Rafael Devers: Boston’s Rising Star

By Connor Pignatello

The Red Sox third base problem was not solved by a veteran rental. No, it was solved by a sweet-hitting 20-year-old Dominican named Rafael Devers.

But before I explain Devers’ spectacular rise, I must set the stage for his entrance.

~~July 24th~~

It’s July 24th and the Red Sox have ground to a halt. Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline is just eight days away and nearly the entire baseball community expects the Sox to trade for Todd Frazier.

Frazier, the third baseman for the White Sox, is in the midst of the worst season of his career. He’s hitting just .210 and his contract expires at the end of the year.

The Red Sox haven’t been able to gain traction since the All-star break, going just 5-6. The Yankees, their ever-present rivals, are creeping up on them in the standings and have swooped in on a trade for Todd Frazier, even though many executives and analysts were sure the slugger would join the Red Sox.

Third base has been a huge issue for Boston, who has used eight (!) different players there. Collectively, Red Sox third basemen are slashing .227/.280/.320, marks that rank 27th, 29th, and 30th in the league, respectively. They have not only been terrible hitters, but they also lead the league in errors.

Dave Dombrowski decides to rectify the Red Sox’ third base issue by promoting top prospect Rafael Devers to the big leagues.

~~A Rafael Devers Profile~~

Rafael Devers was born on October 24th, 1996 in Sanchez, an aging port city in the Dominican Republic. He first started playing baseball at the age of five, inspired by his father, who played amateur ball. Devers grew up with baseball all around him and quickly showed immense talent.

In 2013, Devers signed with the Red Sox at just 17 years old. He was ranked as the number three international prospect in his class, and he signed with the Red Sox, his childhood favorite team, for $1.5 million. Devers entered the Red Sox organization as their 20th ranked prospect in a deep farm system.

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Upon joining the Red Sox, Devers was placed in the Dominican Summer League (DSL), a place where new international signings go to work on their skills. Devers took the DSL by storm, batting .337/.445/.538 with three home runs in 28 games. He impressed everyone, by his ability to hit for both average and power, and also by his great batting eye — Devers walked more times than he struck out.

After tearing up the Dominican League, Devers was sent to the States, where he played in the Gulf Coast League. The Gulf Coast League, or GCL, is where first-year minor league players are sent after being drafted or signed by their teams. Most of the players in the GCL have been drafted out of college or have just finished high school, meaning that at age 17, Devers was one of the youngest players in the league. Devers carved up the GCL, batting .312 with eleven doubles and four homers in 42 games.

After Devers’ wildy successful first year, he was rated as the Red Sox’ sixth best prospect, and baseball’s 99th best, all at just 18 years old. This was an incredible accomplishment, as Devers was the youngest player on Baseball America’s top 100 list that year.

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In 2015, Devers was promoted to the Red Sox’ Low-A affiliate, the Greenville Drive, where he experienced full-season ball for the first time. There, he was matched up against much older opponents, being one of just seven position players under the age of 19 in the South Atlantic League. Devers played well in Greenville too, batting .288 with 38 doubles and 11 home runs in 115 games. During the 2015 season, Devers was selected to the Futures Game, an event during All-Star weekend that showcases basbeball’s best young talent.After a season in Low-A, Devers was ranked as Boston’s second best prospect, and baseball’s 18th best. Devers jumped 81 spots on Baseball America’s top 100 in just one year, a remarkable achievement.

In 2016 Devers was promoted to the Red Sox’ High-A affiliate, the Salem Red Sox, at the age of 19. However, Devers hit a bump in the road in Salem. Amongst players much older than him, it appeared that Devers had finally met his match. In the first half of the season, he scuffled to a .233/.300/.305 line with just four home runs in 63 games.

However, Devers bounced back brilliantly after the All-Star break. He slashed an incredible .326/.367/.539, with seven home runs and eleven steals in 64 games. After this second-half breakout, Devers has not looked back in his meteoric rise to the majors.

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In 2016, Devers’ defense finally started to catch up with his offense. Early on in his career, scouts considered moving him to first base, because of his heavy build. But Devers has worked hard on his defense, and has stayed at the hot corner. In High-A, Devers led all Carolina league third basemen in fielding percentage (.960), putouts (104), and assists (258).

After his outstanding second half in High-A, Devers earned a non-roster invitation to 2017 Spring Training with the Red Sox. This was a big step up for the 20-year-old Devers, but he wasn’t ready for it, batting 3 for 22 against big league competition. Nevertheless, he earned a promotion to Double-A Portland, where he played for most of this year.

Devers was the Portland Red Sox’ standout player this year, socking 18 homers in addition to achieving an excellent .296/.366/.571 slash line. In 77 games, Devers jumped to number six in Baseball America’s most recent prospect rankings. He was also selected to participate in the MLB Futures Game for the second time.

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Devers was promoted to Triple-A on July 14th, and continued to hit for both average and power while in Pawtucket. Devers became the third youngest player ever to be promoted by the Red Sox to Triple-A, yet another reminder that he was playing extremely well for his age. The Dominican lefty hit an astounding .400 for the Pawtucket Red Sox, and he earned a promotion to the big leagues after just nine games in Triple-A.

