Second in a series.
Triston Casas will be the Red Sox’ Opening Day first baseman for the 2023 season.
The Sox made that message clear when they designated veteran first baseman Eric Hosmer for assignment last week. Hosmer, whom the Sox acquired at the trade deadline last season, was more of an immediate fix, considering their struggles at the position with Franchy Cordero and Bobby Dalbec receiving the majority of the reps. But Hosmer played in just 14 games for the Red Sox while dealing with a back issue.
The Sox could have kept Hosmer in case Casas, who is entering his age-23 season, struggles, making it easy for a veteran such as Hosmer to easily step in. But the Sox believe Casas is ready now.
The Sox felt he put together competitive at-bats last season against formidable major league pitching. Despite hitting just .197 in 95 plate appearances (a small sample size), Casas negotiated a 20 percent walk rate and posted a .358 on-base percentage. Additionally, Casas showed flashes of his impressive power with an opposite-field homer at Fenway off Yankees ace Gerrit Cole late in the season. Casas knew Cole would try to expose him with a fastball at the top of the zone, so he hunted that pitch, launching it 411 feet with an 108.6-mile-per-hour exit velocity.
The way in which Casas thinks hitting is obsessive, but shrewd, which is part of the reason why the Red Sox trust that he will continue to improve. Just shortly after the Red Sox called him up to the big leagues, Casas quickly identified the difference he saw between major league pitching and minor league pitching.
“The stuff moves a little later in the big leagues than in the minor leagues,” Casas said at the time. “So I’m just going to have to keep grinding out at-bats, making adjustments, sticking to the plans, and trying to execute as best as I can.”
Toward the end of September, Casas figured out a way to counter some of the movement on pitches that gave him issues earlier on.
“I think at the beginning, I was really looking at the amount the pitches were moving and it was working to my disadvantage,” Casas said. “The fact that they’re moving so much really helps me try to focus on one part of the plate and if it starts down the middle, pretty much guys are making it move and it’s going to be a ball. Focusing on where I want it to start versus where I want it to end has been the biggest adjustment I’ve made.”
This is how Casas’s mind works. He’s always looking for the edge at the plate. His preparation is different — some might even say odd, at times. But it’s exclusive to him and has been a huge reason for his success through the minors.
Casas will need to cut down on his swing-and-miss rate (26.3), as he struck out 24.2 percent of the time last year. But the Sox are bullish on Casas. Equally, and more importantly, Casas is confident in himself.
Dalbec had been seen as the Sox’ main depth piece at the position, but the addition of Justin Turner might change the picture. The Sox went cold on Dalbec last season after he hit just .215 and compiled a whopping 118 strikeouts in 353 plate. The Sox made Dalbec available in trade talks this offseason, but so far, have not been able to move him.
Even though Turner turned 38 last month, he can still put together quality at-bats and production in a role that will likely either be at designated hitter or as backup to Casas. The righty hitter batted .278/.350/.438 with a .788 OPS and 13 homers last year for the Dodgers. He does not strike out much (just a 15 percent strikeout rate for his career).
Casas and Turner should provide the Sox with the 1-2 punch needed at first base.
RED SOX 2023: FIRST BASE
Primary 2022 starters: Bobby Dalbec, Franchy Cordero
Projected 2023 starter: Triston Casas
Major league depth: Justin Turner, Dalbec
Prospects to watch: Blaze Jordan, Niko Kavadas
More from the Around the Horn series:
• Looking for a catcher, Red Sox have just two players with major league experience
Julian McWilliams can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @byJulianMack.