The Red Sox minor league system currently stands on the barren side. Boston’s top prospect is currently Jason Groome, and while he’s a promising starting pitcher to be sure, Groome is just a year out of high school and in the low minors with injury issues. That’s not great. But widen the lens a bit, and you see why Groome is the top dude: because Rafael Devers made the major leagues at the age of 20.
What went right in 2017
It’s not hyperbolic to say that Devers represents the rare case of a player who did everything right in 2017. He started the year in Double-A, an important step up from 2016 where he finished the season at High-A Salem. That did not stop him from crushing it there, hitting .300/.369(nice!)/.575 with 18 homers and 40 extra base hits in 322 plate appearances. He was then called up to Triple-A Pawtucket where he hit .400/.447/.600, though it was only in 38 plate appearances because he was then called up to Boston. In Boston, Devers showed tantalizing power, something the big league club was sorely lacking, and a knack for the dramatic. Recall the home run off Aroldis Chapman in the top of the ninth inning to tie an important game at Yankee Stadium.
Actually, let’s all take a moment to recall that…
But that wasn’t the only huge moment Devers had in 2017! Recall in the ALDS when, down two runs in the ninth inning (I smell trend!), Devers hit an inside-the-park home run to make it a one run game. Sadly the Sox weren’t able to follow his lead and they lost the series, but Devers gave them a chance when they needed it the most, even if they didn’t take advantage.
On the whole, Devers’ numbers are of a player whose bat belongs at the major league level, even at his young age. He never appeared overmatched at the plate, his strikeout rate is only marginally inflated from what he posted in the minor leagues, and his plate patience and power were consistent with his (very good) minor league numbers. That is saying something considering the massive jump in the level of competition he experienced repeatedly over the course of the 2017 season. In the end, Devers made the majors years before he was expected to, and performed quite well once there.
What went wrong in 2017
You can’t really and fairly say anything went wrong for Devers in 2017 given where he came from and the different levels he advanced past. But if we are to nitpick a bit, Devers’ meteoric rise from the Red Sox third baseman of the future in the deep minors to Red Sox third baseman of the present did mask a few aspects of his game that might not be major league ready. The most prominent on that list is his fielding. Devers has a strong arm, certainly strong enough for third base, and he has the quick reflexes and instincts necessary to play the position at a high level, but there was some roughness around the edges. We saw it mostly in bad throws on what should have been routine outs, often due to bad or lazy footwork, but there were a few mental mistakes thrown in as well. None of this is fatal. Frankly, it isn’t surprising for a player Devers’ age and experience level, and with work it should be entirely correctable.
What to expect in 2018
Improvement. It’s difficult to say exactly what kind because as we know development as a whole isn’t linear, but generally speaking, improvement. With more time at third and more exposure to major league coaching, Devers should cut down on the more glaring mistakes defensively. As he continues to physically mature and starts to master major league pitching (to the extent major league pitching can ever be mastered), his offense should become more productive as well.
There is a possibility Devers could truly break out in 2018 and become the middle-of-the-order bat the Red Sox see in him a few years in the future. He has the bat speed, patience, and power to be ‘that guy,’ probably if we’re being honest, more so than any of the excellent players the Red Sox minor league system has graduated over the last few seasons. Often young players need an adjustment season, especially (again) at Devers’ age, so it may not all come together in 2018. But even if it doesn’t, watching Devers grow will be yet another reason to enjoy Red Sox baseball in 2018.
Photo by Bob DeChiara – USA TODAY Sports