Fourth in a series
Bobby Dalbec has yet to make his major league debut, so it could be a little premature to pencil him into the Red Sox lineup next season as their first baseman.
Then there’s this: He’s not really a first baseman, having started there only 23 times during his four seasons in the minors.
But as the Red Sox seek creative ways to build a more cost-efficient roster under new chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, giving Dalbec a chance begins to make sense.
As a rookie, Dalbec would add only the major league minimum salary of $563,500 to the payroll while giving the Red Sox righthanded power and what should be above-average defense, given his athletic ability.
There’s also a sense that Dalbec is ready for the moment. He hit 59 home runs over his last two seasons in the minors. In 2019, he posted an impressive .816 OPS with Double A Portland and Triple A Pawtucket.
Dalbec was then selected to play for Team USA in the Premier12 Olympic qualifying tournament. Facing lineups of older professionals in what were eight high-stakes games, he was 7 for 28 with a double, two home runs, five walks, and eight RBIs.
Dalbec started four games at first base in the tournament, something the Red Sox had influence on. It was a sign of where they see him best fitting into their major league roster.
Put it all together and Dalbec should go to spring training with a chance to make the roster, unless the Sox find a veteran alternative via trade or free agency.
There is work to be done, certainly. Dalbec is still developing as a hitter and his transition to the majors, whenever that comes, is sure to include a high number of strikeouts.
But his power plays, which is what the Sox projected when they took Dalbec in the fourth round of the 2016 out of the University of Arizona.
The biggest downside to using Dalbec at first base is that he’s an excellent defensive third baseman with a strong and accurate arm.
But with Rafael Devers at third base, the Red Sox see Dalbec as a first baseman. If Devers regresses defensively, Dalbec could return to third base. But that’s a conversation the Sox hope doesn’t become necessary.
There are other in-house options, too.
Michael Chavis, 24, hit .254 with a .766 OPS, 18 home runs and 58 RBIs over 95 major league games last season. But he also struck out 127 times in 382 plate appearances, a lot even when considering the swing-for-the-fences ethos that has taken over the game.
Chavis started 43 games at first base and 40 at second base and was better than expected at both positions.
Chavis is a candidate to be the full-time first baseman. But he also could fit at second base, left field, or as a utility player, depending on how much roster reconstruction Bloom decides to undertake. Health is a concern, too. Chavis missed the final 41 games of last season because of injuries, including an oblique strain. The Sox initially planned to have him pick up at-bats in winter ball in Puerto Rico but scrapped that plan to have him instead focus on conditioning.
When he’s not catching, Christian Vazquez could play first base from time to time. He had seven starts at the position last season and handled himself well.
Sam Travis has started 38 games at first base since 2017 and could again be a depth option. But Travis has a .288 on-base percentage over 111 major league games and, after six seasons in the organization, could use a fresh start somewhere else. The Sox missed their window to trade him.
That the Red Sox left Josh Ockimey unprotected for the Rule 5 draft tells you their opinion of the 24-year-old, who has hit .206 over 149 Triple A games.
The Sox appear unlikely to bring back free agent Mitch Moreland, who handled first base well over the last three seasons. At a relatively modest cost of $18.5 million, Moreland had a .787 OPS over three seasons and 364 games for the Sox with 56 home runs and well above-average defense.
Moreland also had a .945 OPS in 15 postseason games. His three-run homer in Game 4 of the 2018 World Series started a comeback by the Sox that turned a 4-0 deficit into a 9-6 victory. But Moreland, 34, missed 71 games last season because of back and leg injuries.
Primary 2019 starter: Mitch Moreland.
Projected 2020 starter: Bobby Dalbec.
Major league depth: Michael Chavis, Sam Travis, Christian Vazquez.
Prospect to watch: Josh Ockimey.
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