike out a little too much (31.9 percent), but he showed off the power potential and above-average speed that made him an intriguing return six months ago.

"I think any time you come over in a trade, it can be challenging," Crockett said. "It was early in the season and he was also coming from a warmer place in Jackson to a cold spot in Portland. He was also young for Double-A and was probably pressing some. He did a good job working some things out mechanically and working with the staff in Salem to get back to where he's been. His approach improved, too. ... He needed to be ready to hit the fastball. Early on, there were times when he would get caught guessing. He was seeking power, and that wasn't something he needed to do. By the time he got back to Portland, all of that work continued and he kept producing."

Video: Sea Dogs' Wilson makes diving grab

Gilberto Jimenez, Lowell (59 games): Jimenez was signed for $10,000 out of the Dominican Republic in August 2017 and he's already looking like one of the most gifted hitters in the system. The 19-year-old switch-hitter won the New York-Penn League batting title in his first stateside season by hitting .359 in 59 games with Lowell and also placed in the top five in OBP (.393), slugging (.470) and OPS (.863). Jimenez thrives with plus-plus speed that allows him to pick up a few more hits, play an above-average center field and steal a few bags, including 14 in 2019. The power isn't there just yet, in part because he put the ball on the ground 63.9 percent of the time, but Boston hopes he can rely on more than just his speed to produce offensively as he climbs the ladder.

"The speed is definitely promising, but he's a good hitter, too," Crockett said. "Being able to switch-hit and showing good bat-to-ball skills from both sides, that's not something we see very often from someone his age -- not this quickly. Yeah, there's the occasional time where his speed helps him offensively, but we're excited about the bat, too."

Honorable mention: Signed out of the independent American Association in May, 27-year-old Edgar Corcino was a big-time producer for Salem, hitting .315/.386/.557 with nine homers in 68 games. His 169 wRC+ was tops in the system among players with at least 200 plate appearances.

Utility player -- Chris Owings, Pawtucket (44 games), Boston (26 games), Kansas City (40 games): After Owings was released by the Royals in early June, the Red Sox signed the then-27 year old to a Minor League contract, hoping he could provide organizational depth. He ended up doing more than that by hitting .325/.385/.595 with 11 homers and 11 doubles in 44 games with the PawSox. While those numbers were inflated slightly by the offensive explosion at Triple-A this season, his 145 wRC+, which was controlled for league factors, ranked fifth among Red Sox farmhands with at least 150 plate appearances. Owings played six positions for Pawtucket -- second base, third, short and all three outfield spots -- before moving up to Boston on Aug. 11. Some Major League struggles could make him a non-tender candidate this offseason, but he certainly made the most of rebuilding his value with his move to the International League.

Honorable mention: Chad De La Guerra hit .288/.361/.540 with 13 homers in 61 games for Pawtucket while seeing time at second, third and shortstop.

Right-handed starter -- Thad Ward, Greenville (13 games), Salem (12 games): The Sox had success in moving former University of Florida reliever Shaun Anderson to their Minor League rotations and seem to have done something similar with Ward, a 2018 fifth-rounder out of Central Florida. The 22-year-old led qualified pitchers in the system with 157 strikeouts and a 29.9 percent K rate and was second with a 2.14 ERA over 126 1/3 innings, split between the South Atlantic and Carolina leagues.

The No. 8 prospect in the system, Ward has made the transition comfortably with an above-average fastball, good cutter, plus slider and average changeup. With his mix of stuff and results in 2019, the Fort Myers native shouldn't plan on a move back to relief anytime soon.

"He's someone with multiple pitches and he can be really good about throwing his off-speed in any count," Crockett said. "He threw both his cutter and breaking ball at any time. He has a real feel for that slider, and it's got plus swing-and-miss. The cutter is a bit of a new pitch, but it provides some nice variation. The fastball velocity was about 93-94, but he could even get it up to 96-97 by the end. Given his athleticism and ability to pick things up quickly, we thought we could take advantage by making him a starter."

Video: Ward's three-pitch whiff

Left-handed starter -- Daniel McGrath, Portland (27 games), Pawtucket (two games): The Australian pitched primarily out of the Portland bullpen for the first three months of the season before entering the rotation for good in late June. He never looked back. The 25-year-old finished with a 1.98 ERA that not only led qualifying pitchers in the organization but also ranked fifth among all full-season qualifiers. He also led full-season Boston pitchers with a 1.09 WHIP and had 116 strikeouts and 49 walks over 122 2/3 innings across the top two levels.

McGrath isn't one for velocity, throwing in the upper 80s to low 90s, but his four-pitch mix works with some of the deception in his three-quarters delivery from the left side. He ended the year with a strong seven-inning start at Pawtucket, with hopes of more extended looks at the Minors' top level in 2020.

Video: Portland's McGrath notches the strikeout

Honorable mention: No. 27 prospect Kyle Hart may not have had McGrath's gaudy numbers, but the 26-year-old southpaw led the system with 156 innings between Pawtucket and Portland, posting a 3.52 ERA and 1.17 WHIP with 140 K's.

Offseason MiLB include

Relief pitcher -- Eduard Bazardo, Salem (17 games), Portland (21 games): While the other two pitchers made hay by going from relief to starting roles, Bazardo found success going the other way in 2019. Boston's No. 25 prospect moved back to the bullpen after some earlier forays there in his career and broke through to Double-A for the first time. He finished with a 2.21 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, .206 average-against, 88 strikeouts and 22 walks over 73 1/3 innings. Bazardo's 29.6 percent K rate was third-highest among Sox pitchers with at least 70 innings while his 2.40 FIP was lowest. The 24-year-old right-hander can touch the mid-90s with his fastball and throws a curveball that earns above-average marks. That's all he might need to force his way to Boston's Major League bullpen before long.

"He's a guy with two really good pitches, and really, that's enough," Crockett said. "He can throw the breaking ball in any count, and he can be a real power pitcher with the fastball. He's been really fearless in the new role too, and it all adds up to a good reliever."

Honorable mention: Trevor Kelley was an International League end-of-season All-Star after posting 12 saves and a 1.79 ERA with 63 strikeouts in 65 1/3 innings for Pawtucket.

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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