Gwinn Davis/Greenville Drive

Red Sox minor league notebook: There's another star third baseman besides Rafael Devers, Michael Chavis

Ryan Hannable
July 19, 2017 - 6:03 pm

1. Much of the talk of late with the Red Sox farm system has centered around the third base position and the rise of Rafael Devers along with Michael Chavis. Chavis has been in Double-A Portland for a few weeks, while Devers was promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket last week. While these two have performed well this season and have bright futures, there's another third baseman lurking who many people aren't talking about -- Single-A Greenville's Bobby Dalbec.

Dalbec, who was drafted the fourth round last year out of the University of Arizona, is hitting .255/.347/.353 with three home runs and 19 RBIs this season, but the numbers are low because he missed roughly two months after playing with a broken hamate in addition to inflammation in his left wrist early on in the season.

Last year with Lowell, Dalbec hit .386 with seven homers and 33 RBIs in 34 games. In college he was both a pitcher and third baseman, and now that he's exclusively a third baseman, it's helped both his hitting and fielding.

“Last year was good. Like I said before, just solely being a position player helps out a lot," he said. "Now I definitely have a target on my back I think, so still getting used to that a little bit. I am still learning how to deal with certain pitches in certain counts and not be timid up there. Be a little more patient and not overly aggressive like I was in college in my last season. I don’t really feel too much pressure, either. I am just living the day to day thing, one at-bat at at time.”

Added Dalbec: “I think my defense has got better a lot just because of the instruction from the coaches we have. I think having my legs under me more than I used to is definitely a big thing. My defense feels solid right now.”

Even though he missed significant time, he said it was almost a blessing in disguise. 

“I think the time off was kind of not needed, but it was kind of good," Dalbec said. "I think it was the longest I’ve ever not been hitting and everything. It slowed everything down for me. I feel even more comfortable than I did before I got hurt.”

“At first, I didn’t really know what it was for the first week or two because I hadn’t been able to get a MRI or anything," he added. "Once they did that, it sucked at first, but it is what it is. It’s a pretty common injury. I wasn’t too worried about it.”

Dalbec didn't know anything was wrong until a cold game in May and he had trouble gripping the bat. 

2. Devers appears to be the Red Sox' third baseman of the future, which likely blocks Chavis, as well as Dalbec, who is 22 years old. It's hard to project how things will play out, but if Devers continues to perform like he has, there doesn't appear to be a future at third base for Dalbec. He acknowledged he knows there is a competition, but it doesn't mean the three root against one another.

“Yeah, everyone talks about how guys are doing," he said. "I don’t really see it as a me vs. him, a me vs. Chavis or a me vs. Devers, but I am rooting for them and wish nothing but the best for them. Obviously we’re all competing for the same spot, but it’s fun. I don’t think any of us get upset when any one of us does good or anything.”

Standing 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, the Red Sox could always change his position, which they have not been afraid to do of late with other players. As long as he continues to hit like he did last year, the rest will fall into place. 

Dalbec spoke about a new approach at the plate where he is more relaxed and is OK with striking out more.

“I’m not really too worried about strikeouts like everyone else in the world is," he said. "I don’t really see it as a huge problem. If I can consistently produce as much as I can. I think the whole effort thing will help with striking out. It has definitely helped in the first six or seven games. I’ve struck out a little bit, but there have been at-bats that have got away from me in the past and they haven’t got away. I’ve got a walk, or hit the ball hard.”

3. Speaking of Devers, he's off to a great start in Triple-A. In his first five games, he's 8-for-19 (.421) with two home runs. 

The 20-year-old spoke to the media before his first home game on Monday night and he acknowledged he's been aware of the Red Sox' struggles at third base this year and it has motivated him to play better.

“It does (motivate me),” Devers said about the Red Sox third base issues through a translator. “It is out of (my) control, so there is nothing (I) can do about it. The fact that there is an opportunity there does inspire and motivate (me) to work harder."

