For the first six spots on this list, we had been dreaming on a bit of upside and banking on some unknown, even more than usual after the 2020 minor-league season had been cancelled. In this round, though, a pair of players we actually got to see play in 2020 were locked in a close race. In the end, it was the position player taking the seven spot, with Bobby Dalbec winning with 47 percent of the vote.
Heading into the 2016 draft, Dalbec was making some national waves as a key member of the University of Arizona club that was on its run into the College World Series. Dalbec was a two-way player on that club, a slugger at the plate and a fireballer on the mound. He would eventually be selected by the Red Sox in the fourth round of that draft, and Boston ultimately decided he was a better fit as a position player than as a pitcher, slotting him in as a third baseman to start his career.
Dalbec took no time at all to make them feel good about that decision as he absolutely tore it up in Lowell in that first summer as a pro. In 34 games that year he hit .386/.427/.674, and was easily ready for a promotion to full-season ball in 2018. However, that 2017 season ended up being a disappointing one. He missed a big chunk of time with a broken bone in his hand and never got in a groove, hitting a slid .246/.345/.437 in Greenville but also striking out over 37 percent of the time.
So even though it wasn’t a tank of a performance — he was still well above-average by wRC+ — the swing and miss showing up in such a big way raised some red flags and the shine was off a bit as he headed to Salem for the 2018 season. Dalbec got the shine back, even though he was still striking out 31 percent of the time in High-A. Despite the strikeout rate he put up a 161 wRC+ before an end-of-year promotion to Double-A, where he reverted back to his 2017 self, striking out a bunch but still putting up solid numbers.
That brought us to 2019, when it was to see what he could really do. He had two full seasons under his belt and now he was going to start the year in Double-A, facing quality pitching on a more consistent basis than ever before. And Dalbec showed significant improvement. He cut his strikeout rate down to the lowest it had been since that initial run in Lowell and posted a 143 wRC+ before getting promoted up to Triple-A to play the final month of the season. There, he regressed a bit at the plate, but still kept his strikeout rate below 30 percent. At this point, he was officially on the major-league radar for 2020.
Of course, we all know what happened last year, but Dalbec still made his way to the Alternate Site in Pawtucket for the summer, and it turned out a spot was made for him midway through the season. After Mitch Moreland had been traded to San Diego, Dalbec was promoted up to Boston where he got most of the playing time at first base over the final month of the season. The swing and miss certainly came back as he struck out over 42 percent of the time in 92 plate appearances, but we also saw the power as he put up a .338 Isolated Power (SLG - AVG). All told, in the small sample he was well above-average in that short run with a 152 wRC+, albeit with the same red flags.
And so as we look ahead to 2021, almost certainly Dalbec’s final year on the list, he is still mostly the guy we always thought he’d be. On the plus side, he has monstrous power, and it’s an easier kind of power than someone like, say, Michael Chavis had coming up. Dalbec is a huge human being, so he doesn’t need to even swing all that hard to hit it a long way. The downside is he swings and misses a lot. He had shown improvement here in 2019, but he’ll have to prove he can cut the rate down signficiantly against major-league pitching. In the field, he fell off a bit at third base as he got older, but he was still solid and playable there. However, for the Red Sox he’ll be at first base, where he has the physical tools to be at least average if not a bit above, though that’s still more theoretical since he hasn’t gotten a ton of time there.
He’ll get all the time he needs in 2021, though. While he won’t be a true everyday player in the sense that he’ll be pencilled in for 155-plus games, he’s going to get plenty of run. With Triston Casas quickly coming up the system, this is a big year for Dalbec to assert himself as a true regular in this league. Look for him to start over three-quarters of the games at first base as he tried to establish himself in 2021.
Here is our list so far:
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