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Minors | General | 11/29/2021

PG Down on the Farm: AL East

David Rawnsley     
Photo: Anthony Volpe (Perfect Game)
It’s been especially difficult to follow the minors over the past two years, with the pandemic-canceled 2020 season and the complete restructuring of the minor leagues by Major League Baseball in 2021. So, over a two-week period, Perfect Game will be taking a look at former PG standouts who are continuing to build their baseball skills and resumes in the minor leagues in an attempt to bring things into a bit more focus.  One player from each organization will be highlighted, with the schedule as follows: 
 
American League East: November 29
American League Central: December 1
American League West: December 3
National League East: December 6
National League Central: December 8 
National League West: December 10

 
American League East 



 
Baltimore Orioles: INF Gunnar Henderson 
 
High School: John T. Morgan Academy (Ala.) 
Travel Team: TPL National 
Final PG Class Ranking: No. 16 (2019) 
Drafted/Signing Bonus: 42nd overall, Baltimore Orioles (2019), $2.3M 
Highest 2021 Level: AA 
2022 Age: 21 
 
Henderson was a 2018 Perfect Game All-American but made huge progress between the 2018 summer and the 2019 draft.  A physical presence on the field as a 6-foot-3, 195-pound shortstop, Henderson was both highly-athletic (All-State basketball in Alabama) and one of the younger players in the 2019 high school class and still 17 years old on his draft date.  What really jumped out to scouts was Henderson’s left-handed bat, which shined all spring as he hit .559-11-75 with 37 extra-base hits in 32 games.  The most common comparison for Henderson was pretty easy given his overall profile; the Dodgers' Corey Seager. 
 
After making his rookie league debut in 2019 (.259-1-11 in 29 games) and sitting out the pandemic 2020 season, Henderson started 2021 in what used to be called “low A” and moved up two levels during the season, going through “A+” and ending the season with 17 games in AA.  He hit .258-17-74 with a .826 OPS and 28 doubles between the three levels, impressive power numbers for a 20-year old in his first extended professional action.  Henderson split his time about 65%-35% between shortstop and third base defensively. 
 
Henderson and Jordan Westburg, the 30th overall pick in the 2020 draft out of Mississippi State, mirrored each other both in their promotions upwards during the 2021 season and in their production at the plate, with both toggling between the two left side infield positions.  It wouldn’t be surprising to see both start the 2022 season in AA together, with the idea that they will form the left side of the Baltimore infield starting possibly in 2023. 
 
 
Boston Red Sox: 1B Triston Casas 
 
High School: American Heritage HS (Fla.) 
Travel Team: Elite Squad 
Final PG Class Ranking: No. 14 (2018) 
Drafted/Signing Bonus: 26th overall, Boston Red Sox (2018), $2,552,800 
Highest 2021 Level: AAA 
2022 Age: 22 
 
Casas was originally a member of the 2019 class but was a year older than most of his peers in that class and soon grew to dwarf them physically on the field as well.  He famously committed to Miami as an eighth grader and was completely dominant on the field both in the batter’s box and on the mound.  Casas wisely re-classified up a grade during high school and graduated with the 2018 class.  He was a 2017 PG All-American and hit .385-7-35 with 27 walks in 29 games during a strong senior season, earning himself a spot at the end of the first round. 
 
Casas was one of the few young players who was really able to stand out during the canceled 2020 minor league season due to his performance at the Red Sox alternate site.  That helped him jump from low A in 2019 to AA/AAA in 2021 as a 21-year old.  The left-handed hitter posted a .279-14-59/.877 OPS line between the two levels in 86 games, then came back to hit .372-1-11/.982 in 21 games in the Arizona Fall League. 
 
An above-average first baseman on defense, Casas is clearly the Red Sox first baseman of the future and potentially the near future.  There is some frustration among Red Sox Nation it seems for his lack of big power numbers, but that’s realistically not who Casas is as a hitter right now and and not who he’s been during his development.  He’s always been a polished and patient hitter (57 walks vs. 71 strikeouts in 2021) who works counts and uses the whole field.  And while Casas can hit a ball as far as any prospect in baseball on a given swing, he still has years of developing that tool ahead of him. 
   
 
New York Yankees: SS Anthony Volpe 
 
High School: Delbarton HS (N.J.) 
Travel Team: Canes National 
Final PG Class Ranking: No. 25 (2019) 
Drafted/Signing Bonus: 30th overall, New York Yankees (2019), $2,740,300 
Highest 2021 Level: A+ 
2022 Age: 21 
 
Volpe and right-handed pitcher Jack Leiter formed a dynamic PG All-American duo at Delbarton High School in New Jersey, with Leiter, of course, moving on first to Vanderbilt before becoming the second pick in the 2021 draft.  Volpe was regarded as one of the most polished players in the 2019 class, with solid average tools across the board but a very advanced ability to play both offensively and defensively.  He hit .438 in 23 PG tournament games in 2018 and came on to hit .477-7-34 for the not-surprisingly state champion Delbarton team that fall. 
 
