Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora has taken several broadsides in his Red Sox career, including a suspension for baseball crimes, and winning a World Series in 2018 certainly gives Cora clout. Being a manager in Boston requires the hide of an elephant, an avoidance of print and social media, and the ability to practice select hearing.
Late last season, Cora received a vote of confidence from the Red Sox brass that could either be a kiss of managerial death or an actual vote of sustainability. This season Cora has managed to win games despite a rash of injuries, abysmal defense, and pitching that runs the gamut from spectacular to putrid. What stands out is the possible rescue of high-profile prospects Jarren Duran and Triston Casas.
The perfect example was displayed on the night of 6/19 in a game against the Twins. Duran had three hits in three appearances - all doubles. With a lefty now on the mound to face the lefty, Cora removed Duran and went to righty Rob Refsnyder who walked and scored. Refsnyder considers lefty pitchers the same way I would consider an unlimited lobster buffet.
Duran advanced to the Red Sox in 2021 as a top-rated prospect with shades of Jacoby Ellsbury's combination of speed and power. Duran fell far short and, in the field, was often embarrassed. Duran was on a yo-yo between the minors and Boston that continued into 2023.
In Worcester, Duran was hitting just .195 when the call came to return to Boston with Adam Duvall out. Just how well he has done is when Christian Arroyo was activated, the Red Sox cut ties with Raimel Tapia. Duran had options available, but management was now all-in on the 26-year-old.
Duran will not hit 25+ home runs, but his doubles total is 21 in 55 games, and by the end of 2023 may lead the American League in that category. With the new rule changes favoring speed, Duran has 11 steals and was nabbed once. His fielding has gone positive with a 1.3 UZR/150 despite a -2 DRS and a 123 wRC+ coupled with a 1.5 fWAR shows the possibility of sustainability.
Red Sox manager Cora deserves credit for Jarren Duran and Triston Casas' turnarounds
Examining career splits, Duran could be more effective, at least at this juncture, against lefties. Duran's career average is just .206, with no home runs and three doubles. This season the results have taken a tick upwards, with Duran hitting .250 against southpaws, and expect Cora to give Duran a few more at-bats against lefties.
Duran still takes the walk of shame too often, with a 27.5 K%, and his 41.7 GB% could go up a notch to take advantage of his speed, but with Duvall, on a one-year deal, you may see Duran as a solid regular in 2024. Duran may never be Ellsbury, but he could be Johnny Damon.
Casas is a player whose at-bats die against lefties (.192 career) but was also dying against righties until lately. Casas's average has been steadily climbing, and the power is starting to show more regularly. His OBP (.335), generated by a 15.5 BB%, almost twice the MLB average, catches the metrics eye. I wrote about my disappointment with Casas in a previous article, but the Red Sox should stay the course. They have. Casas reminds me physically of another first baseman of decades past - Boog Powell. Now can he replicate Powell?
Casas has finally achieved metrics neutrality with a 100 wRC+ that has - like his batting average - headed north instead of south. That is a positive trend for a player who should have been demoted just a few weeks ago. The Red Sox avoided that, and a hot-hitting at WooSox Bobby Dalbec remained in Worm Town despite the - to me - justified media blowback.
If you fail with the bat, you can make it up with the glove, and Casas did just the opposite and with an infield that treated a baseball like a hot piece of coal. Changes were necessary, at least temporarily. Casas was sent to the bench by Cora. The move to me was a wake-up call; presumably, the call was received by Casas, who responded positively.
Casas has much improvement to do with his often sloppy and uninspired defensive play. The errors (3) and DRS (-6) can tell a metrics story that can be addressed with a positive work ethic, experience, and solid coaching.
Cora and Red Sox management have also gone all-in on Casas, who is 23 years old. As with Duran, Cora has placed Casas in a user-friendly position in the field and with the bat. Will the confidence management and Cora displayed be rewarded? This we will know as the season continues.
The trend for both players is positive, but Red Sox fans have seen disappointment with prospects in the past, yet both Duran and Casas have an extensive positive prospect portfolio. Have both, finally turned the corner?