Boston's Casas honing discipline in AFL

October 25th, 2021

Not only is one of the best prospects in the Arizona Fall League, but he's also the only one with an Olympic medal.

The Scottsdale first baseman, ranked No. 18 among MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects, left the Red Sox twice during the season to play for Team USA. Casas helped the squad go 4-0 at a qualifying tournament in late May and early June in Florida, going 6-for-15 (.400) with a pair of doubles. He led the team with three homers in six games at the Tokyo Olympics, coming home with a silver medal after losing to Japan in the final, 2-0.

Team USA coach Mike Scioscia, who played for 13 years and managed for 19 in the big leagues, told Baseball America that Casas had the biggest bat and most upside on his roster.

Bouncing back and forth between international play and Double-A didn't make for the easiest summer, though Casas still managed to bat .284/.395/.484 with 13 homers in 77 games at Portland to reinforce his status as one of the top first-base and power prospects in the game. He joined Triple-A Worcester for the last two weeks and went 8-for-33 (.242) with a homer.

"It was tough to get into a groove, but I feel like it was for all of the right reasons," Casas said. "I got to go to one of the qualifiers and play a high level of baseball there, and then I took a little bit of time off to go play in the Olympics and that was a wonderful experience as well.

"I learned a lot there. Getting mentored by Coach Scioscia and getting to play with that really great group of guys was awesome. Playing for your country, playing for a gold medal at the highest level in the Olympics, I don't think it gets much better than that."

Casas had a storied international career even before this summer. He helped Team USA capture gold medals at international tournaments in 2015 and 2017, winning 18U World Cup MVP honors and the World Baseball Softball Confederation player of the year award in the latter year. He reclassified from the 2019 Draft and went to the Red Sox with the 26th overall pick in 2018.

While his bat speed from the left side of the plate and the strength and leverage in his still-growing 6-foot-5 frame create eye-popping raw power, Casas is far from a one-dimensional hitter. He controls the strike zone and uses the entire field well for a 21-year-old with just 208 games of pro experience. He's also a quality defender at first base with soft hands and a strong arm that produced low-90s fastballs when he pitched as an amateur.

Casas said he prides himself on being a complete hitter and wants to use his time with the Scorpions to hone his plate discipline against advanced pitching.

"You shouldn't have to try to hit for power to hit home runs," said Casas, who went 7-for-24 (.292) with a homer in his first six AFL games. "I feel like I do that well. I just try to spray the ball all over the field and hit it where it's pitched, get good pitches to hit and when I clip them, I'm big and strong enough to hit them out of the park.

"Hitting is all about swinging at the right pitches, so I'm going to come out here and try to swing at the right pitches. Pretty much judge by at-bats not by results but by whether I swing at good ones and let go of bad ones."

Red Sox hitters in the Fall League

Jeter Downs, SS/2B (No. 5): A key part of the Mookie Betts trade with the Dodgers in February 2020, Downs has 20-20 potential and a high baseball IQ. But he struggled through the worst year of his career in 2021, batting .190/.272/.333 with 14 homers and 18 steals in 99 Triple-A games.

Connor Wong, C (No. 26): Another piece of the Betts deal, Wong has solid raw power and more athleticism than most catchers (he started at shortstop in college as a Houston freshman). He hit .256/.288/.442 with eight homers and seven steals in 50 Triple-A games and also went 4-for-13 in a cup of coffee with Boston.

Kole Cottam, C: An offensive-minded catcher, Cottam turned pro as a 2018 fourth-rounder out of Kentucky. He batted .278/.371/.500 with 10 homers in 71 games between High-A Greenville and Double-A Portland.

Red Sox pitchers in the Fall League

Connor Seabold, RHP (No. 13): Acquired from the Phillies along with Nick Pivetta in exchange for Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree in August 2020, Seabold posted a 3.50 ERA with a .215 opponents' average and 52/19 K/BB ratio in 54 Triple-A innings after missing the first 10 weeks with elbow issues. He starred in the AFL in 2019 and sports an outstanding changeup with fade and tumble that helps his low-90s fastball and average breaking stuff play up.

Josh Winckowski, RHP (No. 19): Part of the three-team trade that sent Andrew Benintendi to the Royals, Winckowski went 9-4 with a 3.94 ERA and a 101/33 K/BB ratio in 112 innings between Double-A and Triple-A in his first season in the Sox system. He works mainly with a mid-90s four-seam fastball and a mid-80s slider.

Brendan Cellucci, LHP: A 12th-round pick from Tulane in 2019, Cellucci has control issues but also possesses a lively mid-90s fastball and can flash a plus curveball and slider. He had a 5.30 ERA with 59 strikeouts and 28 walks in 37 1/3 innings in High-A.

Andrew Politi, RHP: Politi's 92- to 95-mph four-seamer has some of the best fastball spin rates in the system and he backs it up with an upper-80s slider. The 15th-rounder from Seton Hall in 2018 recorded a 6.36 ERA with 89 strikeouts in 75 Double-A innings.