Boston Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers is poised for a breakout season. Evidence supporting this prediction can be found in his 2018 campaign.
This is going to be a big year for Rafael Devers. I know, we thought that was going to be the case at this time last year when he was coming off an impressive rookie campaign, only for the Boston Red Sox third baseman to stumble through a Sophomore slump.
Devers disappointed last season by hitting only .240/.298/.433 in 450 at-bats, a steep drop from the promising .284/.338/.482 line he produced in his abbreviated rookie year. He doubled his home run total to 21, although that came in over double the plate appearances.
Despite the troubling decline in his first full season in the big leagues, there are reasons to be optimistic that the former top prospect will get back on track this year. The 22-year old isn’t far removed from being rated among the top-20 prospects in baseball. Most players his age are still working their way up the minor league ladder. Devers is a long way from reaching his ceiling so we can’t be discouraged about the inevitable bumps in the road.
Devers dealt with a series of hamstring injuries that required two trips to the disabled list in the second half and limited him to 121 games. Remaining healthy will be key to a breakout season. Injuries are unpredictable but Devers is doing his part to avoid further setbacks by dropping some weight over the offseason. A slimmer looking Devers made an appearance at the Red Sox Winter Weekend last month and he appears to be in great shape heading into camp.
Losing weight not only will help Devers stay on the field, but it should also improve how he performs on it, particularly when it comes to his much-maligned defense. Devers led the league with 23 errors last year and posted a brutal -13 defensive runs saved. Most of his errors were from either being in poor fielding position or rushing a throw. Now he should be a step quicker, allowing him to set up properly and leave himself enough time to make an accurate throw.
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While his offensive production clearly declined, Statcast data provided by Baseball Savant shows a more promising outlook. Devers may not have been piling up hits last season but he was still hitting the ball hard. His 41.4 Hard Hit Percentage ranked in the 72nd percentile and his 90.7 Exit Velocity was in the 84th percentile. Devers is capable of hitting the ball harder than almost anyone, registering a 116.3 mph Max Exit Velocity that ranked 15th in the majors last season.
In addition to being able to smash the ball, Devers is as capable as anyone at handling heat being thrown in his direction. Who could forget the home run Devers hit on a 102.8 mph fastball from Aroldis Chapman in 2017? Devers has impressive bat speed with natural strength that will only improve as he approaches his peak. It’s a matter of when, not if, Devers becomes a feared slugger in this league.
It’s also encouraging to see that Devers is not one to shy away from the pressures of the postseason. He owns a .311 average and .884 OPS with three home runs and 14 RBI in 15 career playoff games. Devers was a vital part of Boston’s World Series run and has a knack for coming through in the clutch.
Predicting Devers to be an All-Star in 2019 would be a bit too bold but he certainly has that upside in his future. He doesn’t need to reach that level in order for this to be a breakout year though. If Devers can produce as he did as a rookie over the course of a full season while improving his glove in the field, the Red Sox will be in great shape at the hot corner.