What to expect from Red Sox infield prospect Brandon Howlett, who should start the season with Double-A Portland, in 2022

Triston Casas was not the only infield prospect the Red Sox took out of a Florida high school in the 2018 amateur draft.

20 rounds after picking Casas, Boston nabbed George Jenkins High School infielder Brandon Howlett with their 21st overall selection. At that time, the Lakeland, Fla. native was ranked by Baseball America as the No. 399 draft-eligible prospect and was committed to play college baseball at Florida State University.

Rather than move ahead with his commitment to the Seminoles, though, Howlett signed with the Sox for $185,000 that June and quickly debuted in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League just days after putting pen to paper.

After posting a .930 OPS in 39 GCL contests, the then-18-year-old earned a late-season promotion to Low-A Lowell and put himself in a good position entering his first full year of pro ball.

Coming into the 2019 campaign, Howlett was regarded by Baseball America as the 14th-ranked prospect in Boston’s farm system. In spite of those lofty expectations placed upon a teenager’s shoulders, the right-handed hitting third baseman struggled to the tune of a .231/.341/.356 slash line across 113 games (465 plate appearances) with Class-A Greenville.

As a result of a .698 OPS in 2019, Howlett’s stock took a bit of a hit heading into 2020. He, like a majority of minor-leaguers, then fell victim to the fact that the 2020 minor-league season was wiped out on account of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead of receiving an invite to the Sox’ alternate training site that summer, Howlett was left to continue developing on his own time. He did just that, but apparently ‘failed to impress’ at the team’s instructional league that fall.

On the heels of a lost year in 2020, Howlett fell off Baseball America’s Red Sox top 30 prospects rankings entirely last spring. He once again broke camp with Greenville, though the Drive had since moved up from the Class-A to High-A level.

This time around with the Drive, things were different. In 96 games, Howlett batted .253/.345/.469 (117 wRC+) to go along with 19 doubles, four triples, 17 home runs, 57 RBIs, 62 runs scored, two stolen bases, 44 walks, and 136 strikeouts over 414 plate appearances. He also missed a week of action from late June through early July due to a concussion.

From August 22 on, Howlett closed out his bounce-back season by slashing a robust .307/.373/.587 and putting up 151 wRC+ over the final 19 games (83 plate appearances) he played in.

Among those in the High-A East who made at least 400 trips to the plate last year, Howlett ranked 11th in doubles, 10th in home runs, sixth in walk rate (10.6%), seventh in on-base percentage, seventh in slugging percentage, eighth in OPS (.815), ninth in isolated power (.217), and eighth in wRC+, per FanGraphs.

Defensively, Howlett has only played third base throughout his pro career and that remained to be the case in 2021. The 22-year-old logged 745 2/3 innings at the hot corner and committed a total of 17 errors there.

Based off his most recent Baseball America scouting report from over the summer, there seems to be some concern about whether Howlett will be able to remain at third base in the long-term. That said, he did end 2021 as the publication’s 23rd-ranked Red Sox prospect.

Seeing how he found success at High-A last year, it was somewhat interesting to realize that Howlett was not among the group of minor-leaguers who took part in the Sox’ Winter Warm-Up minicamp in Fort Myers last month.

Regardless of that, though, Howlett is projected by SoxProspects.com to begin the 2022 season with Double-A Portland. The 6-foot-1, 205 pounder does not turn 23 until September and can become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the first time next winter.

If the Red Sox do not want to risk losing Howlett in the Rule 5 Draft, they would need to add him to their 40-man roster by the November deadline. That very well could end up being the case if he excels with the Sea Dogs this year.

(Picture of Brandon Howlett via the Greenville Drive’s Instagram account)


Red Sox pitching prospect Durbin Feltman one of 22 non-roster invitees added to club’s spring training roster

Right-handed pitching prospect Durbin Feltman was one of 22 non-roster invitees that the Red Sox added to their spring training roster earlier Friday evening. He will be one of 30 players the club invited to major-league spring training when camp begins next week.

The 23-year-old, like a majority of minor-leaguers, did not have any sort of season to take part in last year.

Some had the luxury of being invited to their respective team’s alternate training sites over the course of the 2020 season, but Feltman was not one of them.

Instead, the former 2018 third-round draft pick out of Texas Christian University was on his own, and he was rather disappointed to not be included in the Sox’ 60-man player pool at any point last season.

