Red Sox: Mike Lowell talks about Rafael Devers’ third base defense
By Sean Penney
Former Boston Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell talk about the work he has been doing with Rafael Devers in camp this spring.
When it comes to covering third base for the Boston Red Sox it’s hard to find a more reliable glove than the one Mike Lowell provided during his tenure with the team. Now the former Gold Glove winner is in camp this spring to work with the current crop of infielders, including Rafael Devers.
Devers took the league by storm following his major league debut last July. He hit .284 with a .819 OPS and 10 home runs in 58 games for the Red Sox. Not bad for a 20-year old who skyrocketed through the minor league system, seeing a mere 86 games above the Single-A level before his big league promotion.
The bat of Devers has never been in question. Scouts have long salivated over his impressive power potential that he combines with a polished swing capable of hitting for a solid average. Devers was called up because the Red Sox needed his bat but his glove wasn’t quite ready.
That’s the benefit of having Lowell in camp. The knowledge he possesses can help Devers get ready on the defensive side. Lowell talked about the defense of Devers on Wednesday to explain what he’s seen from the young third baseman and how he can improve, reports ESPN’s Scott Lauber.
"“He’s a lot bigger than I thought,” said Lowell. “When you stand next to him, he’s big. He’s big in a good way, put together. I tried starting off asking him questions – ‘What do you think you do better? Do you move to your left better, your right better?’ – and his answers were everything I saw. So, I like the fact that at least we’re on the same page.”"
The 234 pound Devers is larger than your average third baseman. Only two Red Sox infielders outweigh him – Hanley Ramirez and Mitch Moreland, both of whom are three inches taller. He’s likely to gain weight as his body fills out more, which is why some scouts are skeptical he’ll remain at third base. Building strength should help him mash at the plate. It also potentially comes at the expense of agility and lateral movement that he needs at the hot corner.
Advanced metrics rated Devers a bit below-average last season. He posted a -1 defensive runs saved and -3.5 UZR. The reason why Lowell was asking about how well he moves to his left and right is that he can work with putting him in the best position to get to balls sent in his direction. Lowell explained how Devers can cheat a step here or there in the direction he lacks range in. He also stressed the importance of learning the range of shortstop Xander Bogaerts. These are mental advantages Devers can learn to help overcome any physical shortcomings with his range on the field.
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Lowell also talked about how Devers needs to avoid making “lazy errors.” The rookie racked up 14 errors in only 56 games at third base last season. Only three major league third basemen committed more errors last year, all three of whom appeared in at least 129 games at the position. His .906 fielding percentage was lower than anyone with a minimum of 35 games at third base.
In fairness, Lowell pointed out that most 20-year olds are still playing Single-A ball down in Greensboro, North Carolina. It’s reasonable to expect that he has plenty of room to improve. The key is to maintain focus. Devers can’t kick himself for making an error. Dwelling on the mistake can distract him from making the next play.
It’s clear from the small sample we saw last season that Devers has some work to do to improve his defense but it’s far too soon to give up on him. J.D. Martinez has the designated hitter role locked up for at least two seasons. With Moreland sharing first base with Ramirez, there are no alternative spots to fit Devers.
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There will be some growing pains along the way but the Red Sox have to let him stick with it – at least for now.