The first 6+ weeks of the 2022 season have been awful for the Boston Red Sox. They plummeted to the bottom of the division and until this past week, struggled to win more than a single series. Now things appear to be pointing in a more positive direction and the flashy signing on offense for the Red Sox this offseason is at the heart of the offensive explosion. Over the past 5 games, Trevor Story has started to show the Fenway faithful why Chaim Bloom wanted him in the lineup every day. He has amassed 8 hits and 5 HRs in 5 games, including 4 HRs in his last 2 games, including 12 RBI over that span. He’s also been patient at the plate, drawing a walk in 6 of his last 7 games while striking out just 2 times. A rough start to the season for Story has now begun to turn around.
Over his career, entirely with the Colorado Rockies until this year, Story is a .270 hitter (including this year’s struggles) with 164 HRs. He was aided a bit by the thin air of Coors Field in Denver, but generally is a decent average, bigger power bat averaging 34 HRs per 162 games. As recently as May 15th, Story was hitting an abysmal .196 with 2 HRs in 112 at-bats, which is a HR every 56 at-bats. That’s a far cry from his numbers prior to this year, with a HR every 17.9 at-bats and obviously a significant drop in average (-.076). No matter how you slice it, that’s bad and is not because of the change in uniform or home ballpark. In just the past 5 days, Story has improved his average to .231 with 6 HRs, now with a HR every 21.7 at-bats. Its a sure-fire sign that he’s finally starting to settle into Boston after changing teams and uprooting his life in Colorado.
I certainly don’t expect Story to continue this insane run of power for an extended period of time, but it’s a true glimpse into the impact he can make in the lineup, not just defensively. He’s not going to hit for .300+ every year, but can carry the offense with his power for stretches of time. As he begins to hit, it puts tremendous pressure on the opposing pitcher knowing that there is another dangerous bat lurking besides Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and JD Martinez. If he can correct the ship and be even a .250 hitter with 25-30 HRs a season, that’s 4 big bats who can all easily hit 20-25 HRs, if not more, anchoring the lineup. If Bobby Dalbec or Triston Casas, when he eventually gets the call, can also live up to their potential, this lineup could have 5 guys in that boat. That becomes a scary order to face.
Ultimately, I’m just happy that Story is finally able to take a breath and contribute to the box score. Boston fans are passionate and can be ruthless at times and even in his short tenure, he’s felt the good and the bad. He was booed on multiple occasions at Fenway just a few weeks ago and the last few nights has felt the warmth and love. He was clearly pressing early in the year, trying to prove he was worth the big contract and now has the opportunity to settle down and just do what he does best, play baseball. We’re seeing more smiles and a seemingly more relaxed Story in the batters box, which is good for everyone involved. As he continues to grow into his role with the Red Sox, Story has the potential to be a fan favorite given his calm, down-to-earth personality. Hopefully, the early bumps and bruises are in the rearview mirror.
Three HRs on Thursday and a grand salami on Friday. What can Story do to top that on Saturday and Sunday? Who knows, but this is finally a team I’m excited to watch on a daily basis.
I’ve started to write something about this Red Sox team for nearly a month now and just couldn’t bring myself to finish a full thought. I wanted to find answers or see the silver lining, but frankly it’s becoming an incredibly difficult team to watch, root for, or understand. It began with the embarrassing fails of extension talks with Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts in Spring Training and the mood hasn’t improved from there. On the field, it’s been even worse. From the early season disaster that is 2/3 of the lineup to the surprising overachieving of the pitching staff that is now shooting back to earth, it feels like this team is both in contention for every game they play and at the same time finding new and creative ways to take the L. Every time it seems like maybe they are turning a corner, the door swings back and slams them in the face. Now 31 games into the 2022 season and 11.5 games back in the AL East, 2 games behind the Baltimore Orioles, some of the decision making appears as if Chaim Bloom and the Red Sox have given up on 2022 and are preparing for the future.
