Hurricane Irma forced the Red Sox to change their instructional league plans. After sustaining some damage to their training base in Fort Myers, Fla., they cut back the program to two weeks, reduced their player contingent and cancelled 13 scheduled games against other organizations.
Boston farm director Ben Crockett said the organization was still able to get some valuable work in with several of its best young prospects.
For one, it gave several members of an impressive 2016 Draft class riddled by injuries during their first full pro seasons the opportunity to gain more experience. Left-hander Jay Groome (first round), who strained his lat muscle in his first 2017 start and wound up working just 55 1/3 innings, focused on drillwork and fundamentals. Shortstop C.J. Chatham (second round), who got only 19 at-bats because of recurring hamstring problems, was able to participate fully.
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So was slugging third baseman Bobby Dalbec (fourth round), who went down due to a broken hamate bone in his left hand in mid-May and struggled to regain his timing when he returned at the end of June. He hit .273/.380/.529 with seven homers in the final month of the season, and the Red Sox hope he can built off that momentum.
"Dalbec finished the year on a high note with his swing," Crockett said. "We tried to reinforce that going into next year. It was a pretty weird year where (right-hander Mike) Shawaryn was the only top-five-rounds guy we felt like we got to see the whole guy. We're definitely excited to see the rest of these guys healthy next year."
Several of Boston's 2017 Draftees also were on hand, including their first seven selections, headlined by first-round right-hander Tanner Houck. Fifth-round righty Alex Scherff, who concentrated on strengthening his shoulder and didn't pitch in a pro game after signing for an over-slot $700,000, was especially impressive. He has a mid-90s fastball and an advanced changeup for a prep product.
"Scherff is passionate about being very good," Crockett said. "He's talented and believes in himself. He's a physical specimen along the lines of (Michael) Kopech when we first had him."
Kopech, a Boston first-rounder in 2014 who came from the Texas high school ranks like Scherff, went to the White Sox in the Chris Sale trade last December and now ranks as the best pitching prospect in baseball.
The Red Sox also used the instructional league to work out prospects at unfamiliar positions. Michael Chavis, who broke out with 31 homers this year but is blocked at third base in Boston by Rafael Devers, got a crash course at first base in advance of seeing more action there in the Arizona Fall League. He'll play both infield corners next year in Triple-A.
Second baseman Jagger Rusconi, who began playing some center field at low Class A in August, focused on the latter position during instructional league. A fifth-round pick in 2015, he's a switch-hitter with some of the best all-around tools in the system but has played just 82 pro games in three years because of shoulder, foot and leg injuries.
"He's trying to make up for lost time," Crockett said. "Center field looked good. He was comfortable, his reads off the bat were solid and he certainly has the makeup speed needed out there. He's got bat speed, he's got a pretty good swing from both sides. It's just a matter of getting him reps to see what he can do."
Perhaps the most intriguing player in Boston's camp, which ended Oct. 8, was Justin Qiang, the first Tibetan ever signed by a big league organization. Signed for $10,000 in July, Qiang is learning to catch after playing the infield as an amateur.
"He's pretty physical," Crockett said. "He's got a strong build and looks like a catcher. He has a nice toolset for a 16-year-old kid. He has a nice swing with some moving parts with his lower half that he'll have to work on to repeat, but there are a lot of tools to work with. He showed solid-average arm strength. It's just a matter of making that work behind the plate with his exchange and transfer."