RED SOX INSIDER

Tomase: How the 2016 draft is starting to pay dividends for Sox

RED SOX INSIDER
To this point, not many members of Boston's 2016 draft class have done very much for the Red Sox, but Bobby Dalbec's emergence and Jay Groome's development could change that.
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The 2016 season was an important one for the Red Sox in many obvious ways -- and one we're only beginning to realize.

After consecutive last-place finishes, they finally offered some proof that the 2013 World Series wasn't a fluke. Manager John Farrell returned from lymphoma to lead the club to its first of three straight division crowns. David Ortiz finished his Hall of Fame career with a monster swan song. An effervescent young star named Mookie Betts blasted 31 homers and finished second in the MVP voting.

That's what we remember. But something else happened that deserves a second look.

The Red Sox may have actually had a good draft.

Outside of the franchise-altering 2011 haul that included Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Matt Barnes, and Travis Shaw, the pickings have been slim over the last decade. The one player who felt like a hit -- 2015 first-rounder Andrew Benintendi -- is now in danger of going bust.

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But 2016 offers a couple of causes for legitimate optimism.

The first and most obvious is first baseman Bobby Dalbec, who continued his metronomic pounding of left- and right-field bleachers with his sixth home run in 10 games during Thursday's 4-3 win over the Rays.

The Red Sox drafted Dalbec in the fourth round out of Arizona, where he hit .282 with 24 home runs and an .842 OPS in three seasons. He signed for an above-slot bonus of $650,000, but by that point the Red Sox had already saved enough money elsewhere to create room for their real prize.

 

New Jersey high schooler Jay Groome entered his senior year as a contender to be the No. 1 overall pick, but the rugged left-hander ended up slipping at least partly over makeup and maturity concerns. The Red Sox took him 12th overall and signed him for $3.65 million, a hair under his rumored asking price of $4 million.

The road from draft to big leagues is perilous, and the Red Sox ended up waiting for both players. Dalbec began the year as Baseball America's No. 75 overall prospect, a seemingly generous ranking for a player entering his age-25 season. Scouts liked Dalbec's power -- he averaged a home run every 18 at-bats in the minors, including a high of 32 in 2018 -- and his short, direct stroke suggested it would translate to the big leagues in ways that, say, Michael Chavis's looping uppercut has not.

Strikeouts were the problem. Dalbec's breakout 2018 campaign, for instance, was mitigated by 176 strikeouts. He struck out at least 130 times in each of his three full minor league seasons.

Meanwhile, Groome disappeared completely, felled by Tommy John surgery in May of 2018 after establishing himself as a top-100 prospect. He returned late last season and threw four innings, laying the groundwork for what he had hoped to be a major bounce-back campaign. Then the pandemic hit and both players ended up at the alternate training site in Pawtucket, where each thrived.

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Dalbec parlayed his success into a promotion after the Red Sox traded first baseman Mitch Moreland to the Padres, and he has run with the opportunity, teaming with third baseman Rafael Devers to give the Red Sox a pair of Killer D's on the corners. Dalbec may only be hitting .250 with 19 strikeouts in 39 plate appearances, but he's slugging .750.

"It's great, obviously, to have someone like Bobby here, being so young, and for him to be contributing as much as he is has been great," said Devers, who homered as part of his own tear on Thursday. "Obviously, he's been hitting those home runs in Philadelphia, he hit a home run today to tie the game. It's good to have that youth being infused into this team. He's always had that power, so it's good to see him being able to translate it now in the big leagues."

Dalbec became the first rookie ever to produce a five-game home run streak in the first 10 games of his career. If he can homer in the next three games, he'll tie a record shared by Dale Long, Don Mattingly, and Ken Griffey Jr.

"It feels amazing. It's crazy," said Dalbec after the fourth homer on Wednesday. "I would never think that I would have some crazy stat like that and my name to be in there, but I'm very fortunate to be in this position, so it's awesome."

 

Groome has toiled out of the limelight in Pawtucket, but he's making real progress. Listed at 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, he already looks the part of a Jon Lester-style horse. He pairs a 95-mph fastball with a big, biting curveball that he can spike on the plate or run inside on right-handers. He doesn't remotely lack for confidence, either.

"It's not really affiliated baseball, but it is for me," Groome said in a recent Zoom call with reporters. "I'm coming up here and getting my work in and showing these guys what I've got. I have a lot to prove. . . . I'm not going to go out there and be the young dude who just goes through his motions. I want to be that dude that goes out there and just lights it up, that lets his pitching do the talking."

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If and when Groome arrives -- and given that he has only thrown 66 pro innings, he probably remains at least a couple of years away -- he'll join six other members of the 2016 draft to reach the majors.

Third-rounder Shaun Anderson is a swingman with the Giants after being traded for Eduardo Nuñez in 2017, right-hander Mike Shawaryn and left-hander Kyle Hart have made forgettable cameos in Boston, right-hander Stephen Nogosek made seven appearances for the Mets last year after being acquired for Addison Reed, and shortstop Santiago Espinal will forever be known as the player traded to acquire future World Series MVP Steve Pearce from the Blue Jays.

Nuñez and Pearce ended up contributing to the 2018 title, which already makes that draft useful. But with Dalbec slugging and Groome slinging, it has a chance to be something a lot more special.