Welcome to BP Boston’s second annual Roster Recap series. Over the next few months, we’ll be analyzing every player on Boston’s 40-man roster and many of their top prospects in order to provide a comprehensive overview of the Red Sox roster’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as what we can expect moving forward. From MVP-candidate right fielders to reserve relievers, we want to give you a look at every Red Sox who might matter in 2017. View the complete list of Roster Recaps here. Enjoy!
When the Red Sox drafted Bobby Dalbec 118th overall in the 4th round of last year’s draft, it was safe to say there was some head-scratching. It seemed like a bit of a reach considering they drafted him as a third baseman and he had just come off a College World Series performance where he made the biggest impact on the mound. That’s right, Dalbec was a two-way player at Arizona, where he had thrown 108 innings on the year, appearing in four games as a starter.
As a hitter he had taken a big step back, going from .319 his sophomore year to just .266 in 2016 as a junior, opening up a myriad of questions about his ability to make contact. On the pitching side he was looking like a stud. Without a few of his gutsy performances during the playoffs, including seven innings of one-run ball vs. Oklahoma State, the Arizona Wildcats would not have advanced to the finals. While Arizona would ultimately succumb to Coastal Carolina, Dalbec gained the opportunity to start over as solely a hitter.
What went right in 2016
Hitting and pitching at Arizona wore Dalbec right out. He was exhausted. In an interview with Matt Huegel at SoxProspects he stated, “I’ve never really been a big fan of pitching.” He also said, “I’ve thrown 108 innings this year. Trying to hit at the same time, it’s pretty tough from a mental standpoint.” These are points that are hard to argue. If you don’t enjoy it and it takes away time you could spend on hitting, then it makes sense to ditch it. That is exactly what Dalbec did and the results bore out real success.
The knocks on Dalbec have always been too much swing and miss and issues with pitch recognition. Dalbec’s swing was long and had too many holes, so adjustments needed to be made. The Red Sox immediately started working with him to retool his swing to better cater to these weaknesses. The first step he took was to switch back to an open stance with his feet closer together and his hands higher up. This is something that had worked for him to great effect in the Cape Cod league during 2015. The second thing was emphasizing a focus on using all parts of the field. As Dalbec said, “I don’t know anyone that is successful just trying to pull the ball.”
These changes worked to great effect during his 34-game stint with the Lowell Spinners: he slashed .386/.427/.674 while hitting 21 extra base hits. His 65 raw power showed through and he looked less like Wily Mo Pena and more like Kris Bryant. The swing change, added rest and focus paid off as his whiff rate dropped from 31 percent in college down to just 23 percent in the New York-Penn League. The package here was looking much more like the prospect Baseball America had ranked 18th overall before the 2016 season rather than the one that we had seen during his inconsistent final season.
What went wrong in 2016
While nothing went wrong at Lowell there were plenty of things to complain about at Arizona. As Dalbec’s average plummeted reports arose questioning his ability to handle elite velocity on the outer half of the plate and off-speed pitching. In the field he was just average, showing limited range which he made up for with a cannon for a right arm. There was little doubt he could stick at the position but he was starting to look like a fringe average defender and a three true outcomes hitter rather than an impact guy. Simply put this was not a package that screamed fourth-round pick. The mid 90’s fastball coupled with two breaking balls made him look more attractive as a pitching prospect to some.
What to expect in 2017
This year will be all about seeing what Bobby Dalbec: professional hitter, looks like. He’s likely to kick off the season at Low-A Greenville, and we will all be looking to see if the adjustments he made last summer are maintained or if he falls back into his old habits. Former manager Iggy Suarez credits him with being a diligent worker, sp we’ll see if the work pays off. I am optimistic that it will and that at 21-years-old he will be able to adequately handle the level.
Now a consensus top-10 prospect for the Red Sox, the ceiling for Dalbec is that of a first-division regular if he can make the contact necessary to utilize his massive raw power. He will never have a plus hit tool but a .240 hitter with 30 home runs is certainly not out of the question. If the ability to make contact and recognize off-speed pitching never comes then Dalbec will likely need to look outside of baseball for a career. The profile is one of high risk and high reward, based on the evidence I have seen thus far I would bet on Dalbec maintaining his adjustments getting one step closer to the major leagues.
Photo by Kelly O’Connor/www.sittingstill.smugmug.com