It had been two hours since Bobby Dalbec made history Thursday night before Vaughn Williams finally got to his phone.
The Red Sox scout had been immersed in his daughter’s basketball practice, with the family prioritizing COVID-19-impacted gym times. It was already a good day. When he took that glance at what had transpired in the Red Sox game in St. Petersburg, Fla. it only got better.
“I was like ‘Bobby D again!,’” said Williams a little while after digesting the news from Tropicana Field. “I was like ‘Go ahead young man! Go ahead!’”
He had every right to be excited over Dalbec’s fifth straight game of hitting a home run. If it wasn’t for Williams, after all, there is a very good chance this player is not in this uniform.
“It’s a great feeling to see a guy like that,” Williams said. “It would have been easy to just fold with the industry and the pressure of the job. Man, sometimes it’s hard to put in words but it was there.”
Whatever was there led the Red Sox to take Dalbec in the fourth round of the 2016 MLB Draft. But looking back it wasn’t that simple. For Williams and the Red Sox, committing to the University of Arizona star was far from a no-brainer.
“We had a great process with Bobby,” remembered Red Sox amateur scouting director Mike Rikard. “Vaughn Williams really was the genesis of the whole process. He had great convictions on Bobby from the outset. We were able to see a lot of him in Cape Cod and with Team USA and we saw many different versions of Bobby. He was really an enigma to scout. At times he would really struggle to make contact and at other times he looked like one of the best hitters in the draft and did some of things we’re seeing the culmination of right now at the major league level. Just unreal power and power to all fields.”
There was all that power. But there were also all those swings and misses, so many that many in Major League Baseball believed the prospect’s only path was pitching.
“I would venture to guess that many of the teams liked him better as a pitcher,” Rikard recalled. “He was a legitimate prospect. To Bobby’s credit he was adamant in conversations to us, ‘Look, I’m a hitter and I’m going to be a really major league hitter.’ That spoke volumes about his determination and some of those things as well.”
Williams had first seen Dalbec and his electric arm during the player’s pre-college years at Legend (CO) High.
There was something about the tall but not overly-muscular young man in the eyes of the Sox scout. Something that didn’t necessarily translate to numbers or measurable. It was easy to sing is praises when Dalbec was hitting 12 homers in 27 games for Orleans in the Cape Cod League, but standing by the infielder while going through a junior season at Arizona that saw 85 strikeouts in 65 games (along with a .260 batting average) wasn’t as turn-key as most evaluators would have liked.
But Williams had dug in.
“It was just the mental and emotional makeup in conjunction with the baseball ability that really, really hammered home that this kid was going to be OK,” the scout said. “With him struggling as much as he did, most of your players are going to show some type of emotion especially at the amateur level. I didn’t just spend time watching him on the field. I would watch him in the dugout. I would watch him in practice. It was always the same approach and mentality to what he was doing and how he was going about it, regardless of if he was at the top or down at the bottom. I thought, ‘This is the guys of guy I want. This is the kind of guy who will be able to manage the struggles and process the struggles.’
“I knew we couldn’t walk away from this.”
So by the time Draft rolled around Williams was going to make sure the Red Sox understood where he stood on Dalbec. That became crystal clear.
“We saw that heading into the spring but he had a really disappointing spring but Vaughn Williams was just so convicted on him,” Rikard explained. “He had this really aggressive report. I can remember kind of putting the pressure on Vaughn a little bit just to kind of test his convictions but he wouldn’t back off. He was adamant that he was going be a 35-plus-home run hitter in the major leagues. He really stuck by him and fought for him. It’s never easy selecting a guy that strikes out that much in the fourth round of the draft. But the combination of Vaughn’s convictions and the kind of peaks and valleys of our process … And also, too, Vaughn was adamant about his makeup and character and work ethic. That was one of the big reasons we felt pretty comfortable he was going to be able to improve once we got him into our system.”
He added. “I remember leading up, after much discernment and conversation, the group coming to the decision that we were going to be a guy we targeted. Once you kind of take a deep breath and digest some of his performance that had some glaring holes in it, we believed he was an impactful guy if we could just get him to his ceiling and get him to be a little more consistent. Again, it goes back to our comfort and our scout’s conviction on his makeup and character and work ethic and a lot of those things that allowed us to feel very comfortable he was going to work hard to reach his ceiling. We’re not even close to it yet but it’s certainly nice to see some really glimpses this early in his career.”
So, with the 118th overall pick in the Draft the Red Sox took a chance on Dalbec, news that Williams received while at a funeral, obviously tempering any sort of overt celebration.
But a few weeks later the scout was able to pound his chest and the table when watching the Red Sox draftee at the College World Series.
After Arizona’s postseason run was ended via an untimely error (only after Dalbec struck out 25 batters in 20 College World Series innings), the Wildcats star showed his true colors, walking off the field while consoling the fielder who had experienced the season-ending miscue.
“He went up and hugged the young man,” Williams recalled. “Right there I thought, ‘I know I was right.’”
Thursday night was just the latest round of affirmation.
It turned out Dalbec and Williams were the right guys at the right time.
“I think it’s there,” the scout said. “I really do, because of the way he processes things. He’s going to do it.”