Red Sox get look at next wave of prospects

March 12th, 2020

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Red Sox have produced a steady stream of rookie position players in recent years, with the likes of Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers and Michael Chavis rising through Boston’s system en route to an everyday role in the big leagues. This spring, club officials are getting a first-hand look at the organization’s next wave of potential rookie contributors in Bobby Dalbec and Jarren Duran.

Dalbec, Boston’s No. 3 prospect, is still in the mix for an Opening Day roster spot and has seen time at both third, his natural position, and first base this spring. However, his chance of breaking camp with the Red Sox seems less likely now after Mitch Moreland made a healthy return from a hamstring injury last week.

A fourth-round pick in the 2016 Draft out of the University of Arizona, Dalbec has since established himself as one of the top power-hitting prospects in the Minor Leagues. He slugged 27 homers in 135 games last season between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket and has gone deep 57 times since the start of the 2018 season, the sixth-highest total in the Minors during that span. But with Dalbec’s massive right-handed power comes a lot of swing-and-miss due to what can be an overly aggressive approach.

“The power is for real -- there’s no questioning that,” said Red Sox vice president, player development Ben Crockett about the 24-year-old Dalbec, who’s produced a .775 OPS with a homer, two doubles and five RBIs in 11 games this spring. “Improving his pitch recognition and making better swing decisions will be key for him,” continued Crockett, “because we see him as someone who is going to impact our big league roster – possibly soon.”

While Duran isn’t expected to arrive in the big leagues as early as Dalbec, that timetable could very well change based on how the Red Sox No. 8 prospect has surpassed expectations early in his career. A seventh-rounder out of Long Beach State in 2018, Duran posted a .910 OPS in his pro debut, then flirted with a .400 average at Class A Advanced Salem during the first two months of 2019. He struggled in Double-A following a June promotion, but recovered to finish his first full season hitting .303/.36/.408 with 46 stolen bases.

“Jarren tried to make some adjustments in his approach that ultimately led to him overcompensating,” noted Crockett. “Once he was able to get back to some of the things that made him successful at Salem, that helped quite a bit. It made him open minded at the end of the year and into the offseason about ways he can take the next step and get even better.”

Specifically, Duran has been working to implement some mechanical adjustments that would allow him to cover different areas of the strike zone and leverage the strength he has in his swing a bit more.

“He made some adjustments during the offseason working with our staff. He’s done a good job of being able to make those adjustments on the fly and continue to improve out here in camp.”

Prospect to watch in 2021
The Red Sox feel as though they found a steal in outfielder Gilberto Jimenez, whom they signed for only $10,000 -- an amount that didn’t even count against their international bonus pool -- out of the Dominican Republic in August 2017. He began switch-hitting after turning pro and batted .319 in his 2018 pro debut to garner honors as Boston’s Latin Program Player of the Year. He was even better last year in his age-18 campaign, winning the Class A Short Season New York-Penn League batting title (.359).

Jimenez has game-changing speed that earns top-of-the-scale grades from some evaluators. He uses it to turn routine grounders into hits, showing impressive feel for making contact from both sides of the plate, though he has been more effective hitting left-handed despite being a natural right-hander.

“He’s still relatively new to switch-hitting, which I think can be lost sometimes,” Crockett said about Jimenez, Boston’s No. 5 prospect. “He had a really impressive performance from the left side, though that’s still an area that he can get by on with his athleticism and he’ll need to refine. He’s got some power from both sides, too, and has come in strong and in great shape.”

Camp standouts
Crockett and the rest of the Red Sox are excited about prep shortstop Matthew Lugo’s bright future after taking him in the second round of the 2019 Draft. The nephew of nine-time All-Star Carlos Beltran, Lugo trained and went to school at his uncle's baseball academy in Florida, Puerto Rico and was the island's top prospect in the ‘19 Draft. After signing for $1.1 million, the No. 11 prospect batted .257/.337/.326 in his pro debut, finishing the season in the New York-Penn League.

In the process, Lugo made a strong impression on club officials in all facets of the game while showcasing the best all-around tools of the young middle-infield prospects in Boston’s system.

“He just has a really consistent demeanor. He never tries to do too much at the plate and really knows himself as a hitter and as a player,” said Crockett.

“He came in here in very good shape -- probably as good of shape as anyone in our camp. He added some strength this offseason and his batting practice early in camp has really stood out. He’s done well for himself.”

Something to prove
It looked as though the Red Sox might be getting a steal when they selected Jay Groome, MLB Pipeline's top-rated prospect in the 2016 Draft, with the 12th overall choice amid major signability and makeup concerns. However, injuries have limited the left-hander to just 66 innings in four years as a pro since signing for $3.65 million, a franchise record for a drafted pitcher.

After losing time to a lat strain and forearm soreness during his first full season, Groome had his 2018 campaign derailed by Tommy John surgery and didn't return to game action until last August.

But while the 21-year-old southpaw has fallen behind the development curve, the Red Sox believe he could quickly recoup much of that lost time with a healthy performance in 2020.

“He had a normal, healthy offseason, getting stronger while going through a normal throwing progression,” Crockett said about Groome, Boston’s No. 7 prospect.

“I think you’re always going to be conservative from a total workload standpoint with a guy coming off injury. But I think in terms of the day-to-day and when he’s out on the mound, there’ll be no limitations. We expect him to be going at full game speed as he’s been this offseason with his bullpens.”