First baseman Triston Casas, Boston’s top draft pick in 2018, is on track to play at Fenway Park someday. His next stop, however, is likely to be Hadlock Field when the Portland Sea Dogs play their season opener on May 4. Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

In previous years, spring training would be over. Minor leagues would be underway, with players in the north getting adjusted to the weather – and wouldn’t Friday’s snow have been a delight for players who spend a good deal of time in Florida?

But this year is different. Most of the minor leaguers began spring training in April, after the major leaguers (and Triple-A players) left camp – another result of COVID-19 precautions.

Corey Wimberly

“It’s definitely a different feel without the major league team here,” Portland Sea Dogs Manager Corey Wimberly said via email from Fort Myers, Florida, the spring training site of the Boston Red Sox. “There is a bit of a different vibe, not having those guys around; no fans and no major league games.”

Still, there are no complaints. Over a year since 2020 spring training was abruptly halted because of the pandemic, minor league players get to play baseball and managers get to manage.

“It feels amazing to be able to do what we love again,” Wimberly said. “It’s that same family atmosphere. We’re all just grateful and glad the game is back.”

The Sea Dogs will be back in Portland on May 4 for the season opener at Hadlock Field. Wimberly, 37, is in his first year as Sea Dogs manager. He will not be the only new face walking out of the clubhouse.

With 2020 season canceled, players who might have returned to Portland have moved on – or up. Jarren Duran played 82 Double-A games in 2019, batting .250. He was Portland-bound in 2020, but is now on the cusp of the majors. Infielder Josh Tobias, acquired four years ago in the Clay Buchholz trade to Philadelphia, might have had one more season in him. Now, he is a Red Sox scout.

Prospects like infielder Jeter Downs and pitcher Connor Seabold, both obtained in trades, likely would have been Sea Dogs in 2020, but they are now in Triple-A.

So, who will be coming to Portland next month? The Red Sox never give a hint to where a minor leaguer is headed, but the new phenomenon known as the “alternate training site” helps deduce who is trending toward Double-A.

The alternate training site was created during last year’s pandemic-shortened major league season to keep a group of players available to resupply the major league team. It became a pseudo-Triple A team that played only intrasquad games in the summer.

This year, with the minor leagues pushed back a month, the alternate training sites returned for April only. In May, those players figure to be playing a Triple-A schedule.

Duran, Downs and Seabold are all at the alternate training site, as is catcher Connor Wong (obtained with Downs and outfielder Alex Verdugo in the Mookie Betts deal). Wong, who has only 40 games of Double-A experience, could slip down to Portland, depending on playing-time availability.

Likewise, outfielder Marcus Wilson is at the alternate training site, but his May destination is not clear, Wilson, 24, obtained in the Blake Swihart trade to Arizona, has never hit consistently above the Class A level. But he is in his second year on the 40-man roster, and the clock is ticking.

We can figure the following will be Sea Dogs next month:

•  Triston Casas will be the focus. Considered the No. 1 Red Sox prospect by most publications, Casas, 21, appears worth the first-round draft pick (2018) and $2.5 million signing bonus. A first baseman, Casas hit 20 home runs in Class A two years ago, and last year he impressed the Red Sox so much with his work and improvement that he was a late invitee to the alternate training site, as well as to major league spring training.

“Casas has always been focused and very detailed in his work,” Wimberly said. “He has matured as a hitter. I’ve noticed that since I had him in Salem 2019. He’s made huge gains, both mentally and physically.”

• Ronaldo Hernandez was considered a steal by Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom, who obtained the catching prospect from the Rays for two pitchers who were about to be released (Jeff Springs and Chris Mazza). Hernandez, 23, is on the 40-man roster, although he has never played above Class A.

• Hudson Potts is a former first-round draft pick of the Padres, who came to Boston in the Mitch Moreland trade. Potts, 22, has power potential (16 homers in 2019) but has struggled at the Double-A level (batting .227). An infielder, Potts plays mostly at third. He is on the 40-man roster.

• Jeisson Rosario also arrived in the Moreland trade and is another player with potential, although his numbers don’t show it yet (.264 average/.716 OPS). An outfielder who has not played above Class A, he is on the 40-man roster.

• Durbin Feltman may be one of the few returning Sea Dogs. Once considered on the fast track to Boston’s bullpen, Feltman struggled in Portland (5.26 ERA) in 2019 and was not invited to the alternate training site last year. Reportedly, his velocity (96 mph) and control have improved.

Brett Netzer also spent last year in limbo, with nowhere to play. The second baseman, a third-round pick in 2017, batted .247 in Portland in 2019.

Jay Groome would be a pleasant addition to the Sea Dogs, even though he has not pitched above low Class A. Groome, the 12th overall draft pick in 2016, has battled injuries, including Tommy John surgery. He took part in the alternate training site last year and made one spring training appearance for the Red Sox in March (one inning, one hit, one walk, one strikeout). He would appear headed to advance Class A, but his 40-man roster status may push him to Double-A.

Please break minor league camp in two weeks, with the latest Sea Dogs traveling to Portland. By then, there will be no more snow, right?


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