Tomase: No pressure, Casas, but Sox farm system can’t handle another whiff Originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The reconstruction of an agricultural system cannot be an end in itself. Prospect rankings mean nothing when a player reaches the big leagues, where only one question matters: can he play?
The Red Sox started unevenly with Chaim Bloom in that regard, though mostly with prospects he inherited from Dave Dombrowski. Right-hander Brayan Bello looks like he’ll develop into a legitimate middle-of-the-rotation player, if not more, but outfielder Jarren Duran has holes in his swing and horrible defensive instincts that question his ceiling. Garrett Whitlock was a home run in the Rule 5 draft, but Josh Winkowski looks like a dud as the centerpiece of the Andrew Benintendi trade, and don’t even get us started on Jeter Downs and Mookie Betts — though maybe catcher Connor Wong will make it salvage something from the perspective section of this blockbuster.
When we talk about prospects, what we really mean are influencers. Today’s eighth-rated farmhand is tomorrow’s long reliever or utility reliever. There is room for complementary players, but if you want to build something sustainable, which is Chaim Bloom’s clear mandate as head of baseball operations, that effort depends on high-level talent.
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The Orioles are demonstrating what that looks like, as the Cubs and Astros did half a decade ago. Catcher Adley Rutschman already looks like a future MVP candidate, a switch hitter with power who plays Gold Glove-caliber defense. Baltimore’s rise coincided with his arrival this summer. But there is more. The Orioles have gone 4-0 since calling up shortstop Gunnar Henderson, who had replaced Rutschman as the No. 1 prospect in the game by some measures. All Henderson has done is hit .400, blast a 429-foot homer, steal a base and make a handful of highlight-reel defensive plays. It’s just the beginning of a wave that could propel Baltimore into the playoffs this season and help the O’s contend for the next five years.
The Red Sox are nowhere near that position. Their best prospects, especially Marcelo Mayer, remain mostly in Single A. The few players who have reached the big leagues have shown next to nothing, from Duran’s lack of contact to Bobby Dalbec’s disappointing regression and Downs it just overwhelms.
And so we arrive at Triston Casas.
The hulking first baseman was officially promoted on Sunday, news first reported by Chris Cotillo of MassLive. While there have always been doubts about Duran, Dalbec and Downs, particularly their ability to make consistent contact, Casas resides in a different class of prospect.
He may not be Rachman or Henderson, but he’s the closest thing the Red Sox have, a slugger who has consistently shown an understanding of the strike zone while also possessing physical power. He is hitting .273 with 11 homers and an .863 OPS at Triple-A Worcester.
Casas, quite simply, cannot be missed. The Red Sox desperately need production from their farm system, especially considering how many holes they will need to fill this winter. Every legitimate internal solution they find is another $8-10 million they can potentially spend in free agency.
But so far, their farm has failed. Outside of Bello, their homegrown rotation options — Kutter Crawford, Winckowski, Connor Seabold — range from average to unremarkable. They’ve spent the entire season trying to find a reliever to take the pressure off John Schreiber, and incredibly they haven’t gotten a single note from Worcester, with the possible exception of reliever Tyler Danish.
On the offensive side, Duran and Dalbec played themselves in the minors, while Downs looked so overwhelmed that it’s hard to take him seriously as a prospect anymore.
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And so until Mayer and Nick Yorke and Ceddanne Rafaela hit the big leagues, the Red Sox really need to hit Casas, who probably would have been here eight weeks ago except he missed two months with an injury ankle in mid-May. .
The Red Sox have moved so cautiously with him since he wasn’t even guaranteed to be called up this month when rosters were expanded. Manager Alex Cora noted a week and a half ago that Casas’ name had not come up in discussions about ways to fill the club’s hole at first base after Eric Hosmer was placed on the injured list. Bloom has made it clear that Casas would be in no rush.
If he goes the Duran route, with holes in his swing requiring a return to Triple A next season, then we could have a real disaster on our hands. But if he can show that his combination of strength and patience is working, then the 22-year-old will go a long way to allaying fears about the direction of the organization.
He’ll get his first crack at it soon enough. No pressure, kid.