Casas parallels Pedroia with stellar rookie campaign

Red Sox first baseman named a finalist for 2023 AL Rookie of the Year Award

November 7th, 2023

It was May 1, and had just put up another 0-fer, shrinking his batting line to .128/.281/.282 in 96 plate appearances.

Not since in 2007 had a hyped Red Sox rookie struggled so mightily out of the gate. Instead of pulling the plug on Casas and sending him back to Triple-A to get more seasoning, the Red Sox instead pulled a page out of the Pedroia playbook.

They stuck with Casas through all the ups and downs of his first full season. And as was the case 16 years ago for Pedroia, there were far more ups than downs.

The impressive revival from Casas led to him being named as one of three finalists for the American League Rookie of the Year Award on Monday.

The last Boston player to be named Rookie of the Year? Pedroia.

“Any time I can get my name mentioned in the same sentence as Dustin Pedroia, I think I'm doing something right,” Casas said.

Though Orioles infielder is the favorite to win the award, it is impressive that Casas had the resilience and work ethic to get himself into the round of finalists. Guardians righty is the third finalist.

The winner will be revealed on Nov. 13.

Among qualified AL rookies with at least 400 at-bats, Casas finished first in OPS, slugging percentage and on-base percentage while finishing second in homers and walks, and fourth in RBIs.

From June 1 until his season ended on Sept. 14 due to a nagging right shoulder injury, Casas was as big a force as the Red Sox had in their lineup, putting together a line of .299/.397/.556 with 18 homers.

For the season, he hit .263 with 24 homers and an .857 OPS.

Casas, who will be 24 when next season starts, figures to be in the middle of Boston’s lineup for years to come.

Not only is Casas patient at the plate, but he hammers the ball to all fields.

In a late July interview, Casas explained his in-season turnaround.

“I think it's just been a steady progression for sure,” Casas said. “I can't pinpoint exactly when I started to feel more comfortable. But I think as every at-bat has gone on, I’ve felt more and more comfortable at the plate.

“Things are starting to slow down. I'm starting to get a better awareness of my barrel, trying to get a better feel for my timing as well. So all that comes with repetition, and thankfully I'm getting the opportunity to fail. So credit to [manager Alex Cora] and the staff for putting me in the lineup and allowing me to get comfortable.”

It is fitting that this all comes back to Cora. He was Pedroia’s backup and mentor on the 2007 Red Sox, and watched his protégé wash away that tough start to become a star.

Cora used the same patience with Casas that Terry Francona utilized with Pedroia. Cora enjoyed having a front-row seat for Casas’ torrid streak down the stretch.

“Offensively, he’s hitting the ball all over the place,” Cora said after a game in September. “He’s driving the ball to left-center. He’s getting his hits that way, and he doesn’t [get away from] his plan. At the end of the day, what he wants is to do damage in the zone, and if it’s not there, he’ll take his walks.”

Keeping tabs on his former team closely from his home in Arizona, Pedroia couldn’t help but appreciate the way Casas came on.

“You get thrown into an environment as a young player and there’s a lot of expectations,” Pedroia said. “At the big league level, it’s hard. There’s not a level higher. To have patience with a young player, obviously you take a hit in the short term, but in the long term you get so many gains as an organization. That’s what happened.

“Did everybody know he was going to hit? Yeah. Did they know it was going to take a month, two months, a year? You don’t know. You don’t know how many at-bats it’s going to take for a young player to be himself. To see what he’s doing is outstanding.

“The game is about adjustments and being able to adjust to the other team making adjustments to you. The faster you make adjustments, the better you’re going to be. I saw him making adjustments not only game to game but pitch to pitch.”