Triston Casas continues to grow, and not just developmentally on the field. The top prospect in the Red Sox farm system recently told a trio of reporters, yours truly included, that he’s put on 10 pounds of muscle, and gained nearly an inch in height, since the end of the season. Just a few days past his 20th birthday, the 2018 first-round pick is now 6’ 5″, 255.
Casas comes by his size naturally. Asked about his lineage, he explained that his father is “about the same size height-wise, but has put on a little weight and is bigger than me in terms of roundness.”
The hulking youngster is surprisingly agile and well-rounded for someone of his stature. While his long-term position will almost certainly be first base, Casas was drafted as a third baseman and has seen time at both infield corners since turning pro. His athleticism also makes him a candidate for left field.
His role model is a first baseman.
“I emulate Joey Votto as much as I can,” said Casas, who swings from the left side. “He’s my favorite player. I actually choke up on the bat from the first pitch. Every at bat. And with two strikes I’m 4-5 inches up the bat. If you’ve never seen me play, there are pictures with me way up the pine tar.”
There is also footage of the former Plantation, Florida prep propelling baseballs long distances. As Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel wrote in his prospect profile, Casas “participated in multiple home run derbies during his amateur summers, and posted gaudy exit velocities during team pre-draft workouts.” They placed a 65/70 on the young slugger’s raw-power grade.
His patience is also a plus. Much like the player he most admires, Casas is willing to accept a free pass if a pitcher doesn’t want to challenge him. His walk rate last year — 11.8% at low-A Greenville — wasn’t Votto-esque, but for a teenager in his first full professional season it was in no way a red flag. There’s swing-and-miss in his game, but Casas isn’t a hacker.
“I feel that getting on base, walking, is a huge part of the game,” Casas said of his approach. “If a good pitch to hit doesn’t come, I’ll take my base. And having patience in the box not only helps you get on base by walking, it helps you pick out pitches when you do decide to swing.”
His swing hasn’t changed markedly since he left the amateur ranks — it’s still built for loft — but there have been some subtle tweaks. Quality of competition has necessitated them.
“It definitely has [changed],” Casas said. “Facing professional arms versus facing guys in high school — facing 95-mph fastballs in every at bat — you have to change a little bit of your physical approach. I’m trying to be shorter to the ball. I’ve reduced my leg kick. I’m trying to get on plane with pitches a little earlier. Little things.”
That would be little things from a large man. Make that a large, young man with a promising future. Casas is coming off a season where he slashed .256/.350/.480, with 20 home runs, and if all goes to plan he’ll more than match that production at the highest level. Given his Brobdingnagian attributes, that’s especially true in the power department.
Sticking with the Red Sox, Alex Cora’s replacement will inherit more than a talented team in turmoil. He’ll also find himself dealing on a daily basis with one of the game’s largest and most challenging media contingents. Addressing questions from a knowledgeable horde of scoop-hungry reporters is an obligation that has tripped up more than a few Boston managers over the years.
With rare exception, Cora handled that job adroitly. Congenial and refreshingly forthcoming, he regularly offered thoughtful and informative quotes. Obtuse and evasive responses such as “manager’s decision” — hello Bobby Valentine — were few and far between, as were the frustratingly close-to-the-vest answers that John Farrell typically provided. And more than the media has been appreciative of Cora’s candor. An ever-engaged fan base has been, as well.
Is media-friendliness a meaningful quality in the club’s unexpected managerial search? I asked that question, in so many words, to two of the people spearheading the effort.
“Absolutely,” answered Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy. “Dealing with the best, the most robust, media corps in baseball is important. I’ve worked in other markets and there’s nothing quite like the coverage of baseball in Boston. You have to be able to deal with the media, have relationships. It’s really important.”
“It’s a factor,” added Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom. “I don’t want to place it on a list, as far as where it ranks, but it’s obviously important. It’s one of the many critical responsibilities of a manager. Obviously, managing the group — managing the players — in many different aspects, is the overarching goal. But the manager is a leader of our organization, a public face of our organization, That makes it an important aspect of this job.”
Given the public-perception challenges the Red Sox are currently facing — being sanctioned by MLB would only exacerbate them — a strong media presence in the manager’s chair is seemingly more important than ever. As Bloom put it, Cora’s replacement will be a public face of the organization. In a market like Boston’s, that matters.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Jordan Hicks was throwing some serious gas before blowing out his elbow last summer. Prior to going under the knife, the St. Louis Cardinals closer was averaging a torrid 101.2 mph with his heater. As opposing hitters can attest, the word “finesse” doesn’t exist in Hicks’s pitching vocabulary.
According to one of his former minor-league teammates, that wasn’t always the case. Carson Cross — now a pitching coach in the Milwaukee Brewers system — recalls Hicks dabbling with an ill-advised approach back in short-season ball.
“He’s kind of a funny character,” explained Cross, who was the young flamethrower’s throwing partner in 2016. “Being a few years older, I was basically told to mentor him. At the time, the biggest thing we were stressing was, ‘Dude, you frickin’ throw 99 mph; throw the ball over the middle of the plate and you’ll be fine.’ He was trying to be a ‘pitcher’ — trying to refine his art — and we were like, ‘Dude, listen. You have a cannon.’”
In other words, Hicks needed to be what most young hurlers are taught not to be. Rather than being a ‘pitcher,’ he needed to be a ‘thrower.’
The following spring, Cross watched Hicks sit 101 in his first live outing. Finesse, to whatever extent it had previously existed, had been drummed out of the 20-year-old’s system. Cross’s reaction to the triple-digit bullets he was seeing? “OK. This is going to be special.”
