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Red Sox hand out minor-league awards

Triston Casas is among the winners

Triston Casas
Kelly O’Connor;

The minor-league season wrapped up about a week ago with the two teams in the postseason — Salem and Lowell — losing the semifinals and finals, respectively. No one here is going to try and tell you that the Red Sox farm system is suddenly one of the best in the game, or even anything than in the bottom-third of the league. I specifically will tell you that I don’t have enough knowledge of the league as a whole in the prospect world to have anything more than a wild guess on where they should rank.

What I will tell you, however, is that things feel like they are on the upswing again. They are still lacking the truly elite talent at the top of their system that they so often had in the hey day of the system earlier in the decade, but things are getting incrementally better. There were plenty of steps forward and breakouts in 2019 at multiple levels and at multiple positions. With that in mind, the team handed out their organization-wide awards on Wednesday afternoon. Alex Speier has the full rundown below, and we’ll go into a bit more detail on them below that.

Offensive Player of the Year

Triston Casas, 1B/3B

Casas is pretty close to the unanimous top prospect in the Red Sox system if he’s not already there yet. The 2018 first round pick made the most of his first full season as a professional, and showed some important growth as well. As a 19-year-old, the corner infielder got off to a slow start before heating up with the weather in May and June. Overall he had 493 plate appearance in Greenville and hit .254/.349/.472 for a 136 wRC+. His strikeout rate was a little higher than you’d like at 23.5 percent, but remember he was still one year removed from high school. The power and patience more than made up for that minor deficiency anyway. Casas is still listed as 1B/3B, but he played first in 94 of his 102 games he played in the field, so it’s clear he’s basically just a first baseman only. I’m sure we’ll talk about Casas plenty this winter, but expect him to start next year in Salem — he got a quick cup of coffee there at the end of the year and in the playoffs. He could be fast tracked if he shows big-time growth there, but he’ll likely be there for most of 2020.

Defensive Player of the Year

Ryan Fitzgerald, SS

It’s hard to talk too much about this one from the outside as defense is really something you have to see to talk about with any sort of authority. That’s true for offense at the lower levels too, to be fair, but it’s easier to simply describe performance with numbers there than defensively. That said, Fitzgerald is a cool story and it’s nice to see him recognized in some form. He went undrafted out of college and was signed out of Indy ball before settling in with the Red Sox. He got off to a hot start at the plate before cooling off in the second half, but still finished with a good 110 wRC+. Defensively, Sox Prospects describes him as average in their scouting report and, again, I haven’t seen him so I can’t agree or disagree too passionately there.

Pitcher of the Year

Thad Ward, RHP

There is an argument to be made that no player in the Red Sox system improved their stock as much as Ward. The 2018 fifth round pick started the year as Sox Prospects’ 38th-ranked prospect in the system and as we speak he has made his way all the way into the top ten at number eight. That’s a wild jump, and also one that is wholly justified. The righty started his first full season at Greenville, tossing 72 13 innings with a 1.99 ERA, a 2.84 FIP and a 3.25 DRA while striking out almost 11 per nine. He then was promoted to Salem where he threw 54 innings with a 2.33 ERA, a 3.86 FIP and a 4.35 DRA with almost 12 per nine. His control took a big step back after his promotion, but I wouldn’t worry too much about that long-term. A lot went into Ward’s breakout year, but the addition of a viable cutter to his repertoire really allowed him to take the next step.

Thad Ward
Kelly O’Connor;

Baserunner of the Year

Jarren Duran, OF

Duran has gotten a lot of Jacoby Ellsbury comparisons throughout this breakout 2018 season, and while I think that might be a little lofty — it can be easy to forget how good Ellsbury was coming up and how good he was with the Red Sox when healthy — it’s not hard to see where it comes from. It, of course, begins and is largely centered around the speed. Duran has legitimately elite speed, which he uses both on the bases and in the field. He still needs to improve his IQ in both areas, but the blazing speed gives him a high floor along with his solid-to-above-average hit tool. Duran finished the season with 46 stolen bases while being caught 13 times for a success rate of 73 percent. If the Red Sox had been in contention this year, it wasn’t totally out of the question for him to come up as a baserunning specialist.

Latin Program Position Player of the Year

Darel Belen, 1B/OF

It’s hard for me to say too much about the Latin players here beyond the statline because, well, we just don’t have a ton of information outside of the big signees. Belen was not one of those, with his signing bonus listed as “N/A” on Sox Prospects. He got 281 plate appearances in the DSL this year, hitting .281/.370/.430 for a 123 wRC+.

Latin Program Pitcher of the Year

Nixson Muñoz, LHP

Muñoz, like Belen, was not a big signee, though he did come over in early July for a $30,000 bonus. The lefty was a standout pitcher in the DSL this year, though, pitching in 14 games with eight of them starts. That spanned 60 innings in which he pitched to a 2.40 ERA with 62 strikeouts and only five walks. It is worth noting he will turn 19 in October, which makes him a bit older than your typical first-year DSL player.