When Devers debuted on July 25th, he was the youngest player in the major leagues, but you’d never know it. His first major league hit was a home run (!), and during his sixteen career major league games Devers has surprised everyone.

Scouting report

Devers has a very promising future, thanks to his ability to hit for both average and power. He has incredible raw power, and can spray the ball to all fields. His opposite field power is unsurpassed among players his age. For example, when Devers hit two homers against the Indians on August 14th, one was a laser into the Green Monster seats in left field, and the other was a high drive into the Red Sox bullpen in right field.

Devers also has great bat speed, and he is able to hit pitches very far, and to any part of the field. On August 13th, Devers hit a 102.8 mph pitch into the Yankees bullpen, the fastest pitch ever hit for a home run in the Statcast era.

Devers is not as polished as other recent Red Sox prospects like Andrew Benintendi, but he has a higher ceiling. I project that in his prime years he will hit around .285 with 30 home runs, 40 doubles, and five to ten stolen bases.

He has improved his defensive skills, but don’t expect him to be a Gold-Glove winning third baseman. I believe he will stay at the hot corner, as he is becoming more reliable and is improving his range. Overall, Devers projects to be an All-Star with a dependable glove and a reliable, middle-of-the-order bat.

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Conclusion

As of August 15th, Devers is hitting .339 with six home runs, incredible statistics that show his ability is way beyond his years. I don’t mean to read too closely into Devers’ 62 career at-bats, but he has a very promising future.

Pairing Devers with other young Red Sox stars like Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley jr. and Xander Bogaerts should help Boston stay at the top of the AL East for years. Devers gives Boston an entirely homegrown lineup, the dream of every major league team.

Special thanks to Baseball Reference, Baseball America, and milb.com for the statistics I used in this post.

I would also like to thank NESN.com, the New Haven Register, and SB Nation’s Minor League Ball blog.

Prospect rankings are from Baseball America

Fenway Park Photo Credit: User: (WT-shared) Jtesla16 at wts wikivoyage [CC BY-SA 1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

MLB Dream Team: Active Players Bound for the Hall of Fame Part II

By Connor Pignatello

In a continuation of my article from yesterday, here is part two of the MLB Dream Team. This article will showcase spots six through nine in the batting order as well as the starting pitcher.

Enjoy!

 

Batting sixth and playing second base…

Robinson Cano

64.4 career WAR / 50.3 7yr-peak WAR / 57.4 JAWS

 Average HOF 2B:

   69.4 career WAR / 44.5 7yr-peak WAR / 56.9 JAWS

  9th in JAWS out of 20 Hall of Fame Second basemen

Accolades: 8x All-Star, 2x Gold Glove, 5x Silver Slugger, World Series Champion (2009)

For many years, Robinson Cano has been in the conversation as the best second baseman in baseball.

He was an integral part of the New York Yankees 2009 championship squad, and he parlayed his five All-Star appearances with the Bronx Bombers into a 10 year, $240 million contract with the Mariners in 2014. Cano hasn’t lost his luster since leaving New York for Seattle, and he has made three All-Star games (so far) with the Mariners.

Cano had to beat out Chase Utley and Dustin Pedroia — two likely Hall of Famers in their own right — to earn his position at the keystone sack in this lineup. Ultimately, Cano received the nod because of his sustained excellence. He has played at least 156 games every year since 2007, a level of health that neither Pedroia nor Utley can match.

Cano has also redefined the second base position because of his ability to hit for average and power. Among Hall of Fame second basemen, Cano’s average of 25 home runs per season ranks second and his 296 career home runs ranks third. In a few years Cano should hold the record for career long balls by a second baseman, and he should be known as the greatest power hitting second baseman of all time.

 

Batting seventh and playing center field…

Carlos Beltran

70.3 career WAR / 44.3 7yr-peak WAR / 57.3 JAWS

 Average HOF CF:

   71.2 career WAR / 44.6 7yr-peak WAR / 57.9 JAWS

  8th in JAWS out of 19 Hall of Fame Center Fielders

Accolades: Rookie of the Year (1999), 9x All-Star, 3x Gold Glove, 2x Silver Slugger

Carlos Beltran, always a reliable asset, is now in his 20th season. Beltran has been every archetype an athlete can be: young star (Royals); decisive deadline acquisition (Astros); hero (Mets); scapegoat (Mets again); veteran contributor (Giants, Cardinals, Yankees, Rangers); and experienced old-timer (Astros again). Beltran was the fifth-youngest in the majors when he debuted in 1998, and now he’s the third-oldest player in the league.

Beltran came into the majors as a 21 year old kid for the Kansas City Royals, and immediately showcased his skills by taking home Rookie of the Year honors.

After seven years in Kansas City, Beltran signed with the New York Mets in 2005. It was in New York that Beltran would spend the prime of his career, making five All-Star appearances and taking home 3 Gold Gloves. Beltran proved to be one of the best players in the Major Leagues from 2006 to 2008, crushing 37 homers, driving in 124 runs, and scoring 123 (per 162 games).

