Technically speaking, Rafael Devers is still the second-ranked prospect in the Red Sox’ minor league system behind Andrew Benintendi. But, that’s only a technicality. Benintendi will be the Red Sox’ starting left fielder come opening day and after 25 at-bats will no longer be considered a prospect (he fell 25 short of the 130 at bats needed to exceed rookie eligibility last season).
This leaves Devers, MLB Pipeline’s #16 overall and #1 ranked third baseman, as the top guy in an otherwise thin system. Regardless of the competition, he’s largely deserving of the surrounding hype.
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Between the Dominican Summer League and Gulf Coast League in 2014, Devers hit .322 with a .910 OPS, 7 homers and 57 runs batted in across 70 games. In 2015, his line dipped (.288/.329/.443), but his production looked nearly identical as he posted 11 homers and 70 runs batted in over 115 games at Low-A Greenville. Then last season he posted mirror images of his numbers in 2015, hitting .282/.335/.443 at High-A Salem with 11 home runs and 71 runs batted in. It’s important to note that he got off to a dreadful start in April and May, before hitting .331/.371/.522 with 8 home runs and 53 runs batted in beginning on on June 1st.
So while his teammates, Andrew Benintendi and Yoan Moncada, were tearing through the competition en route to major league call-ups and an eventual spot on the postseason roster, Devers quietly went about his work at High-A. Regardless, Class A Salem’s manager Joe Oliver couldn’t help but notice that Devers was disappointed by being held back, per ESPN’s Scott Lauber.
But with Benintendi in the majors and Moncada now with the White Sox, it’ll be Devers’ turn to flash some numbers in the minor leagues. He’s likely going to start the season at AA Portland, which should prove challenging given his young age.
Needless to say, at this point in his development, the third baseman should be welcoming challenge. He’s shown an ability to hit at every level so far and more importantly the ability to adjust after struggling through the first couple months of 2016. His defence has also come into question, after posting a .944 fielding percentage across all minor league levels, but developed his game to complete 96% of his opportunities at High-A last year. There’s also reason to believe that his defensive acumen is only showing signs of continual improvement.
All of this is meant to show that it’s no surprise Red Sox President of Baseball Operations, Dave Dombrowski, explicitly stated that he was able to stomach trading Yoan Moncada because of Devers. With him in the system, they still have a rising star at their thinnest position. His ETA is currently projected at 2018, but that’s not to say we couldn’t see him in a Boston Red Sox uniform at some point during this season.
It’s asking a lot of a 20-year-old to adjust to AA, then AAA and then Major League pitching all in one calendar year – but the Red Sox don’t have to look any further than left field to find an example of a player that has done it before. It’s also easy to see a situation in which Devers’ bat is needed sooner than later.
The Red Sox can be from far certain in the abilities, health and weight of Pablo Sandoval. And with Brock Holt as their only viable option behind him, there is a foreseeable situation in which Devers gets a mid-season call-up. Nevertheless, this situation has a lot of variables to it. It depends on Devers raking at AA, warranting a promotion to AAA, and the eventual failure(s) of Sandoval or Holt at the majors.
The more likely scenario is that Devers gets a full season to develop his all-around game with the Portland Sea Dogs. His bat will carry him to the big leagues regardless of how quickly he ascends through the minors, but there are still doubts regarding his readiness to field at a major league level. I don’t expect to see Devers in a Red Sox uniform until 2018 and neither should he really.
But as the last star in the Sox’ formerly stacked farm, Rafael Devers now has the validation to go out and stake his claim to a spot on the major league roster. He’ll have to deal with the challenges of advanced pitching and the attention that comes with being the Red Sox’ number one prospect, but he should welcome the opportunity given his desire to ascend through the system.