Boston Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke doesn’t expect infield prospect Bobby Dalbec to make the Opening Day roster this year.
Bobby Dalbec came to camp with a goal of making a strong enough impression to earn a spot on the Boston Red Sox Opening Day roster. The power-hitting prospect has the skill set to open some eyes during spring training but he appears to be a long shot to break camp with the major league club regardless of how he performs.
That’s not a knock on Dalbec or a pessimistic outlook of his potential. The 24-year-old is expected to make his big league debut this season but he probably won’t be with the team out of the gate simply because the Red Sox don’t have room for him.
Interim manager Ron Roenicke suggested that the makeup of the current roster will probably hold Dalbec in Triple-A to begin the season, per MassLive’s Christoper Smith.
"“He’s here in camp. He’s trying to make a team,” Roenicke said when asked about Dalbec. “He’s trying to impress us. You know what we have here. If everybody’s healthy, he’s probably not going to be here (Opening Day). But things change. He gets super hot and maybe we change our thinking. With the personnel we have, he needs to do a lot of things to show that he’s ready. But I think the biggest thing is just making sure that when we see him, whether it’s to start the season, whether it’s halfway, whether it’s next year, that he’s ready when he comes up and he’s confident we he comes up.”"
Dalbec is a natural third baseman but his path to that position is blocked for the foreseeable future by Rafael Devers. That led to Dalbec learning to play on the other side of the diamond, with 24 of his minor league appearances last season coming at first base. His opportunities in the majors will primarily come at that position but the return of Mitch Moreland has left the right side of the infield a bit crowded.
Moreland will earn the bulk of the playing time at first base against right-handed pitching with Michael Chavis backing him up when he’s not splitting time at second base with Jose Peraza. That doesn’t leave much playing time available for Dalbec.
The addition of a 26th man on the active roster this season allows teams to squeeze in an extra position player but it does Dalbec no favors to call him up to be a seldom used backup sitting on the bench. If he were to struggle against major league pitching, as most young hitters do, without the benefit of consistent at-bats to work his way through it then it could severely hinder his development. He would be better served getting steady playing time in Triple-A.
Waiting at least a few weeks to call up Dalbec also delays the clock on his service time. This typically hasn’t been a concern for teams with deep pockets but we’re now living in a world where the Red Sox are cutting costs and worried about their young stars leaving in free agency. They might as well buy themselves an extra year of control by leaving him in the minors a bit longer if there is no clear path to regular playing time in Boston anyway.
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Baseball America ranked Dalbec as the No. 75 prospect in baseball and the best power threat in the Red Sox farm system. He bashed 32 home runs in 2018 between stops at High-A Salem and Double-A Portland, then followed that up with 27 homers last year in time split between Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket.
The power is legit but Dalbec’s meager .239 batting average showed he could use a bit more polishing in the minors. He made encouraging progress by dropping his strikeout rate from a staggering 37.1% at Double-A in 2018 to 25.1% at that level last year. He trimmed a bit more off that percentage during his brief time in Pawtucket (23.6%). The high strikeout rate is still concerning though, even for a slugger with his raw power.
An extra few weeks of seasoning in the minors certainly wouldn’t hurt. Let Dalbec build some confidence with a strong start against minor league pitching before throwing him into the fire. Dalbec’s time is coming but there’s no rush to get there when the Red Sox have other options to turn to in the infield.