Rafael Devers has had a July to remember. The hits just keep rolling in on just about every level imaginable.
Devers of course, is one of the hottest prospects in baseball. While seemingly everyday a new ‘Devers should be the third baseman in Boston’ story pops up, he continues to excel in the minor leagues.
Our own John Sickels had Devers ranked the ninth best prospect in baseball heading into the 2017 season. He has done nothing to hurt his stock and has put himself into the conversation as best prospect in the game. Here’s what John said in the preseason:
Age 20, signed for $1,500,000 out of Dominican Republic in 2013; hit .282/.335/.444 with 32 doubles, 11 homers, 18 steals in 503 at-bats in High-A; left-handed bat with 60-grade raw power and excellent bat speed, steadily gaining command of the strike zone although not likely to be a walk machine; doesn’t have Benintendi’s polish but has more pure power projection; despite past doubts about his glove at third base, his defensive stats are strong with improving reliability and above-average range; scouting reports are now catching up with the defensive numbers and his reputation for defense is improving; ETA 2019.
So, how has Devers’ 2017 worked out?
Devers began the season in Double-A Portland for the Boston Red Sox. There he was simply phenomenal, tapping into more of his power, while increasing his walk rate and maintaining his very respectable strikeout rates. Overall he slashed .300/.369/.575 striking out 17.2 percent of the time and walking a career-best 9.7 percent of the time in 320 plate appearances. He set his career-best home run total with 18 home runs and was well on pace to break his doubles mark, already hitting 19.
(All videos courtesy of Wayne Cavadi’s Minor League Videos YouTube page)
“The power hasn’t changed,” Devers told me through an interpreter. “My pitch selection has helped me hit more home runs this year. I struggled a little bit [with that] at the beginning of the year last year.”
The one negative was that his stolen base production was way down. A season after swiping 18 of 24 stolen base opportunities, Devers was 0-for-3. While it may be upsetting to see someone as athletic and toolsy as Devers take a step back in that department, it is hardly a reason to advance his game up the ladder.
The 20-year-old prospect didn’t have much time to rest during the midseason break. He was in Miami on Sunday July 9 for the MLB Futures Game, where he went 1-for-4. It was his second Futures Game appearance, playing the game in 2015 when he was with the Greenville Drive.
“I felt more prepared this time,” Devers said. “[I’ve] had more experience over the past two years to help prepare.”
It was Devers second time playing in a big league stadium, the first being in Great American Ball Park. Devers bat translates well on the big stage.
“It’s fun, more comfortable,” he said. “The ball flies further.”
Three days later he made the trek to Manchester, New Hampshire to play in the Eastern League All Star Classic. There he went 1-for-2, pulling a single in his first at bat.
What isn’t to like about Devers swing? He stands narrow, not all the way to the back of the box. The back elbow stays high as he moves his bat from over his shoulder into a little wiggle as the pitch approaches. His knee points in, he steps and rips his bat through the strike zone with great speed, power a fluidity.
The only problem for Devers? When Bernie Pleskoff of FanRag Sports asked which pitch he disliked most, he immediately said he didn’t like the curveball with a big smile.
Not only is Devers improved plate discipline impressive, his ability to use all fields puts him above the rest. He seemingly doesn’t try to hit home runs, and at the age of 20, is comfortable using the gaps to generate both hits and runs, evidenced by a nice 154 wRC+.
The knock on Devers has been his play at third base, something he admits was once behind.
“I’m always trying to get better at things, especially at third base,” Devers said. “There’s always things to improve one.”
Devers has indeed improved. He has a big arm and much-improved range at the hot corner. He made a fully extended diving play at the Eastern League All Star Classic. Although Slade Heathcott was able to barely beat out the throw, the play was impressive nonetheless.
He feels more comfortable after spending time with Dustin Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez, and Pablo Sandoval in the big leagues at spring training. Ironically, one of his closest friends was Sandoval who’s recent designation could spell a speedier arrival in Boston for Devers.
Devers was quickly promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket after a weekend series in New Hampshire. All he did in his debut was go 4-for-4 with a home run and two RBI. He quickly rebounded after going 0-fer in his second game, by going 1-for-3 and scoring two runs Monday night.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway was Devers confidence and how comfortable he was with the game. He has no ego, but instead has a smile and something to say to everyone he encounters. No reporter is too small to talk to, and every player is seemingly his best friend with which he can share a laugh.
Not too shabby for one of the youngest players at the level.
Devers admitted that he feels ready for the majors, but knows it’s not his decision. Until then he will apparently continue to rake and improve, quickly becoming one of the best prospects baseball has to offer.