September 6, 2016 at 8:00 AM
LOWELL, Mass. -- Somewhat surprisingly, Lowell has been one of the more intriguing affiliates in the system, with a nice blend of young players moving up from the complex leagues and 2016 draftees. Thus far, the most impressive player of the group has been third baseman Bobby Dalbec, and in fact, he has done things that I haven’t seen any hitter do in Lowell since I started scouting games at LeLacheur Park back in 2011. Through 112 at-bats, Dalbec has put up a .375/.426/.679 line with six home runs, two triples and 12 doubles with only a 21.3% strike out rate. His stat line has not been approached by a Spinners regular since at least Ryan Kalish in 2007 (.368/.471/.540 with three home runs in 87 at-bats in 23 games).
Dalbec led the Cape Cod League in home runs last summer despite spending a good part of that season playing for Team USA, heading into his junior season at Arizona as a potential first-round selection. However, he struggled this spring, striking out 76 times in 207 at-bats and seeing his home run total drop from 15 to six and his average drop from .315 to .266. Complicating things further, perhaps, Dalbec excelled on the mound late in the year, moving into in a starting role late and turning in a stellar pitching performance during the College World Series. As a result, some speculated that his long-term future might be in that role, but the Red Sox drafted him as a position player and thus far their faith in his bat has been rewarded.
Most encouragingly, the scouting backs up his performance, as Dalbec has shown loud tools and made a mechanical change at the plate that could account for his immediate success. The first thing that stands out with Dalbec is his build. He is listed at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds and is very strong, but still a solid athlete with a little projection remaining. He is one of those players that stands out when he steps on the field and looks the part in the uniform.
A right-handed hitter, Dalbec has returned to starting from an open stance, whereas he was square in the college season. He also starts with his feet closer together and hands a little higher than he was during the college season, as you can see in the images to the right contrasting his stance with Arizona this year compared to his current setup. The first image on the left is from March 2 and the middle image from March 25, both while he was at the University of Arizona. The third image, on the far right, is from August 22 with Lowell.
Dalbec has shown a surprisingly polished approach for a player who came in with a high college strikeout rate, showing a willingness to use all fields and a solid knowledge of the strike zone. His does have some issues at times picking up breaking balls, and his pitch recognition could still use some refinement. Because his swing has some length and is of a powerful nature, Dalbec will always have swing-and-miss in his game. If he can keep his strikeouts at a manageable level, it is not out of the realm of possibility that he could develop into a fringe-average hitter, capable of hitting in the .250 to .260 range, although it is more likely that his hit tool will play just below that.
Even if Dalbec does not reach that level at the plate and only develops into a below-average hitter he still could have significant value because his power potential is very real. He generates easy backspin in his swing and ball really carries off his bat. If he can make enough contact, he has the type of power to hit 30+ home runs at the big league level. Dalbec generates some of the easiest power I have seen come through the organization in years, and most impressively, he has power to all fields. In batting practice, Dalbec will put on a show, showing off easy, well above-average raw power. That power has already started to translate into games, and thus far I have seen him hit home runs to left field, right field, right-center field, and straight away center field.
The home runs to right-center and center field really stand out. The 427-foot homer to right-center was one of the most impressive I have seen from a right-handed hitter, as he hit it over the Hood milk bottle that extends well above the already-high wall in Lowell as you can see in the video below (at bat starts at 56 second mark). I have never seen a hitter—from either side of the plate—hit one off the milk bottle, let alone over.
The homer to center field was a line drive that barely got above the batter’s eye and landed about half way up it. The ball doesn’t carry to that part of LeLacheur Park, so seeing someone hit it 400-plus feet there is impressive. Put simply, right-handed hitters with Dalbec’s power potential are hard to come by.
Speed is not a major part of Dalbec’s game, but even with his size, he is not a base clogger. Timing him from home to first does not really do Dalbec justice, as he will put up times around 4.5 seconds, which correlate to well below-average speed, but when he gets going, he can actually move a bit given his long stride, and he can comfortably go from first to third on a single.
Dalbec’s other stand-out tool is his arm, which makes sense given that he could touch the mid-90s on the mound. He has well above-average arm strength at third and has shown the ability to make all the throws, even from deep behind the bag. His throws have plenty of carry and move across on a line.
Defensively, he will never be a stand out at third base, but Dalbec should be able to settle in as a fringe-average to maybe average defender. He is a little stiff at times at third and has had some trouble getting down on balls he has to charge. His hands work pretty well and his footwork is solid. He does not have great range, but his length does help him in combating that, given his long stride and reach.
Worth mentioning from a development standpoint are the impact of Dalbec not having to pitch anymore and his age. In his interview with Matt Huegel, Dalbec discussed how taxing both mentally and physically being a two-way player was, especially when it was clear he preferred to hit. As we have seen with players who shift in both directions, getting to focus on one side of the game as a professional can have immediate benefits. Also, Dalbec is relatively young for a three-year college draftee, as he did not turn 21 until after the draft. These may seem like two small details, but they are things that can matter when making evaluations about a player.
As with all player evaluations, this is just a snapshot in time, and things can change with Dalbec down the line. He is certainly on a hot streak right now and is clearly playing with extreme confidence, but the raw tools and narrative reasons for his success are there to back up the performance. With the potential for two well above-average tools and two fringe-average-to-average tools, Dalbec has the ceiling of a first division, major league contributor who could slot in at the number five or six spot in a big league lineup. He likely will not hit for the highest average, but he has the power to profile in that spot as long as you can live with the strikeouts. Obviously, because of the questions with his hit tool that caused him to slide to the fourth round, Dalbec does come with some risk, moreso than a normal college performer, but factors such as his changed swing mechanics and sole focus on hitting work in his favor. Dalbec is one of the highest ceiling position players in the organization after the top tier of Yoan Moncada, Andrew Benintendi, and Rafael Devers, and if he can show that he can hit more advanced pitching, his stock will continue to rise both within the system and nationally. It will be very interesting to see whether he starts in Greenville or Salem next year, and if he continues to hit and make contact, he should certainly be in the discussion to be a top-four or -five prospect in the system at some point next year.
Photo credits: Bobby Dalbec by Kelly O'Connor, screenshots of Dalbec's stance Arizona via Adam Hayes on YouTube.
Ian Cundall is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @IanCundall.