For likely the final time, Red Sox minor leaguers took the field at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket on Friday morning, a curtain on the ballpark’s 51-year history as a Red Sox affiliate dropping at the conclusion of a brief simulated game.
A 3½-inning scrimmage between minor leaguers marked the conclusion of McCoy’s time as an “alternate site,” a first-of-its-kind phenomenon in 2020 necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since mid-July, in a year in which the Minor League Baseball season had been canceled, teams had maintained alternate sites where depth options for big league teams along with a select group of prospects could work out and remain sharp through competition. In the process, McCoy gained a final opportunity to host members of the Red Sox organization.
Righthander Seth Blair threw the final pitch of the day, striking out 2020 Red Sox first-round pick Nick Yorke on a slider. Yorke had previously reached base three times on two singles and a hit by pitch. Infielder C.J. Chatham had the last hit by a Red Sox minor leaguer at McCoy.
With Polar Park in Worcester on track to open as the new home of the Red Sox' Triple-A affiliate in April 2021, the ballpark likely has arrived at the end of more than half a century as a final training ground for Red Sox prospects on their way to the big leagues.
“I think I’ve been mourning the whole season,” said PawSox vice chairman Mike Tamburro, who has worked with the team since 1974. “This has been a great old building. Its hallways and grandstands just echo memories of prospects coming through, fans cheering, children laughing, popcorn, and peanuts — everything that’s great about this game.
“This old building had a charm about it. When this place was filled on a summer’s night, it’s got a big league feel about it. Players loved to come play in this building when there were big crowds. For me, it’s those memories that I will savor and that I will take to my grave.”
While there were no official minor league games, and fans were not permitted to attend the workouts or scrimmages at the alternate site, there were a number of standout performances among Sox minor leaguers at McCoy.
Foremost among them was that of center fielder Jarren Duran, who hit eight homers in the setting — three more than he hit in a full minor league season in 2019. He appears likely to be big league-ready at some point in 2021.
Though just 20 and with no prior experience in the upper levels of the minors, first baseman Triston Casas displayed an advanced offensive approach and pitch recognition, making a compelling case to open 2021 in Double A. He’s viewed as a potential middle-of-the-order staple for the Red Sox for years to come.
On the mound, Bryan Mata showed an electrifying arsenal headlined by a mid- to upper-90s two-seam fastball and complemented by a slider, four-seamer, curveball, and changeup. He still needs delivery refinement to improve his control, but members of the Sox see him as a potential mid-2021 contributor. Lefthander Jay Groome, fully healthy for the first time since Tommy John surgery in 2018, also gained a foothold as he re-established himself as a starting pitching prospect.
With the big league season in its final weekend, players were set to scatter following the contest — some of them heading home after more than two months living in a hotel in Providence. Many of the players who were in Pawtucket will now head to Fort Myers, where they’ll be joined by other minor leaguers to take part in the team’s instructional camp, which begins in early October.