Volpe’s increased power his senior year was the major factor in his getting into the back of the first round, and it has strongly continued to improve in professional baseball.  Splitting the 2021 season evenly between A and A+, Volpe hit an eye-opening .294-27-86/.1.027 OPS in addition to 35 doubles, 33 steals, 113 runs (in 109 games) and 78 walks.  That season has clearly established Volpe as one of the top prospects in baseball and certainly the top prospect in the Yankees system. 
 
Given that he is a skills-over-tools player, it will be interesting how Volpe performs at the start of the 2022 season, presumably in AA.  There are bound to be heightened expectations given the Yankees shortstop situation, but Volpe will start the season still at just 20 years old with nary an at-bat over the A ball level. 
 
 
Tampa Bay Rays: 2B Xavier Edwards 
 
High School: North Broward Prep 
Travel Team: Palm Beach Select/EvoShield Canes 
Final PG Class Ranking: No. 19 (2018) 
Drafted/Signing Bonus: 38th overall, San Diego Padres (2018), $2.6M 
Highest 2021 Level: AA 
2022 Age: 22 
 
Edwards report for the 2017 PG National Showcase summed up his game as a teenager very well:
 
Young shorter build, slender and very live-bodied. Elite level defensive tools and instincts, plays the middle infield with flair and skills, exemplary footwork with very quick hands and a quick release, everything is clean and fluid and comfortable. Switch-hitter, has surprising pop in his bat from both sides for his size, short swing and squares the ball up from both sides, bit more pop from the right side, has always been a high-level game performer offensively. 6.59 runner and will run sub-4.0's from the left side. Knows how to play the game and plays a lot of it. Good student, verbal commitment to Vanderbilt. Selected for the 2017 Perfect Game All-American Classic. 
 
This scout’s favorite Xavier Edwards moment as an amateur actually came off the field, when Edwards was being interviewed on the main stage at the MLB All-Star Game Fanfest in Miami in 2017.  Responding to a question about what he works on defensively, Edwards, perhaps the best defender in the 2018 class, said that all he ever worries about were his feet and his footwork, that if his feet were in the right place, everything else would flow right.  It’s a lesson that all young infielders, and all defensive players actually, could take to heart. 
 
Edwards' plus/plus defensive skills and speed, along with his switch-hitting ability, got him drafted by the Padres over concerns about his size and future power.  The Padres traded him to the Rays in December, 2019 with Hunter Renfroe in exchange for Tommy Pham and Jake Cronenworth. 
 
In 1,093 minor league plate appearances over three seasons, including 337 in AA as a 21-year old in 2021, Edwards has very firmly established exactly what type of offensive player he is, posting a .320-1-86/.779 OPS line with virtually no power and virtually no strikeouts as well.  Defensively, he made just four errors in 2021 while playing primarily second base, with 22 games at third base as well and notably none at shortstop. 
 
Edwards' profile is a dead-on replica of second baseman Nick Madrigal, now with the Cubs.  There is a fit for that profile in the modern game, although maybe not with some clubs.  Whether that is with the Rays, an organization overflowing with talented infielders, is an open question.  What would be surprising is if Edwards didn’t hit .300 in 2022 and play outstanding defense. 
 
 
Toronto Blue Jays: INF Jordan Groshans 
 
High School: Magnolia HS (Texas) 
Travel Team: Banditos Black 
Final PG Class Ranking: No. 9 (2018) 
Drafted/Signing Bonus: 12th overall, Toronto Blue Jays (2018), $3.4M 
Highest 2021 Level: AA 
2022 Age: 22 
 
Groshans had solid overall tools as a high school age player, including 6.65 speed and a 92 mph infield throwing arm, but there was no mistaking that his biggest tool was his right-handed bat.  He hit .583-1-7 at the 2017 WWBA 17U National Championships, .444-11-36 as a high school senior, slammed a rocket home run at the 2017 PG All-American Classic and everything passed the eye test along with the performance test. 
 
That performance continued in 2018 after Groshans signed with the Blue Jays, as he immediately went out and hit .296-5-43 in 48 rookie league games.  Unfortunately, a broken foot sidelined Groshans for all but 20 games of the 2019 season (.337-2-13) and he, of course, didn’t play in 2020 due to the pandemic.  A sore back limited him to 75 games, all in AA, in 2021, where he hit .291-7-40/.817 OPS as a 21-year old while splitting time between shortstop and third base. 
 
The Blue Jays, of course, already have a 24-year old All-Star shortstop in Bo Bichette, so the logical place for Groshans to continue to play regularly is third base while keeping his hand in at shortstop.  Actually, the Blue Jays fondest wish for Groshans is probably just a completely healthy 2022 season, probably split between AA and AAA. 
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