Tomase: The case for Triston Casas as Red Sox' leadoff hitter


All spring, we've wondered whom the Red Sox might bat leadoff, and all along the answer has been staring us in the face -- all 6-foot-4, and 260-odd pounds of him.

In a different time, the idea of batting Triston Casas atop the order would've been insane. Players possessing his natural size and power bat fourth or fifth, end of story.

But the analytics revolution has changed the approach to lineup construction considerably in the last five years alone. While much has been made of the decision to bat your best hitter second -- something the statisticians have advocated for years -- we're seeing a shift even further up the order.

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None other than American League single-season home run record holder Aaron Judge actually spent September as New York's leadoff hitter, where he batted .366 and smashed 13 homers.

He served as the Yankees' No. 2 hitter for most of the year, joining sluggers such as Mike Trout, Juan Soto, and Boston's very own Rafael Devers. All would've hit third for most of baseball's long history, but the times have changed. And that opens the door for someone like Casas to set the table while also occasionally clearing it.

In the midst of an outstanding spring that has seen him hit .382, Casas further made his case to lead off during Wednesday's Grapefruit League tilt vs. the Tigers. Batting second, he went 1 for 3 with a walk, his single coming at the end of an 11-pitch at-bat and his walk requiring eight pitches.

That's exactly the kind of patience and selectivity the Red Sox would love to see atop the order, and if Casas can provide those skills, it doesn't matter that he'll never be mistaken for Mookie Betts or Ichiro.

"We haven't had a real leadoff guy since Mookie left," manager Alex Cora told reporters, including Alex Speier of The Boston Globe. "You can ask all the coaches who the leadoff guy is and they can give you 10 different answers, but (Casas) is a guy that at certain times will do that because of who he is and what he can do."

Times have changed. National League home run leader Kyle Schwarber blasted 38 of his 46 homers out of the leadoff spot last year. Seattle's hulking Rookie of the Year, Julio Rodriguez, spent a third of the season there. Five-tool superstars Betts and Ronald Acuna Jr. of the Braves primarily lead off.

So why not Casas?

"I want to get on base," he told the Globe. "I don't need to try to force power to really display it. So I feel like my skill set does fit in the leadoff spot. I feel like I can grind an at-bat. I can get on base. I can jump ship. It just depends on the situation, depends on the conditions as well. But I think the versatility of my game plays in all parts of the lineup."

The Red Sox will likely mix and match atop the order, depending on left vs. right matchups. Cora has already said he wants to split up Masataka Yoshida and Devers, which means Yoshida would likely bat cleanup.

That creates an opportunity for Casas, and he probably boasts the best skillset among the other candidates Cora has mentioned (Kiké Hernández, Christian Arroyo, Rob Refsnyder, Alex Verdugo), since he's so selective.

"He swings at the right ones and takes the right ones," Cora told reporters.

Red Sox fans of a certain age will remember another slugger with high walk totals who led off against his type, and it's outfielder Dwight Evans. He actually led off the 1986 season with a home run against Hall of Famer Jack Morris in Detroit, and he went on to spend 160 games in the first spot in his career.

More recently, Schwarber turbocharged the Red Sox offense out of the top spot in the order in the playoffs after arriving from the Nationals at the 2021 trade deadline.

Perhaps Casas will join their ranks. The game has changed, and if Judge can hit leadoff, anyone can.

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