BOSTON -- The way Boston's roster is presently constituted, you can go around the diamond and safely project who will start for the Red Sox at eight of the nine positions on Opening Day. However, there is a noticeable opening at first base, with a ripe opportunity for a highly touted prospect to seize the opportunity.
“I feel really comfortable at first base,” said Bobby Dalbec, who's ranked second among Red Sox prospects by MLB Pipeline. “I’m just going to go in there and work hard and try to prove myself and try to win that job, but obviously that’s something I can’t really control, so I’m just going to try to do my thing.”
The right-handed-hitting masher had yet another strong season in the Minors, playing 105 games for Double-A Portland and 30 for Triple-A Pawtucket, totaling 27 homers and 73 RBIs to go with an .816 OPS.
Instead of bringing Dalbec up as a September callup at the end of last season, the Red Sox had him spend a week working out with the team and getting hands-on instruction from the coaching staff in preparation for representing the United States in the Premier12 tournament in November.
Dalbec, 24, represented the Red Sox well in that international foray, belting a grand slam against the Netherlands and an RBI double against Japan.
With Spring Training starting next month, Dalbec will get the chance to prove he has developed enough to break camp with the Red Sox and hold down the job at first base. Michael Chavis, another young right-handed hitter the Red Sox like, is also in the mix, but he could serve as more of a rover in the infield.
“He’s a guy that we do believe controls the strike zone,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora of Dalbec. “Obviously, there are going to be swings and misses, we know that. I do believe he doesn't chase as much as people think and he can have an impact sooner or later for us.”
As a college star at Arizona, Dalbec was playing third base when he wasn’t pitching. As a Minor Leaguer, Dalbec has started 306 games at third and 23 at first. In Boston, however, the plan is for Rafael Devers to hold down the hot corner for the next several years. Cora sees no issue for Dalbec playing on the other side of the diamond, and he saw it firsthand in drills back in September.
“Defensively, what we saw in September at first base was very encouraging,” Cora said. “I've seen this kid since college, and defensively he's a plus. His range, his moves, his first steps, they're really good, and we were very pleased with the way he performed.
Last week, Dalbec was at MLB/MLBPA’s Rookie Career Development Program in Miami. He is spending this week at Fenway Park at the Red Sox's Rookie Development Program. Players who get invited to programs like that are generally ones who are on the cusp of being in the Majors.
“It’s an honor to be here and be able to learn all this information,” Dalbec said last week in Miami. “It seemed like it would be a tedious thing to come out there. It was actually really cool to come out and meet other guys and learn from all the experienced guys who are working here.”
The experience Dalbec got playing for his country a couple of months ago is something he will long remember.
“Going out of the country was fun,” said Dalbec. “Playing against Team Mexico was a little crazy. And Japan was awesome, Tokyo was awesome. Playing against Team Japan, it was sold out and so loud in there. It was awesome. The big wins were fun.”
Though Dalbec has yet to see what it is like to stand at the plate in Yankee Stadium with 55,000 roaring, he has played in enough big environments to help him adapt swiftly to what is ahead.
“College World Series was a really cool experience,” Dalbec said. “Especially that core group we had and [Jay Johnson’s] first year as the head coach at Arizona, that was a really cool experience.”
One thing that is clear about Dalbec is his competitiveness. It was obvious when he was asked which pitcher he most looks forward to facing.
“Facing Cole. It would be interesting to face Gerrit Cole,” said Dalbec. “I faced [Max] Scherzer in Spring Training. That was pretty cool. I faced him a couple of times. Facing Cole would be fun.”
Of course, there are no guarantees that Dalbec will crack the roster in camp. That is all there for him to earn.
“The performance has been really good, the reports have been great,” said Red Sox general manager Brian O’Halloran. “He’s a really good player and we expect him to be a big part of our future, so we look forward to him being with us again in big-league camp and go from there."