The early season offensive struggles overshadowed the strong performances from the pitching staff. At one point the Red Sox had one of the best bullpens in baseball statistically and were getting some solid starting pitching, but were losing low-scoring 1-run games thanks to the anemic lineup. Three of their starters (4 if you count Garrett Whitlock as a starter) have sub-3 ERAs and have started the season really strong. Arguably their #4 or #5 starter on opening day was Michael Wacha, who before his recent injury, was 3-0 with a 1.38 ERA allowing 4 earned runs and just 13 hits in 26 innings. Despite some shaky outings as of late, the Red Sox bullpen has actually been impressive on the season. Hansel Robles (2.70), Austin Davis (2.70), Ryan Brasier (2.45), Matt Strahm (2.70), Tyler Danish (2.35) all have sub-3 ERAs and have frankly overachieved. Thanks to the lack of offense, their outings have mostly been in high-pressure situations (1 or 2 run games), which is just not sustainable.
Lately, the glaring lack of a closer thanks to the Tanner Houck and Garrett Whitlock pitcher mismanagement has been a big problem. To be fair to Red Sox management, Houck didn’t exactly help the situation by not getting vaccinated and not being available for the Toronto series in Canada. Thanks to some starting depth and injury issues as well as his desire, the Red Sox are working to get Whitlock into a consistent starting role which leaves a massive hole on the back end of the bullpen that he could, and probably should, fill. If you know me at all, you know I love Matt Barnes, but at this point there is no reason he should be in the major league bullpen or throwing in major league games. Something is clearly wrong and continuing to send him out to the mound is certainly not helping. Not having your best arm, Whitlock, for clutch late game situations is proving to be a massive issue if the Red Sox plan to try and compete in 2022. If they are already looking forward to 2023, then the decision makes more sense.
The decision making around Tanner Houck is also incredibly confusing if you are trying to win in 2022. He was really strong to start the season as a rotation arm in 3 starts, then after the Toronto series when he was unavailable due to his vaccination status, it went downhill no thanks to his odd usage. He pitched out of the bullpen the day before the trip to Toronto and threw a solid 1.2 innings with 2 Ks in the loss to Tampa Bay. Then the day following the trip he pitched 3 innings (5th, 6th, and 7th) against the Orioles getting the win with 3 BBs and 4 Ks and then was not reinserted into the depleted rotation and not used until 5 games later. He came in as a reliever after a long layoff and gave up 7 runs in 3 innings against the Angels. After throwing 56 pitches, he started 3 days later and allowed 3 runs in 2.2 innings before being lifted after 39 pitches. The 25-year old came into this year as a starter and now the Red Sox can’t figure out what to do with him and are just throwing him into different situations seemingly at random. If they were looking toward success in 2022, they should be using him as a starter, especially when the rotation has as many injuries as it does. To push Houck aside a bit to get Whitlock starts doesn’t make sense in the short-term. I’m normally not a big “role” guy, but in this case, the Red Sox need to stop toying around with Houck and Whitlock and just make some decisions on roles.
I’ve spilled a lot of metaphorical ink in my rant about this team and I haven’t even touch the lineup yet. The offensive production is by far the most disappointing and embarrassing element of the 2022 Red Sox. After a strong offensive season in 2021, the Red Sox made a few moves that at very least should have kept the status quo of success, if not improve it. Swapping Hunter Renfroe for Jackie Bradley Jr.was a downgrade in the batters box, but the addition of Trevor Story at 2nd base was a big improvement in the everyday production. At least it should have been. As we sit here in mid-May, the Red Sox are averaging 3.45 runs per game, the 3rd worst in all of baseball only ahead of the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers, and frankly that’s a bit inflated because they have scored 4.67 runs per game in their last 3 games thanks to dropping 9 runs on Tuesday. That’s a pretty stark contrast to their 4th best 5.14 runs per game last season and 4.87 runs per game in 2020. Looking even deeper, this is historically bad lineup production and the first time a Red Sox team has averaged under 4 runs per game since 2014 (3.91) and the lowest franchise mark since 1907. Yes, you read that right, the Red Sox team hasn’t scored under 3.5 runs per game since 1907 and that was the only year it happened since records started being kept in 1901.
