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April 2, 2014 at 12:00 PM

Scouting Scratch: Trey Ball and Rafael Devers

Coming into Spring Training, Trey Ball and Rafael Devers were the two prospects I was most interested in seeing. After getting my first look at both, here are my initial impressions on two of the top young prospects in the lower levels of the system.

- Ball (pictured) struggled somewhat during the appearance we saw, but he did show off the tools that allow you to dream on him. The first thing that stands out is his frame; he is tall and lanky, but with an extremely projectable frame. He has plenty of room to fill out without hurting his current athleticism.

On the mound, Ball has a fluid, low-effort delivery. He uses a high leg kick and throws from a three-quarters arm slot. His arm is loose and there is not much wasted motion in his delivery. During the outing, Ball did get out of sorts at times, as he could not find his release point and was opening up early with his arm dragging behind. As a result, he was constantly missing up-and-away to right-handed hitters.

Ball came out strong in the first inning, sitting 90-92 with his fastball and touching 93 once. He gave up some solid contact, as he was around the zone but not commanding the pitch. The pitch also showed some late arm-side run away from righties. Ball held his velocity in the second inning but lost a tick in the third and fourth innings, sitting more 88-90 mph.

Throughout his outing, Ball really struggled to establish the inside corner on right-handed hitters with his fastball. As a result, most of the contact on the pitch occurred when he left it middle-away, as the hitters could cheat and look for the ball there. In order to succeed, Ball will need to be able to command the inner half, something to look for in future outings. Ball also mixed in a two-seam fastball at 86-88 mph. He threw it sparingly, but did show the ability to throw it for strikes.

Ball mixed in a changeup and curveball during this outing, but both were inconsistent. In other outings this spring, Ball reportedly showed advanced feel of his changeup for his age, but on this day he just did not have it and tabled it in the third inning. He threw the pitch 80-84 mph, and it showed some late fade through the zone on one occasion. He throws it from the same slot and with the same arm speed as his fastball, but just like with his fastball, he struggled to keep it down in the zone.

Ball’s curveball was the better pitch on this day, but it is more of a work in progress at this point, which makes sense given that he did not start throwing it until late in high school. The pitch is a typical slow, left-hander’s curveball and came in 70-74 mph. He did not show great feel for the pitch, throwing a few tighter ones with good shape, but for the most part it was loose and rolled to the plate. He did not consistently finish the pitch, struggling to snap it off. He did rely on it, however, throwing it as his primary secondary while he was struggling with his changeup.

Both pitches need refinement and he will have plenty of time to work on them, as he is not someone I project will move quickly through the system. Ball is a much different pitcher than recent Red Sox early-round high school pitchers, he lacking the polish that Casey Kelly and Henry Owens had entering the system. Rather, Ball is a projectable, high-upside pick, and his development could take time. It was not an enormous surprise that he did not break camp with Greenville to start the season—he may join the Drive after one or two months—and it would not surprise me if he had some struggles this year adjusting to professional hitters.

- The reports coming back from sources who had seen Devers (pictured) in the fall and spring were glowing—see, for example, our podcast with Jason Parks. Devers had the profile as a bat-first international signing, the type of player the Red Sox have not spent much bonus money on in the last few years.

With Devers, the first thing you notice is that he does not have the body of 17-year-old.  He is listed at 6-feet, 195 pounds, with the height looking correct but the weight looking a little light. He has a large, strong lower half and has already started physically maturing, but his upper body has room to fill out. The only clue that he is only 17 comes when you look at his face, which is the face of a teenager.

On the field, Devers stood out and was by far the most impressive prospect both in workouts and game action with the large short-season group. In batting practice, Devers laced line drives all over the field, with the ball making a different sound off of his bat than off of everyone else’s. At the end of one session, he showed off his power, dropping the bat head and driving the ball deep to right field for a home run. Devers’s swing is very controlled for someone with his batspeed and ability to drive the baseball. He generates natural backspin and loft, and the ball carries off his bat.

Devers starts his swing with his weight level and his hands by his back shoulder. He twirls his bat, but the rest of his body remains quiet until he loads. During his load, he brings his hands up and back, ending in a good hitting position. Devers uses a toe tap and brings his front foot off the ground briefly before quickly putting it down, allowing him to get solid separation of his lower half and hands during his stride. With his front leg down early, he can uncoil his hips first, followed by his hands coming through.

In game action, Devers showed the ability to drive the ball to all fields and made loud contact throughout the week, even when made outs. With his batspeed and the separation in his swing, Devers can let the ball get deep on the outer half and still have the strength to drive it. Similarly, he can get to balls on the inside and clear them out.

His approach is also relatively advanced for a 17-year-old, as he showed the ability to pick up secondary offerings, even very advanced ones, and a decent knowledge of the strike zone. In one game, he worked two walks, both times after falling behind 0-2, fouling off tough pitches and laying off breaking balls. Devers also tracks the ball well, following it into the catcher’s glove on almost every pitch he lets go.

In the field, Devers actually did not look terrible at third base, showing off plenty of arm for the position. Devers did not show much range, and was stiff and rigid when fielding ground balls, but at the end of the day he made the plays. He is not the greatest athlete, and it will be interesting to see where the body is in a few years, especially considering his youth. He already has a below-average speed and it does not project to be a big part of his game. Regardless, Devers is one of the most exciting young prospects in the system, with potential to hit for both average and power, but his progress could be slow. He will likely debut in either the Gulf Coast League or Dominican Summer League, as this front office has never debuted a player as young as Devers in Lowell.

Photo credit: Trey Ball and Rafael Devers by Kelly O'Connor

Ian Cundall is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @IanCundall.