Keeping Score with Chip Ainsworth: Checking in with the top prospects in Portland

Published: 06-07-2024 1:01 PM

Modified: 06-07-2024 2:37 PM


Good morning!
In January, Boston’s chief of baseball operations Craig Breslow told the Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham that catcher Kyle Teel, shortstop Marcelo Mayer and outfielder Roman Anthony are “guys we think are the next wave, not just big leaguers but impact big leaguers.”

All three prospects are at Double-A Portland of the Eastern League, and all three throw right and bat left.

The slumbersome Sox need a wakeup call like they got in ’73 when Carlton Fisk was Rookie of the Year and the gold dust twins Fred Lynn and Jim Rice were first and second in ’75. Lynn was also the AL MVP, the first time both awards went to the same player.

Three years ago Mayer was a 19-year-old out of Eastlake High School in Chula Vista, Calif., and was considered baseball’s top draft prospect. The Red Sox reportedly had their sights on Louisville catcher Henry Davis, but the Pirates took him, the Rangers selected Vanderbilt pitcher Jack Leiter, and the Tigers picked Oklahoma high school pitcher Jackson Jobe.

Boston said thank you very much and took Mayer, who has 956 career at-bats and a .270 batting average with 35 home runs, 153 RBIs and 44 stolen bases. He was batting .337 a year ago but fell running the bases and injured his left shoulder. His offensive production tanked, and the Red Sox shut him down in August and sent him to Fort Myers to rehab. This year he’s back up to .303.

Anthony, 20, played schoolboy ball at Stoneman Douglas High School (yes, that Stoneman Douglas) in south Florida. The Red Sox took him 79th overall and on Wednesday he returned from a two-week absence caused by sore ribs and homered against Akron. At this writing he’s batting .245 with 51 strikeouts in 151 at-bats.

“A big part of the development process is seeing how players handle adversity,” says Geoff Iacuessa. “It’s a key to understanding how successful they’ll be at the major league level.”

Iacuessa is a Greenfield High School grad and former Recorder sports staffer who used his sport management degree from UMass to escape the Fourth Estate and intern for the Sea Dogs. Now, almost 25 years later, he’s Portland’s president and general manager.

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“Two years ago Anthony was finishing high school and made his Double-A debut at the end of last season,” said Iacuessa. “You almost never see that happen. It speaks to how advanced his game is both offensively and defensively.”

That brings us to Teel, a New Jersey kid who was born and raised in Ridgewood and attended the University of Virginia. Last season he started all 65 games, batted .407 with 13 home runs and 69 RBIs, threw out 15 of 24 would-be base stealers, and struck out only 36 times in 258 at-bats. As a result, he was named the 2023 ACC Player of the Year and won the Buster Posey National Collegiate Catcher of the Year Award.

The Red Sox took him with the 14th overall pick in last year’s draft and assigned him to Single-A Greenville (S.C.) where he batted .377 in 14 games. At this writing he’s batting .295 with an .875 OPS, which is the combined total of on-base and slugging percentage. Anything over .800 is considered good. Bryce Harper, for instance, has an .890 OPS. 

Teel’s six home runs include a grand slam last weekend against Altoona.

Nobody can change a team like a catcher. They are its linchpin — Johnny Bench, John Roseboro, Thurman Munson, Jorge Posada, Salvador Perez, Carlton Fisk, Jason Varitek, they all define greatness.

Speaking of… Tom Brady was the last player chosen by the Montreal Expos before they moved to Washington. The GOAT was a catcher and was taken in the 18th round of the 1995 draft. “On talent alone he would’ve been a late second round pick,” scout John Hughes told the Hartford Courant. “Everyone knew how difficult it would be to sign him.”

“You asked specifically for a quote about Teel and his ability to match up to Jason Varitek,” wrote Iacuessa. “I’m not sure how fair it is to compare anyone to someone of Varitek’s status, but both were 14th overall picks and both came from great college programs, Virginia and Georgia Tech.

“Varitek spent two years in Double-A and played 345 minor league games; Teel has played 66 games so it’s still early, but he is impressive. The ball sounds different off his bat.”  

A blatant example of the risks in bringing a player up too soon is Baltimore’s Jackson Holliday who sizzled in the minors, batted .059 in the majors and has fizzled back in the minors.

Even Adley Rutschman — aka Clutchman — needed 180 games and 651 minor league at-bats before the Orioles made him their everyday catcher. The Birds are 195-129 with him in the lineup.

Dreamers think Teel could be a hybrid of Milwaukee’s William Contreras who’s batting .322 with an .864 OPS, and the Dodgers’ Will Smith who’s thrown out nearly half of all base stealers (15 of 32) .

If that happens, the Red Sox will need to change those City Connect uniforms from light blue to a deeper shade of Teel.

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Post time for today’s Belmont Stakes at Saratoga is 6:41 p.m., come rain or shine. “Sierra Leone deserves to be the favorite but the angle horse I like is Honor Marie,” handicapper John Dobrydnio said on Thursday. “He got hit hard early in the Kentucky Derby and went from last to eighth.

Dobrydnio added a caveat to his prognostication. “If you’re worried about losing $10, buy a scratch ticket. This is for hundred dollar bettors, but the thousand dollar bettors won’t go to the windows until they see how they look on the track.”

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Two big leaguers felt the might of baseball’s terrible swift sword this week for betting on baseball. The Pirates’ Tucupita Marcano was banned for life and A’s pitcher Michael Kelly was suspended for one year. “Yeah,” said PTI’s Michael Wilbon, “so all the league and network executives, and all the other bigshots who wanted to make their bed and get in it with gambling, it’s the players, it’s these guys who take the hit. Really?”  

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Those virtual ads that appear, disappear and reappear along the boards during NHL games are called digitally enhanced dasher boards (DEDs), and the products they pitch include Ozempic for weight loss, Betway, ESPNBet, SportsClips, AstraZenica,  BodyArmor, Enterprise and RealSportsHydration.

They’ve come a long way since the days when the only businesses that sponsored hockey were sports bars, steakhouses and rehab joints.

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SQUIBBERS: The New England Collegiate Baseball League embarked on its 30th season this week. Depending where you live in Franklin County, games in Holyoke, Keene and North Adams are less than an hour’s drive. … It seems that the $17,000 all-Prada outfit Caitlin Clark wore on draft day has caused a tiff among her peers in the WNBA. “I ain’t answering no Caitlin Clark questions,” Chicago’s Chennedy Carter said after she blindsided Clark last week. … At this writing, the Oklahoma softball team (58-7) was one win from winning its its eighth national title. The Sooners got their mojo back after they were nearly run-ruled by Florida on Monday, then needed extra innings to beat the Gators on Tuesday. … Hall of Famer Johnny Bench broke 17 bones during his big league career. His favorite line on the banquet circuit is, “I was thinking about making a comeback until I pulled a muscle vacuuming.” … Another Bench-ism: “I seldom saw a player walk into a bar and not say what he did for a living.”

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached at chipjet715@icloud.com