The Boston Red Sox wanted to take it slow with Rafael Devers.
Really, they did. After all, the team’s prized third base prospect was just 20 years old entering this season. Why rush him to the major leagues and risk overexposing a potential franchise player? By late July, though, the Red Sox’s third base depth had evaporated, and they were left with a choice: Scramble for help on the free agent market or take a chance on the kid whose sweet swing had drawn rave reviews at the minor league level.
On July 25, Boston chose the latter, and Red Sox fans have gotten a firsthand look at why scouts think Devers can be special.
The Dominican Republic native has been an offensive force since his major league call-up, entering Monday with a .350/.417/.700 slash line while reaching base safely in 19 of his first 21 games. Devers is the first player ever to hit eight home runs in his first 20 big league games before turning 21. His 1.116 OPS leads all rookies — even New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge.
In short: Devers is living up to the hype. The scouting report on Boston’s No. 1 prospect was that he has the unique ability to not only drive the ball to all fields but do so with power. Devers has put that rare power on immediate display in the bigs. The left-handed hitter has driven six of his eight homers to the opposite field, producing a home run spray chart that’s a thing of beauty.
Devers has hit his long balls on all types of pitches, too. His first career dinger, for example, was a traditional bomb to center field on a grooved fastball.
But Devers also can hit the off-speed pitch; in Friday’s matchup with the New York Yankees, he sat back on an outside slider and muscled onto Fenway Park’s Green Monster in an impressive showcase of self-generated power.
Indeed, Devers has fit right in at Fenway, using a balanced hitting approach to rocket outside pitches onto and over the Monster. (Six of his eight homers have come at home.)
So, pitchers should try to jam him on inside pitches, right? That’s what Cleveland Indians hurler Trevor Bauer thought on Aug. 14, before Devers golfed Bauer’s sharp curveball into the right field seats for his second homer of the game — his first, of course, was hammered to the opposite field.
Devers hasn’t blinked on the big stage, either — just ask Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, who saw the rookie smash his 103-mph fastball for a ninth-inning, game-tying homer.
Of course, Devers’ swing isn’t perfect: His 23.6 percent strikeout rate is a sizable jump from the 16 or 17 percent he hovered around in the minors. There undoubtedly will be an adjustment period for the 20-year-old as opposing pitchers develop a book on him.
For now, though, Devers immediately is making good on the lofty projections, using his all-fields approach to fill a serious power void in Boston’s lineup.
Did scouts see this success coming? Perhaps, but Devers has rapidly accelerated the process, making the Red Sox — who have gone 16-6 since his call-up — look like geniuses for giving the kid his shot.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images