Triston Casas entered the final weekend of his first full professional campaign amidst a season that appeared solid: A .252 average, .348 on-base percentage, and .465 slugging mark along with 18 homers with Single A Greenville.
Yet with additional context, it’s not hard to see why the 2018 first rounder cemented his place as the top prospect in the Red Sox system, and why his 2019 campaign stood out as a tremendous building block as he advances in his professional career.
“It’s been really impressive overall,” said farm director Ben Crockett. “He takes an incredibly professional approach to everything he does. . . . There’s a lot of purpose to everything he does.”
Players drafted out of high school — even first rounders — are supposed to be all but overwhelmed by their first full year in pro ball. The adjustments are manifold: The physical grind of playing every day, a season that lasts five full months, pitch quality and sequences unlike anything to which they were exposed as amateurs.
The goal of a player’s first full professional season out of high school often is survival, the hope that through a year of struggles, a player has a chance to step back in the offseason, reflect, and improve. The path taken by Michael Chavis — the No. 26 pick in the 2014 draft — is illustrative. He hit .223/.277/.405 with 16 homers and five strikeouts for every walk with Single A Greenville in 2015, and repeated the level in 2016 before his prospect breakthrough the following year.
Casas — who, like Chavis, was the No. 26 pick out of high school — is on a different track.
His 18 homers entering Friday were the third most of any player drafted out of high school last year, with the ability to drive balls over the fence from left-center to right coming with little effort. He had a 2-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and an 11.9 percent walk rate that suggest excellent strike zone judgment, and both advanced swing decisions and a surprising ability to get the bat on the ball for a player with his giant (6-foot-4, 238 pounds) frame. His .813 OPS was third among all players drafted out of high school in 2018.
Casas showed impressive tools this season: Solid bat-to-ball skills against lefties and righties, the potential for above-average OBPs, and middle-of-the-order power, along with strong defense.
“He shows a unique willingness and ability to use the whole field both to drive the ball to the opposite field, but also to take a single the other way when it presents itself,” said Crockett. “He’s had a lot of team-first at-bats, but at the same time, he can do damage and has threat potential at any point.”
Yet his 2019 season was defined not just by tools or numbers, but perhaps even more by aptitude, impressive maturity, and self-understanding that suggest a player who, as a teenager multiple years from the big leagues, seems like a good bet to emerge as a valuable contributor at the game’s highest level.
To Casas, the year was not about numbers, but instead approach and development — an atypical perspective for a player his age.
“I don’t even look at my own stats. I only checked my stats once this year, at the All-Star break. I don’t even know where I’m at. The only thing I know is my home runs because everyone bugs me about that,” Casas said, noting that his teammates have been nudging him about the possibility of getting to 20 homers, a mark attained by just one Sox teenager (Xander Bogaerts in 2012) in the last 50 years. “I don’t try to shoot for goals. I just try to put together a quality at-bat every time.
“I’m trying to learn from my mistakes, but obviously trying to put up numbers as well. It’s a fine line between making too many adjustments and not enough. But I’m still young. I’m trying to make adjustments for when the real calls come,” said Casas. “I’m going to try to continue to learn about myself and do the best I can.”
He’s shown a feel for his swing and an unusual ability to make adjustments. In spring training, Casas made swing adjustments in an effort to control his swing-and-miss rate, spreading his stance and getting into a more pronounced crouch at the plate. In April, that effort backfired, as he hit .208/.284/.364 while striking out in 35 percent of plate appearances.
“Putting the ball in play for me is something that’s really, really important,” said Casas. “I thought the adjustments I made in spring training heading into April were going to limit those strikeouts. In reality, they actually increased them.”
And so, he went back to his more familiar, upright approach, and his season took off. He showed not just the ability to drive the ball with power, but also to feature a two-strike approach. There were other periods of struggle, including a downturn in July (.183/.337/.317), but he’s recovered with a strong finishing kick, posting a .295/.419/.475 line in 18 games entering Friday.
“Whenever you fail, you want to try to make adjustments to fix your problems or whatever is going on. I’m glad the adjustments I made any time I went through a little stretch worked,” said Casas. “I’ve had a couple of those stretches this year. I feel like I’ve come out of it every time.”
The fact that Casas proved capable of doing just that in the context of his first full pro season suggests a player with a chance to be a significant part of the Red Sox’ future.
■ First baseman/DH Josh Ockimey is finishing his Triple A season with a flourish, hitting .269/.410/.597 in August. Though his struggles against lefties this year have persisted in a way that suggests a platoon player, he’s posted a .247/.391/.542 line with 21 homers against righties.
■ In High A Salem, Andrew Politi — a 23-year-old who’d spent most of the year in the bullpen — went back-to-back starts without allowing a hit while topping out at 97 mph. He threw a combined nine no-hit innings, striking out 10 and walking two.
■ Righthander Brayan Bello, 20, has had a superb finishing kick in Single A Greenville. Starting with a dazzling performance on July 13 in which he got 26 swings-and-misses, Bello forged a 2.57 ERA with 58 strikeouts and seven walks in nine starts spanning 49 innings.
■ Shortstop Antoni Flores, 18, entered Friday having struck out in 13 straight games, dropping his line with the Lowell Spinners to .185/.286/.220 with a 28 percent strikeout rate and just five extra-base hits. Among the youngest players in the New York-Penn League, the Sox feel his plate appearances have been better than the numbers, but a player who entered the year as one of the top-10 Red Sox prospects will have to rebuild his value in 2020.
■ Utility man Tzu-Wei Lin suffered a concussion running into a wall while playing the outfield in Triple A Pawtucket. He’s on the injured list.