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2023 In Review: Wilyer Abreu or Won’t-Yer Abreu?

Apologies for the title... the young outfielder made his debut in 2023 and impressed with the bat in his short time. What will his role be in 2024?

Boston Red Sox v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Brandon Sloter/Image Of Sport/Getty Images

2023 In One Sentence

Though not an immediate solution in the outfield, Wilyer Abreu quietly became a dependable option following his debut in a small, platoon-heavy sample.

The Positives

The return from the Christian Vazquez trade is looking pretty good. Enmanuel Valdez, a power hitter who is a versatile fielder, at least, though not a particularly sound one, got the early headlines at second base. But he might not end up being the best piece of the return. Wilyer Abreu, who would eventually be named to the postseason Triple-A All-Star team for Worcester (and would become a dad in August!), got the call to the Majors late in the season and used his opportunity to make a name for himself, as well. He hit two long balls in 85 plate appearances while hitting .316 (on an unsustainable BABIP of .431). and his WrC+ also held strong at 135, which is higher than he ever boasted in the minors. His offensive war was 2.9. His fastball runs above average was 4.5. He knew how to hit a fastball, simply put; the fact that he hit 22 home runs in 86 games in Worcester confirms that.

The Negatives

With a 44.6% swing rate, he didn’t know how to hit much else. Abreu’s runs above average value was below average on every other pitch he was offered. It’s also worth noting that Abreu struck out far more with Boston than he did in Worcester (27.1% to 20.4%), while also walking less (10.6% compared to 16.3%). And although Baseball Savant rates his arm strength at the 97th percentile (small sample size; he had just 40 putouts and 2 outfield assists with 1 error for a .977 fielding percentage), he’s not famous in the minors for his fielding excellence. He could be viable enough to not be a liability, though; and with the defensive woes the Red Sox have had over the last year, “not a liability” may just be good enough.

Show Me A Cool Highlight.

Here’s the game that made the Red Sox give him another look, amongst a streak in Worcester that saw him hit over .400 in a three-week stretch. On August 13, Abreu hit three home runs in one game. Sure, it was against Triple-A pitching. But it was still cool to see an outfielder essentially take batting practice during a game, especially as the big league team struggled to hit homers.

The Big Question/2024 and Beyond

How much time is Wilyer Abreu going to spend in the Major Leagues in 2024?

If all goes according to plan for the Red Sox — whatever “the plan” is, or if we can trust “the plan” — possibly not much. The Red Sox traded for young outfielder Tyler O’Neill, who also has a strong arm and can get on base. O’Neill is 28, four years older than Abreu, but has a higher ceiling. Abreu also has two more option years, which the Red Sox likely have every intention of utilizing given their depth. Rob Refsnyder, a lefty killer, is on the last year of his contract, while Masataka Yoshida has four years remaining, the first of which being the most vital to giving us an indication of what will happen in the duration. Then there’s Jarren Duran (whose injury amidst a breakout season led to Abreu making his debut), and Ceddanne Rafaela, a flashier, more athletic, higher-upside option than Abreu. There’s also the question of whether Bobby Dalbec will see any playing time in the outfield.

Given that we’re still speculating about the roster and writing Smash or Pass articles even though it’s almost February, it might be fair to say that we don’t yet know what the Red Sox’s plan for this crowded outfield is. But if the “plan” involves using developing talent, then we may see this promising young outfielder get a chance to strike out less and capitalize on his growing power in the coming year... or maybe years.