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Minor League Season in Review: Greenville Drive

A look back at the year that was for the A-Ball club.

Triston Casas
Kelly O’Connor;

Welcome to the Red Sox minor-league season in review. The minor-league season has wrapped up, and while there are still prospects playing in the majors for the final couple weeks of the year the year in prospects is essentially over. With that, we’re going to use the end of the season to review the year that was for each minor-league affiliate for the Red Sox. Obviously there are some players who split time between different levels, so if you don’t see someone who you think should be mentioned keep an eye on them for the lower level. I’m not going to write players up twice. For each level we’ll look at the best position player, best pitcher, the player whose stock was most improved (not including the winners of the previous two awards), the player whose stock was most damaged as well as other notables at the level. I’m limiting myself to five others so I don’t write 3000 words. Today, we look at Greenville.

Best Position Player

Triston Casas, 1B/3B

Sometimes these are tough to pick and I spend longer than I care to admit just staring at batting lines trying to decide who deserves the recognition for this fake award I’m making up that doesn’t matter. Sometimes, Triston Casas is involved and you really don’t need to think about it. The 2018 first round pick only got to play two games in that first summer after being drafted, and this was the first time we really got to see him. Not surprisingly given that he had just graduated high school and was playing full-season ball, Casas did struggle early on. Over the first month of the year he hit just .208/.284/.364. Once the calendar flipped to May, a switch flipped and Casas hit .264/.363/.496 for the rest of the year. The power is legitimate, the patience is great and the concerns over his hit tool after he got drafted seem to have been overblown. The ceiling here is obviously limited since Casas is basically first base-only — though he’s a very good defensive first baseman — but the bat is good enough that, assuming everything develops as we hope, it will play and then some at any position.

Honorable Mentions: Devlin Granberg, Kole Cottam

Best Pitcher

Thad Ward, RHP

This has been a pretty good one to write for me so far because, well, it’s not taking a whole lot of brain power! Any time I can do something without really having to think about it, I have to count it as a win. Anyway, this is another easy, no-brainer option. The only thing that would have prevented Thad Ward from winning this one would have been if he’d been promoted a couple weeks earlier and taken the Salem award instead. The righty, taken in the fifth round in 2018, improved his stock arguably more than any other prospect in the Red Sox system. He was absurd in Greenville to start this season with a 1.99 ERA over 13 starts before pitching to a 2.33 ERA over 12 starts at Salem. His control did suffer a bit after the promotion, but that’s not a major concern. Ward is the second best starting pitching prospect in the system, and it’s not particularly close.

Honorable Mentions: Chase Shugart, Logan Browning

Thad Ward
Kelly O’Connor;

Most Improved Stock

Kole Cottam, C

Okay, so things became more challenging here. Like I said in the intro, I’m not repeating answers here so Ward was ineligible. He is the clear answer here, but it’d be boring to talk about him again. So, I’m going with his battery mate. I’m not sure how much Cottam’s stock has improved at this moment in time, but I’m hoping by the time the dust settles on 2019 and people start looking at the numbers he gets some appreciation. A fourth round pick in 2018, Cottam drew a ton of walks and hit for solid power en route to an impressive 134 wRC+. As a catcher! Now, the scouting reports on his defense are mixed at best, and there is some swing-and-miss in his game that could adversely affect him as he moves up the ladder. That said, he was something of an afterthought coming into the year and he played well enough in 2019 to at least be in our consciousness heading into 2020.

Honorable Mentions: Yoan Aybar, Chase Shugart

Most Hindered Stock

Alex Scherff, RHP

This was a two-man race between Scherff and Brandon Howlett to me, and I think you have to go with the older, more experienced player. There was a decent (relatively speaking) amount of helium for Scherff heading into this season, as the righty added a cutter to his repertoire that many thought would help him take a leap in 2019. Instead, he was just as inconsistent as he was in 2018, when he also spent the year in Greenville. This past summer there certainly were flashes in which the righty showed why some were so relatively high on him, but he still hasn’t put it together. I’m curious how much more leash he’ll get as a starter before they see if he can air out his fastball effectively in shorter stints. It’s worth noting that, while Scherff was taken out of high school he was older than your typical prep draftee. He’ll turn 22 before pitchers and catchers report next spring.

Honorable Mentions: Brandon Howlett, Cole Brannen

Brandon Howlett
Kelly O’Connor;

Five Others of Note

  • Brandon Howlett was perhaps the non-elite (again, relative to this system) prospect I was most excited about heading into the year. It seemed the Red Sox had found a diamond in the rough in 2018’s draft, and after fixing some vision issues it was going to show here. Like Scherff, Howlett showed flashes and had encouraging hot streaks through the year but overall he was mostly pedestrian. The third baseman, who also struggled with errors all year, gets more leeway as a 19-year-old (he turned 20 just after the season ended) in his first full season. I wouldn’t be surprised if they start him back at Greenville and hope he can build some confidence repeating that level for a couple of months.
  • Devlin Granberg is one of those guys that really sneaks up on you as the season goes on. A senior sign in the sixth round last summer, all he did was hit throughout the year and ended his run in Greenville with an .820 OPS. That came after hitting just as well in Lowell after being drafted in 2018. He is old for the level — he turned 24 while with Salem in their postseason run — but until he stops hitting he’s at least worth some attention, even if it’s not with a ton of overwhelming excitement.
  • Tyler Esplin is one of the more interesting potential sleepers in this system heading into 2020. He is the rare non-2018 draftee that stood out on this team, but he’s still young having been selected out of high school in 2017. The outfielder was taken out of IMG academy in the seventh round that year, and he really struggled to get going as a professional. He started showing the power potential over the last month or so this year, though, and that could be a confident boost for him heading into Salem next season.
  • Chase Shugart was a 12th round pick in 2018 who we didn’t really get to see in that first season after a heavy workload in college that spring. The righty had some intrigue to him with his stuff, though, and there was quiet excitement heading into 2019. Then, he was suspended for 50 games after failing a drug test for a drug of abuse. That put a damper on things, but he would come back about midway through the year and showed his upside. The righty pitched to a 2.81 ERA over 16 starts this season. There are some questions about whether or not he can stick as a starter, but the early returns were good and as a soon-to-be-23-year-old he could be pushed a little more quickly in 2020.
  • Brayan Bello is probably the player from this roster that I am most interested in moving forward. He is a guy that I had been mildly interested in heading into the season after his domination at the DSL last year. It’s a big jump from the DSL to Greenville, though, and he showed how hard that can be with a rollercoaster of a season. He was electric early, then terrible in the middle before getting back up for the end of the year. The stuff is there for some sort of major-league role in his future, and I wouldn’t be totally shocked to see him really take a step forward with not only a full-season under his belt but also a year in the United States. It’s easy to underrate just how hard that part of the adjustment period can be for these young, Latin American players.