Over at MLB.com, Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo are heading their annual project of ranking the best prospects in baseball at each position. It’s a series that started last week, and one that ranked Jason Groome as the second-best left-handed pitching prospect in the game. Now, they’re on to third base and the Red Sox got an even better honor. According to these rankers, Rafael Devers is the premiere minor-league third baseman.
Making this list isn’t exactly a new experience for Devers, who was ranked number two in last year’s edition. Joey Gallo was the only player ahead of him heading into the 2016 season, and he’s both exhausted his prospect status and arguably fallen behind Devers in terms of perceived value.
The Dominican product, who signed a $1.5 million signing bonus as an international free agent back in 2013, has dominated professional competition since joining the organization. That continued in 2016, when he more than held his own with High-A Salem as a 19-year-old. Keep in mind that the Carolina League skews a bit towards pitchers, and the average arm in that league is 23 years old. Despite a slow start to the year, Devers was still able to put up a .779 OPS that’s impressive before you even take into account the age difference.
This kind of performance was one that made it possible for him to survive Dave Dombrowski’s dealing from the farm system. Part of it is that he’s not as talented as Yoan Moncada — Devers was never going to be able to head a package for someone like Chris Sale. However, the Red Sox seemingly made a conscious effort to keep him in the fold. Part of that is simply his offensive upside. Whether or not he’ll stay at the hot corner long-term is up for debate, but he has a bat that should be able to play at any position. Even more importantly, he should at least be able to fill the likely third base hole in the short-term. Unless Pablo Sandoval surprises everyone and takes control of the position for the next two years, Devers will be in a position to jump right into a starting role when he’s ready. The combination of his proximity to the majors and the depth chart ahead of him makes his value something of a perfect storm.
Looking ahead to 2017, there’s no reason to expect him to start anywhere but Double-A Portland. As someone who lives in Portland, this is a very exciting thought. Although he’s been going through one level per year so far in his career, things tend to speed up at this level. Just recently, we’ve seen Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi start to get pushed more aggressively once they reached this level. I’d still expect Devers to spend at least half of the year in Portland, but after that he could speed through Pawtucket and earn some MLB time as soon as the second half this season. Of course, his debut coming in 2018 is more likely.