Minor League Baseball is back for the first time since 2019, and with it comes the introduction of the Triple A Worcester Red Sox.
“I can’t believe it’s upon us,” WooSox hitting coach Rich Gedman said last week. “I feel like I’ve been waiting for this for two years.”
The team’s inaugural roster features a mix of top prospects and more immediate big-league depth options.
The road to Boston necessarily runs through Worcester this year. Only members of the WooSox can be called up directly to the majors without a five-day quarantine period — something likely to make callups from anywhere but Triple A rare. Of course, such rules only amplify a change that was already underway as a matter of preference in the Red Sox system.
During Dave Dombrowski’s tenure as president of baseball operations, the Red Sox didn’t shy away from summoning top prospects (Andrew Benintendi, Yoan Moncada) directly to the big leagues from Double A Portland. Current chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom comes from a Rays organization that typically believed in lengthy assignments in Triple A, even for top prospects, as an important finishing step.
Whereas Rafael Devers was brought to the big leagues after just nine Triple-A games in 2017, the Sox now seem intent on giving top prospects more time to marinate in the highest level of the minors. In other words, Worcester likely will be more of a destination than a stopover for the organization’s most talented minor leaguers.
As much as Jarren Duran has dazzled the last year, the Sox value the chance for him to face a variety of Triple A pitchers and get repeated looks at them to show the ability to adapt and adjust to competition. Player development, rather than roster necessity, will play a far larger role in dictating when players graduate to the big leagues.
With that in mind, here’s a look at the inaugural Opening Day roster of the Worcester Red Sox as the team prepares for its first game Tuesday in Trenton, N.J., against the Blue Jays’ Triple A affiliate. Members of Boston’s 40-man roster are noted with an asterisk.
▪ RHP Tanner Houck*, RHP Daniel Gossett, LHP Stephen Gonsalves, LHP Kyle Hart, RHP Raynel Espinal.
Injured: RHP Connor Seabold* (right elbow inflammation).
Houck, who gets Opening Day honors, is the headliner, both the top prospect and the pitcher most likely to be summoned if the Sox need a fill-in starter. He continues to develop his repertoire beyond a sinker, four-seam fastball, and slider, but that pitch mix alone has already been sufficient to allow him to compete two times through the order.
Gossett has the most big league experience of the bunch, making 23 starts for the A’s before he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2018. Hart got a couple of big league starts for the Sox last year before a hip injury shut him down.
Seabold’s injury isn’t believed to be serious, but the righthander won’t be a big league consideration for some time. He has never pitched above Double A in the regular season.
▪ RHP Eduard Bazardo*, RHP Seth Blair, RHP Colten Brewer*, LHP Matt Hall, RHP Kevin McCarthy, RHP Kaleb Ort, LHP Bobby Poyner, RHP John Screiber, RHP Caleb Simpson, RHP Marcus Walden, RHP Ryan Weber.
Injured: RHP Matt Carasiti, RHP Zac Grotz.
Bazardo and Brewer are the easiest players to shuttle in and out of the bullpen, given that they are on the 40-man roster. McCarthy was extremely impressive in spring training, one of the final cuts.
Beyond this group, if the Sox find the need to reinforce their bullpen, they could certainly turn to starters such as Houck or, if in search of a lefty with velocity, Gonsalves.
▪ Jett Bandy, Chris Herrmann, Connor Wong*.
The Sox love Wong’s athleticism behind the plate, and while he has an all-or-nothing offensive approach, he has intriguing power. Bandy and Herrmann offer major league experience as depth options.
▪ Jonathan Araúz*, Michael Chavis*, Chad De La Guerra, Jeter Downs, Yairo Muñoz, Josh Ockimey.
Injured: Danny Santana (foot).
Araúz, Muñoz, and Santana offer significant versatility to open plenty of pathways to the big leagues. Chavis had a fantastic spring training and could be summoned to help on the right side.
Downs, ranked the No. 2 prospect in the system based on the projection of a player with an above-average across-the-board skill set and advanced pitch recognition and plate discipline, is still finding his way. The 22-year-old, acquired in the Mookie Betts deal, has a chance to assert himself as the second baseman of the future, but he has barely played above High A in real games.
“I’m anxious to see what the season brings for him,” said Gedman. “I see some things that are really, really good, and at times I see some things that I’m not sure yet. I’ve been looking for a little more than I’ve seen so far. I think it’s in there.”
Santana is starting a rehab assignment with High A Greenville to start the year, but could be a candidate to join the big league roster this month.
▪ Jarren Duran, Michael Gettys, Tate Matheny, César Puello, Marcus Wilson*.
All eyes in Worcester are on Duran, who has been nothing short of dazzling since remaking his swing in the winter of 2019-20 to add power to his electrifying speed. He has performed at another level than his teammates in intrasquad competition.
“He has been separating, no doubt,” said Gedman. “It’s just a matter of time before we see him playing in the outfield in Boston. I’m not going to project when it’s going to happen.”
Duran was converted from second base in college to the outfield once he was drafted in 2018, and the Sox want him to make strides defensively and refine his approach against advanced competition, but it’s not hard to imagine him forcing his way into the Boston lineup this summer.