“I was frustrated, upset,” Feltman told BloggingtheRedSox.com back in December. “Just not being invited [after] thinking I was going to go — I was frustrated the whole time because I figured ‘Hey, I’m going to use this time the best I can.’ I’m not going to get time like this again, barring another pandemic, to be able to do whatever I want and work on things. So, I used it the best I could and figured out some stuff. I feel like I figured out a lot.”

By figuring a lot out on his own time over the summer, the flame-throwing reliever was able to bring with him to the Sox’ fall instructional league a chip on his shoulder. He was out to show the club what they missed out on by not inviting him to the alternate site.

“I came in there with a chip on my shoulder and was like ‘Hey, this is what you missed out on at the alternate site,'” Feltman said. “Hopefully I showed enough, I felt like I did. And I’m carrying that into 2021 as well.”

According to SoxProspects.com’s director of scouting Ian Cundall, Feltman “put in the work at instructs, as he looked much closer to the pitcher we saw in 2018 than he did at any time in 2019. Feltman’s velocity came back, as he was up to 96 mph, mostly sitting 93-94 mph. His 85-87 mph slider flashed above-average potential, and even though it was not as crisp as it used to be, he still was able to use it to get swinging strikes. He also mixed in his low-80s curveball, which was a good change of pace to his slider.”

While Cundall noted that Feltman’s ability to control and command the strike zone are still long-term concerns, he also wrote that “the stuff he showed at Instructs definitely could play in a middle relief role at the major-league level.”

Feltman, who turns 24 in April, is eligible for this year’s Rule 5 Draft in December unless he is added to Boston’s 40-man roster by November 20.

“Obviously, I don’t want to have to go through the Rule 5 Draft,” the Texas native said. “Because if you’ve been in the big-leagues you’re not getting Rule 5 drafted.”

Having pointed that out, it would appear that Feltman would not be opposed to making his major-league debut this year, or at the very least impress enough to make the Sox’ 40-man roster by the November deadline.

With those goals in mind, Feltman — currently regarded by SoxProspects.com as the organization’s No. 29 prospect — being invited to Red Sox spring training as a non-roster invite is surely a step in the right direction.

(Picture of Durbin Feltman: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Red Sox’ Triston Casas ranked No. 2 first-base prospect in baseball by MLB.com

While the Red Sox continue to build up their farm system under chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, one of the club’s most highly-touted minor-leaguers was recently ranked by MLB.com as one of the best first base prospects in baseball

His name? Triston Casas.

According to MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, Casas is the No. 2 first base prospect in the game behind only the White Sox’ Andrew Vaughn, who’s more than a full year older than him, headed into the 2021 season.

Among the top-10 first base prospects Mayo listed — Vaughn, Casas, Aaron Sabato (MIN), Seth Beer (ARI), Lewin Diaz (MIA), Michael Toglia (COL), Bobby Bradley (CLE), Nick Pratto (KC), Pavin Smith (ARI), Mason Martin (PIT) — Casas has one of the best power and arm strength tools.

“The 6-foot-5 Casas has the perfect combination of strength, size, bat speed and leverage for plus power, with the advanced approach to get to it consistently,” Mayo wrote of the 21-year-old’s slugging abilities.

Last we saw Casas in any organized minor-league action, the 2018 first-round draft pick clubbed 20 home runs and drove in 81 RBI in 120 games and 500 plate appearances between Low-A Greenville and High-A Salem in 2019. He also posted a solid .256/.350/.480 slash line en route to being named an organizational All-Star.

As for what he is capable of doing defensively, Mayo notes that Casas pitched and played third base as an amateur at American Heritage High School in South Florida, which therefore “allows him to do more with his arm” while playing first base.

Per FanGraphs, Casas logged 834 2/3 total innings at first base with Greenville and Salem in ’19 as opposed to just 67 innings at the hot corner in Greenville alone.

With the 2020 minor-league season being cancelled on account of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Casas, like so many other prospects, were forced to continue their development in an unfamiliar setting.

The Red Sox added the left-handed hitting, right-handed throwing infielder to their player pool in late August, allowing him to participate at the club’s alternate training site in Pawtucket for the remainder of the major-league season.

While in Pawtucket for just over a month, Casas again showed off his power at the plate as well as the rest of his skillset. Many came away impressed with what he did, including Worcester Red Sox manager Billy McMillon.

Casas is very intriguing to me,” McMillon said when speaking with reporters back in October. “Can play both corner positions. I think he’s probably going to settle in at first base. His discipline at the plate is incredible. His approach was a little bit different than what you might see with some of the guys today. He spread out, he choked up. Wasn’t afraid to hit the ball the other way. He definitely has an idea at the plate. I really like how intelligent he was at the plate. He was a guy who really benefitted from coming up, facing Triple-A/Four-A type pitching. He held his own, had very good at-bats, walked a lot. Defense, I think he’s going to be solid. I think we’ve got a good one with Triston.”