4. It has been three starts for Henry Owens in Double-A since he changed his arm slot and was demoted, but he's still searching for the results. In his three outings he has an ERA of 8.38 and has walked 17 batters in 9 2/3 innings. The Red Sox organization has acknowledged this will not be a short-term fix.

“This is not going to be a quick fix by any means," minor league pitching coordinator Ralph Treuel said. "It’s not like taking your hand over your head or anything like that. This is something that he hasn’t done before, but he wants to try it. When it’s clicked, when it is in sync, it is really good. He has to get that consistency. He’s putting the same effort into it as before. There’s never been a lack of work on Henry’s part. He wants to do this. He wants to get better. He is giving it is best right now, just not seeing results yet.”

Portland pitching coach Kevin Walker is the person working the most with Owens.

5. Another Portland pitcher who is struggling a bit is left-hander Trey Ball. Ball, the Red Sox' No. 7 overall pick in 2013, is 3-9 with a 5.42 ERA in 17 starts this season. Although the results aren't there, the organization remains encouraged.

“I can say this about Trey, the stuff is much better now than it was last year," Treuel said. "Whether it is his fastball, changeup, velocity, everything is starting to tick up.”

Added Treuel: “He was a high school hitter when we got him. He did not have the same reps the other guys had. It was 50/50 of whether people drafted him as a hitter or a pitcher. To me, he is making good progress. You can’t discount the really good games that he has.”

6. Bryce Brentz has found something this season. The right-handed hitter has 20 home runs with Triple-A Pawtucket and even won the AAA Home Run Derby. Since June 1, he is batting .318 with 13 home runs. As the trade deadline approaches, it would not be surprising to see a few teams call the Red Sox on Brentz, who doesn't really have much of a future with the Red Sox given the current state of the outfield. Credit the 28-year-old for not giving up and finding his swing this season.

7. Eveyone knows about Jason Groome in Greenville, but a name people should learn is Bryan Mata. The 18-year-old is 3-1 with a 2.68 ERA in eight starts. His fastball sits between 92-95 miles per hour and has an above average changeup.

“He’s progressing well," Treuel said. "He’s 18 years old, he would be a senior in high school. he will be limited to a lot of five inning stints and probably get skipped another one or two times during the season. He is making really good progress.”

8. The Red Sox farm system lost its top pitching prospect in Michael Kopech last offseason, but it's starting to reload. The Greenville rotation has some potential stars, who are still developing and getting better. Groome is still just 18 years old and would be a freshman in college. The same goes for Mata and another name to know is 20-year-old Darwinzon Hernandez. The left-hander is 2-1 with a 3.59 ERA this season and has 72 strikeouts in 57 2/3 innings. Without too many top pitching prospects in the upper levels, this is a good sign for the future.

9. The top two Red Sox draft picks have made their professioal debuts. First-round pick Tanner Houck debuted with short-season, Single-A Lowell on Monday. He pitched an inning and allowed two runs on two hits while allowing a walk and striking out two. The organization will limit his innings moving forward as he logged a ton with Missouri. Cole Brannen, the Red Sox' second-round pick out of high school, has appeared in 13 games with the Sox in the Florida Gulf Coast League. The outfielder is hitting .273, but the thing that stands out is his on-base percentage of .439. This is what he's known for -- getting on base and making things happen with his speed.

10. It was interesting to learn the Red Sox don't make many changes with their draftees mechanics in their first summer with the organization. This usually comes in Fall Instructional league, or even spring training.

“You know what, we basically don’t do anything with these guys unless it looks like it is going to hurt him until they get to Instructional League," Treuel said. "When they come in we let them pitch. We try and let them get used to our physical and fundamental program, basic fundamentals, the drills and things like that. Very rarely will we take a kid and change his delivery or bad pitches right away. If we do a thing like that we will wait until instructional league or the following spring."