Red Sox outfield prospect Wil Dalton homered in his Grapefruit League debut on Tuesday afternoon.
Hours after being added to the Sox’ roster for their contest against the Rays at Charlotte Sports Park, Dalton took over for Rob Refsnyder as a defensive replacement in left field in the middle of the sixth inning. He registered his first and only plate appearance of the day an inning and a half later.
Matched up against Rays reliever Jack Lobosky to lead off the top of the eighth, Dalton worked a 1-1 count before swinging away at the third pitch he saw. The right-handed hitter wound up drilling a solo shot over the left field wall to provide Boston with some much-needed insurance in an eventual 4-2 win over Tampa Bay.
Dalton, 24, was originally selected by the Sox in the eighth round of the 2019 amateur draft out of the University of Florida and signed with the club for $135,000 that summer.
A former junior college product from Tennessee, Dalton made his professional debut for the Lowell Spinners but had his first full season in pro ball wiped away because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last spring, Dalton broke minor-league camp with Low-A Salem and embarked upon what would turn out to be an eventful 2021 season in which he played at three different levels.
From May 4 through June 16, Dalton posted for Salem regularly and batted a solid .265/.354/.449 (118 wRC+) with four home runs, 17 RBIs, 14 runs scored, and four stolen bases over 31 games spanning 113 plate appearances.
On June 17, Dalton was promoted to High-A Greenville. He proceeded to struggle to the tune of a .631 OPS in 33 games with the Drive but was added to Double-A Portland’s roster (presumably for depth-related reasons) in late July.
Dalton made his Double-A debut on July 30 and remained with the Sea Dogs for the next two weeks. He slashed .240/.296/.400 (90 wRC+) to go along with four doubles, three RBIs, and three runs scored over eight games (27 plate appearances) for Portland before getting sent back down to Greenville on August 11.
The transition from Double-A back to Low-A was not a smooth one for Dalton, who limped to the finish line and managed just a .573 OPS in his final 27 games to close out the year.
All told, Dalton appeared in a total of 99 games between Salem, Greenville, and Portland last year. Over that 99-game sample, he hit a collective .211/.293/.377 (82 wRC+) with 21 doubles, one triple, 11 home runs, 49 RBIs, 47 runs scored, five stolen bases, 36 walks, and 101 strikeouts across 380 trips to the plate.
Defensively, the 6-foot, 182 pound saw playing time at all three outfield positions in his travels last season. The former Gator logged 261 innings in left, 273 1/3 innings in center and 280 1/3 in right while recording eight outfield assists.
According to FanGraphs, 137 different Red Sox minor-leaguers registered at least one plate appearance over the course of the 2021 season. Among that group, Dalton was one of just three who played with three or more affiliates. The other two who did so were Danny Santana and Ricardo Cubillan.
Dalton, who turns 25 in August, is not regarded by any major publication as one of the top prospects in the Red Sox’ farm system. He will need to improve against more advanced pitching, but the power he possesses from the right side of the plate is certainly intriguing.
On that note, Dalton is projected to return to Portland for the start of the 2022 season, which — for the Sea Dogs — begins on April 8.