Alex Cora’s first exposure to Bobby Dalbec came well before he became manager of the Red Sox and well before Dalbec was even a member of the Red Sox.
It’s a story you have probably heard before: Cora, then an analyst at ESPN, was covering the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. in 2016 and got the chance to see Dalbec, then a junior at the University of Arizona, in person.
At that time, Dalbec was not an everyday first baseman, but rather a two-way player who pitched and played third base for a 44-21 Wildcats team that would go on to lose in the championship series in three games to Coastal Carolina.
While in Omaha, not only did the right-handed hitting, right-handed throwing Dalbec put the finishing touches on a solid junior season that would lead to him getting selected by the Red Sox in the third round of the 2016 June draft, he also impressed the likes of Cora.
Nearly five years later, the ex-Wildcat has emerged as arguably the top power-hitting prospect in Boston’s farm system who now has the chance to crack his first big-league Opening Day roster with Cora as his manager in just over two weeks.
Through 11 games this spring, Dalbec is slashing .308/.400/.808 while being tied with Michael Chavis for the team lead in home runs (4) to go along with eight RBI and four walks over his first 30 plate appearances.
While the 25-year-old slugger is hitting for power at an impressive rate, Cora is also pleased with what he’s been able to do in other phases of the game, like how he stole a base, drew a walk, and scored two runs against the Braves on Tuesday.
“That’s the thing about him. As you guys know, I saw him play in the College World Series,” Cora said Tuesday afternoon. “And he got my attention on the mound, but also at third base. He comes from a program that they do a lot of the little things right. That team, defensive-wise, it was one of the best I’ve seen in college baseball. And he was part of that.
“We talk to him about baserunning,” added Cora. “Talking about primary leads and secondary leads. He understands that. He’s a good baseball player. I was just telling him. I said, ‘You know what? People get caught up on the home run stuff.’ And he’s not a home run hitter. He’s a complete baseball player. And we’re very happy with the way he’s progressing.”
Red Sox general manager Brian O’Halloran echoed this same sort of sentiment regarding Dalbec when recently speaking with The Athletic’s Jim Bowden.
“Bobby continues to work hard at all aspects of his game this spring,” said O’Halloran. “People obviously notice the home runs and the power to all fields. He is very diligent in working on his approach and any adjustments he needs to make at the plate. He also continues to focus on defense and base running in order to become a complete player.”
As previously mentioned, Dalbec is on track to make his first Opening Day roster out of camp this spring and figures to see most of his playing time come at first base with a little bit of third base — his natural position — mixed in there as well.
Upon getting called up by Boston last August, the 6-foot-4, 227 pounder posted a .263/.359/.600 slash line to go along with eight home runs and 16 RBI over his first 23 games in the majors.
He also struck out more than 42% of the time in that stretch, but Cora is optimistic that Dalbec will be able to lower that number in 2021 once he properly adjusts to a more advanced degree of pitching, as has been the case throughout his professional career after getting promoted to a new level.
“I don’t think Bobby Dalbec will be swinging and missing 40% of the time during the season,” Cora said back in February. “I think if you look at his career, the first part of the season, whatever league he’s at, he swings and misses a lot. But then he catches on. We do believe that he will make more contact. What he did last year was eye-opening. It was fun to watch. And hopefully he can get a lot of traffic in front of him and he can drive them in.”
Dalbec, who doesn’t turn 26 until late June, figures to be in play for the American League Rookie of the Year award this year assuming he can successfully build off what he did in 2020.
(Picture of Bobby Dalbec: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)