In the 2018 MLB draft, the Red Sox used their first round pick, 26th overall, to select infielder Triston Casas out of American Heritage High School in Plantation, Florida. Only 18 years old at the time, Casas was put to work straight away, playing two rookie ball games before thumb surgery forced him to miss the remainder of the year.
In 2019, Casas was sent to A-ball and crushed 19 home runs in 118 games. His overall line was .254/.349/.472, with his 11.8% walk rate helping to create that separation between his batting average and on-base percentage, as well as a wRC+ of 136. His 23.5% strikeout rate could be considered a tad high, but not alarming. He was rewarded for that fine performance with two games at High-A to finish the year.
The pandemic wiped out the minors entirely in 2020, but Casas was added to Boston’s 60-man player pool that year. He might have shown something impressive at the alternate training site, as he was promoted to Double-A to start 2021. In 77 games there, he hit 13 home runs and slashed .284/.395/.484, wRC+ of 142. His walk rate climbed to 14.9% and strikeout rate fell to 19.1%. He also left for a while to represent the United States in the Olympics, helping the team win a silver medal. After a promotion to Triple-A, he got into nine games and hit .242/.381/.485, with even strikeout and walk rates of 19%. He was then sent to the Arizona Fall League, where he continued his excellent year, hitting .372/.495/.487 in 21 games, with a walk rate of 17.5% and strikeout rate of 18.6%. He’s now considered one of the best prospects in baseball, ranked #19 by Baseball America, #18 by MLB Pipeline and #17 by FanGraphs.
Casas just turned 22 and isn’t on the 40-man roster yet, but if he continues this sort of production into 2022, he should be up in Boston before long. Defensively, Casas played exclusively at first base last year. He did play some third base in 2019, but in just eight of his 118 A-ball games. That lack of versatility will narrow his path onto the big league roster.
The Red Sox currently have Bobby Dalbec as their first baseman, as he got the majority of playing time there in 2021. It’s tough to know what to make of him at this point, due to his inconsistency. He had a great debut in 2020, playing 23 games in the pandemic-shortened campaign and hitting .263/.359/.600, wRC+ of 152. In 2021, he had a rough first half but seemingly righted the ship as the season went along. From the start of the season through July, he was hitting just .216/260/.399. But for the remainder of the year, he hit .288/.369/.683. He then slumped in the postseason, going hitless and striking out five times in 12 at-bats. He’s seen some limited action at third base, but the Sox should have Rafael Devers slotted in there most of the time. It’s a small sample, but none of DRS, UZR or OAA looked favorably at Dalbec’s work at the hot corner.
Although he’s capable of playing the field at times, J.D. Martinez is likely to see significant time in the designated hitter slot. In 2021, he played 148 games but only made it onto the grass for 38 of them. However, he’s in the final year of his contract with the club, making this a short-term issue. In the long-term, it’s possible that the Sox could utilize both Dalbec and Casas, alternating them between first base and DH, assuming they both hit well enough.
The long-term picture also has to factor in Rafael Devers, however. His defensive numbers at third base are poor and many have speculated that he will have to move to first base eventually. (In 2021, his DRS was -13, UZR was -5.5 and OAA was -13.) He’s only under club control for two more seasons but has been considered an extension candidate for years.
One way to help with this shuffle would be platooning Dalbec and Casas, as Dalbec hits from the right side and Casas the left. Dalbec has a noticeable platoon split in his big league career so far, putting up a .281/.326/.576 line against lefties and a .218/.297/.466 against righties. Casas, between Double-A and Triple-A last year, hit lefties just .219/.289/.301 while mashing righties to the tune of .298/.424/.540.
There are many questions here that will likely need time to be answered. However it shakes out, Casas seems like he has the right combination of power and a batter’s eye to fit into the puzzle one way or another. The Red Sox had a potent offense in 2021 but have since subtracted Kyle Schwarber and Hunter Renfroe. Although they could certainly go after a big move after the lockout, Casas could also provide them with a boost from within.