PORTLAND, Maine — Brayan Bello’s Afro protruded from underneath his blue Sea Dogs cap late Tuesday afternoon. His long body and gangly arms affirmed his 6-foot-1-inch, 170-pound frame. As Bello made his way to the third base dugout at Hadlock Field, the lankiness took over. His arms swayed uncontrollably with each step.
When Bello sat on the splintered wooden bench the peach fuzz above his lip and beneath his chin was the final reminder. That despite his success in the minors, here lies a 22-year-old kid. One who has performed at an elite level this year, thrusting himself into the conversation as one of the elite pitching prospects in the minor leagues.
Bello, as well as Triple A Worcester infielder Jeter Downs, will represent the Red Sox in Sunday’s Futures Game in Denver. As All-Star week warms up, Bello will be an All-Star in his own regard.
“I want to continue to challenge myself,” he said. “I also understand that this is the road to development. I’m enjoying it so far.”
Bello’s meteoric rise through the Sox system is well-earned. He began the year at High A Greenville, where he dominated, striking out 45 in 31⅔ innings (six starts). He’s continued that success in Double A, where he’s posted a 3.45 ERA in four starts, including 19 strikeouts in 15⅔ innings.
Bello has not only caught the attention of the Sox brass, but also that of Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, who told Bello he wants to see him pitch this season. Bello, who like Martinez is from the Dominican Republic, said he was elated to hear from one of his idols.
“I want to continue to learn from a guy like that and ask him what he did to be able to have a career like that,” said Bello. “I’m really excited that a guy like that reached out to me, but I want to know more.”
That craving is part of what has landed Bello in this position. He’s touched 100 miles per hour with his fastball this year, and he has a powerful changeup. A third pitch is almost a requirement to be a starter in the big leagues, so Bello has started incorporating a slider into his arsenal.
“I look at hitters and they tell me a lot about the way they react, and there are a lot of uncomfortable swings off his slider,” Portland manager Corey Wimberly said. “Even though he’s still working on it, I think he’s in a good position right now with that pitch.”
The sudden attention hasn’t taken Bello off his game, according to Wimberly. Bello also continues to lean on former big league pitcher Fernando Rodney as a mentor.
Sunday will be another benchmark in Bello’s promising career, yet he still has just one goal on his mind.
“I want to win,” Bello said. “I want to beat hitters.”
Triston Casas isn’t taking his opportunity to play for Team USA in the Olympics for granted. The Sea Dogs first baseman and Red Sox top prospect will begin his quest for a gold medal beginning July 30 against Israel.
“I’ve worked really hard for other things, but to be able to call myself an Olympian is obviously awesome,” Casas said. “I’ve gotten the opportunity to play on a couple of USA teams. And every single time it is special. It’s one thing to represent your organization. But when you have a whole country backing you, it’s something different.”
Casas was a key contributor in Olympic qualifying, going 6 for 15 with two doubles. Jarren Duran also played a huge role, and certainly would have been on the Olympic team as well, but because of the schedule and the potential for Duran to be called up to the big league club, Casas and Worcester infielder Jack Lopez will be the lone Sox prospects in Tokyo.
Darren Fenster, the Red Sox’ minor league outfield and base running coach, will serve as Team USA’s third base coach as a part of manager Mike Scioscia’s staff.
“I feel like throughout my whole life I’ve been influenced by a lot of great people, and getting the opportunity to play with [former All-Star] Matt [Kemp] and getting coached by Mike these last couple of weeks in the qualifiers was definitely eye opening,” Casas said. “I saw how a lot of the veterans went about their way of handling their routines.”
Routine and approach are big parts of Casas’s game. Though he’s hitting .268 with just four homers for the Sea Dogs, part of that, Wimberly said, is because Casas doesn’t change his approach by chasing pitches outside the strike zone.
“He’s been on the bad end of a couple different calls and has kind of affected his at-bats a little bit,” Wimberly said. “Not to make excuses for him, but I think he’s really doing what we want him to do and that’s all in the strike zone.”
The dream won’t end at the Olympics for Casas. He has lofty goals when he reaches the big leagues.
“I don’t want to be a major league player. I want to be an All-Star-caliber player for decades in the major leagues,” Casas said. “That’s the goal. That’s the standard I hold myself to every day.”