August 30, 2016 at 10:00 AM
LOWELL, Mass. – Over the summer of 2015, Bobby Dalbec was in the midst punching his ticket for the first round of the MLB draft. After finishing his sophomore year at the University of Arizona strong, the third baseman was put up a .315/.432/.728 line in the Cape Cod League with a league-leading 12 home runs in just 27 games.
However, after a lackluster spring at the plate for the Wildcats in which he just .220/.350/.381, his stock fell and the Red Sox were happy to scoop him up in the fourth round. Since debuting on July 23, Dalbec is dominating the New York-Penn League to the tune of a .374/.427/.692 slash line with six home runs in 28 games.
Dalbec credits a return to the hitting mechanics he used with great success on the Cape to explain his sudden return to form.
“I've hit like this before,” Dalbec explained. “Last summer, it worked really well for me out on the Cape, and then I got to college and we made some changes and it didn't work out. Then I was kind of changing a bunch of things every day so I could never really get in a groove, so now I’m just kind of doing my own thing.”
“I think he's had a consistent approach [in Lowell] and stayed with it,” Lowell manager Iggy Suarez said after a recent game. “As opposed to trying to refine stuff every at-bat, he's just maintaining and staying consistent. You're going to have your ups and down, but if you just stick with it—it's all about the process and it's paying off.”
Following the college season—during which Arizona made a run all the way to the finals of the College World Series, where they fell to Coastal Carolina—Dalbec was able to step back from the game briefly. At that point, he decided to return to the previous mechanics with which he had had success. The main change was opening his stance up from the more squared-off one he used in the spring. It was not a matter of the Red Sox coaching staff coming to him with the refinement in mind, but rather his wanting to return to what felt natural.
“I got more comfortable kind of doing my own thing [since the draft]—what I feel is comfortable, what I think is putting me in the best position to be successful, and it’s working out for me,” the 21-year-old said. “I opened up a little bit, just being more fluid. I was trying to relieve all the tension in my swing.”
Another common thread between the Cape and professional ball is the use of wooden bats. Dalbec had previously used wooden bats in summer ball in high school, but the Cape League, where he played after both his freshman and sophomore seasons, was the first place he had done so against high-level competition. While players often have trouble with that adjustment, Dalbec actually prefers wood to the metal bats used in college.
“I like wood bats better. Metal bats, you kind of have one type of bat, if it doesn't feel good you still have to roll with it,” he explained. “But now, you can try a bunch of different bats, there's millions of different combinations of handles and barrels and knobs and everything. It's a good deal to find out what you really like.”
Dalbec said he is working to break the mold that he was cast in as a draft prospect.
“Obviously, I have some pop, but I don't want to be a ‘three-true-outcomes’ guy, as people call it,” Dalbec said. “I don't think I’m that type of player. I’m a pretty good athlete, I’ve been working hard. Working on different approaches of how to see the ball, working on eye-vision stuff just to kind of help me out. It’s all mental—striking out—for me. Now, I’m just figuring out how to stick with it at-bat to at-bat.”
The manager went a step further in describing Dalbec’s work in this area.
“His approach right now, bar none, is probably the best I’ve seen in a while,” Suarez said. “That goes to show the routine and the work he’s putting in the afternoon before anyone gets in the stands, and he’s sticking to it and getting results.”
In this case, approach is also referring to the way Dalbec is spraying the ball all over the park from the right side of the plate. In a recent game on August 22, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound third baseman began the game with a hard liner up the middle, followed with a 413-foot homer just right of dead center, and also added a triple off the wall the other way in right field.
“I don't think anyone is that successful just trying to pull the ball,” Dalbec said. “My strength is hitting the ball up the middle and hitting the ball the other way in the gaps, just trying to play to my strengths.”
Perhaps Dalbec’s best tool is his easy power to all fields. The home run in that game was one of the longest home runs that Suarez has seen at LeLacheur Park in his inaugural season as the Spinners’ manager, but not quite the longest.
“That’s probably the second-longest,” he said. “The first was the first one [Dalbec] hit over the milk bottle (in right-center) a couple days ago.”
Another major change for Dalbec as a pro is no longer needing to take the mound as a pitcher like in college. A relief pitcher for most of his junior season, Dalbec moved into the rotation to great effect late in the year, arguably leading the Wildcats in their run through the NCAA Tournament with his arm in several tremendous starts. In fact, some scouts saw professional potential for him on the mound, but that arm is now his best asset in the field at third base.
He is happy to put pitching in his past though.
“Just from my body standpoint, not just being healthy but being strong. Obviously, you play every day, you throw 120 pitches, then playing third and trying to hit isn’t too easy,” he said. “I threw 108 innings this year. Trying to hit at the same time, it’s pretty tough from a mental standpoint. So now I can just focus on hitting and being the type of player I know I can be.”
The numbers and evaluators agree that Dalbec looks like a different hitter now than he did this spring. Whatever the combination of factors that explain the breakout he is currently enjoying, the Red Sox front office saw value in Dalbec, and so far, he is making them look very smart.
Photo credit: Bobby Dalbec by Kelly O'Connor.
Matt Huegel is managing editor for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @MattHuegel.