Welcome to BP Boston’s second annual Roster Recap series. Over the next few months, we’ll be analyzing every player on Boston’s 40-man roster and many of their top prospects in order to provide a comprehensive overview of the Red Sox roster’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as what we can expect moving forward. From MVP-candidate right fielders to reserve relievers, we want to give you a look at every Red Sox who might matter in 2017. View the complete list of Roster Recaps here. Enjoy!
Coming into 2016, Rafael Devers was considered alongside Andrew Benintendi, Yoan Moncada and Anderson Espinoza as a top prospect in the Red Sox organization. That will happen when you spend the previous season lighting up consistently older opponents in the South Atlantic League to the tune of a .288/.329/.443 (.282 TAv) line. His ability at the plate was never really in question. His defense at third base remained a wait-and-see situation, but some thought he had enough chops to stay at the position. Even with the questions about his defense he earned top-prospect status.
After another season and another level in the minor leagues, Devers’ story remains much the same. At High-A Salem he posted a near identical line to his 2015 season at Low-A: .282/.335/.443 (.276 TAv). Better competition, same great results for one of the youngest players in the Carolina League. His defensive future as a third baseman is still a question, but he did nothing last year to hasten his move to another spot on the diamond, with some even suggesting he got better defensively over the course of the year.
Despite his story being the same, Devers’ status in the Red Sox system is most certainly not. Beninteni is already in Boston. Moncada, Espinoza, Michael Kopech, Mauricio Dubon, et al. were sent to other teams in trades. Given those changes, Devers is now the top guy (Ed Note: Benintendi is still technically prospect eligible, but don’t be like that. You know what we mean).
What Went Right in 2016
As I noted in the introduction, Devers’ hitting is what went right in 2016. But we can get more specific. First, he showed an ability to adjust over the season. He started the year in a real slump, posting a .138/.242/.263 line in 91 April plate appearances. Things got a little better in May, but still not great: .245/.301/.351 (103 PA). He went into the June 21 All-Star break – he did not make the All-Star team – sporting a rather measly .233/.300/.335 line. Making matters worse for Devers, he was struggling while fellow top-prospect teammates Benintendi, Moncada and Mauricio Dubon were excelling and getting promoted to play under the lights in Portland. This is the sort of thing that has the potential to derail a young player’s confidence and season.
But, as you likely already figured out because I said he adjusted and wouldn’t be writing about Devers’ half-splits in the What Went Right section if it did ruin his season, Devers turned things around. He put his junk first-half behind him and went out and raked like we know he can in the second half posting a .326/.367/.539 line, which included him tripling his doubles and triples totals from the first half and nearly doubling his home run total.
It is also worth noting that aspects of his hitting that were a concern at the conclusion of last season improved. His walk rate increased a few percentage points, while his isolated power and strike out rates held at 2015ish levels. It would have been nice to see a larger jump in his ISO, given that Devers is considered a power bat, but his keeping the strikeout rate at an acceptable level at the higher level after initially struggling should be considered a positive.
Finally, there is the report that his defense improved last season. Scott Lauber of ESPN, notes that “most evaluators agree that his defense has made solid strides over the past year.” While that is too vague to be very meaningful, BP’s fielding runs above average, which for minor leaguers should be taken with extreme caution, does corroborate the idea. He was -9.0 fielding runs in 2015, and +21.1 in 2016. I wouldn’t get too bogged down in the specific run values, but rather be happy that Devers’ work with the glove appears to be trending in the right direction.
What Went Wrong in 2016
Other than the first-half struggles, not a lot went wrong for Devers last year. Yes, it would be nice if he walked more, but his aggressive approach has worked for him thus far and he has shown the ability to adjust to higher levels when he gets there. No, he did not get promoted like many of the other top Red Sox prospects, but he is still young for the High-A level and the Red Sox have no need to rush him. Lastly, while this did not necessarily go wrong for him in 2016, his size (6’ ft, 195 lbs) and general lack of athleticism will always be a concern as they could lead to him moving across the diamond to first base where the offensive value he provides will stand out less.
Outlook for 2017
It seems likely that Devers will start the year at Double-A Portland. In the second-half of last year, he showed that he can handle High-A pitching, so promoting him another level will challenge his aggressive approach. It will be a difficult assignment for Devers, as he will again be significantly younger than the average player at the Double-A level, but if his past is any indication he will eventually adjust.
If Devers gets to Portland, immediately resumes knocking the ball all over the yard and handles himself at third base then there is a chance that he sees a mid-to-late season promotion to Boston, but that seems pie-in-the-sky – and also dependent on Pablo Sandoval struggling again. It is more likely that Devers is given at least one full season at Portland (regardless of performance) before getting moved up to the big leagues. As such, I don’t expect to see him in a Red Sox uniform until 2018 at the earliest. Regardless, he was kept out of all of Dombrowski’s trading the last two seasons, and will now have to deal with the attention that comes with being the top-prospect in the Red Sox system.
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