But for one small misstep in mid-May, Triston Casas almost certainly would have been in the big leagues by now.
The Sox had no immediate plans to call up Casas on May 17 when he scampered back to third base on a play and landed awkwardly on the bag, the weight of his 260-pound frame funneling into his lower right leg and producing a high ankle sprain.
But had he avoided the injured list from mid-May through mid-July, it’s likely — nearly certain — that the Red Sox would have summoned him at some point from Triple-A Worcester, hoping the 2018 first-rounder might help improve the team’s dreadful first base production.
Casas has been committed to the long view throughout his player development. A year ago, when some clamored for him to be called up to the big leagues from Double-A, he insisted that he wasn’t yet prepared for such an opportunity.
Had patience been a more difficult trait to maintain through this May, June, and July, when a summons from Triple-A to the big leagues represented a smaller step?
“Absolutely not,” said Casas. “I try to not feel sorry for myself. I know one day my time will come and when it comes, it’s going to be super special for me and my family. But I’m not in any frame of mind that isn’t right where I’m at right now. I try to keep my head above my feet.”
Casas was determined to use the time when he couldn’t play to improve — yet faced a practical limitation in doing so. After all, it wasn’t simply that he couldn’t play in games while injured — he didn’t even swing for more than six weeks, a particularly painful development for someone who is admittedly obsessed with the science of hitting.
“I did the math and it’s the longest period of time I ever went without swinging,” said Casas, noting it exceeded breaks he was forced to endure after surgery to repair a torn thumb ligament in 2018 and his recovery from knee surgery as a high schooler in 2016. “I love hitting. It’s my favorite thing to do in the world. If you ask me about it, I’ll be able to write a book. I’ve always said if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, you’re going to think it’s dumb, but if you talk to me about hitting you might think I’m the smartest person in the world.”
Since he couldn’t swing, Casas tried to hone his hitting mind while sidelined at the team’s spring training facility in Fort Myers. He established goals for each day of rehab, focused on work with the strength staff so that he could be in the best possible shape when he did come back, and spent nights thinking through how he’d game-plan for pitchers had he been able to play the next day.
“It was a good hiatus. I tried to see it for what it was, not for what I wanted it to be,” said Casas. “Even though I wasn’t playing on the field, I did find ways to get better. [And] I feel great right now.”
Casas made it back to games on July 12, and after four games with Fort Myers in the Florida Complex League, he rejoined the WooSox on July 22. After a rusty 2-for-20 start, he’s hitting .293/.396/.585 with two homers in his last 11 games.
In that performance, there are signs of the progress Casas has made this year, the steps he’s taken to emerge as the hitter whom the Red Sox believe will be a lineup anchor for years to come. In specific counts and situations, he’s prioritized driving the ball over defensive contact, sustaining the huge jumps in exit velocities that characterized the early part of the season – evident in his eight extra-base hits in his last 11 games.
He’s also added to his pre-game work with more concentrated preparations against lefthanders, with the team seeing a corresponding improvement in his recent at-bats against southpaws. Casas suggests there have been nuanced changes to his approach to hitting, all of which represents a more far-reaching philosophical change in what he’s trying to accomplish in the batter’s box.
“Every single at-bat should be strategic towards winning the game,” said Casas. “Sometimes there’s at-bats where just putting the ball in play or just making contact isn’t exactly called for. There’s certain times where I should take a shot, I should try to drive a ball in the gap, a strikeout is OK and grounding into a double play is not OK. There’s certain at-bats that I focus on different parts of the ball to try to match the pitchers’ characteristics and then there’s certain at-bats where I’m just trying to go up there and survive and try to fight and just trying to see pitches, trying to work counts for the guys behind me, just trying to extend at-bats.”
Casas characterizes his efforts as an ongoing work-in-progress, one that he’s thrilled to pursue again after his time on the sidelines. He does not lament the missed time or the Red Sox’ acquisition of first baseman Eric Hosmer that may further slow his path to the big leagues, instead expressing delight at the prospect of being teammates with a fellow graduate of American Heritage High School whom Casas has known since he was 12.
The big leagues do not feel distant for Casas. With that fact comes a sense of possibility that does not require a timetable.
“I know I’m going to play the game for a long time. Whether I get up there two months early or two months later doesn’t really matter,” said Casas. “I know the type of player I am. You don’t rush a good thing. I know that there’s a lot of baseball ahead of me.”
Righthander Frank German has made nine straight scoreless appearances in Triple-A Worcester, allowing just three hits while striking out 17 and walking seven in 11⅓ innings. He has a 2.39 ERA in 26⅓ innings with a 33.7 percent strikeout since his promotion to Triple-A.
While Marcelo Mayer’s promotion from Single-A Salem to High-A Greenville garnered most of the attention, teammate Blaze Jordan — who joined Mayer in moving up — made the more dramatic impression in his Drive debut, hitting a pair of homers in his first game and going 5 for 8 (without a strikeout) in his first two games. In 97 games in Salem and Greenville, the 19-year-old is hitting .294/.363/.466 with 10 homers and 42 extra-base hits.
Infielder Johnfrank Salazar, who turned 19 last week, moved up from the Florida Complex League to Single-A Salem after posting a .327/.434/.446 line in the FCL with nearly twice as many walks (17) as strikeouts (9), showing excellent plate discipline while delivering solid contact.
In seven games since returning to Triple-A, Jeter Downs is 2 for 26 with 11 strikeouts and a .077/.143/.077 line. For the year, the 23-year-old is hitting .200/.317/.426 with a 29.5 percent strikeout rate.
After three straight outings in which he did not allow an earned run for Double-A Portland, righthander Bryan Mata has had three straight starts in which he’s struggled. He has a 5.65 ERA with four homers and 10 walks (along with 14 strikeouts) in his last 14⅓ innings, a performance that suggests that despite his tremendous stuff, there’s no rush to move to another level as he continues to re-establish himself in games following Tommy John surgery in 2021.
A once-highly regarded Red Sox prospect saw his tenure in the organization end earlier this month. Antoni Flores — whom the Sox signed to a $1.4 million bonus out of Venezuela as a skills-over-tools prospect in 2017, and who at least one organization pegged as the top Sox prospect after the 2018 season — was released earlier this month after posting a career .226/.340/.295 line. He never advanced past High-A.