Welcome back to our annual positional preview series, in which we take stock of where the Red Sox stand everywhere on the depth chart for each position. At every spot on the diamond, we will look at where Boston stands on the major-league roster while also looking at their top prospects at the position. We will also take compare how the Red Sox look at the position compared to the rest of the division. Today, we cover the first base position.
The Red Sox undeniably have a very good core of hitters that should be able to carry the lineup to a certain floor, but to reach its ceiling of being one of the very best offenses in the game they need a few hitters to reach the upper levels of their range of outcomes. Dalbec is perhaps the biggest wildcard of that group. For much of last season, he was a disappointment, with his swing and miss issues resulting in his raw power coming through too infrequently, and an aggressive approach only making things worse. But then he went on a six-week tear in the second half, and ultimately finished the season with an above-average line. The power stood out, but it was the approach that really stood out. If he comes to the plate with a selective approach this year, then he’ll be a big part of the lineup. If he gets out of sync again and looks like he did in the first half last year, he may not end the season as the starter, or even in the organization considering the depth we’ll talk about soon.
Although he is not on the 40-man roster right now, having been originally signed to a minor-league contract, the way things are constructed right now Shaw should have a solid chance at making the roster out of camp. He has experience in Boston, can play a good first base (something Dalbec is still working towards), and has a left-handed bat to complement Dalbec. That’s not to say it will be a true platoon since Dalbec would still get more time than Shaw, but he checks a lot of the boxes Boston is looking for there. While he’s not the most exciting player on the roster, Shaw should provide some key relief both starting for Dalbec and coming off the bench late in games to face tough right-handed relievers.
Triston Casas, Roberto Ramos
We’re putting two players here for two reasons. One is that we’re going to discuss Casas in just a second, so I don’t want to spend too much time here except to say that, in the event of a long-term injury, or even a short-term one later in the year, he’ll be the guy to come up. In the first month or two of the season though, or at least that long, I suspect it’s Ramos who would get the nod. That’s mainly because they’d obviously be more comfortable jerking him around and maybe designating him for assignment if need be, but also because he’s an intriguing player. After a long time in the Rockies system, he went and hit well in the KBO the last couple of seasons. Strikeouts could be a problem, but as a third first baseman the power is enough to be intrigued.
Casas is not just the top first base prospect in the system, but arguably the top prospect overall. He checks most of the boxes you’re looking for in a top-level position player prospect. He’s close to the majors, as mentioned above. He has huge power. He has a tremendous approach. He’s adjusted well as he’s moved up the ladder. And he plays good defense. Of course, that defense coming at first base as opposed to a premium position limits his ceiling to some extent, but he still has every chance to be a lineup anchor with plenty of All-Star appearances to come if he continues to develop as he has so far. The margin of error is much slimmer for him than other prospects in his range around the game given what position he plays, but nothing he’s done since entering the organization suggests he doesn’t have what it takes to hit at the highest level.
It’s hard to find a sleeper at first base considering it’s a position where either you hit enough that you automatically get noticed, or you’re just not a prospect. So the easiest place to go here is with a 2021 draftee in Kavadas. Coming out of Notre Dame last year, he had a great senior year that ended with plenty of accolades and awards. He doesn’t have even the defensive ceiling of Casas, putting more pressure on the bat, and the hit tool and approach is not entirely in firm place. That said, the power is very real, and with an improvement in the hit tool he can move quickly as a big left-handed bat.
Other Prospects of Note
- Big Joe Davis has become something of a legend in the Red Sox system, which took him out of the running as a sleeper. But he’s not just a fun story. He’s got some skills at the plate too. Again, the defensive value is minimal but he’s got good raw power. The hit tool needs to develop if he is to have a major-league career, but at the very least he’s a good guy to have in the clubhouse coming through the system.
- Pedro Castellanos has long been a personal favorite of mine, and he added some versatility last year by playing in the outfield. If he stays in Portland, though, he should get back to first base where he best profiles. The issue for Castellanos has always been his good raw power from batting practice translating into games, but that issue has at least been less presence the last couple of seasons, even if it’s not gone completely.
- Nick Northcut entered the organization as a high-ceiling overslot player out of high school, but he failed to live up to that level in his first few years in the organization. However, he somewhat quietly had an impressive 2021 and could get back on the radar in 2022. As with others on this list, it really comes down to the hit tool playing up enough for his above-average raw power to play in games.
The top spot for the AL East first base power rankings was not at all complicated, with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. being the clear choice. He is one of the very best pure hitters in the league and a potential MVP candidate. He’s obviously number one here. The rest, though, could go in pretty much any order, I think. Anthony Rizzo in New York is the safest choice, but there have been signs of decline in recent years. Dalbec, we talked about above. Mountcastle is a similar profile, and I have him a tick above Dalbec based on prospect pedigree, but I think my mind could easily be changed. That leaves Ji-Man Choi in the last spot, largely because of a platoon role than anything else. But again, I think you could make a reasonable argument for any of the final four being in whatever order you want.
- Vladimir Guerrero Jr., TOR
- Anthony Rizzo, NYY
- Ryan Mountcastle, BAL
- Bobby Dalbec, BOS
- Ji-Man Choi, TB