In case you missed it, Triston Casas homered Wednesday night in his Triple-A debut and tripled Thursday night in a pair of victories for the Worcester Red Sox.

The young first baseman is Boston’s top minor-league prospect and one of the many success stories involving the 2021 Portland Sea Dogs.

At 67-47, the Sea Dogs had their first winning season since 2014, including a franchise record of 14 straight victories in July. Their .588 winning percentage was fourth-highest in club history, yet they still missed the Double-A Northeast playoffs.

Their absence from postseason play rankles Corey Wimberly, the first-year manager who guided a roster that included 53 different players from May to September.

First-year Sea Dogs Manager Corey Wimberly led Portland to its first winning season since 2014. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“It mattered,” he said Friday afternoon by phone from his home in Georgia. “We wanted to play for something. We wanted to show we were the best team in the league. We didn’t get that chance, but overall, nobody’s crying. We had a great season.”

Geoff Iacuessa, president and general manager of the Sea Dogs, anticipates a much smoother offseason than what took place a year ago, when the pandemic forced cancelation of the entire 2020 schedule. State approval for a 28 percent capacity at Hadlock Field in socially distanced pods was not granted until March.

The Sea Dogs played all May home games under that restriction, which was lifted for June and beyond. The team drew a total of 210,211 fans, placing them fifth in attendance among the 12 Northeast League teams. They averaged 4,024 for their 50 openings and suffered the loss of 10 home dates, more than in any other year. Weather caused seven cancelations; the other three were due to a COVID-19 outbreak among a visiting team.

“A lot of our base is built from the September to April time frame and we just didn’t have that,” Iacuessa said. “So to be where we ended up, we’re pretty happy and pretty proud of it. I think our staff did a tremendous job.

“We’re one of the league’s smaller markets, but the community comes out and supports us even during a tough summer.”

Chris Sale tips his cap to fans at Hadlock Field while walking off the field during his injury rehab start on July 25. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

This season saw Hadlock’s smallest-ever Opening Day crowd (1,835) and a record low attendance of 1,240 in early May. But there were three sellouts (7,368) in July, two of them rehab starts by Red Sox All-Star pitcher Chris Sale. Boston also sent Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier and Danny Santana to the Sea Dogs on rehabilitation assignments.

From Portland’s Opening Day roster, pitcher Kutter Crawford and utilityman Jack Lopez got called up to the Red Sox. Casas missed a chunk of the summer while helping Team USA earn a silver medal in the Tokyo Olympics, and Sea Dogs teammates Denyi Reyes and Roldani Baldwin helped the Dominican Republic earn bronze.

Casas, 21, was one of three Sea Dogs promoted to Triple-A Worcester after Portland’s season ended Sunday in Hartford. The other two are pitcher Josh Winckowski and catcher Ronaldo Hernandez.

Brian Abraham, Red Sox director of player development, said playing for the Woo Sox would allow all three to experience a higher level of competition and reward them for excellent seasons.

Casas finished with a Double-A slash line of .284/.395/.484 that included 13 home runs and 52 RBI in 77 games.

“I know he was kind of intermittent there at times because of the Olympics,” Abraham said, “but the progress he showed during that time was really exciting on both sides of the ball. His ability to drive his pitches and have consistent at-bats was huge.”

First baseman Triston Casas batted .284 with 13 home runs and 52 RBI in 77 games with the Sea Dogs. He also earned a silver medal with Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Hernandez played 92 games and led team with 16 homers and 53 RBI. He hit .280/.319/.506. As a catcher, Hernandez snuffed 16 would-be base stealers in 57 attempts.

Winckowski was the staff ace, compiling an 8-3 record with a 4.14 ERA. The Sea Dogs went 13-7 in games he started.

Starting pitchers Brayan Bello, Chris Murphy and Jay Groome also impressed in Double-A after earning promotions from High-A Greenville. Victor Santos came over from the Phillies mid-season and finished strong. Frank German struggled early as a starter but found success late as a reliever.

Lefty reliever Rio Gomez had an understandably challenging spring following the death in February of his father, ESPN baseball correspondent Pedro Gomez, but was lights out for much of the final weeks of the season after tweaking his arm slot.

“He made some adjustments and really finished strong,” Abraham said. “As I’ve told him, if you continue to perform, good things will happen.”

Shortstop Ryan Fitzgerald, signed out of independent ball in 2018, was another bright spot. He batted .271/.351/.505 with 13 homers and 49 RBI and was versatile enough to play every position except pitcher and catcher.

Outfielder Pedro Castellanos (.289/.364/.471) also shined on offense with 13 homers and 44 RBI in 87 games.

Sea Dogs right-hander Josh Winckowski was the staff ace, compiling an 8-3 record with a 4.14 ERA. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

There was one Sea Dog who left the team early. Utility infielder Tanner Nishioka decided in late August to retire from the game. He turns 27 next month and is in the process of applying to medical schools. He told his family he was ready and told his teammates he was going to try to hit a home run and hang it up.

After making only two plate appearances in two weeks, Nishioka got a start at second base on Aug. 29. His older brother was in town for a visit. Batting ninth in the order, Nishioka went 3 for 4 with two home runs. He also made a diving catch in the hole between first and second base.

The home runs, both to center field at Hadlock, came in the seventh and ninth innings on his last two swings as a professional.

“There was something special about that day from the start,” Nishioka said Friday by phone from his native Hawaii. “I just had a feeling after the game, that was it and I was ready to start my new journey on becoming a doctor.”

For the first time since 2008, all four of Boston’s top farm clubs enjoyed winning records. Their lower-level teams in Florida and the Dominican Republic also won more than they lost.

“Winning isn’t the primary focus of player development, but certainly it is a piece of development,” Abraham said. “With the Red Sox, we look to develop a championship culture. And usually when the improvement of players is successful, hopefully winning comes along with that.”

Sea Dogs players take the field on “Field of Dreams” day before their home finale at Hadlock Field on Sept 12. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

As well as they did on the field, the Sea Dogs were even better off the field. They managed to avoid the COVID-19 cases that plagued their parent club by getting vaccinated and following safety protocols.

“That was something we really focused on and made sure the players were aware of,” Abraham said, “not only vaccinations but general cleanliness and hygiene and practicing social distancing. It’s not easy in the real world and it’s certainly not easy when you’re in a locker room of 40 people in fairly close quarters.”

Abraham also praised the leadership of Wimberly and his staff, particularly with all the comings and goings. Decisions on who heads to the Arizona Fall League and who might return to Portland next season have yet to be made.

For now, Wimberly said he his content to help coach the various sports teams of his four children (ages 4-14). He remains under contract with the Red Sox and said he enjoyed his time in Portland, particularly the roughly five weeks his family was able to stay with him.

Next year’s Sea Dogs schedule retains the six-game series format used in 2021, with every Monday off. Opening Day at Hadlock Field is slated for April 8, 2022. Iacuessa said the team will release next year’s schedule after all game times have been confirmed.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.