Red Sox’ Alex Cora on Bobby Dalbec: ‘He’s not a home run hitter. He’s a complete baseball player’

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)

Red Sox left-hander Chris Sale experienced neck stiffness setback over holidays, has resumed throwing program since then

On the road to recovery from Tommy John surgery, Red Sox left-hander Chris Sale apparently ran into a setback some time within the past month or so, according to WEEI’s Rob Bradford.

Per Bradford, “Sale experienced a setback around the holidays due to neck stiffness. The ailment put a halt to the starter’s throwing program, which he has begun participating in again.”

The encouraging aspect of this is that Sale has since resumed his throwing program, though his “workouts now include treatment on the neck issue to prevent the problem from cropping up again,” Bradford writes.

Sale, who turns 32 in March, underwent elbow reconstruction surgery on March 29 last year.

Pitchers typically take anywhere between 12-15 months to recover from said operation, which would put the southpaw on track to return to the mound at some point this summer if all goes accordingly.

“With Chris, we’re still looking at a midsummer return to have him fully stretched out as a starter,” Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said of Sale in November. “But everything continues going along with that. Arm’s doing great, which is awesome.”

Earlier this month, however, ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that the Sox are expected to be “cautious” with Sale’s rehab and that “the pace for his return from Tommy John surgery is expected to be deliberate.”

The seven-time All-Star inked a five-year, $145 million contract extension with Boston shortly before the start of the 2019 campaign, when then-president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski was at the helm.

Since then, Sale has started just 25 games for the Red Sox, posting a 4.40 ERA and .695 OPS against over 147 1/3 innings pitched before getting shut down due to left elbow inflammation in August 2019, which ultimately led to TJS the following spring.

Under contract through the 2024 season (vesting option for 2025) with the opportunity to opt out after 2022, Sale is slated to earn $30 million in 2021. That dollar figure translates to $25.6 million for luxury tax purposes.

As noted by Bradford, the Florida native was expected to begin throwing off a mound sometime this month, though it appears the neck stiffness he dealt with and is getting treatment on threw a wrench in those plans.

(Picture of Chris Sale: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Rafael Devers on Teammate Xander Bogaerts: ‘He’s Probably the Best Person I’ve Ever Met in My Life’

Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts arguably make up the best left side of any infield in the American League. Last year, the pair combined to hit 65 home runs and 106 doubles, becoming the first teammates to ever collect 30 long balls and 50 two-baggers in the same season.

On the field, the two Caribbean stars are as dominant as ever and may just be the best two players on the Red Sox now that Mookie Betts is in Los Angeles. Off the field, though, the two share a special bond, and that’s mostly thanks to Bogaerts.

In a story from ESPN’s Joon Lee highlighting Bogaerts’ sense of leadership amid a worldwide pandemic, several players spoke highly of what the 27-year-old has meant for them. The players interviewed by Lee were mostly of the younger variety who have made their major-league debuts within the last three years, such as Michael Chavis, Darwinzon Hernandez, and of course, Devers.

In talking with Lee, the 23-year-old Devers credits Bogaerts for “helping him break out as a full-fledged star in 2019” while also acknowledging the fact that Bogaerts speaks multiple languages — English, Spanish, Dutch and Papiamento — and how that is a very helpful attribute to have in a diverse clubhouse.

“Out of everyone, he’s probably the best person I’ve ever met in my life,” Devers said of his Summer Camp suite-mate. “So the fact that he’s always so happy and the fact that he does speak different languages helps bring everyone together.”

Having a mentor like Bogaerts, who has seemingly risen to the role even more since signing a six-year, $120 million extension with Boston last spring, should be something all major-league clubs strive for.

Bogaerts experienced the growing pains a big-leaguer endures as a rookie back in 2013, and he calls back to the help he received from the veterans on that year’s Red Sox team, such as David Ortiz, David Ross, Mike Napoli, and Dustin Pedroia, while passing down wisdom to his peers now.

“I remember I was scared. I was a little nervous, actually not a little nervous,” said Bogaerts of his rookie year, when he was just 20 years old. “I was really nervous because I don’t really want to mess up with all these big boys, and I wasn’t used to a situation like that, but it all worked out great, man. It all worked out great. I learned a lot from them.”

As it turns out, it would appear that Bogaerts did learn a lot from those guys on the 2013 team. And as he and the Red Sox prepare to embark on what’s sure to be a bizarre 60-game season, that knowledge gained seven years ago will likely come in handy over the next few months.

Rays Granted Permission by Major League Baseball to ‘Explore Possibility’ of Playing Split-Season Between Tampa Bay and Montreal

Per ESPN.com’s Jeff Passan, the Tampa Bay Rays have been granted permission from Major League Baseball’s executive council to look into playing their home games at two different venues in the same season. The plan would involve earlier home games taking place in the Tampa Bay area before the rest are played in Montreal, Canada.

Major League Baseball confirmed this news in a tweet earlier Thursday.

The specific number of games played in each city has yet to be determined, Passan notes, but new stadiums would be built in both Tampa Bay and Montreal.

The Rays’ current lease with Tropicana Field runs through the 2027 season. Back in December, at the baseball winter meetings in Las Vegas, principal owner Stuart Sternberg announced that plans to build a new ballpark in the neighboring Ybor City would not be finalized, meaning that aforementioned lease would seemingly run its course.

But, with this most recent announcement, it appears that the Rays’ brass believes that a two-city approach is the best way to preserve Major League Baseball in that part of Florida.

As things stand right now, Tampa Bay, despite sporting the fourth-best record in the American League at 43-31, are pulling in an average of 14,545 people per home game, the second-worst attendance mark in all of baseball.

The team’s 2019 Opening Day payroll of just over $62 million was one of the lowest among the 30 clubs as well.

The idea of bringing baseball back to Quebec has long been there, that much is clear with how a pair of exhibition games hosted by the Toronto Blue Jays has been played at Olympic Stadium since 2014.

Last homing a Major League Baseball team in 2004, before the Expos were relocated to Washington, D.C., Montreal has been clamoring to get the sport back on a full-time basis.

Although that does not seem to be the case at the moment, it will be interesting to see how these discussions pan out and when they will come into effect. Stadiums take a decent amount of time to build, so I can’t imagine the Rays will be playing any of their home games outside of the Trop anytime soon.

 

Dustin Pedroia Set to Bat Leadoff for #RedSox in 2019 Debut Thursday

For the first time since May 29th of last year, Dustin Pedroia is ready to get into a baseball game, as he’ll bat leadoff and man second for the Red Sox Thursday afternoon against the Minnesota Twins at JetBlue Park.

The 35-year-old infielder had a solid week of workouts, including a “milestone day” on Monday in which he launched a ball over the center field wall while taking batting practice in the backfields at Fenway South.

When asked about the homer, Pedroia responded, “I was surprised by that. I haven’t hit a home run to center field in batting practice in my life.”

So far this spring, the California native has been preparing like he’s getting ready for just another season.

“I don’t want to get too excited,” Pedroia said. I’m just sticking to the plan and trying to get better every day.”

When it was announced by Pedroia himself that the plan is for him to get into at least one game this week, Red Sox manager Alex Cora didn’t seem too thrilled to start his infielder on Thursday while the national media is covering the club, but here we are.

“It will be cool for him. He’s been in full uniform since, like, 7 o’clock,” Cora said about Pedroia Thursday morning.

The arrangement for Pedroia today specifically is to get one at-bat, play the first two innings at second, and run around a little.

First pitch against the Minnesota Twins on Thursday is scheduled for 1:05 PM ET on ESPN.

Happy Dustin Pedroia Day.