Red Sox: How Rafael Devers was discovered in the Dominican Republic

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 18: Rafael Devers
BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 18: Rafael Devers /

The Boston Red Sox have been relying on a 20-year old from the Dominican Republic to solve their long time issues at third base. How did they find Rafael Devers and sign him?

Eddie Romero, the general manager of the Red Sox, was the director of international scouting for Boston when Rafael Devers was discovered. One of his scouts, Manny Nanita, told Romero that he had to make the trip to see this 14-year old Dominican kid that he had seen.

"“A lot of times you hear hyped guys and all this, but when we went to see (Devers) it was legit,” Romero said. “He performed very well and he played third base very well and had a really good arm given his age. Then when we saw he was doing this against players that were three, four years older than he was that made it all the more impressive.”"

Teams and organizations often have to seek out young talent in the Dominican Republic. There are very few scheduled workouts and showcases like there are in the United States. Many of the talented young players are found practicing at fields held by agents or at a very casual workout organized by the player himself. Devers was no exception.

Devers, at age 14, was practicing on a field in Santo Domingo near a horse track. Nanita was at the practice but originally had the intent of scouting some of the older players. However, the young Devers stood out among the group and caught Nanita’s eye.

"“What I first noticed was that Devers looked different than the rest of the players during batting practice,” Nanita wrote in an email to “He was squaring the ball up most of the time and driving it where it was pitched, but what really caught my attention was seeing him face pitchers, he was so focused and confident in his ability to hit that it looked like a battle between him and the pitcher.”"

After that practice, Nanita and Devers, along with his father, developed a professional relationship and the Red Sox scouted Devers for a little over a year. When Romero was told to go see Devers play, it was already decided within the organization that Devers was a must-sign. The Red Sox battled against the Arizona Diamondbacks and Toronto Blue Jays who also had significant interest in the young third baseman. However, Devers chose the Red Sox because of Nanita’s loyalty.

"“Each game I saw him play he took each at bat seriously, waiting for his pitch to hit and being aggressive and consistent with it,” Nanita said. “I felt like we had a very good chance to sign him due to that we started the process very early on him, found him at a very young age and this allowed us to get to know him and follow him all the way, meeting his father and starting a friendly relationship.”"

There was really no debate about Boston’s capability when it came to signing Devers. At 16-years old, Devers received a $1.5 million signing bonus after agreeing to a deal in August of 2013. After that, he was immediately sent to a Red Sox academy in El Toro, about 35 minutes away from where he was originally discovered.

Like many talented players from the Dominican Republic, Devers was excelling on pure, raw talent but needed some serious refining and discipline. The Academy he was sent to allowed Devers to learn how to workout daily, practice daily, and maintain endurance while playing 3 to 4 games a week. It also helps players learn English and adapt to the “pro lifestyle.”

At the Academy was manager Jose Zapata who had the responsibility of introducing Devers and the other players to the “Red Sox way” of baseball as well as prepare them for the highest level of the game.

"“First thing I saw about him was his talent,” Zapata told Jen McAffrey of MassLive. “Especially his swing when he was taking batting practice in that first week of work. It was pretty easy coaching him, because since his first week with us you could tell he had excellent makeup and came from a great family. He showed great effort to work every day, especially his defense which he knew he had to work on.“We worked with some different drills to get better with his defense, doing a lot of drills to get his feet moving. With more strength his arm got stronger as well.”"

Devers spent one year in the Dominican Academy before being moved to Greenville in 2015, where the Single-A team is. He hit .288 with a .773 OPS and was one of the youngest players in the minors.

After quickly adapting and excelling at the lower levels, Devers was promoted to High-A Salem to start the 2016 season and he finally hit a wall. He batted .233 with a .633 OPS over the first two months of the season. However, due to his talent and age, the Red Sox were not too concerned.

“I think we thought of it as this is the first time in his career, maybe ever since he started playing baseball that he really struggled,” Romero said. “And the assimilation into the culture still relatively new to him, hitting in the cold weather for the first time and that’s a league where historically it’s a tough league to hit in the Carolina league.

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"“Every hitting coordinator that went in there said he’s just trying to do too much,” Romero said. “He’s pressing a little bit, mechanically he’s getting better and he hasn’t panicked. He’s gotten frustrated at times but he hasn’t panicked. So we were so convicted on him as a player that we knew this was a bump in the road so once he got hot that also didn’t’ surprise us. I don’t mean to sound arrogant like that in any way. We just had a lot of faith in the bat and once he started heating up it was kind of what we knew he could do.”"

Devers ended up adapting and excelling once again, hitting .288 with a .779 OPS across 128 games. When spring training started in 2017, Devers was invited and there were immediately some speculation about his eventual call-up.

He began the 2017 season in Portland and hit .300 with a .944 OPS across 77 games. Devers earned a spot at the MLB All-Star Futures game and the Eastern League All-Star game in the same week, representing the Boston Red Sox. Before reaching the majors, the Red Sox gave Devers an opportunity in Triple-A Pawtucket but he didn’t need it.

Devers, at age 20, was promoted on July 23rd, a week before the trade deadline. In 34 games, Devers has batted .287 with a .871 OPS and six doubles and eight home runs. He has cemented himself as the third baseman of the future as well as a middle of the order type bat that can be relied on going forward. And despite the success, Devers and the Red Sox are completely unfazed by it all.

"“It’s almost eery how much of the same kid (he is),” Romero said. “I chat with him now and he’s asking me about the coaching staff in the Dominican and that’s how he’s always been. He’s a very genuine kid and very up front and smart in that he keeps things simple.”"

Next: Is David Price headed to the bullpen?

Six years ago a Boston Red Sox scout found Rafael Devers on the side of a horse track playing baseball at age 14. Now, the 20-year old may be the key of Boston’s World Series dreams. He, along with other young stars like Andrew Benintendi, have been very impressive at very young ages and it’ll be exciting to see what they can do going forward.