In a recent poll run by MLB.com, executives from across baseball were asked who they believe will win American and National League Rookie of the Year honors in 2023.
Five different players from the American League received votes, including Red Sox first baseman Triston Casas. Orioles infielder Gunnar Henderson (73 percent of the vote) finished atop the leaderboard while Casas and Astros right-hander Hunter Brown (nine percent each) tied for second. Yankees shortstop Anthony Volpe (six percent) and Rangers third baseman Josh Jung (three percent) rounded it out.
Casas made his major-league debut in September but did not register enough plate appearances to graduate from his rookie status. In his first 27 games with the Red Sox, the left-handed hitter batted .197/.358/.408 with one double, five home runs, 12 RBIs, 11 runs scored, one stolen base, 19 walks, and 23 strikeouts over 95 trips to the plate.
On the surface, a .197 batting average may indicate poor results offensively. But Casas impressed the Red Sox with his plate discipline down the stretch and wound up leading all American League rookies (min. 90 PAs) with a 20 percent walk rate. Using that same parameter, he also ranked fourth in on-base percentage and sixth in isolated power (.211), per FanGraphs.
Defensively, Casas made all 22 of his starts at first base and logged 198 innings at the position. While over there, 6-foot-4, 252-pounder was worth negative-two defensive runs saved, but he also accrued an ultimate zone rating of 0.2 and one out above average, according to Baseball Savant.
Prior to making his highly-anticipated debut last summer, Casas had missed a significant chunk of the minor-league season with a high right ankle sprain he sustained in May. As a result of all that missed time, the Red Sox sent Casas to the Dominican Republic to play winter ball for the Tigres del Licey back in October.
Casas appeared in three games for Licey before being shut down with knee discomfort. He flew back to Boston shortly thereafter to undergo further testing and an MRI revealed there was no structural damage. As opposed to sending him back to the Dominican, the Red Sox prescribed Casas rest and sent him home to Pembroke Pines, Fla. to recuperate. He just recently began incorporating baseball activities into his offseason workouts.
I’m progressing well with all my workouts and my swing progression has been on point,” Casas told Joe McDonald of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette last month. “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 later this week, is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 2 prospect in Boston’s farm system and the No. 19 prospect in the sport. He was originally selected by the Red Sox with the 26th overall pick in the 2018 amateur draft out of American Heritage High School.
When the hot stove season began in November, Casas was one of two left-handed hitting first baseman on the Sox’ 40-man roster alongside fellow Florida native Eric Hosmer. Hosmer has since been designated for assignment and subsequently released, so Casas — barring a surprising trade — appears to be on his way to becoming Boston’s everyday first baseman heading into spring training.
Since releasing Hosmer, however, the Red Sox have signed veteran infielder Justin Turner to a one-year, $15 million deal that includes a player option for 2024. Turner, primarily a third baseman in his nine seasons with the Dodgers, is expected to serve as Boston’s primary designated hitter, but the 38-year-old could also spell Casas at first base on occasion since he hits from the right side of the plate.
While that, in theory, could take away playing time from Casas, Casas himself will be looking to become the first Red Sox player to win Rookie of the Year Honors since Dustin Pedroia did so in 2007. And thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement, winning Rookie of the Year now goes beyond personal achievement.
When Major League Baseball and the MLB Players’ Association ratified a new collective bargaining agreement last March, a “prospect promotion incentive” was implemented to combat against service time manipulation. Teams who promote players with less than 60 days of service time to their Opening Day roster become eligible to receive an additional draft pick if one of those players goes on to win Rookie of the Year in the respective league.
The Mariners, for instance, were awarded an extra selection in the 2023 draft after Julio Rodriguez took home 2022 AL Rookie of the Year honors. Rodriguez and runner-up Adley Rutschman of the Orioles were each credited with a full year of service time as well since they finished first and second in voting and were included on two or more preseason top-100 prospect lists put out by Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, or ESPN.
Casas comes into the 2023 campaign with 32 days of service time under his belt and will more than likely be included on at least two of these three publications’ top prospect lists. As such, he would be in line to receive a full year of big-league service time if he places first or second in AL Rookie of the Year voting this fall. The Red Sox, meanwhile, would pick up an extra draft pick in 2024 if Casas were to win the award outright.
(Picture of Triston Casas: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)