Last summer, the Red Sox shocked the industry by taking Nick Yorke with their first-round pick. Yorke did not ignore the questions about the wisdom of his selection.
“It’s motivation. I mean, I still know the number. I was ranked 139th going into the draft by Perfect Game,” Yorke said, referring to the prominent showcase organizers. “But at the end of the day, that’s not going to help me get to the big leagues. So every opportunity that I got to be on the field, [I] try to make the most of it and prove to them that I’m better than 139th.”
Yorke managed to do just that in his pro debut in 2021. The 19-year-old, who started with Low-A Salem and concluded it with High-A Greenville, produced a startling line, hitting .325/.412/.516 with 14 homers in 97 games.
Those numbers are even more surprising given Yorke’s early-season struggles. He hit .177 with a .440 OPS in May. But from June through the end of the season, he hit .361/.450/.598. In so doing, he earned Red Sox minor league offensive player of the year honors, an award he received at Fenway Park on Wednesday night.
“I was lucky the season wasn’t a month or else I wouldn’t be here,” Yorke chuckled.
The fact that Yorke produced such an eye-popping line as a teenager put him in rare company. The last comparable season by a Red Sox minor leaguer in the lower levels was in 2014, when the feats of 20-year-old Mookie Betts yielded phenom status over a .314/.417/.506 performance with Greenville and Salem.
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While Triston Casas, who was scheduled to make his Triple A debut on Wednesday, is generally viewed as the top Red Sox prospect, some evaluators now place Yorke ahead of Casas. Others who continue to rank Casas ahead of Yorke believe that Yorke has a chance to claim top prospect status given the greater value of his position (second base, as opposed to first base for Casas) and the fact that he’s already showed dominance at an early stage.
That conversation is not a slight on Casas — still viewed as a lock to be an everyday big leaguer, with some seeing middle-of-the-order star potential — as much as it is a reflection of a remarkable performance by Yorke, who hopes that his visit to Fenway is a prelude to many more.
“It’s surreal,” Yorke said. “[I’m] very, very grateful … that the Red Sox gave me a chance to be able to even have an opportunity of playing here.”
The Red Sox also recognized righthander Brayan Bello as minor league starting pitcher of the year. The 22-year-old came back from the lost 2020 campaign showing a boost in velocity — regularly sitting in the mid-90s and touching 98 — while complementing that with a quality slider and changeup.
“That [velocity jump] came out of nowhere but I continued … to work hard to keep the velo up,” Bello said through a translator. “I’m super happy about [the possibility of pitching at Fenway] and just waiting on the moment for them to give me that call.”
Durbin Feltman (minor league reliever of the year), Jedixson Paez (Latin program pitcher of the year), infielders Ceddanne Rafaela (minor league defensive player of the year) and Christian Koss (minor league base runner of the year), and outfielder Allan Castro (Latin program position player of the year) also were honored. The organization also recognized righthander Kutter Crawford as the recipient of the Lou Gorman Award for perseverance in the face of obstacles.
Out of quarantine
Utility player Danny Santana and righthander Phillips Valdez, though still on the COVID-19-related injured list, rejoined the team, marking the first time since Aug. 27 that the Red Sox haven’t had a player who tested positive in quarantine.
“I’m glad that everybody is here, everybody is healthy, and hopefully we can turn the page,” said manager Alex Cora. “We’ve still got to … protect each other and take care of the group, but I’m relieved everyone is here now.”
Among other players who had been quarantined this month after testing positive, Cora said that outfielder Jarren Duran will remain in Triple A for now to get more at-bats. Yairo Muñoz has rejoined the Red Sox following his COVID-19 quarantine and is doing defensive drills and running, but he has a wrist injury that has limited him.
Red Sox vice president of scouting development and integration Gus Quattlebaum enjoyed a memorable two games at Fenway courtesy of a member of the opposing team. Hugh Quattlebaum, hired as Mets hitting coach in the middle of this season, turned the series into a family reunion.
The brothers were joined at Fenway by their families as well as their parents, former Phillips Andover faculty members Ed and Ruth Quattlebaum.
“Highlight of the year by far, for us. Obviously we have other things we’re worried about like getting into the playoffs, but it was great just to spend time with his family, and they got to spend time with mine on the off day,” said Gus Quattlebaum. “They’re never going to say it, but it was really special for my parents. They don’t come to Fenway that often anymore. To be able to see both their sons at Fenway, it was pretty surreal.”