Nearly 10 weeks after a bout with knee soreness resulted in him being pulled out of the Dominican Winter League, Red Sox first baseman Triston Casas says he is in good spirits.
“The knee is feeling better,” Casas told Joe McDonald of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette on Friday. “It was a little bit of a scare when I was in the Dominican. I tried to play through it a little bit, assuming that it was just a kink because I hadn’t played in 10 days between the end of the big league season and the first game of that season.”
The Red Sox sent Casas to play winter ball in the Dominican in an effort to get him more at-bats. The 22-year-old went 2-for-9 (.222) with five RBIs in his first three games with the Tigres del Licey before being shut down in mid-October. He flew back to Boston shortly thereafter and underwent an MRI that revealed no structural damage.
While there was initially some optimism that Casas would be able to return to Licey’s lineup, that ultimately never happened and he instead recuperated from home in Florida.
“It healed up well,” Casas said in regards to resting his knee. “I’m starting to run, starting to sprint and progressing back to pretty much being 100-percent healthy.”
At home with his family in Pembroke Pines, Casas has begun incorporating more baseball activities into his offseason workouts as he prepares for the start of spring training in February.
“I’m progressing well with all my workouts and my swing progression has been on point,” said Casas. “I’m starting to incorporate some defensive drills. Defense for me is a lot of footwork, so I’ve been working on my agility and I’m confident it will translate onto the field.”
Casas, who turns 23 next month, enters the 2023 season ranked by Baseball America as the No. 2 prospect in Boston’s farm system. The left-handed hitter made his major-league debut in September and displayed quality plate discipline in the process of batting .197/.358/.408 with one double, five home runs, 12 RBIs, 11 runs scored, one stolen base, 19 walks, and 23 strikeouts in his first 27 games (95 plate appearances) with the Red Sox.
Because of what he showed down the stretch this year, the Red Sox now view Casas as their first baseman of the future. They made that much clear when they designated fellow left-handed hitting first baseman Eric Hosmer for assignment last week and officially released him on Thursday.
“Our roster isn’t complete yet,” chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said in a recent conversation with MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo. “But as we build our club, we feel it’s important to give Triston a clear lane, and that carrying two left-handed hitting first basemen would leave us short in other areas.”
Despite that vote of confidence from the club’s top decision maker, Casas understands that he will still have to earn the starting job at first base once he reports to Fort Myers. At the same time, though, the former first-round draft pick out of American Heritage High School in 2018 looks at his past track record in the minors as a reason why he should find success in the majors.
“It gives me chills just thinking about it,” Casas said. “It’s something I’ve been working towards for a very long time. I feel really confident that I’m going to do well. At this point in my career I’ve been able to succeed at every level and I don’t anticipate the major-leagues being any different. I make adjustments really well and I’m ready.”
Casas very well could have debuted for the Red Sox before rosters expanded in September, but he missed a significant amount of time (roughly two months) while with Triple-A Worcester due to a high right ankle sprain sustained in mid-May. That was one of the reasons why he went to play winter ball in the Dominican.
“Initially, I was really upset because I felt like I was on the verge of getting into a groove and potentially making a case to make the (big-league) roster,” said Casas. “But (the injury) put everything into perspective.”
After a brief rehab assignment in the Florida Complex League, Casas returned to Worcester on July 22. He slashed a stout .296/.404/.504 with five homers and 16 RBIs while playing above-average defense at first in 36 games (161 plate appearances) with the WooSox before getting called up to Boston on Sept. 4.
Although his surface level numbers — such as a .766 OPS — don’t necessarily jump off the chart, Casas did impress when it came to driving the ball to all fields as well as taking ball four. His 20.0 percent walk rate, for instance, ranked first among all American League rookies who made at least 90 trips to the plate in 2022, per FanGraphs.
The Red Sox were encouraged by Casas’ patient approach, among other things, which is why they felt comfortable enough to move on from Hosmer. That being said, there are some concerns when it comes to Casas’ durability seeing he dealt with two lower-body injuries this year alone. In an effort to combat these issues which have hindered his ability to swing a bat in the past, the 6-foot-5, 255-pounder noted that he has been trying to find the ideal playing weight for himself moving forward.
“During the season you lose weight, but right now I feel good where I’m at,” Casas said. “I’m going to try to stay at this weight, continue to get stronger and more agile and faster at this weight. My swing feels strong and fast, so I don’t feel the need to go on a diet, or try to bulk up at this point of my career. Right now 6-foot-5, 255 pounds is solid.”
Casas told McDonald that he is focused on his future with the Red Sox. The Red Sox, for their part, could look to lock in Casas — who is not yet eligible for salary arbitration — to a long-term contract extension before the 2023 season begins.
(Picture of Triston Casas: Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)