In 10 years of professional baseball, Rob Refsnyder has been a part of eight organizations. He has spent time with the Triple A affiliates of the Yankees, Rays, Blue Jays, Twins, Reds, Rangers, Diamondbacks, and now Red Sox.
Refsnyder has acquired perspective that made a single proclamation about his time with the Worcester Red Sox this year particularly noteworthy.
“It’s probably the best Triple A staff I’ve ever been around,” he said. “I dare say it’s a big league staff in Triple A, which is pretty cool.”
The Red Sox’ 16-4 surge has been aided by key contributions from Jarren Duran, Franchy Cordero, John Schreiber, Kutter Crawford, Josh Winckowski, and Refsnyder — all of whom came up from Worcester and proved ready. The steady flow of contributors has inspired frequent notes of appreciation and amazement about the work of the Triple A and player development staff from manager Alex Cora.
“Sometimes people forget about them; we don’t do that here,” said Cora. “Because of them, we’re winning games here.”
For years, teams such as the Rays, Yankees, and Dodgers have featured a seemingly endless supply of contributors — some homegrown, many who were castoffs — who helped them contend in the face of waves of injuries.
The Red Sox wanted a similar pipeline. They combined the perspectives of longtime members of the player development staff with input from organizational newcomers such as chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom (Rays) and assistant farm director Chris Stasio (Dodgers). A steady effort to improve how players are supported in Triple A took a leap forward this offseason.
Over the winter, the Sox hired a new Triple A manager — Chad Tracy, son of longtime big league manager Jim Tracy — and bench coach, José Flores, who’d been a third base coach for the Orioles. They retained pitching coach Paul Abbott and hitting coach Rich Gedman, while adding several additional coaches.
They hired an assistant hitting coach (a rarity in Triple A), New Hampshire native Mike Montville. They also added BC High and Harvard grad Brendan Connolly as a development coach — a hybrid clubhouse and field role. Meanwhile, in 2021, each affiliate went from one video intern to two.
“It’s very, very similar to what you actually see in the big leagues,” said Flores.
Those additional members of the staff have helped integrate analytics and advance scouting to prepare players for the conversations they’ll have in the big leagues.
The larger staff has freed the coaches to spend more time working hands-on with players on mechanics and fundamentals.
Additionally, the Sox went from having one full-time trainer and one part-time assistant in Triple A to having two full-time trainers and a third full-time staffer who is a licensed massage therapist. They also added a second (part-time) strength and conditioning coach.
“It makes sense to be able to supplement the Triple A group as heavily as we do the big league group,” said farm director Brian Abraham. “That’s something that I think everyone’s aware of, but we actually went into action and put our money where our mouth was.”
Finally, the move to Polar Park afforded the WooSox state-of-the-art training, medical, and nutrition facilities.
“If you’re in there, in some ways you feel like you’re in the big leagues,” said Tracy.
Triple A is often baseball’s Land of Disgruntlement, with players who are disappointed about being sent down or wondering why they have yet to be called up. Finding the right group to serve as gatekeepers to the big leagues is no small feat.
The resources and the personality of the group in Worcester have helped ensure that players are ready when called upon.
Duran’s continued push toward the big leagues even when passed over for call-ups, for instance, is viewed foremost as a reflection of the player but also a product of the environment. Cora cited the work of Abbott in helping Crawford and Winckowski use disappointing initial big league experiences to get better.
“When you take that plane from the big leagues to Triple A, you’re not nice — let’s put it that way,” said Cora. “[Abbott] does an amazing job, kind of like, ‘OK, I’m listening to you, but we’ve got to turn the page.’ ”
The efforts of the Triple A staff have been bolstered by a sense of partnership with big league counterparts. That starts with Cora, who checks in regularly with Tracy and has been effusive in his praise for the WooSox staff.
“Alex is the best at building unity,” said Abbott. “We’re on the same page probably as much as I’ve ever seen.”
Abbott communicates frequently with Sox pitching coach Dave Bush. Flores talks regularly with Sox third base/infield coach Carlos Febles.
The goal is not merely that players develop the skills to reach the big leagues but also that they understand what contributions will allow them to help the Red Sox win when they get there. To this point, the Red Sox’ efforts to smooth the transition from Triple A to the big leagues are paying dividends.
“As a staff, we understand that guys that go up to the big league club need to go up there to help the club win a ballgame instead of just develop,” said Flores.
▪ Righthander Brayan Bello (No. 4 in the Baseball America Red Sox rankings) has been brilliant in Worcester, most recently pitching seven shutout innings Tuesday, heavily featuring a 95-98-m.p.h. two-seam fastball as well as an excellent 89-90 changeup.
▪ Super utilityman Ceddanne Rafaela has continued to sting the ball since his promotion to Double A, hitting .302/.333/.698 with 4 homers and 11 extra-base hits in 13 games with Portland.
▪ Corner infielder Blaze Jordan has a 12-game hitting streak, including a run of five straight multi-hit games for Single A Salem. In 42 games since the start of May, the 19-year-old is hitting .351/.393/.565 with 24 extra-base hits.
▪ Lefthander Brandon Walter has been sidelined for Worcester since June 8 with a neck injury. He has just resumed throwing and is unlikely to return to the rotation this month.
▪ Righthander Bryan Mata finally struggled Wednesday in the fourth start of his rehab assignment as he works back from Tommy John surgery, with a mess of a second inning for High A Greenville: three hits, a homer, a walk, two wild pitches, and a balk.
▪ Top prospect Marcelo Mayer evidently is not slump-proof. He went 0 for 20 last week (though with six walks) for Salem. But the 19-year-old has bounced back this week by going 3 for 8.