Needless to say, there is room for improvement on offense. There have been occasional signs of life, but as fans we’re waiting for the big turn of momentum. Trevor Story finally hit his first HR of the season on Wednesday, which is a promising sign, but the Red Sox still couldn’t produce more than 3 runs and lost on a walkoff HR. Kike Hernandez is batting .161 on the season and frankly it looks even worse than the numbers and Bobby Dalbec is even worse sitting at .148 with 1 HR and 3 RBI in 28 games. It’s not just bad, it’s epically bad at this point and even if the offense turns it around and gets going, 9 games under-.500 is a massive hole to dig out from in the AL East. All this offseason there were questions about when Triston Casas gets his shot in the big leagues, but I’m not sure it’s even healthy for him to come up at this point. He’s probably better off in Worchester with a lineup that isn’t digging themselves a massive hole, at least until it’s clear that the season is over and they’re just playing for pride and 2023 (which is just around the corner).
With an eye towards 2023, this team has a lot of question marks, with Xander Bogaerts at the top of that list. We had hoped that this year would be a strong one and regardless of the future, Xander would help lead a deep run. If this season continues to roll downhill and it’s clear to management that Bogaerts is not likely to return next season, do the Red Sox trade him at the deadline to get some value back? After what seems like a completely demoralizing first stretch of the season, does that impact Bogaerts’ interest in signing in Boston long term? If Bogaerts leaves, what happens with Devers and his contract? I can’t believe I’m even suggesting it at this point, but 2022 seems to be a complete wash given the current play and the division. What is the future of this team and particularly the major pieces on this roster?
I would love to be proven wrong and everyday hope for the moment that turns the tides, but there is nothing right now to indicate that 2022 should be a focus and a massive winning streak is on it’s way. Underperformance is manageable in stretches, but 30+ games of it is debilitating. We’re approaching the 1/4 tent-pole on the season and so far, it’s just hard to watch and this team is hard to root for. I’m not sure I’m ready to throw in the 2022 towel just yet, but I’m getting pretty damn close.
When the Red Sox decided to hire Chaim Bloom as their new GM, they made a choice about the future. The minor league system had been depleted and was one of the worst in baseball under the previous leadership. The ownership wanted to reverse that pattern and build the system back up, while hopefully still putting a competitive product on the field. After a rough and odd 2020, the Red Sox were very competitive in 2021, reaching the ALCS while also taking care of the minor league system. In MLB’s system rankings released in December, the Red Sox jumped 12 spots, to the 12th best system in baseball.
The 12 spot jump from preseason to now was the largest of any team and is a true testament to Bloom and his staff. Bloom didn’t make the big trade deadline moves many wanted despite feeling the pressure to complete for a title this year. Instead, he made a few moves that didn’t dramatically impact the work being done to build the future pipeline within the organization. He proved that you can be competitive at the highest level while also focusing on the future. The breakout of Tristan Casas and Jaren Duran have boosted the system’s depth and have given the Red Sox something they haven’t had in awhile: prospect talent close to being major-league ready.
Assuming the 2022 season gets underway, it will be a pivotal campaign for the Red Sox. The rapid growth of prospects in the system is great, but the big question for me is whether they continue the upward trajectory or plateau after such a rapid rise? If the top 10 prospects continue to grow, then Bloom will either have some MLB talent to fill out the roster or some really strong trade bait to keep the Red Sox competitive at the trade deadline and even use the assets as needed to make a deep run into October. No matter how you look at the growth it is a positive rebuild from the Dave Dombrowski era of selling out for a title.
As I look at the top 25 prospects in the Red Sox system, the thing that jumps out at me is the middle infield depth at the top. The top pick this past year and the #1 or #2 rated prospect in the system (depending on the list), SS Marcelo Mayer, is an interesting unknown with such little professional experience. He was a high schooler when drafted #4 and many believed at the time of the draft that he had #1 talent. The left-handed bat is only 19 and will need to develop for a few years before having a look at the top level, but could be a huge asset in the infield in the future if he pans out. Both SS/2B Jeter Downs, who is closer to MLB ready, and 2B Nick Yorke provide some interesting future options in the infield as well, whether they end up at SS, 2B, or even 3B eventually. With some uncertainty around the future of Xander Bogaerts and his contract along with a long-term hole at 2nd base, this group could be critical to the future for the Red Sox.
