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Red Sox get belated look at top 2 picks at instructs

September 28, 2018

The Red Sox couldn't wait to see what Triston Casas and Nick Decker would do in their pro debuts after taking them with their top two Draft picks in June. They didn't get to see much, however, because injuries limited them to just two games each.Instructional league rostersThe 26th overall

The Red Sox couldn't wait to see what Triston Casas and Nick Decker would do in their pro debuts after taking them with their top two Draft picks in June. They didn't get to see much, however, because injuries limited them to just two games each.
Instructional league rosters
The 26th overall pick in the first round and one of the best power hitters available, Casas signed for $2,552,800 out of a Florida high school. In his first pro game in the field, he dove for a ball at third base and tore a ligament in his right thumb in late June.
Gatorade's New Jersey state player of the year, Decker signed for an over-slot $1.25 million in the second round. An outfielder who projected to hit for average and power, he sustained a small fracture in his left wrist taking a swing before he got into a pro game. He returned to play in a couple of games in late August.
While Boston didn't get to see much of Casas and Decker on the diamond this summer, they're getting a longer look this fall. They're part of a 55-player contingent at the Red Sox's instructional league camp in Fort Myers, Fla. The program began Sept. 17 and will include nine games against the Orioles, Rays and an under-23 German team before it concludes Oct. 10.
• Red Sox instructional league roster, schedule
"It's great to get them out and playing in a professional environment," Boston farm director Ben Crockett said. "We're getting them more experience and they're seeing the speed of the game as well as building a foundation for the next season. The good thing with both of them, while they were injured, at least they got to participate in our Gulf Coast League season. They were able to see the ups and downs and the grind of the daily routine, even if it was on the rehab side."
Because Casas and Decker each got just four pro at-bats, it's too early to decide if they'll require any adjustments to their left-handed strokes. Likewise, the Red Sox will need to see more of them defensively before determining if Casas will have to move from third to first base or if Decker should shift from center field to an outfield corner.
"We're talking about big-picture things with everybody in terms of approach, how guys might attack you," Crockett said. "For first-year players we haven't really seen and who have had a lot of success in their amateur career, we just want to integrate them into our process."
Boston's top two international signees from 2017 also battled injuries during their 2018 pro debuts and are making up for lost time during instructional league. Venezuelan third baseman Danny Diaz, who signed for $1.6 million, batted .238/.283/.476 in 26 games in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League before breaking the hamate bone in his left hand in July. Venezuelan shortstop Antoni Flores, recipient of a $1.4 million bonus, hit .340/.435/.528 in 15 games between two Rookie leagues but lost six weeks when he strained his left shoulder on a swing.
Like Casas and Decker, Diaz and Flores are healthy now and fully able to participate in instructional league.
"It's really good to see Decker, Casas, Diaz and Flores get to play and go through their routines," Crockett said. "They definitely look good in batting practice and they're getting more comfortable in games."
Besides providing much-needed extra reps, instructional league is also a terrific environment in which to experiment away from official Minor League game action. The Red Sox are taking advantage of that opportunity by giving Trey Ball a look as an outfielder.
The seventh overall selection in the 2013 Draft, Ball has enjoyed little sustained success as a left-handed pitcher since signing for $2.75 million. After posting a 4.67 ERA in five seasons as a starter, he logged a career-worst 7.58 ERA as a 24-year-old reliever in Double-A this year. His fastball velocity regressed and he had difficulty developing a reliable breaking pitch.
Ball also intrigued teams as an outfielder in high school and the Padres were considering taking him as a position player had he dropped to them at the 13th overall pick. He offered left-handed power potential as well as plus speed and arm strength. He didn't get a pro at-bat until the final two days of the 2018 season, when he went 1-for-9 with a game-winning double.
"His ultimate role still is to be determined," Crockett said. "We haven't had that conversation yet about what 2019 will look like. Given the uniqueness of his dual evaluation as an amateur and the ability he showed as a position player then, it was prudent for us to explore this a little bit.
"The challenge is that he hadn't hit in five years. So much of it for now is trying to regain his timing and adjust to the speed of the game. He's looking pretty good in the outfield, pretty fluid, and he's asking good questions. In batting practice, he does show some power and the ability to use both gaps."

Jim Callis is a reporter for Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.