In the midst of this disappointing season, getting to see some of the Red Sox’ youngsters in big league action has been a major highlight. For me, Bobby Dalbec’s debut was the most anticipated. MLB Pipeline has him rated as the Red Sox’ third best prospect, and he’s been one of the most productive bats in the farm system. He has just one drawback: Strikeouts.
Dalbec strikes out. A lot. In his early major-league career, he’s striking out almost 50 percent of the time, albeit in a very small sample of just 55 plate appearances. Between 2017 and 2018, when he progressed from A-ball to High-A to Double-A, his strikeout rate ranged from 31 percent to 37 percent. That’s an astronomical number, especially considering the fact that strikeouts basically always increase in the big leagues. Despite this, Dalbec was still a great hitter during these years. FanGraphs rates his Raw Power (power potential) as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale, and this was on display when he slugged over .500 in both his High-A and Double-A stints in 2018.
The big question for Dalbec is whether or not his power is enough to compensate for all of the swings and misses. In 2019, there were just 12 major-league players who were above-average hitters (by wRC+) while also striking out over 30 percent of the time. That’s a very small margin. Of these 12 players, only one consistently had a strikeout rate of over 30 percent in the minors. That would be Joey Gallo.
My opinion, though, is that Joey Gallo is more of an anomaly than a potential trend. If Red Sox fans are hoping Dalbec can turn into a Gallo prototype, they’ll likely end up disappointed. Gallo was a better hitter throughout the minors, and was 5 years younger at that time than Dalbec is now, meaning he had much more room to grow. Having just one successful hitter in the bigs with a similar minor league profile as Dalbec doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.
Additionally, with Rafael Devers locking down the hot corner, Dalbec has been relegated to first base for the time being. The offensive demands at 1B are much higher than other positions, with the position averaging a league-high 108 wRC+. (Third base, for sake of comparison, is 99.) If Dalbec is going to stick at first, he’s going to need to produce.
This is not all to say hope is lost. Dalbec did lower his strikeout rate to 25 percent in Double-A last year, and perhaps that is a step in the right direction. If he can keep that pace up and continue to improve in the majors, he has the potential to do some serious damage.
My advice is to temper expectations for Bobby in 2021 and going forward. Yes, he’s looked like a stud in his 50+ plate appearances so far, but that’s mostly fueled by a .412 batting average on balls in play and a 54.5 percent homer-to-fly-ball ratio. It’s very possible we see Michael Chavis-type production from Dalbec in the future until and unless he really starts to cut down on those strikeouts.