BOSTON SPORTS WAVE

Red Sox Minor League Notebook: WooSox Are Going to Be a Fun Team to Watch Again in 2022

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After an inaugural year that could not have gone better with a new ballpark, new branding, a new team, and an exciting team, the Worcester Red Sox — otherwise known as the WooSox — look to have another exquisite season in 2022 at the now-beloved Polar Park behind the strong crowd that fills the seats day in and day out.

Headlined by the well-known Triston Casas and Jarren Duran, the WooSox roster isn’t dominated by youth, but the team’s well-known assets are the young guns.

Casas could potentially get called up to the big leagues later in the season, as Boston’s No. 2 prospect was called up to Triple-A Worcester late last season after the Double-A season finished. In nine games last season with Worcester the 22-year-old first baseman had a 130 wRC+ following a 13-homer, 142-wRC+ year across 77 games with Double-A Portland.

The equally popular Duran whose major-league experiment didn’t quite work out last season did have a rather strong year in Worcester last season, which led to his big-league callup that had insurmountable hype.

The 25-year-old outfielder in Duran hit just .215/.241/.336 with two homers and a 49 wRC+ across 33 games in the majors with Boston last season. But, what led to his callup was him hitting 16 homers with a 132 wRC+ and a .258 batting average through 60 games in Triple-A Worcester last season. Duran, who turns 26 in September, seeks to hone his skills before another try at the big leagues.

Jeter Downs, a part of the return in the Mookie Betts trade along with Alex Verdugo and Connor Wong, still has plenty of youth in him. But, he hit just .190/.272/.333 with a 62 wRC+ while playing just shy of a hundred games with the WooSox last season.

Downs, 23, did snag 18 bases though while clubbing 14 long balls though, and the middle infielder’s defense was fairly solid with the glove despite making nine errors — as he showed that the potential is there. Downs is listed as the No. 5 prospect for Boston on SoxProspects.com.

First baseman Roberto Ramos and second baseman Yolmer Sanchez both were minor league signings that didn’t make Boston’s roster, as Sanchez won a Gold Glove in 2019 while Ramos played in Japan and will replace Josh Ockimey.

Ryan Fitzgerald will be at shortstop, as the 27-year-old journeyman spent the majority of last season in Double-A before joining Triple-A Worcester at the end of the season. Fitzgerald hit four homers in limited spring action before being cut by the major-league team and was red ho before being cut.

Aside from Duran, the outfield has Franchy Cordero and Rob Refsnyder, two that missed the cut for the final two bench spots on Boston’s roster. Cordero was acquired in the Andrew Benintendi deal but mightily struggled in the majors last season while Refsnyder was a minor league signing.

Christin Stewart, a minor league signing, and Johan Mieses also populate Boston’s outfield. Mieses, 26-year-old a power hitter that played in the Olympics for the Dominican in 2021, had 11 homers across 23 games in Double-A Portland last year to go along with an absurd 184 wRC+, but only had eight homers and an 86 wRC+ across 59 Triple-A games after being called up.

The WooSox have a decent mix of young hurlers — the youngest would be 22-year-old righty, Bryan Mata. Mata had Tommy John Surgery last season but ranks as SoxProspect’s No. 10 prospect, though he’s starting the season on the injured list — and may not be with Triple-A Worcester this season.

The youngest active pitcher on the team is Josh Winckowski, 23, as he had 21 outings (20 starts) with Double-A Portland in 2021 and posted a 4.14 ERA, before getting called up at the end of the year to pitch for the WooSox, where he posted a 2.25 ERA across two starts (3 ER, 12 IP). The righty was acquired in the Benintendi deal along with Cordero.

Eduard Bazardo made just 11 relief outings with Worcester in 2021, as he had a 60-day injured list stint following a right lat muscle strain, though he did see two games (three innings) of scoreless work in Boston. The 26-year-old right-hander is the 32nd ranked Sox Prospect. Seabold, also 26, was acquired in the Nick Pivetta deal and also pitched three innings for Boston in 2021. Even more similarly to Bazardo, Seabold’s year was plagued due to an elbow injury and he made just 11 starts.

The team’s Opening Day starter will be southpaw Darwinzon Hernandez, who is with Worcester and will make 2 to 3-inning starts with the team as he’ll work on his command issues (career 7.44 BB/9). The left-hander Hernandez, 25, has spent the past three seasons in Boston (83 relief outings, 1 start).

Red Sox manager Alex Cora says the goal is to be able to work in between starts.

“I think the plan for him is actually he’s going to start probably Opening Day in Jacksonville, but he’ll go 2 or 3 innings,” explained Cora. “The goal is for him to work in between starts or in between outings. He hasn’t been able to do that in years. It wasn’t a comfortable conversation because we know what he can do. But the goal is for him to work with (Worcester pitching coach Paul Abbott) in between starts and try to be consistent.”

As for the rest of the pitching staff, it’s filled with late-20 pitchers who are either on the cusp of the big leagues or have limited major-league experience. The team does have Derek Holland though, who stuck with the team after deciding to not opt out. Holland, 35, has 12 years of major-league experience that includes eight years with the Rangers but hasn’t had an ERA below 5 since 2018, and he has pitched for six teams over the past five seasons.

Zack Kelly comes in as likely the most notable late-20 pitcher. Kelly, 27, was called up to Worcester mid-season and posted a 2.89 ERA through 15 relief outings with Worcester. Kelly spoke to Boston Sports Wave in December.

Worcester will open their season Tuesday night in Jacksonville against the Jumbo Shrimp.

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