How Red Sox Could (And Should) Handle Leadoff Spot To Open 2023

Triston Casas is an intriguing candidate to hit atop Boston's order


Mar 16, 2023

The leadoff spot was a problem for the Red Sox last season.

Boston ranked 29th in walk rate (6.4%), 27th in strikeout rate (24.2%), 25th in wRC+ (84), 22nd in OPS (.665) and 19th in batting average (.235) from atop the order.

Compare that to 2018 — when the Red Sox ranked first in four of those five categories (they ranked fifth in walk rate) with Mookie Betts as their full-time leadoff hitter — and it’s easy to see why Boston added someone like Masataka Yoshida this Major League Baseball offseason.

Yet, it doesn’t sound like the Red Sox will deploy Yoshida as their leadoff hitter in 2023, at least to start the season, despite the outfielder boasting contact skills and plate discipline befitting of the role. Boston manager Alex Cora said this spring he would like to split up Yoshida and Rafael Devers — two left-handed batters — and the former therefore is likely to hit in the middle of the order while the latter slots into the No. 2 spot.

So, who bats leadoff?

It remains an unsolved mystery with Opening Day two weeks away, but Cora mentioned several candidates Wednesday while speaking with reporters in Fort Myers, Fla.: Kiké Hernández, Christian Arroyo, Rob Refsnyder, Alex Verdugo and Triston Casas.

Cora intends to mix and match, rather than lean on one specific player. Hernández, Arroyo and Refsnyder (right-handed hitters) are options against left-handed starters, while Verdugo and Casas (left-handed hitters) could see time atop the order versus right-handers.

Makes sense. Why hamstring yourself when you can tinker with the lineup in a way that potentially takes advantage of each matchup? If nothing else, some early season trial and error could uncover a worthy long-term solution while exposing who’s not cut out for the job.

But of the aforementioned quintet, Casas undoubtedly is the most fascinating candidate. Not only because he carries the highest upside, as a top prospect entering his first full big-league season. But also because his offensive skill set — an advanced approach centered around working counts, drawing walks and capitalizing on mistakes — theoretically should translate well to the leadoff spot.

“I want to get on base,” the 23-year-old first baseman recently told The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier. “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.”

Casas, listed at 6-foot-4, 252 pounds, looks like a prototypical cleanup hitter. And sure, there’s definitely an element of power to his game that would fit well down the order. But gone are the days when players are squeezed into rigid boxes. Fortune often favors those who think outside the box, and Casas batting leadoff with regularity is an outside-the-box idea that could pay dividends for Boston in 2023.

All told, as last season showed, the Red Sox’s leadoff situation is of the utmost importance as Boston turns the page and looks toward better overall results in the American League East.

Thumbnail photo via Nathan Ray Seebeck/USA TODAY Sports Images
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