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September 11, 2020 at 12:30 PM

2016 Draft Retrospective: Dalbec and Groome highlight a strong draft


Thank you for checking in on the newest entry in our draft retrospective series. Tuesday was a pick-by-pick rundown of 2016, while today we will dig a little deeper into a few of the more interesting and prominent draftees. For a quick list and links to player pages, check out our Draft History page.

2016 Draft


Background

The Red Sox were coming off a second consecutive last-place finish in 2015, a year that ended with the hiring of Dave Dombrowski and departure of Ben Cherington. The move signaled an urgency to get right back to the top, as Dombrowski had a reputation of depleting his farm systems and utilizing a win-now strategy. He certainly did that in Boston, and it all started in 2016 with the signing of David Price and the trade for Craig Kimbrel. Dombrowski had also often been criticized for his bullpen construction, and he immediately looked to fix that by shipping four prospects off for one of the top closers in the game. He came in and made it clear right away that he was not afraid to go for it and take some risks, which is a mentality that the Sox took in this draft as well. 


While Dombrowski took that different philosophy as the final decision-maker in building the major league roster, he wisely left in place many of the components of a scouting and developmental machine that had built what was, at the time, one of baseball's deepest systems. Amateur Scouting Director Mike Rikard returned for his second draft, and he produced what appears to be the strongest of his six years at the helm. Beset by off-field concerns, Jay Groome fell into the team's lap at the 12th-overall pick. While injuries have slowed his development, the Red Sox gambled correctly that they could keep him on track; the big southpaw has stayed out of trouble. Beyond Groome's continued promise, the 2016 draft has already produced six players who have reached the majors, the most since the 2012 edition. The highlight among those has been Bobby Dalbec, currently in the midst of a streak of five consecutive games with a home run. 


The Vitals

President of Baseball Operations: Dave Dombrowski

Scouting Director: Mike Rikard


Major Leaguers drafted and signed 

Bobby Dalbec (4th round, 0.3 bWAR)

Santiago Espinal (10th round, 0.1 bWAR)

Stephen Nogosek (6th round, -0.2 bWAR)

Shaun Anderson (3rd round, -0.5 bWAR)

Mike Shawaryn (5th round, -0.6 bWAR)

Kyle Hart (19th round, -0.9 bWAR)


Still Plenty of Time for Groome

For a 22-year old, Jay Groome (pictured, right) has already gone through a lot in his very young baseball playing career. Headed into the spring of 2016, Groome was thought of by many as the most likely pick to go first overall, far out of Boston's reach at the 12th overall pick. Even as draft day approached, he was not seen as a likely target: he was not among the likely targets Mike Andrews identified in the SoxProspects.com Draft Preview.


To Boston's benefit, makeup concerns became a huge factor in his draft spot and signability. He transferred to IMG Academy in Florida for his junior year, but transferred back to his home state of New Jersey for his senior year. He was suspended for an improper transfer and his high school team was forced to forfeit two games as a result. Groome's scholarship offer to Vanderbilt was pulled—although the story from Groome's camp was that he had decommitted—and he committed to Chipola Junior College. Other unreported, unsubstantiated rumors swirled as well.


While Groome has remained out of trouble since entering the pro ranks, his career has not been smooth. The organization was frustrated with his physical conditioning when he reported to camp in 2017, which may have contributed to an injury that kept him out for the first few months of the season. Through his first four seasons with the Sox, he has thrown just 66 innings, slowing down his development considerably. He missed a lot of 2017 with an intercostal strain as well as forearm soreness. Then, in 2018, he underwent Tommy John surgery, causing him to miss all of 2018 and most of 2019. 


After all of that, Groome is currently in the Red Sox Player Pool and has been throwing to live hitters at the Alternate Training Site. He has been healthy and throwing well, with his fastball reaching 95 MPH. Even with all the issues and injuries, Groome is still a 22-year-old left-hander with electric stuff. He will be added to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft this offseason and will likely begin the 2021 season in Double-A.


Sox Choose Wisely on Dalbec

The Red Sox selected Bobby Dalbec (pictured, above) with their fourth-rounder as a third baseman, but a couple weeks after the draft, Dalbec turned in a dominant performance against Oklahoma State in the College World Series, with eight innings of one-run ball with 12 strikeouts, the top performance in a span of moundwork that made some wonder if the player was choosing the wrong side of the game in the pros. The Sox and Dalbec stuck to their guns, and they now appear set to reap the rewards.


The power that made Dalbec enticing showed up right away, as he slugged .674 in 34 games with Lowell in 2016, attributing his showing in part to being able to focus solely on hitting and playing third base. He had another big year in 2018 between Salem and Portland, with 32 home runs and 35 doubles in 129 games. The 2018 season didn’t start off well, as he hit just .176 with 43 strikeouts in his first 125 plate appearances. He turned a corner big time in mid-May, hitting .289 with 21 home runs and a 1.043 OPS over his next 294 plate appearances, which earned him the call to Portland. He was solid the rest of the way with the Sea Dogs, slugging .514, and was sent to the Arizona Fall League. Dalbec’s power with Salem was especially impressive, as Salem generally suppresses home runs. He still has a lot of swing-and-miss in his game and it remains a question how much his hit tool will progress as a big leaguer. The strikeouts have not gone away and most likely will not. The power, however, has been enough to offset that so far. 


