State of the Sox: First Base
Once again, we'll be doing a position-by-position breakdown of Boston's roster to identify where the team needs to improve before the start of the 2021 season. We'll start by examining the team's first basemen. Although the Sox have several potential options at first base, none are sure things, leaving the team with a group with plenty of upside, but plenty of possible downside. This article was guest-written by Ryan. Follow him on Instagram @red_sox_gameday!
In-house options to play first in 2021:
Bobby Dalbec—Dalbec played in 23 games in 2020, and was extremely impressive. Playing in the majors for the first time, the then-25 year-old hit .263 with 8 home runs. He destroyed lefties to the tune of .296/.321/.741/1.062, but also hit righties surprisingly well, OPSing .903 against them with 5 homers in just 64 plate appearances. However, although Dalbec made an impressive, exciting first impression, Boston needs to see him sustain this type of performance over a larger sample size before anointing him the long-term answer at first. Furthermore, Dalbec struck out 39 times in only 80 at bats—it’s possible to be successful while striking out a lot, but that number is startlingly high. If he can continue to mash both righties and lefties, and can lower his strikeout rate to under 35%, Dalbec looks poised to have a true breakout season in 2021—if, however, he continues to strike out at an absurdly high clip, and his power drops off as pitchers make adjustments, the Red Sox may be in trouble.
Michael Chavis- Chavis is another potential in-house to play first, but I’m not so sure that he’s the answer. Chavis impressed in 2019, especially the first half of the year, during which he hit .263 with 15 homers, good for an OPS of .799. However, his performance completely fell off in the second half of 2019, and he continued to disappoint in 2020. Now, 2020 was an extremely weird season, and many players struggled. Chavis, however, finished the season hitting only .212 with a .259 OBP and slugged just .377, totaling and OPS of .636. Granted, it was a 60 game season during a pandemic, and one can see how he might have turned it around in 100 additional games had it been a normal season. That said, he was awful in 2020, and is going to need to drastically improve if he’s to be seen as a viable major league player moving forward.
Minor League candidates to watch in 2021:
Josh Ockimey—Ockimey is a power hitting lefty first baseman who spent 2019 in AAA. He hit 25 home runs in 122 games in 2019, but hit only .204 and struck out 139 times. The 2020 minor league season was, of course, cancelled, and it remains to be seen how that affects his development. He’s going to be in his age 25 season in 2021, but unless he can start making more contact, I don’t think he will see much time if any at the MLB level this season barring injury to one of the MLB players.
Triston Casas—Casas is Boston’s top overall prospect, and has an extremely exciting future. That said, it is unlikely we will see him in the bigs in 2021—he simply needs more time to develop, especially after the lost season in 2020. Casas has looked fantastic since being drafted in 2018 (he hit .256 with 20 homers in 120 games as a 19 year old in 2019), but he most likely won’t be ready until mid-2022.
Now that we’ve had a look at some of our current first base options, we can see that there’s some potential upside there, but a lot of unanswered questions. Dalbec looks to have the inside track to be the starter in 2021, but ideally the team would add a lefty to possibly platoon with him in case he struggles against righties. Boston could reunite with Mitch Moreland or Travis Shaw, or they could explore adding a lefty through a trade, but the first base position is not particularly promising as it currently stands. It’s possible Chavis can return to first-half of 2019 form or even better, and maybe Dalbec can keep up the momentum he built in 2020—however, betting on either of those scenarios is extremely risky if the team intends to compete.
I believe that Chaim Bloom is not yet done adding free agents, and that he will bring Mitch Moreland back to the Red Sox. This would benefit the team in 2021, as he was having a great season for Boston in 2020 before being traded to San Diego (he hit .328/.430/.746/1.177 with 8 homers in 22 games before the trade), and seems like the perfect player to hold down the fort while we wait for Dalbec and Casas to further develop. Alternatively, the team may not sign anyone else, and could take their chances with what they already have. This is risky, but if Boston finds itself in playoff contention at the trade deadline, this option could open up the possibility of adding a veteran to help down the stretch and into the playoffs, similar to how the team added Steve Pearce in 2018.