Beltran has aged well, making All-Star teams as members of the Giants, Cardinals, and Yankees since leaving the Mets in 2011. However, the 40 year old has shown signs of decline this year, and he may decide to hang up his spikes in the near future. Beltran left a lasting impression on the game of baseball, and his 20 years of service deserve a place in Cooperstown.

 

Batting eighth and catching…

Joe Mauer

51.4 career WAR / 38.5 7yr-peak WAR / 45.0 JAWS

 Average HOF C:

   53.4 career WAR / 34.4 7yr-peak WAR / 43.9 JAWS

  8th in JAWS out of 15 Hall of Fame Catchers

Accolades: MVP (2009), 6x All-Star, 3x Gold Glove, 5x Silver Slugger

Even though Joe Mauer has not caught a game since 2013, he spent 10 seasons and 920 games behind the dish.

Mauer was truly one of the finest offensive backstops ever, and in 2009 he became only the second catcher since 1980 to win MVP (Ivan Rodriguez was the first in 1999). In Mauer’s MVP season, he led the majors in batting average (.365) and on-base percentage (.444), both of which were records for catchers. He also led the AL in slugging (.587), OPS (1.031) and Offensive WAR (7.6). In addition to his MVP, Mauer was the first AL catcher to win the batting title and he holds the record for most batting titles by a catcher with three.

As well as being one of the league’s finest hitters, Mauer was a force to be reckoned with behind the plate. His great instincts and fielding prowess earned him three straight Gold Gloves from 2008 to 2010, and his 99.51% career fielding percentage ranks seventh all-time among catchers.

Although Mauer’s body has declined over the years, he has performed well since being moved to first base in 2014, and has not made an error this year in 69 games.

Mauer will leave a legacy as one of the greatest hitting catchers ever, and he has earned his place in the Hall of Fame.

 

Batting ninth at shortstop…

Troy Tulowitzki

44.0 career WAR / 40.0 7yr-peak WAR / 42.0 JAWS

 Average HOF SS:

   66.7 career WAR / 42.8 7yr-peak WAR / 54.8 JAWS

26th in JAWS out of 21 Hall of Fame Shortstops

Accolades: 5x All-Star, 2x Gold Glove, 2x Silver Slugger

This is the hardest decision on the roster, because in my opinion there aren’t any Hall-of-Fame-worthy shortstops in the majors right now. Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, the two best shortstops of this generation, have retired in the past two years.

I ended up choosing Troy Tulowitzki because he has the best chance of any shortstop in the majors to make it to the Hall.

There were a few ways I could have gone with this pick. At first I considered moving Chase Utley to short, and then I looked at the plethora of up-and-coming shortstops (Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Francisco Lindor; to name a few).

Ultimately, I chose Tulowitzki — but this would have been a much easier decision if Tulo had stayed healthy during his career. During his prime years with the Rockies between 2007 and 2014, Tulowitzki averaged a respectable 4.8 WAR per season. However, he missed an average of 45 games per year (!) during that period. If you extrapolate his numbers to 154 games (meaning he would miss 8 games per year), he would have recorded 6.7 WAR per season, boosting his JAWS from 42.0 to 50.0.

Although Tulowitzki didn’t stay healthy most of the time, his impact while he was on the field was undoubted, and he deserves Hall of Fame consideration.

 

And your starting pitcher for tonight…

Clayton Kershaw

58.8 career WAR / 48.7 7yr-peak WAR / 53.8 JAWS

 Average HOF P:

   73.9 career WAR / 50.3 7yr-peak WAR / 62.1 JAWS

60th in JAWS out of 62 Hall of Fame Pitchers

Accolades: Pitching Triple Crown (2011), MVP (2014), 3x Cy Young (2011, 2013, 2014), 7x All-Star, 1x Gold Glove

Clayton Kershaw, in my opinion, is the best pitcher in the game right now. He has been terrorizing opposing hitters since coming up as a 20 year old with the Dodgers in 2008.

Kershaw achieved the Pitching Triple Crown in 2011, when he led the league in ERA, wins, and strikeouts. In 2014, Kershaw joined Roger Clemens and Sandy Koufax as just the third player in baseball history to win three Cy Young awards and an MVP.

Kershaw has finished as an All-Star and a top-five Cy Young award finisher in each of the past six seasons, a nearly unparalleled run of dominance, and he has already attained a career’s worth of honors at just 29 years old.

Supposing Kershaw retires at age 37, he has eight years remaining in his career. If we extrapolate his season average of 5.7 WAR to seven more years, then his current WAR of 57.0 jumps to 102.6, which places him as the ninth best pitcher of all time, a very fair assessment.

Kershaw has the lowest career ERA of any starter since 1920* (2.35), and he deserves a plaque in Cooperstown.

 

*Baseball-Reference defines a starting pitcher as a player whose starts make up 60% of their appearances. Minimum of 50 Innings Pitched.

Special thanks to baseball-reference.com for all of these helpful stats. I could not have written this article without them.