The other obvious prospect to keep an eye on is 1B Triston Casas. He rose rapidly later in 2021 and proved he can play against solid competition by crushing the ball playing for Team USA at the Olympics. I wrote more about him in August, so don’t want to rehash my love for him, but by all accounts, he is close to MLB ready and could provide a nice left-handed power bat in the lineup. With Bobby Dalbec as a strong righty bat, a Casas/Dalbec platoon at first could be an incredibly powerful young tandem. While one starts, the other could get a few looks at 3B (both have experience at the hot corner), DH, or provide a strong pinch-hitter off the bench late in games. If Dalbec has a stretch during the season where he is struggling like in 2021, Casas can step in and carry the load.
Overall, Bloom has to be happy with the impressive turnaround of the Red Sox prospect system from a liability to an asset. The job is obviously not done, it never ends, but the upward trajectory of the system is exciting.
A few weeks ago, the notion of 1B/3B Triston Casas as a major leaguer would have been somewhat laughable. He’s a top prospect and is on an upward trajectory to the big leagues, but still hasn’t risen above AA yet and only has 46 games at that level. Then came the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and he was able to perform on a larger platform against solid competition. The 6’4″ 252Lb left-handed bat appeared in three games so far for team USA and has batted .308 with 2 HRs and 6 RBIs out of the cleanup spot.
The 21-year old, #1 prospect in the Red Sox system has now pushed his way into the conversation around the gap in talent at 1B in the big leagues. The Red Sox traded for OF Kyle Schwarber and leadership has made it clear they want to try him at first base once he is healthy, but they could also use depth in the OF if Jarren Duran continues to struggle mightily at the plate. Could the solution actually be to give Casas a look in the majors at 1B and then use Schwarber at DH and in the OF? Is there really any harm in giving him a look over the next 2-3 weeks?
Casas was drafted out of American Heritage High School in Plantation, FL as the 26th pick in the first round in the 2018 MLB Draft. He is attempting to follow in the footsteps of another notable American Heritage alum, 1B Eric Hosmer. Casas has continued to rise up prospect lists and in his first full year in the system in 2019, spent the majority of the year in Greenville and hit .256 with 20 HRs and 81 RBIs in 120 games (500 PAs). After a lost year for the minors in 2020, this year in AA Portland, Casas has just 6 HRs in 46 games (195 PAs), but has worked to improve his average to .271. As we have seen in Tokyo, the power is certainly still there, but it appears he is working to have a higher average to pair with his power stroke.
Potential everyday regular. Ceiling of an all-star capable of hitting for both average and significant power. Looks the part of a prototypical bat-first first baseman capable of anchoring a lineup. Projects to add some value defensively at first base. Hit tool still needs development and will have to ensure the swing-and-miss in his game does not impact his ability to tap into his power. Strong instincts and feel for the game.
Many prospect analysts, like the above quoted SoxProspects.com, see Casas as an everyday first baseman with a chance to anchor a lineup and maybe even rise to all-star level. That’s not small praise and is a strong indicator of how he is viewed. While he could use more development time, he seems to be ready and potentially able to make a difference at a position of dire need for the Red Sox right now and can continue to develop in the big leagues. Defensively, he will be beyond Schwarber’s ability day one and is frankly probably better than Bobby Dalbec is playing at the moment. SoxProspects.com described Casas defensively as “Confident picking out throws in the dirt. Moves well enough for first base. Potential above-average defender there.” While not glowing, that sounds pretty good to me right now.
Usually I’m a fan of having players develop in the minors for longer until they are ready, like I was with Duran, but it seems like the cards are aligning for Casas. His performance on the Olympic stage really impressed me and showed, at least to a small degree, that he can handle being placed in pressure situations. Peter Abraham (@PeteAbe) on Twitter reported in early July that veteran manager and Team USA skipper Mike Scioscia “was very impressed with how Triston Casas made game-to-game adjustments at the plate… especially for a 21-year-old.”
Now might be the time to take a look at Casas at 1B in the majors. If he really is that mature and able to handle pressure, the worst case scenario is a trip back to AA. The best case scenario: the beginning of a long and productive Red Sox career.