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Boston Red Sox Sleepers, Busts & Breakouts - Bank on Nathan Eovaldi Comeback

A team-specific fantasy breakdown of the sleepers, busts and breakouts from the Boston Red Sox. Including a breakdown on why Nathan Eovaldi is due for a comeback.

Deep Sleeper: 3B Bobby Dalbec

Over the two previous seasons, Dalbec gained value as a power hitter (59 HRs over 927 at-bats). His minor league career started with upside in 2016 at low A (.386 with seven HRs and 33 RBI over 132 at-bats). Strikeouts (29.8 percent K rate) have been a problem, but his approach did show improvement in 2019 at AA (K rate – 25.1 and walk rate – 15.5). Over his four seasons in minors, Dalbec hit .261 with 79 HRs, 256 RBI, and 16 SBs over 1,370 at-bats). Swing and miss type player who needs more time at AAA (.257 over 113 at-bats with seven HRs and 16 RBI). Keep an open mind here as his power has massive upside if he can avoid chasing bad pitches, plus his defense will be an asset.

The signing of 1B Mitch Moreland in late January did close any chance of Dalbec earning starting at-bats for the Red Sox. His opportunity looks directly tied to the progression of 2B/3B Michael Chavis. I expect 3B Rafael Devers to transition to first base in the next year or so, which gives Dalbec his window to win the third base job. He has a great arm and glove.

Future Starter: 2B/SS Jeter Downs

Boston received Downs in an early February trade with the Dodgers for Mookie Betts. In 2019 over 120 games between High A and AA, Downs hit .278 with 92 runs, 24 home runs, 88 RBI, and 24 stolen bases over 464 at-bats. His walk rate (11.1) has leadoff potential while owning a league-average strikeout rate (20.0) last year. Over his first two years in the minors, Downs .260 with 94 runs, 19 home runs, 76 RBI, and 45 steals over 627 at-bats between rookie ball and Single-A. The shortened season hurts his chances of making the majors in 2020. With only 48 career at-bats at AA or higher, Downs looks a minimum of being a year ago from the majors.

Comeback Player: SP Nathan Eovaldi

As a Red Sox fan, the signing of Eovaldi last year was an easy mistake to see. He lacked an impactful resume in the majors with his luster coming from success over one-third of the season and follow-through in the playoffs. Boston needed to use contact money to address the ninth inning.

Eovaldi struggled in his first three starts (ten runs, 28 baserunners, and six home runs over 15 innings) while flashing on April 17th (no runs over six innings with six Ks). He then landed on the injured list for three months with a right elbow injury that required surgery in late April. After 11 appearances in the bullpen (5.41 ERA with 18 Ks over 13.1 innings), the Red Sox pushed him back into the starting rotation. Over his final six games, Eovaldi posted a 5.08 ERA with seven HRs given up over 28.1 innings.

His AFB (97.7) remains elite in velocity, but batters hit .295 against it. In 2018, he had growth due to an improved cutter (.243 BAA), which was a lost asset last season (.344 BAA). On the positive side from 2019, Eovaldi showed growth in his split-finger fastball (.191 BAA) and curveball (.200 BAA) while setting a career-high in his K-rate (9.3).

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Weakness in command (4.7 walks per nine) killed him, along with home runs allowed (2.1 per nine). There’s a better arm here if he can stay healthy and throw more strikes. Potential value on draft day.

Over two starts in spring training, Eovaldi allowed two runs over seven innings with four strikeouts.

Bounce Back: OF Andrew Benintendi

Even with Boston getting a boost from some unsuspecting hitters in 2019, Benintendi lost value across the board. His K rate (22.8) was a career-high with regression in his walk rate (9.6). When he put the ball in play, his contact batting average (.359) fell in line with 2018 (.355) while repeating his career resume in his average hit rate (1.618). From June 1st and August 31st, Benintendi hit .302 with 36 runs, six HRs, 40 RBI over 275 at-bats. His season started with minor leg and foot injuries while picking up multiple other small issues along the way.

Benintendi didn’t have an edge in his hard-hit rate (37.7), but he did rank higher in balls hit 95 MPH or more (87th). His fly-ball rate (40.7) is trending upward, but his HR/FB rate (7.9) is well below the top power hitters in the game.

This spring, I would pay attention to the reports about his power and if he had added more bulk. In today’s game, Benintendi needs to push his home run total to a much higher level with a rebound in speed.

His 2018 approach suggested a 20/20 floor with strength in batting average. His ADP fell to 116 in 12-teams leagues in March, while ranking 120th in SIscore value from his 2019 stats (18th in 2018). A possible .300-plus hitter with a balanced skillset.

Deep Sleeper: RP Tanner Houck

Boston drafted Houck in the first round in the 2017 MLB June Amateur Draft with the 24th pick. Over three seasons in the minors, he went 15-20 with a 4.08 ERA and 243 Ks over 249 innings. His lack of progression is tied to his high walk rate (4.1). After a down year at AA in 2019 (8-6 with a 4.25 ERA and 80 Ks over 82.2 innings), the Red Sox shifted him to the bullpen at AAA. In August, Houck flashed over a nine-game stretch (three runs over 14.1 innings with six walks and 20 Ks). Without growth in his command and a third pitch of value, Houck looks closer to pitching late in games than moving into the starting rotation for the Red Sox. He has a high 90s fastball with slider with swing and miss upside. Houck will start the year at AAA.

READ MORE: 2020 Boston Red Sox Fantasy Team Preview