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SoxProspects News

April 27, 2017 at 9:00 AM

Scouting Scratch: Rafael Devers

Team: Portland Sea Dogs
Dates Scouted: April 7-9 vs. Reading; April 22 vs. Trenton (Doubleheader)

Over the first few weeks of the season, I’ve had a chance to see five Portland games and get an extended look at most of the position players. Here is the first Scouting Scratch breaking down these players.

Poised to take over the top spot in the SoxProspects rankings on May 1, Rafael Devers has looked the part both at the plate and in the field. Devers is bigger than his listed 6-feet, 195 pounds. Still just 20 years old for the entire season, he is still going to change physically, but at his current weight he showed plenty of agility at third base. Speed will never be a part of his game, but as long as he doesn’t let his body get away from him, his conditioning isn’t a major concern. 

Devers’ calling card will always be his bat, and he showed off his offensive potential over the games scouted. Devers starts his stance slightly open with his hands high. He is very loose pre-load, but after a very short leg lift, he quickly cocks his bat and sets in a good hitting position. The swing is what separates Devers, as his hand and bat speed are elite. The best way to describe his swing, as we have described it here for years, is “controlled violence.” Devers gets his lower half into his swing and does an excellent job clearing his hips before whipping the bat through the zone. His swing path allows him to keep the barrel in the zone for a long time, and he has shown an all-fields approach. This all-fields approach was best illustrated in his second at-bat on April 8, when he got a 2-1 fastball away. Even though he was ahead in the count, he didn’t try to pull the ball but rather stayed on it, driving it off the left field wall for a double. The swing that produced the double is one that will serve him well when he eventually gets to Fenway Park, as with his strength and willingness to go the other way, he should have no problem using the Green Monster to his advantage (below). 
For his age, Devers has an advanced knowledge of the strike zone and solid pitch recognition skills. He still will get caught out in front on breaking pitches, especially early in the count as he aggressively hunts fastballs (see the video from SoxProspects YouTube page below). With two strikes, however, he will shorten up and has no problem taking what the pitcher gives him. Devers does still have some swing-and-miss in his game, and because he has been aggressive early in the count in his short stint in Double-A thus far, his strikeout-to-walk numbers aren’t great (ten strikeouts to one walk in 51 plate appearances), but that isn’t a concern at this point. In his peak, Devers has the potential for a plus hit tool.

To compliment his potential plus hit tool, Devers also has plus-plus raw power and the potential to hit for plus in-game power. Devers’ swing isn’t the typical, left-handed, power hitter uppercut with a high finish, but when he catches the ball right he can lift the ball and drive it. He showed off his power in his first Double-A at-bat, for example, driving a 3-2, 93-mph fastball deep to right-center field for a home run (See below). The ball jumps off Devers’ bat, and when he connects you know it by the sound it makes. Devers will get stronger as he matures and should have no problem developing into a player who’ll hit 25 home runs a year at his peak.

A lot of the questions about Devers center around his defense, but these concerns have evolved not from actual concerns about his ability to field but rather questions when he signed about whether he would grow out of third base, necessitating a move to first. If you see him play the field, it’s clear that there is no reason to discuss a move off third base at this point. Perhaps, he could eventually become too big, similar to what happened to Miguel Cabrera, but his skills should allow him to stick at third for the foreseeable future. Devers is a below-average runner already and not the most athletic player, but he shows off surprising range and agility moving both laterally and charging the ball. 

Over the four games scouted, Devers made one error charging a ball that he stabbed at to the side, rather than fielding out in front, but he also made several very good plays. He has soft hands and his footwork is surprisingly good. He made one very nice play in the season opener ranging to his left to cut off a ball in the hole between third and short, and he made two others that same day charging slow rollers, fielding them with his glove and making smooth transfers to his throwing hand and then strong, accurate throws to first base. Devers has plenty of arm for third with it grading as plus currently. Devers is unlikely to be a Gold Glove candidate, but he also won’t be a butcher and should develop into at least an average third baseman, an outcome the Red Sox will happily accept given his offensive potential.

It is telling that given how many top prospects the Red Sox have traded since Dave Dombrowski took over, the two offensive blue chippers they held onto were Andrew Benintendi and Devers. Benintendi has established himself as an integral part of the lineup already, while Devers plays arguably the biggest position of need at the major league level, given the questions surrounding Pablo Sandoval in both the short and long term. But despite the growing drumbeat from fans to replace Sandoval, Devers is unlikely to be ready to take over the position this season (although, given Dombrowski’s track record, I wouldn’t rule out seeing him at the big league level later this season if the third bases situation is still unsettled). Given his demeanor and professional approach, I could see Devers being able to handle an aggressive promotion like that, but spending the entire season at Double-A wouldn’t be the worst thing for his development either, and he would remain on track to become an everyday player at some point in 2018. 

Photo credits: Rafael Devers by Kelly O'Connor

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