BOSTON — Don’t forget about Rafael Devers.
Boston Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has lived up to his reputation since taking over late in the 2015 season, seemingly fearless when including prospects in trades. In that short amount of time, Dombrowski has traded three of Boston’s consensus top-10 prospects in Yoan Moncada, Anderson Espinoza and Michael Kopech.
Devers, however, remains Red Sox property after the frantic offseason, which speaks in a way to how much the Red Sox value the 20-year-old third base prospect they signed as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2013.
With Moncada in the White Sox system and Benintendi ready to make the jump from “prospect” to “young major leaguer,” Devers is left as the crown jewel of the Boston farm system. He’s head and shoulders above the rest of the Red Sox prospects and shouldn’t be any lower than 20th or thereabouts on any preseason lists of the best prospects in baseball.
Devers’ presence at the club’s rookie development camp this week indicates not only his standing as a prospect but also how close he is to The Show. Six of the 10 attendees in 2015 (the Sox didn’t hold a camp in 2016) spent time in Boston the ensuing season.
Red Sox vice president of player development Ben Crockett didn’t rule out the possibility of Devers reaching the big leagues in 2017, especially if Devers shows the sort of progression he did throughout the 2016 season.
After a slow start to the season at High-A Salem in which he hit just .195 combined in April and May, Devers heated up as the weather got warmer, hitting .328 over the final 81 games of the season.
“I think after the first month and a half, he really stopped pressing,” Crockett said. “I think we saw it in spring training — he was the first pick in the winter league draft that offseason and certainly had really a kind of breakout year as a very young player in Greenville — and I think some of it was learning to deal with expectations and trying to do a little bit too much.”
Managing expectations could be even tougher in 2017, as Devers — who was ranked the No. 3 international prospect in the 2013 signing class by Baseball America — is now “the guy” in the Boston farm system. Devers is a legitimate threat at the plate from the left side with a very high offensive ceiling. The defense is a work in progress, but the development has been helped along by some natural instincts at third base, which is where the Red Sox expect Devers to stick.
The next step for Devers, who likely will start the season in Portland, should come next month in Florida. Devers is among the club’s non-roster invitees to spring training, where he’ll get his chance to make a mark on the big club. The move not only gives the front office and coaching staff a chance to see him up close, but it also gives Devers a chance to get a taste of the majors.
“Just to be around the major league routines to kind of get familiar with the terminology, the language, the routines … whether it’s infield with Brian Butterfield, whether it’s expectations of (hitting coach Chili Davis) and (assistant hitting coach) Victor Rodriguez, whether it’s the overall team environment that (manager John Farrell) and (bench coach Gary DiSarcina) will have going, I think it’s really important,” Crocket said.
“I think it’s great for any young player but certainly someone like Rafael who, from an age standpoint, is younger than a lot of his peers.”
Devers himself is obviously looking forward to the opportunity, expressing an eagerness to learn from Red Sox veterans, mentioning Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval and Mookie Betts all by name.
“I want to learn everything because at the end of the days, those guys are superstars and I want what they have,” Devers said Thursday through a translator. “I want to take as much from them as possible.”
Thumbnail photo via YouTube screen shot