Red Sox 2017 Report Cards: Third Baseman Rafael Devers

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 09: Rafael Devers
BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 09: Rafael Devers /

In just one season, Rafael Devers jumped from a name on a prospect list to a savior for the Boston Red Sox at the hot corner.

Going into the 2017 season, third baseman Rafael Devers was coming off of a full season in High-A ball. The 20-year old was simply a big name prospect, someone who you heard floated around as a headliner in a trade package but never actually seen.

That all changed quickly when Devers obliterated AA and AAA pitching to the tune of a .311/.377/.578 slash line with 63 extra-base hits in 86 games.

Faced with a black hole of production at third base after Pablo Sandoval, Deven Marrero, Brock Holt and Tzu-Wei Lin were given chances, Dave Dombrowski had little to lose by calling up the youngster to the bigs on July 23. It’s not like he could be any worse.

In possibly the understatement of the year, Devers helped alleviate the hot corner situation. His bat played well at Fenway Park immediately, mashing eight homers in his first 20 games. He ended the year with 10 long balls to go along with a .284/.339/.482 slash line, good for a 112 OPS+ and a 1.3 WAR.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Devers’ bat was his ability to use all fields. Typically a skillset of a weathered veteran, the young third baseman took 31.5% of his balls in play to the opposite field, compared to 33.9% to center and 34.5% to the pull side.

For those that rely on the eye test, watch Devers take Yankees’ closer Aroldis Chapman deep to the opposite field in the 10th inning at Yankee Stadium. This kid is 20 years old.

Flash forward a couple months and Devers was knocking the cover off the ball in the short-lived ALDS series versus the Houston Astros. He hit two homers, including one inside-the-park, in 11 at-bats as part of a .364/.429/.909 slash line. Tiny sample size, yes, but it shows the kind of rare mentality that Devers has at such a young age.

The biggest critique of Devers has to be his glove – a trail of question marks that have followed him throughout his development in the minor leagues. However, despite a litany of late-season errors, the Dominican Republic native relatively held his own at the hot corner.

Defensive metrics like defensive runs saved (minus-1) and UZR (minus-3.5) pegged him as a below average defender, but compare that to Pablo Sandoval’s tenure with the Red Sox – minus-18 defensive runs saved and a minus-20.6 UZR – and suddenly Devers looks like Manny Machado.

Long term, it is unclear whether he will stick around at third base or be shifted across to the infield at first base, but regardless where his glove is, his bat will provide enough value to sustain a productive major league run.

Reminiscent of when Xander Bogaerts broke into the league at age 20 in the midst of the 2013 championship run, Devers played a much bigger role in 2017 than even I could have imagined. He turned a position of utter futility into a legitimate strength in the midst of a competitive division title run.

Third Base. . Rafael Devers. A.

Next: Red Sox 2017 Report Cards: Designated Hitter Hanley Ramirez

Make no mistake, Rafael Devers is the future of the Boston middle of the order, and the short-lived 2017 season was only a taste.