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Minor League Season Review: Worcester Red Sox

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Looking back at the inaugural season in Worcester.

MLB: AUG 03 Red Sox at Tigers Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Back in September we reviewed the seasons down on the farm for the FCL, Salem, Greenville, and Portland as their schedules ended with about a month to go in the major-league season. But as they stopped playing, the seasons continued into early October for both Worcester and the DSL teams. We’ve been focused on the playoffs for most of this month, but with the Red Sox out it’s a good time to circle back and review those seasons as well. We’ll look at Worcester today and hit the DSL teams on Wednesday.

Top Position Player

Franchy Cordero, OF

Cordero’s 2021 is certainly looked at mostly as a disappointment, and that’s more than fair. Comparing him straight up with Andrew Benintendi is not fair since Cordero was just one of five players coming back in this trade, but he was the major-league player to come back in return so that comparisons were inevitable. The numbers didn’t look good in the majors, but he did shine in Triple-A. Over 335 plate appearances, he hits .300/.398/.533 with 13 homers. He still struck out a fair amount at 28 percent, but he was also able to connect for plenty of hard contact and walked in a way he was not able to in the majors. We learned on Monday that he will remain in the organization for next year as well, though not on the 40-man roster.

Top Starting Pitcher

Raynel Espinal, RHP

Thanks to injuries to guys like Tanner Houck and Connor Seabold early in the year, what was supposed to be an exciting rotation in Worcester was something of a patchwork group for the first few months. And in that patchwork, it was Espinal who stood out the most. A minor-league Rule 5 pick from the Yankees organization prior to the 2020 season, Espinal finally made his debut for the Red Sox organization this year and was good enough to earn himself a quick call-up during the late-summer COVID scare. While with Worcester, he pitched to a 3.44 ERA over 117 23 innings. The peripherals suggested more of an average performance, but he was solid across the board and has some interesting stuff. The ceiling is probably that of an emergency depth piece, but we saw first-hand with the aforementioned COVID scare that those players are certainly needed.

Top Relief Pitcher

Kaleb Ort, RHP

Garrett Whitlock is the face of Red Sox pitchers selected from the Yankees in the Rule 5 Draft, but he wasn’t the only one. Both the top starting pitcher and relief pitcher were minor-league Rule 5 selections from New York, and while Espinal is likely more of an organizational player, Ort can make a real major-league impact. He was also called up during the COVID scare for a very quick cup of coffee, but spent the vast majority of the year in Triple-A, pitching to a 2.98 ERA over 45 13 innings, striking out 62 and walking 20. The 29-year-old (he’ll turn 30 before spring training) needs to hone in his control a bit, but the stuff is good enough that he can be a sturdy major-league reliever with his fastball/slider combination, even if he may not have a late-inning ceiling. Ort is Rule 5 eligible this winter.

Kaleb Ort
Kelly O’Connor

Hopefully the first and last stint

Jarren Duran, OF

Duran was a total rollercoaster this year, and like Cordero he struggled in his time in the majors, though this was his first taste of that highest level. In Triple-A, Duran was fantastic, especially in the first half. Over the full season in Worcester he hit .258/.357/.516, continuing to thrive with his swing change from a couple years ago to increase his power. Major-league pitching proved too tough for him, however, as he couldn’t make enough contact to make an impact in the bigs and ultimately was sent back down to Triple-A to end his season. We’ve seen all around the league, as well as first-hand with Bobby Dalbec, that young players need an adjustment period right now to make the jump from Triple-A to the majors. The hope for Boston is for Duran to stick in the majors right away next year, even if it’s not necessarily in an everyday role.

The disappointing season

Jeter Downs, MIF

For the most part, the minor-league season for the entire Red Sox organization was a massive success, with players like Triston Casas solidifying their national status and others like Nick Yorke joining that conversation. But there were a few setbacks, most notably with Jeter Downs. The middle infielder was the top prospect to come back in the Mookie Betts trade and has some loud tools. However, he only had a small amount of experience as high as Double-A before this season and never quite made the adjustment at Triple-A. He finished the year hitting .190/.272/.333, striking out just about a third of the time and not hitting for much power. The good news is he looked a bit better towards the end of the year and has been perhaps the hottest hitter early in the Arizona Fall League. He’ll still be in his age-23 season next year, so it’s certainly too early to write him off.

The late start

Connor Seabold, RHP

Seabold was one of the most exciting prospects in the system coming into the year, expected to serve as big-league pitching depth. He was another pitcher to come up in the late summer for a quick cup of coffee, but in Triple-A he made 11 starts and showed a lot of the flashes that made us so excited after he came over in a 2020 trade with the Phillies. Over 54 innings he pitched to a 3.50 ERA with 52 strikeouts and nine walks. The biggest thing for the righty going forward will be health, and he should enter next year as the sixth or seventh starter on the depth chart.

Never got in a rhythm

Connor Wong, C

Wong was the other prospect to come over in the Betts deal along with Downs, and he had a really strange season. The catcher spent time early in the year on the injured list, and then as the season went along he kept being called away from Worcester to travel on Boston’s taxi squad. It was a necessary move, of course, to have that catching depth, but it took away from development time for Wong. I liked what I saw at times from the catching prospect, but he ultimately finished a bit below-average with a 91 wRC+. It would be nice to see what he can do with more regular playing time. That may not happen next year as there’s a chance he’ll be in a backup role in the majors.

More 2022 rotation depth

Kutter Crawford, RHP

Crawford didn’t really spend enough time in either Portland or Worcester to be either team’s best starting pitcher, but he was one of the best in the organization overall. Coming off Tommy John surgery, and having to spend some time on the COVID list this year, he defied expectations, entering the year with some questions as to whether or not he could stick as a starter and ultimately making his big-league debut as a starter late in the year. That audition didn’t go well, but he has the stuff to eat a few innings at a time and could be either rotation depth for 2022 or a candidate later in the year to pitch in a multi-inning relief role. In Triple-A he pitched to a 5.21 ERA, but his FIP was 3.05 with a strikeout rate over 30 percent.

Ready to make the final leap?

Durbin Feltman, RHP

When he was drafted, Feltman was expected to hop aboard a rocket to the majors and be the first player from his 2018 draft class to make the majors. Instead, he never found his footing in 2019 and stalled out that year in Double-A Portland. He started there again in 2021 but eventually made his way to Triple-A. In Worcester, he pitched to a 2.59 ERA with a 27 percent strikeout rate and four percent walk rate. The ceiling has probably fallen a little bit for Feltman since he was drafted, but he’s Rule 5 eligible this year and has a chance to be protected.