Red Sox first base outlook: Can Casas reach All-Star level in 2024? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
Boston Red Sox spring training workouts are set to begin when pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers, Fla. on Feb. 14. Full squad workouts begin on Feb. 19.
Ahead of spring training, we're assessing the Red Sox's situation at each position for the 2024 campaign. We'll break down the players expected to play the position for Boston in 2024, followed by a confidence grade. These positional outlooks will be updated as moves are made in the offseason.
In this installment of the series, we focus on first base.
Casas entered his rookie 2023 season with lofty expectations. Boston's former No. 1 prospect was counted on as the team's primary first baseman following the departure of veteran Eric Hosmer, who played in 14 games for the Red Sox after the 2022 trade deadline.
After a rough April, Casas caught fire at the plate and was arguably the Red Sox's most consistent hitter. He slashed .291/.385/.531 with 21 homers and 57 RBIs in 107 games from May 1 on. The 24-year-old led the team in walks (70), OBP (.367), and OPS (.856) while finishing second in home runs (24).
That effort resulted in Casas placing third in American League Rookie of the Year voting behind Baltimore Orioles infielder Gunnar Henderson and Cleveland Guardians right-hander Tanner Bibee. Had it not been for his slow start, Casas would have had a legitimate shot at winning the award.
As encouraging as Casas' rookie season was, there's plenty of room for improvement, particularly on the defensive side. The 2018 first-round draft pick experienced some struggles at first base with the big-league club, a somewhat surprising development given the above-average defense he showcased as a minor leaguer.
Casas will also look to step up in a leadership role with veteran first baseman Justin Turner no longer in the clubhouse. According to Red Sox manager Alex Cora, he has made significant strides in that department over the last few months.
“He’s been kind of like our MVP this offseason," Cora said at Winter Weekend, via the Boston Herald. "He came here to visit hospitals, all that stuff, he went to the (Dominican Republic)… And then he went to Dallas (for Trevor Story’s minicamp), and he’s here. He went to Rookie Development Program. So, I think he understands who we are, where we’re at.
"It’s been a great offseason for him physically, mentally, understanding who is he for us, and I’m very proud of him.”
If Casas takes another step forward in his development in 2024, the Red Sox can trust him to be a franchise cornerstone for years to come. All signs point toward him once again being a bright spot for a Boston club hoping to avoid yet another last-place finish in the AL East.
Dalbec remains a candidate to be traded before the 2024 season, but as the roster currently stands, he projects to serve as Boston's backup first baseman.
Cora said as much in December:
“I think there’s a great opportunity for Bobby to be part of this,” Cora said at the Winter Meetings, per MassLive’s Chris Cotillo. “He can play first. He can play third. He played the outfield toward the end of the season. He’s been able to hit lefties. In the situation we’re in right now, it makes sense for him. If everything goes well and nothing changes, there’s a good chance that he’ll be that guy.”
Dalbec, 28, appeared in only 21 games for the big-league club last year. There was little need for him on the roster with Casas and Justin Turner handling first base duties. If Turner doesn't return next season, Dalbec presumably would assume his role as a backup first baseman/designated hitter who can hit left-handed pitching. As Cora explained, he also brings some value with his defensive versatility.
In 114 games last season with Triple-A Worcester, Dalbec hit .269 with 33 homers, 79 RBIs and a .938 OPS. While he hasn't been able to carry that success into the majors, it looks like he'll get at least one more chance to carve out a consistent role with the club.
First base confidence grade: B+
There's always a chance Casas experiences a sophomore slump, but he's the least of the Red Sox's worries heading into the 2024 campaign. He'll be one of the few reasons to watch games if Boston struggles yet again.
Depth at the position is a concern. Dalbec can't be relied on as the everyday first baseman if Casas goes down. That's the one thing preventing this confidence grade from reaching the A range.