In '17, Red Sox will rely on '16 Draft talent

Groome, Dalbec have chance to stand out in trade-depleted system

Bobby Dalbec (left) and Jason Groome will be making their full-season debuts this year. (Ashley Marshall, Sandy Tambone)

By Sam Dykstra / | March 11, 2017 11:24 PM ET

FORT MYERS, Florida -- You may have heard a thing or two about the Red Sox farm system over the past 12 months. Once the envy of most other organizations, the pipeline has taken a fair share of hits, but for good reasons.

No. 2 overall prospect Yoan Moncada, No. 16 overall prospect Michael Kopech, outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe and right-hander Victor Diaz headed to the White Sox in the deal that brought back All-Star left-hander Chris Sale. Middle infielder Mauricio Dubon is now the Brewers' No. 9 prospect after being acquired from the Red Sox in a package for reliever Tyler Thornburg. Before that, there was the Anderson Espinoza-Drew Pomeranz swap in July. Before that ... 

You get the picture.

With so many former top prospects donning uniforms of new clubs, the focus turns to what kind of system is left. It's one that's no doubt top-heavy, headlined by's top prospect in Andrew Benintendi (who will remain a prospect for 25 more Major League at-bats) and No. 17 overall prospect Rafael Devers.

Beyond those two, what stands out so much about this Red Sox farm is how much the system must rely on its 2016 Draft class. In fact, six of the club's top 30 prospects were 2016 picks between No. 3 Jason Groome, No. 5 Bobby Dalbec, No. 7 C.J. Chatham, No. 13 Michael Shawaryn, No. 18 Shaun Anderson and No. 24 Stephen Nogosek.

"That's the goal every Draft and every signing period internationally is to add impact talent," Red Sox vice president of player development Ben Crockett said. "I think [amateur scouting director] Mike Rikard and the whole scouting department did a great job of identifying some guys both at the very top and sprinkled in that we feel can make an impact eventually in the big leagues with the Red Sox."

When it comes to that sextet, though, Groome and Dalbec are the ones most likely to give Boston the best chance at restoring a desirable system.

Groome would be considered the cream of almost any crop, but that's especially true when talking about the Red Sox's 2016 Draft class. The New Jersey high school left-hander was named's top Draft prospect for 2016 with plus grades on his fastball and curveball. The latter pitch was considered especially advanced for an 18-year-old with no professional experience. But as concerns about signability and whispers about makeup grew, it became apparent that Groome wouldn't go as high as he could have on talent alone. In fact, it became a guessing game as to which organization would take the risk of denting its Draft bonus pool by taking the 6-foot-6 hurler. When the Red Sox became that team, Groome -- a Red Sox fan dating to the days of Pedro Martinez, thanks to his father, who counts Dustin Pedroia as one of his baseball heroes -- and his family jumped for joy.

"My family and I loved every step of the way," he said. "I was the first person in my family to do something other than get a regular job. My family was so ecstatic because they knew my favorite team was the Red Sox. When my name got picked, everything got double the excitement. It was a dream come true."

Though there was some drama that took negotiations between the two sides right up to the July 15 deadline before there was an agreement at $3.65 million, Groome seemed to make it clear that signing was always the plan when it came to Boston.'s No. 41 overall prospect pitched only 6 2/3 innings between the Gulf Coast and New York-Penn Leagues last summer as the Red Sox wanted him to get only a morsel of pro ball heading into his first offseason. He spent that offseason training at the team's facility in Fort Myers, having bought a house for his family just 15 minutes away, and did his best to cut down on sweets to prepare for the rigors of a full campaign, starting at Class A Greenville. He's only thrown live batting practice sessions this spring but is expected to pitch his first game early this week.

Given his size and impressive stuff for his age, Groome is one of the game's most highly regarded left-handed pitching prospects -- ranks him No. 2 behind the Brewers' Josh Hader -- and has become Boston's top pitching prospect following Kopech's departure. Even for someone who claims he's been a member of Red Sox Nation before singing on the bottom line last summer, Groome said he's trying not to worry about the expectations that comes with the rabid fan base.

"That goes along with the humble side of me," he said. "I really don't like to go out and think, 'I'm Jason Groome.' I like to go out and show people and make them think, 'Wow, that kid goes out there and gets stuff done. He puts his team in the best situation to win.' That's how I look at my first start in Spring Training."