I was standing alongside my colleague Eric Longenhagen when he asked Jerry Dipoto about Seattle’s pitching-development strategy during November’s GM meetings. Here is what the Mariners’ front-office front man had to say in response to that inquiry:
“If I had to point to one thing, it would be being cognizant of the way our pitchers… how to get them moving down the hill quicker, rather than the more traditional ‘How to get balanced over the rubber, maintain body control.’ It’s more, ‘Gathering ourselves and going.’
“We’ve had a fundamental shift in our belief system. And it didn’t happen overnight. It was a shift from 2017, to where we are today. The way we’re teaching it, the way we’re scouting it, the way we’re seeing it develop, has changed so much. As a former pitcher who was always taught the value of ‘balance and go,’ this has been a paradigm shift for me, emotionally. I’m watching what these guys do, and I marvel. I just try to stay out of their way and let smart people do their jobs.”
The San Francisco Giants have added Alyssa Nakken to their big-league coaching staff. With the organization since 2014, Nakken played softball at Sacramento State and has a master’s degree in sport management from the University of San Francisco.
The Chicago White Sox have hired Danny Farquhar as the pitching coach for their Carolina League affiliate, the Winston-Salem Dash. The 32-year-old right-hander pitched for five teams from 2011-2018 before having his playing career derailed by a brain aneurysm.
The Chicago Cubs have hired Casey Jacobson as their Coordinator of Pitching Development. Jacobson has been working as an instructor at Driveline Baseball and has coached at Augustana University, and at Macalester College.
The Boston Red Sox have promoted Shawn Haviland to Pitching Coordinator, Performance. The Harvard graduate was drafted by Oakland in 2008 and went on to play nine minor-league seasons.
The Seibu Lions have become the first top Japanese team to sponsor a women’s club. The new team will begin play in April. (per Jim Allen.)
Colin Willis is slashing .417/.523/.571 for the Australian Baseball League’s Melbourne Aces. The 27-year-old outfielder has spent the last four seasons with the Gary South Shore Rail Cats in the independent American Association.
Rob Arthur, John Baker, Vince Gennaro, Rob Neyer, Joan Ryan, and Meredith Wills have been announced as speakers for the ninth-annual SABR Analytics Conference, which will be held in Phoenix on March 13-15. More panelists and presenters will be announced soon.
Looking back at my unused-quotes folder, I came across a pitching-mechanics tidbit from the 2018 season. I’d asked Cleveland Indians right-hander Mike Clevinger if he had any closing thoughts — a not-uncommon last question in my interviews — and he responded as follows:
“The back leg, the hip, folding properly is important. Getting extended on your back hip loses you a lot of power. That’s something probably 90 percent of pitchers struggle with, and they may not even know it — good results or not. There a few whose hips fold right. The ones who do are throwing really hard, like Edwin Diaz and Craig Kimbrel. I was watching Kimbrel playing catch the other day, and watching his hips roll over and fold in naturally. He was in a good power position where he’s stacked.”
Former big-league pitcher and pitching coach Dick Bosman shared an interesting observation on Ivan Rodriguez in a book he co-wrote in 2018. According to Bosman, the Hall of Fame backstop “was going to call for a fastball away if there was a runner on first base… Pudge was a great catch-and-throw receiver, but too often his own concerns about the runner on first came at the expense of what the pitcher might throw to the hitter.”
Bosman coached for the Texas Rangers from 1995-2000.
Here is something to appreciate as you try to take your mind off this past week’s cheating scandal. Bill James tweeted it a few days ago.
“There is a basket of baseball gloves in the entryway. For many years my son and I played catch on the sidewalk every day, weather and time permitting. My son went to college 16 years ago. I walk by that basket every day, and I always smile. But it is a lonely smile.”
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
Jayson Stark explained his Hall of Fame Ballot at The Athletic, and as you’d expect, he did so in a smart, detailed fashion.
SportsNet Canada’s Shi Davidi wrote about Shun Yamaguchi, and how the Toronto Blue Jays now have a pathway not only to Japan, but also to South Korea, Taiwan, and other Pacific Rim markets.
Clinton LumberKings general manager Ted Tornow offered a stern rebuttal to MLB’s Dan Halem regarding the proposed contraction of numerous minor-league teams, three of which are in eastern Iowa. His opinion was published at The Quad-City Times.
What are the oldest team names in Minor League Baseball? Kevin Reichard supplied a comprehensive list at Ballpark Digest.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Omar Vizquel slashed .333/.397/.436, with 36 doubles and 42 stolen bases, in 1999.
When Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941, he reached base in all but three games in which he had two or more plate appearances.
On January 14, 1940, 1941, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis released ninety-one minor leaguer players from the Detroit Tigers farm system because of what he deemed to be illegal dealings by the front office.
On January 19, 1900, Boston Beaneaters catcher Marty Bergen killed his family with an axe, then took his own life with a razor. The veteran of four big-league seasons had lost a son to diphtheria the previous April.
On January 20, 1947, Negro League legend Josh Gibson died shortly after suffering a stroke at a movie theater. Gibson was just 35 years old.
Players born on this date include Chick Gandil and Rip Radcliffe. The latter has the most hits (1,267) among players with a January 19 birthday. Gandil — one of the eight players who was banned for life following the Black Sox scandal — has the second-most, 1,176.
Muggsy Bogues, who played 10 NBA seasons as a 5’ 3” point guard, appeared in one game for the South Atlantic League’s Gastonia Rangers in 1991. He played second base and went hitless in two at bats.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.