This guy’s only 19 years old?
That’s a common reaction when folks catch a glimpse of the newest member of the Salem Red Sox. And that’s even before they see Triston Casas take the swing that’s made him the top-rated prospect in the Boston organization.
Listed at 6-foot-4 and 238 pounds, Casas draws comparisons to Atlanta Braves slugger Freddie Freeman for both his imposing stature and his ability to manage at-bats.
“He knows what he’s doing in the box,” said Sox pitcher Thad Ward, who played with Casas in Greenville in the first half of the season. “He has an approach and he sticks to his approach. He doesn’t waver from it. The numbers are kind of evident of that.”
The numbers won’t go up any more in 2019 — officially, anyway. All hits Casas collects from here on out will be postseason contributions, as he and the Sox open their best-of-five Carolina League Division Series against Wilmington at 6:35 p.m. Wednesday at Haley Toyota Field.
Casas was called up Sunday from Greenville after batting .254 with 19 homers and 78 RBIs in 118 games. He was named to the South Atlantic League midseason and postseason all-star teams while tying for third in the circuit in roundtrippers.
“We didn’t want to rush him too fast,” Salem manager Corey Wimberly said. “We wanted to let him get a full year under his belt. But he’s obviously a huge part of this organization. He’s going to be a huge part of our future, so we’re excited to be a part of developing him.”
Casas went 2 for 4 with a double in his Carolina League debut on Sunday, helping the Sox clinch their playoff berth with a victory over Carolina. Starting at first base and batting fifth in the lineup in Monday’s regular-season finale, Casas belted a 437-foot home run to right field that proved the difference in a 3-1 Salem win.
“It’s great here,” Casas said. “I’m having a great time. All these guys are guys we look up to in the organization — older, veteran guys. I’m looking to come out here and not rub anybody the wrong way, stay out of everybody’s way, but do my job and do whatever I can to help.”
He’s here just in time to provide some much-needed thump to the lineup. Despite putting up the league’s best second half record (42-28), the Sox finished last in the league with 59 home runs this season, with Pedro Castellanos and Edgar Corcino sharing the team lead with nine apiece.
“This park is big — just the dimensions themselves, even without the high walls,” Casas said. “It’s actually good for me to play at a big field, because I don’t try to do too much. When I get in a bigger park, either at home or on the road, it keeps my approach pretty simple.
“I’m just trying to drive the ball up the middle. That’s what I was trying to do in the at-bat I hit the home run. Just got a little backspin behind it and cleared it.”
Oh, he cleared it. The mammoth drive nearly reached the youth field well beyond the wall in right.
Casas joined the Red Sox organization as the 26th overall pick of the 2018 MLB Draft after starring for American Heritage High School in Florida and for the USA Baseball 18U National Team. Just two games into his first pro season, he tore a ligament in his thumb while diving for a ball at third base and missed the remainder of the campaign.
“Not playing last year sucked, but I came into spring training with a chip on my shoulder, looking to show the organization that I’m a great player,” Casas said. “I wasn’t really shooting for any numbers this year, just trying to get a gauge on how my body would feel at the end of my first full season. Everybody’s been telling me I’ve had a good year, but I feel like there’s always room for improvement.”
And there’s time to do a little more damage in the games that matter most.