Don't mistake humility for a lack of confidence because even at his worst, Groome thinks he's ready to take on Minor League bats on a full-time basis.

"I have what I like to think is a warrior mentality," he said. "If one of my pitches isn't working, then I can't get frustrated because I still have two other pitches in my back pocket. Don't dwell on that. God forbid, my curveball and changeup aren't working, I'll still go out and only pitch with my fastball. Here it is, hit it. Try. You're not gonna though. I'm just gonna throw in the corners. Take it."

If there's another standout from Boston's most recent Draft class, it's that the organization went considerably college-heavy at the top after Groome. Eight of the club's first 10 picks came from the college ranks, excluding Groome and catcher Alan Marrero (eighth round). 

Of the NCAA set, Dalbec, taken in the fourth round out of the University of Arizona, was easily the most successful during his first run through pro ball last year.

The 6-foot-4, 225-pound third baseman, who also pitched in college, put himself on the map with a .319/.410/.601 slash line and 15 homers in 55 games as a sophomore, then led the Cape Cod Baseball League with 12 long balls the following summer. His stock took a hit when he hit .260 with seven homers and struck out in 30.7 percent of his plate appearances as a junior. (Using raw data, that's 85 punchouts with no one else on the Arizona roster fanning more than 49 times during the 2016 season.) But the right-handed slugger still made it clear to everyone thinking of taking him in the Draft that he wanted the bat in his hands in the pros.

Funny enough, the Red Sox took him in the fourth round on the same day he pitched Arizona to a win over Mississippi State (and Cardinals first-rounder Dakota Hudson) in the NCAA Super Regionals. The way he tells the story, he was egged on by the sound system blaring the Dropkick Murphys hit "Shipping Up to Boston" in the later innings.

After he signed just before the deadline for an above-slot $650,000, Dalbec seemed to reverse his hitting fortunes at Class A Short Season Lowell. The 21-year-old hit .386/.427/.674 with seven homers, two triples and 13 doubles in 34 games with the Spinners. His 1.101 OPS was best among New York-Penn League hitters with at least 130 plate appearances and no one came within 100 points of his slugging percentage. Mahoning Valley's Andrew Calica was closest at .568 in 174 plate appearances.

In his first pro season, Dalbec was looking much more like the sophomore version than the junior.

"I'm always a guy constantly trying to get better at things, and I think I just made too many changes," he said. "Now I've toned down on working on my mechanical thinking. I need to trust my body, trust the position I get into, trust my swing, trust my eyes, and everything worked out a lot better for me. Wilton Veras, the hitting coach in Lowell, really did a good job of getting me to focus on being more consistent rather than consistently changing things and messing with muscle memory. Now I've got my swing foundation and can make little tweaks here and there, but right now, I feel pretty good."

What's even more encouraging is that he dropped his strikeout rate to 23.1 percent in the pros. That's still not ideal, but it's not nearly as worrisome as his contact issues last spring.

"The biggest thing was vision for me," Dalbec said, "concentrating on where I want to see the ball, rather than looking for the ball I don't want to see. I need to see where I want it to be if I want to do damage to it. If it's not there, I need to lay off it. My main approach is hit a home run to center field or hit the ball hard to center field. I'm not getting paid to hit the ball on the ground."

With the rest of the 2016 ranked-prospect-out-of-college contingent also playing in Lowell last summer, Dalbec said he can feel a sense of camaraderie in the group that dated back to the days before they all donned the same colors.

"Me and Shawaryn, we were really good friends on Team USA in college," he said. "Nogosek, I faced him for three years in college in the Pac-12. I played against Chatham one summer, and I never played with [seventh-rounder] Ryan Scott, but he's a great dude and I love playing with him. It's cool having those relationships, previously."

The college crew might have the numbers (both en masse and, in Dalbec's case, statistically), but Groome definitely has the talent to shape a middling Red Sox system. No matter which ones take the initiative, it's becoming clearer that the way we define the system this year might come down to how the Class of 2016 looks.

"[College] generally is a quicker path because guys are usually three or four years older than a high school player might be in physical or mental development," Crockett said. "But I don't think it was necessarily targeting one or the other. I think those guys do a great job of identifying who the best player is, who has the best value. We've got guys like Mookie Betts standing next to Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi up there. [It's] a nice mix of guys from all backgrounds and, ultimately, that's our goal -- to try to get the most out of every single player."

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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