Top Red Sox prospects Triston Casas and Jarren Duran were officially named to the USA Baseball Olympic qualifying roster Sunday.
The 26-man roster has 14 pitchers and 12 position players.
The United States will start the Baseball Americas Qualifier on Monday against Nicaragua at Clover Park in Port St. Lucie, Fla. The US will play the Dominican Republic on Tuesday and Puerto Rico on Wednesday.
Following group play, the top two finishers from each group will play two games in the Super Round, and the team with the best record (including group play) will be the winner and join Israel, Japan, Korea, and Mexico in the Olympics.
The second- and third-place teams will have a final shot at qualifying for the Olympics at a last-chance tournament in Mexico in late June.
Duran started the season in Triple-A Worcester. In 82 plate appearances, the outfielder is hitting .278/.366/.625 with seven homers. Duran, who is likely to make his MLB debut this season, said he’s elated to be a part of the USA squad.
“Having USA across my chest, I don’t know if anything ever compares to that,” Duran said in a text message Sunday afternoon. “I feel honored to represent this great country, and having the Red Sox back me up on that means a lot. I couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity and I will forever be grateful to the Red Sox for letting me have this opportunity.”
Casas, a first baseman, began the season in Double-A Portland. In 75 plate appearances, the first baseman is hitting .328/.400/.552 with four homers.
Duran and Casas have been with Team USA teammates at a training camp
Darren Fenster, the Red Sox’ minor league outfield and baserunning coach, will serve as Team USA’s third base coach. Former MLB manager Mike Scioscia is the manager.
Several players named to the roster are major league veterans who are not on an MLB roster, including Matt Kemp, Todd Frazier, and pitchers Edwin Jackson and David Robertson.
Looking ahead to Houston
The Red Sox are set for a four-game series against the Houston Astros beginning Monday. The Sox starters for that series will be Eduardo Rodriguez, Garrett Richards, Nick Pivetta, and Martín Pérez.
Rodriguez enters with a 5.06 ERA through his first nine starts of the year, the highest mark of any Sox starter. Despite the numbers, manager Alex Cora believes the lefthander is turning the corner, pointing to the third and fourth innings in Rodriguez’s last start vs. the Phillies.
“He looked really good,” Cora said. “Rhythm was better. More locked in. His mechanics, the pitches, they had better action. I’m looking forward to him continuing to build off of that.”
When Rodriguez had his breakout season in 2019, his ERA after his ninth start was close to what it is now at 4.89. His ERA spiked to 5.43 in his next start and then dropped to 5.04 in his 11th start. Based on his slow start in 2019 — a year in which he tossed 203⅓ innings and tallied a 3.89 ERA — the Red Sox, and perhaps their fans, should be confident their ace has some of his best starts ahead of him.
Rodriguez’s fastball velocity (92.7 miles per hour) is a tick down from his 2019 average (93.1). Oftentimes, Rodriguez will have his velocity in the beginning only to see it decrease over the course of his outing. Yet Cora has dismissed that on a few occasions believing that Rodriguez’s cutter — against which opponents are hitting .429 this year — has been his problem this year.
“It’s playing more like a bad slider since Texas,” Cora said. “Hopefully that pitch plays better.”
Despite losing George Springer to the Toronto Blue Jays and Justin Verlander to Tommy John surgery, the Astros (28-24) still remain a threat. They are second in the American League West behind the Oakland A’s. Their offense is still prolific, carrying a .754 OPS (third in the majors) and the best batting average (.264) in baseball. The Red Sox will miss Zack Greinke, who has a 3.67 ERA in 12 starts this year. The Astros sit in the middle of the pack in ERA (3.91), ranked 15th as of Sunday (the Sox ranked 12th).
This series will have another headline to it. It’s the first time Cora, who was a part of the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal in 2017 as the team’s bench coach, will make a trip back to Houston since he and the Red Sox parted ways after 2019.
Taylor in a groove
Lefthanded reliever Josh Taylor has been impressive of late, tallying nine straight scoreless appearances totaling nine innings of work dating back to the end of last month. This comes after Taylor yielded a whopping nine runs in 9⅓ innings to start the year.
“I just just try to take it a pitch at a time, Taylor said. “The beginning of the season kind of started off a little rough. You just got to try and take the good from it and not focus too much on the bad and just try and go out there and win every pitch.”
Taylor played a significant part in the Sox’ bullpen in 2019, registering a 3.04 ERA in 47⅓ innings, striking out 62 batters. Yet in 2020, Taylor was met with some ups and downs. He contracted COVID-19 ahead of summer camp, and then never found his rhythm, compiling a 9.82 ERA in just seven innings. He eventually landed on the injured list at the end of the season.
|Name||Pos.||2021 Organization||Minor League Team|
|Nick Allen||INF||Oakland Athletics||Midland (AA)|
|Eddy Alvarez||INF||Miami Marlins||Jacksonville (AAA)|
|Anthony Carter||RHP||Saraperos de Saltillo|
|Triston Casas||INF||Boston Red Sox||Portland (AA)|