Why Red Sox manager Alex Cora isn’t worried about Triston Casas striking out

ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 06: Triston Casas #36 of the Boston Red Sox hits a two run home run in the second inning during a game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on September 06, 2022 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 06: Triston Casas #36 of the Boston Red Sox hits a two run home run in the second inning during a game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on September 06, 2022 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

Boston Red Sox rookie Triston Casas is still learning at the plate

In the first few days of his big-league career, Triston Casas has already provided a glimpse of the appetizing power that made him one of the top prospects in the Boston Red Sox farm system as well as a reminder of the struggles rookies often have at adapting to big league pitching.

In the second inning of Tuesday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays, Casas blasted the first home run of his major league career. The 371-ft, 2-run shot to right field pulled the Sox to within one run after they fell behind early and made the 22-year-old the youngest Sox first baseman to hit a home run since George Scott on Sept. 6, 1966, according to Boston Sports Info.

His first ride in the home run cart was an unforgettable moment for Casas but the euphoria quickly faded as the Rays pitching staff spent the rest of the night serving a hat trick to the rookie. Casas struck out in his next three plate appearances, including the out that ended the game in the ninth inning.

Casas has now struck out five times in 12 plate appearances for a whopping 41.7 K% and he’s still searching for his first walk at the major league level. While this might lead you to believe that Casas is struggling with plate discipline, that hasn’t actually been the case.

During NESN’s postgame coverage, manager Alex Cora explained why he was impressed by the rookie’s approach at the plate.

"“You see the quality of the at-bats. He knows the strike zone. I know he struck out a few times today, but they’re deep counts, stay away from certain areas. This is what he is. He’s a guy that understands the strike zone, and he’s gonna keep learning.”"

Casas struck out in the fourth inning but only after getting ahead 2-0. The count evened at 2-2 after Casas fouled off a pair of fastballs. He then swung threw a slider for strike three. Casas wasn’t chasing the pitch though, it was in the zone. He may have been fooled by the slider after seeing three consecutive fastballs in the 95-97 mph range but it was a pitch he had to swing at with two strikes.

After falling behind on the first two pitches he saw in the seventh inning, Casas battled back to even the count at 2-2. He struck out swinging on the sixth pitch when lefty reliever Brooks Raley went inside with a sinker. Again, it was a pitch in the zone that Casas had to swing at with two strikes.

His night ended when Casas struck out on four pitches in the ninth. All three strikes were swings-and-misses against a changeup from Jason Adam. The journeyman reliever has revitalized his career by joining the changeup factory in Tampa Bay. It’s a pitch he seldom utilized earlier in his career but the Rays have a knack for teaching pitchers how to throw a changeup. It’s now his second-most frequently used pitch and his favorite to attack left-handed hitters with. Adam is holding opposing hitters to a .113 average with his changeup, per Baseball Savant. We can hardly fault Casas for being overmatched by the pitch in his third major league game.

The trio of strikeouts seems ugly but his approach at the plate was still encouraging. Many young hitters get themselves out by being too eager to swing. Casas isn’t flailing wildly at everything. He’s not chasing bad pitches. According to FanGraphs, Casas has swung at 49% of the pitches he’s seen, which is a little above average. He’s swinging at 31% of pitches outside of the zone, which would tie him for 84th among 141 qualified MLB hitters.

A sky-high 17.6% Swinging Strike rate is a slight concern but many of those strikes are pitches he should be swinging at. Watching called strikes isn’t going to improve his performance, it would only lead to Eck calling him a pair of shoes form the NESN booth.

The primary culprit behind his early struggles is that Casas isn’t making enough contact on pitches in the zone, with an 81.3 Z-Contact% that would place him near the bottom among qualified hitters. In fairness, Rafael Devers (79.4%) is one of the few hitters who has been worse at making contact in the zone but not many people are worried about whether or not he can handle big league pitching.

Casas has shown solid patience at the plate with a keen batting eye that allows him to lay off pitches outside of the zone. Eventually, the free passes will come, as they did during his stint in Triple-A Worcester this year when he posted a healthy 14.5 BB%. That discipline hasn’t suddenly abandoned him with his leap to the majors.

Casas needs to improve his contact rate on pitches in the zone. Major league pitchers throw with more velocity and their breaking balls are sharper with late movement that he’s not accustomed to seeing as often in the minor leagues. It’s a learning experience. From everything we’ve learned about Casas, he has a strong work ethic and the ability to make adjustments. There’s no doubt he’ll catch up.

The Red Sox have been impressed with the rookie’s poise and plate discipline. He’s capable of spraying the ball around to all fields and he understands the strike zone. As long as he keeps that approach at the plate, the strikeout rate is bound to plummet and the hits will start piling up.

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