Dalbec tested positive for COVID-19 early in 2020 (he was asymptomatic) but has since come back and made his MLB debut. The power has immediately translated, as he has belted six home runs already in just 39 plate appearances, although he has also struck out 19 times. He has mainly been at first base, but has also seen nine frames at third. With Mitch Moreland gone and the Sox completely out of the race, he should see regular time for the remainder of the year. 


Minor Trades Work Out

In order to win championships, you need to have depth players that can step in and produce. The Sox used a couple players from this draft to grab two players who contributed to the World Series title in 2018 in a big way. In July 2017, the Sox needed some infield depth and traded Shaun Anderson (along with Gregory Santos) to the Giants for Eduardo Nunez. Nunez was a sparkplug in the second half of 2017 for the Sox, hitting .321 with an .892 OPS in 38 games. The injury to Dustin Pedroia in 2018 forced Nunez to play more at second base, as he racked up 502 plate appearances, hitting .265. Nunez came up big in the World Series, going 3 for 10 with a huge pinch-hit three-run homer in game one. That’s a pretty good return for Anderson, who has thrown 106 1/3 big league innings with a 5.42 ERA.


The Sox also dealt Santiago Espinal in June 2018 to Toronto for Steve Pearce. Pearce, like Nunez, made an instant impact after the trade. He played in 50 games for the Sox in 2018 and posted a .901 OPS. His success did not stop there, as Pearce went on to win the World Series MVP after hitting .333 with three home runs and eight RBI. Espinal projects as a useful utility infielder, but moving that kind of player for someone who made as big of an impact on a championship team as Pearce did counts as a win. Though Anderson and Espinal would undoubtedly be good enough to crack the roster of the moribund 2020 Red Sox, the upgrades at the margins were key to the 2017 division title and 2018 World Series championship.


Hart-Warming Story for Kyle

Typically, cheap senior signs outside of the first ten rounds are players who will, at best, stick around an organization for a few years, be upstanding clubhouse citizens, and go on to other things after a few seasons. So it is not every draft that you see a fifth-year senior who signed for $5,000 reach the big league level. We touched on this in the most recent SoxProspects.com podcast, but the fact that Kyle Hart (pictured, left) has even thrown a pitch in a Boston uniform is a tremendous return on investment.


Hart was a five-year senior who pitched a good amount of innings in all five seasons at Indiana. He was a model of consistency there, with ERAs of 3.21, 3.01, 2.29, 1.21, and 3.29 respectively. He has done more of the same throughout his minor league journey with the Red Sox, putting up solid season after solid season. In 2018 with Portland, he posted a 3.57 ERA in 138 2/3 innings, then last year between Portland and Pawtucket he put up a 3.52 ERA in 156 innings. That consistency and durability—plus a pair of sim game starts in which he retired 34 of 38 hitters—earned him a call-up this year to the big club. The Red Sox did a great job with Hart as he progressed through the system, teaching him a cutter once he reached the high minors. His fastball sits around 87-90 MPH, so the cutter became a big pitch for him to go along with an improving slider, a get-me-over curveball, and a changeup. 


Hart has struggled mightily in 2020 for Boston, but he could potentially be relied upon in the future to make a spot start here and there if needed during a season in which the team is contending. For now, it’s just a great story that he has even been able to contribute at that level.


Missed Opportunities 

The Sox missed out on two pretty big names early in this draft. With their second pick, Bo Bichette and Pete Alonso were still on the board, but Boston decided to go with C.J. Chatham instead. It is obviously extremely early and Chatham has been a fine player so far in the minors, but Alonso and Bichette look like stars early in their MLB careers. Alonso belted 53 home runs in his rookie year in 2019, while Bichette is a 22-year old shortstop that has a .961 OPS in 60 career games. The Sox also passed on Gavin Lux, who is a top prospect for the Dodgers that has seen MLB time in both 2019 and 2020. 


Final Thoughts

This draft has some serious potential to be one of the better drafts the Sox have had over the past 10-15 years. That, of course, depends on how Groome and Dalbec pan out. They have already had success with some trades, not only getting impactful players at the big league level, but they have traded three players from this draft that have already reached the major leagues, as Stephen Nogosek debuted for the Mets as well after he was traded for Addison Reed. Chatham is another interesting player, as he remains among the top 20 prospects in the organization and has the potential to reach the big leagues soon as a depth piece. If Groome and Chatham can make their debuts, that would mean their first six picks, and eight overall, reached the majors, some with the potential to be impact players. A minor criticism would be that the draft did not produce much in terms of organizational depth, but the hit rate on MLB-quality talent more than outweighs that weakness.


Photo Credit: Bobby Dalbec, Jay Groome, Kyle Hart by Kelly O'Connor


 
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