Bobby Dalbec Clears Fences With Ease
Third baseman Bobby Dalbec showed top-of-the-charts power in college at Arizona, but the 2016 fourth-rounder faced questions about whether he would swing and miss too much for that tool to play. After an injury-marred 2017 (broken hamate), the 23-year-old displayed prodigious offensive capabilities in 2018.
Dalbec showed the ability to clear the fences to all fields with ease en route to 32 homers, including a franchise record 26 for high Class A Salem before a promotion to Double-A Portland.
"He’s hit balls to parts of the ballpark that, in the three years I’ve been here, I hadn’t seen them leave the ballpark,” Salem manager Joe Oliver said. "The ability for him to hit the ball out to right field and not even put effort into it, that's just how strong he is. It’s really impressive and I think it’s elite.”
Though Dalbec's strikeout rate remained high, he managed to trim it from 36.7 percent in 2017 to 32.4 percent this year while moving up the ladder. He also showed an ability to be more than an all-or-nothing hitter by batting .257/.361/.558 in 129 games.
Dalbec also drew strong marks at third base, displaying an outstanding arm as well as more athleticism and range than is typical for a 6-foot-5 player.
For three months, lefthander Darwinzon Hernandez struggled to find the strike zone at Salem. He recorded a 5.19 ERA and 40 walks in 59 innings through 15 starts, raising questions about whether he would need to move to the bullpen.
But from early July through the end of the season, Hernandez showed the ability to dominate while landing a mid-90s fastball (which tops out at 97 mph), wipeout slider and average curveball for strikes. In eight starts down the stretch, he went 6-0, 1.29 with 12.9 strikeouts and 4.3 walks per nine innings.
Hernandez moved up to Portland for five season-ending relief appearances in August, and he will get more innings out of the bullpen in the Arizona Fall League. It’s possible that his future is as a late-inning lefty reliever, but in 2019 the Red Sox intend to keep developing him as a starter.
"The quality of stuff has never been a question,” farm director Ben Crockett said. "He obviously had a great stretch here for the last couple months and really locked some things in.”
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While the Red Sox drafted a trio of highly regarded high school position players this year in Triston Casas, Nick Decker and Nick Northcut, it was another prep who delivered one of the most startling performances in years by a high schooler in his pro debut.
Third baseman Brandon Howlett, a 21st-rounder out of Jenkins High in Lakeland, Fla., hit .289/.402/.513 with six homers in 39 games in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and a five-game cameo in the short-season New York-Penn League.
Howlett drove the ball to all fields and showed a surprisingly advanced feel for the strike zone. While some question whether he’ll stay at third base or move to another corner down the road, he showed the ceiling of an above-average third baseman.
"I don’t know when the last time is that we’ve had a high school kid put up some power numbers and hit for an average, and with the ability to be a solid-average defender at a premium position, which third base is,” GCL Red Sox manager Tom Kotchman said. "It’s very exciting.”