Olympics-bound Casas rising, right on track

June 29th, 2021

Don't tell Triston Casas 2020 was a lost year.

The 6-foot-5, 252-pound Floridian doubled-down on physical conditioning during quarantine, reported to Boston's alternate training site stronger and more athletic than he'd been in Spring Training, belted a series of mythic home runs in simulated games there, impressed at fall instructional league and opened 2021 as the top Red Sox prospect and MLB No. 36 -- a jump of 49 spots from the end of 2019.

Ranked No. 31 in the last full week of June, Casas has steadily led Double-A Portland in on-base percentage and established himself as a young star on the American team headed to the Tokyo Olympics at the end of July. Whatever 2020 might have meant for his development had there been a Minor League season, Casas appears to be right on track.

“I don’t feel like [the cancelled season] cost me anything, necessarily," the first baseman said. "I was with my family and ... my dad was like, ‘Hey, baseball’s going to start again. There’s no doubt this pandemic is going to pass, and whenever we come out of it, some people are going to have work [in baseball], and some people, it would have passed them by.'

"I definitely used that time that I was at home to really work hard. ... I came into the alt. site and then Spring Training prepared because I didn’t take any of that time for granted."

Through 34 games with the Sea Dogs, the No. 26 overall pick of the 2018 Draft has a .292/.354/.414 slash line with four homers, three doubles and a pair of triples. He missed about two weeks in the end of May and beginning of June to help Team USA earn a Tokyo berth via the Americas Qualifier, where he batted .400/.471/.533 over four games.

“I think he’s a very special player," Portland manager Corey Wimberly said. "Obviously, he’s very talented, and he works hard. You put those two things together, the sky’s the limit.

“I always look at how guys handle themselves when they’re under adversity. The way he works back from two strikes and gets himself back into counts with his two-strike approach, that’s something you can’t teach. He’s got that tool, to be able to own the zone and not swing at tough pitches and get the pitcher back into the zone and end up winning those battles more times than not.”

That hardly means he's got nothing to left learn. Whatever his accomplishments of the last year, he's only played one full season of professional baseball; he tore a ligament in his thumb after his first two games in the Gulf Coast League the summer he was drafted, then swatted 20 dingers while posting a .350 OBP over 118 games for Class A Greenville and two for Class A Advanced Salem in 2019.

“In-season stuff is a lot different than regular life," he said. "You have to adjust your sleep schedules, your eating schedules, your routines to get ready for the game. You have to manage your load – how much you need to get ready for the game and also to be able to withstand a [long] season.”

The Olympics will offer more lessons still. The MVP of the 2017 18U World Cup, Casas is no stranger to international competition. While he relishes learning from other elite players on Team USA (Todd Frazier, Matt Kemp and Jon Jay each taught him something during the Americas Qualifier), taking the field in Tokyo will be like a small taste of MLB games to come.

"I feel like the biggest developmental part of it is the game atmosphere. This game [with the Sea Dogs] is the same I played on a backfield three weeks into instructs last November, and it’s going to be the same one I play in front of tens of thousands in a couple weeks in Tokyo," he said.

"The thing that’s going to change is the stakes of the game and how many people are watching, so for me it's about being able to control my nerves, calm that down, try to control my mind, control my breath and execute a game plan while there’s so many people yelling at you.”

If he handles the rest of this year the way he handled the last, he could have a lot more people yelling at him a lot more often in the near future.