It was as if the Red Sox’ future arrived a bit early.
With the Sox trailing the Tampa Bay Rays, 7-6, in the bottom of the eighth March 19, Triston Casas, the Red Sox’ top prospect, stepped to the plate. Gilberto Jimenez was on second.
Ahead in the count, 2-and-0, Casas laced a single to center, scoring Jimenez. A couple of batters later, another prospect, Jarren Duran, roped a two-run single to give the Red Sox a 9-7 lead. It was Duran’s fourth hit of the day. That sequence offered more than just a stat line in a game the Sox ultimately won, 11-7.
It seemed like a glimpse into the future.
The Red Sox’ minor league system has been considered weak by many since the Chris Sale trade in 2016. As the major league club made a push to win the 2018 World Series, the farm system took a hit.
“I’ve probably been pretty bullish in my opinions that our farm system has been a little bit better than has been portrayed kind of all along,” said Mike Rikard, the Red Sox vice president of amateur scouting. “But now that we’ve made it to this point where we’ve got some really impactful prospects right on the cusp of, you know, infiltrating our major league roster and finding roles in the big leagues, it’s really exciting.”
There is infielder Casas, 21, outfielder Duran, 24, and pitchers Bryan Mata, 21, and Tanner Houck, 24. First baseman Bobby Dalbec, 25, possibly a mainstay at the big league level, has tremendous power. All are homegrown.
Include shortstop/second baseman Jeter Downs, 22, whom chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom acquired from the Dodgers as part of the Mookie Betts deal, and the Sox have a group of intriguing young talent.
Each player made an impression this spring — even Houck, despite struggling in two of his three starts.
“In a lot of ways, I think he’s had an encouraging spring,” Bloom said. “Physically, he’s in such a great place. His stuff looks great. Obviously, he wasn’t consistent on the mound. He couldn’t find his delivery on a consistent basis. He wasn’t as aggressive in some of his outings. And that’s to be expected. Development isn’t linear.”
Houck wasn’t the only one to taste that reality. Mata suffered a slight tear to the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow. The Sox are hoping the righthander can avoid Tommy John surgery. Downs missed time with a side issue, and when he did play, he struggled in the infield at times. Dalbec has light-tower power but his swing-and-miss rate remains high.
Duran, while impressive with the bat, needs more reps in the outfield; he doesn’t get good reads in center field just yet. That’s to be expected. He switched from infield to outfield a couple of years ago and didn’t have a minor league season last year. Duran understands what he needs to work on.
“Probably going back on the ball,” he said. ”You know, like putting my head down and just running. In the infield, you don’t really take your eye off the ball. So I think really just taking my head off the ball and learning to trust myself on my routes.”
Downs is never in a rush, something he said is innate. Dalbec also carries a high baseball IQ and has the ability to make adjustments. Houck has the stuff, as does Mata. Duran has game-changing talent and athleticism that the Sox believe could make him a star.
“We’re trying to win championships, and at the same time, we want to do it for a long period of time,” Cora said. “And they’re going to help us do that. On the minor league side, we’ve got guys that can contribute sooner rather than later.”
The Sox’ future success depends in part on how those young players develop and respond to expectations. Development may not be linear, but production is a necessity.
“We need to keep developing on impact talent,” Bloom said. “We need to keep bringing impact talent into the organization if we want to have the type of success that we hope to have, and have it for as long as we hope to have it.”
‘“We’re trying to win championships, and at the same time, we want to do it for a long period of time. And they’re going to help us do that.”’
Alex Cora on the Red Sox minor leaguers
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Julian McWilliams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @byJulianMack.