When watching Casas go to work at the plate, you will likely notice that he takes a unique approach to doing things, especially with two strikes in the count, as McMillon alluded to in the above quote.

That would be the case because as a left-handed hitter, Casas tries to somewhat take after Cincinnati Reds star and fellow first baseman Joey Votto.

“Growing up, I loved watching Joey Votto,” Casas said via Zoom this past September. “I love his approach, I love his swing, I love the way he approaches the game, and the way he he takes his at-bats are second to none. The stats speak for themselves. He was one of the best hitters of the 2010s, and that’s when I was growing up watching baseball. Being a left-handed first baseman, Joey Votto’s not a bad guy to emulate. I don’t really try to copy everything that he does, but the other day I hit a home run in a sim game and looking back on it, I was like, ‘Wow, I actually do look like Joey Votto.’ So, growing up I really liked watching him play

“The choke-up on the bat and the two-strike approach, it was just something that I watched him do and I tried it out for myself and I liked the results that I was getting,” he added. “I liked the way it felt in the box. I liked the way I would compete when I did formulate a good two-strike approach, and I’m looking to keep hearing that because I’m feeling really comfortable right now.”

Following the conclusion of alternate training site workouts, Casas was one of about 63 minor-leaguers who were invited to take part in the Red Sox’ fall instructional league down in Fort Myers.

There, per SoxProspects.com’s Ian Cundall, the Florida native was arguably the best infielder at camp and the most impressive position player behind only outfield prospect Gilberto Jimenez.

Currently regarded by SoxProspects as Boston’s top-ranked prospect, the 6-foot-5, 250 lber is projected to begin the 2021 minor-league season with Double-A Portland.

That said, it seems possible that the Sox would want to include Casas and some of their other top prospects in major-league spring training for MLB/Triple-A players starting next month with minor-league camp for Class-A/Double-A players being pushed back until later in the spring.

With that scenario in mind, prospects such as Casas and Jeter Downs, among others, could potentially start the year at Triple-A Worcester. @RedSoxStats was one of the first to put that possibility out there.

That scenario remains just a mere possibility at this point, though, and as most things have gone regarding minor-league baseball recently, we will have to wait and see how it all transpires before determining which player will go where.

(Picture of Triston Casas: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Red Sox outfield prospect Nick Decker ‘could develop into really good platoon player’ at major-league level

As a member of the Red Sox’ 2018 draft class, outfield prospect Nick Decker is often overshadowed by the likes of Triston Casas, Jarren Duran, and even Thaddeus Ward.

That being said, Decker is still one of the premier outfielders in Boston’s minor-league pipeline, as MLB Pipeline ranks the former second-round pick as the organization’s No. 13 overall prospect.

In his first full professional season in 2019, the New Jersey native posted a solid .247/.328/.471 slash line (135 wRC+) to go along with six home runs and 25 RBI over 53 games and 197 plate appearances for short-season Lowell.

Most of the success Decker enjoyed with the Spinners came against right-handed pitching, as the left-handed hitting outfielder clubbed five of his six homers off righties while struggling against southpaws to the tune of a measly .613 OPS.

Fast forward more than a year later and Decker, now 21 years old, endured the same difficulties against lefties at the Red Sox’ fall instructional league in Fort Myers after not being part of the club’s 60-man player pool at any point this past season.

According to SoxProspects.com’s Ian Cundall, Decker “raked against right-handers, but continued to struggle against lefties” during instructs.

Even with that apparent hole in his offensive approach at the moment, all is not lost for Decker, as scouts still seem encouraged by what he can do against right-handed pitching alone.

“Even with his struggles against southpaws, scouts were encouraged by his power and offensive potential against righties,” Cundall wrote. “So much so that they think he could develop into a really good platoon player. ”

Because the highest level of pitching he’s faced in organized games as a professional thus far has been out of the New York-Penn League, Decker’s career trajectory has not yet really come into focus.

At 21, Decker still has room to grow and develop as a baseball player, especially on the defensive side of things.

With two years left before reaching Rule 5 eligibility, the one-time University of Maryland commit will certainly have the time to improve upon those aspects of his game going into the spring.

SoxProspects.com’s projected 2021 rosters have Decker beginning next season at Low-A Greenville of the South Atlantic League.

(Top photo of Decker: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)