Dissecting every mid-level veteran the Red Sox have added this offseason ignores the most likely way they'll contend in 2023, and that's on the backs of their homegrown players. Today let's consider the broadest shoulders amongst that group -- first baseman Triston Casas.
The young slugger showed up at Winter Weekend looking noticeably trimmer and sporting a thin Inspector Clouseau mustache. He said he has dropped 15 to 20 pounds to ease the wear on his body in order to reach his goal of playing 150 games.
As we wonder how the Red Sox will replace the production that went out the door with shortstop Xander Bogaerts, DH J.D. Martinez, and catcher Christian Vazquez, Casas is probably a better place to start than veteran Justin Turner or even $90 million newcomer Masataka Yoshida.
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In 27 games last year, Casas showed hints of the skills that could make him a lineup linchpin. Though he batted just .197, he slammed five homers and walked nearly as many times (19) as he struck out (23). More than half the balls he put in play went to center field, suggesting a solid up-the-middle approach, and he showed a willingness to work counts that should serve him well.
With friend and mentor Eric Hosmer recently designated for assignment, the first base job now belongs to Casas, and he has no intentions of giving it back.
"That vote of confidence is huge," he said. "I mean, they've been instilling it in me from the day that I got drafted. They had the intention for me to be an everyday first baseman forever now. It was never to be a platoon player. It was never to be a role player. It was to be in the middle of the lineup and contribute every single day. And that's the mindset that I've taken since I stepped on the field with them. So going into this year, I'm going to take that mentality until they take it away from me. And hopefully that day doesn't come."
His first order of offseason business was dropping weight. He's listed at 252 pounds, but played at well beyond that last year, which led to ankle problems that sidelined him for 10 weeks over the summer, and then knee problems that ended his winter ball experience in the Dominican Republic after just four games.
"I entered the season a little heavy last year," he said. "I didn't really like where I was at weight-wise. I felt like if I dropped 15-20 pounds coming into the season, it would help me play a little more games, take a little more stress off my body. I've never played the amount of games that I want to play this year. So going into the season, I figured I'd make an adjustment and do something different."
When Casas is right, he works counts and displays power to all fields. If there's a critique of his debut, it's that sometimes he could be too selective, taking pitches that he might've hammered. Hitting coach Peter Fatse expects he'll learn to do more damage with experience.
"The biggest part of his game is he's so well-disciplined in the strike zone," Fatse said. "He knows the strike zone at a high level. I think there's been times, and I think some of this is as you go and play in the big leagues, you see more opportunities to be aggressive. They present themselves, whether it's a certain matchup, situation, count-based, leverage, he'll find different times to be a little more aggressive when he needs to be. But ultimately, it's not necessarily about changing anything. It's about continuing to dominate the strike zone."
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Besides Rafael Devers, the most dangerous hitter on the roster from a power perspective might be Casas. He's ready to contribute, and the sooner he develops into the 30-homer threat the Red Sox envision, the better.
"We've got a lot of great players," he said. "Look around the infield and you've guys who are going to contribute, including myself. I'm excited to play with Raffy for a long time. His addition was huge. And we made a lot of additions to the bullpen, which is going to help us in the back end of the games.
"We added (Corey) Kluber and we added a couple of other starters that are going to help us go deep as well. So I think we're in a good position. I haven't played a full season yet, playing against every team in the American League, so I don't know exactly where we stack up. But I like our odds right now and I like the guys and the personalities that we have in there. I think we've got some role players and some contributors that are going to surprise some people."