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2017 Red Sox Review: Rafael Devers

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A look back at the rookie’s 2017

MLB: ALDS-Houston Astros at Boston Red Sox Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Red Sox Review series. It’s a fairly standard feature in which we will review the year that was for every player who made a decently large impact on the Red Sox this year. How do I come up with that definition? Completely arbitrarily, of course! The list of players I’m using can be seen here, and if I am missing anyone please let me know in the comments. Anyway, for the players who are included we will look at the positives of their 2017, the negatives, review their One Big Question from the preseason and look ahead to what’s on the table for 2018. Today, we discuss Rafael Devers.

Positives

Devers’ 2017 was one of the most positive seasons in the entire organization, as he surprised at least me by being able to come up relatively early in the season and make an impact throughout most of the second half. It was something I never saw coming, but the wouldn’t have been able to win the division and make the playoffs without him. And that, his minor-league performance that gave the team confidence to call him up, is the first positive of his year. The expectations were certainly high for Devers coming into the year and we all knew the best-case scenario would be that the 20-year-old hit well in Double-A and get called up to the majors. Of course, we all know that this is much easier said than done, so the fact that he actually did it was huge for this team and the organization as a whole. The jump from A-Ball to Double-A is a tough one, but Devers didn’t even blink an eye, and that changed everything.

Once he got to the majors, things didn’t slow down. There were a few things that really stood out for Devers, but the most obvious was his power. This Red Sox lineup, of course, seriously lacked the pop that was being shown throughout the rest of the league, but their new rookie third baseman packed a punch. After posting a .275 Isolated Power in Double-A to start the year, he came up the majors and put up a .198 mark in the majors with ten home runs in 58 games — a 28 homer pace in 162 games. Those aren’t numbers that will blow you away, but when you consider A) his age, B) the rest of the lineup and C) his experience, it’s extremely impressive.

Perhaps even more impressive, though, was his ability to use the whole field and how well specifically he used the opposite field. Many times when a rookie first comes up, and particularly one who is known for his power bat, they can try to hard to pull everything and do too much at the plate. That wasn’t the case for Devers, who was initially pounded with pitches on the outer half of the plate and destroyed them. He had easy power to all fields and he wasn’t afraid to show it off, making all of us dream of a decade of Devers smashing balls off the Green Monster. By the end of the year pitchers adjusted and started using the inner half of the plate more, but Devers still left 2017 with almost a perfectly even split in his use of all three thirds of the field.

That brings us to the last major positive of his season, specifically the composure he showed throughout the 2017 season. It’s hard to put what Devers displayed in this area into specific words, but it was evident to everyone who watched him on a regular basis. His plate discipline wasn’t perfect (we’ll get to that in a minute) but he was able to lay off tough pitches in important at bats. That’s much easier said than done for anyone, never mind a 20-year-old in his first major-league season. All of that culminated in that big game-winning home run against Aroldis Chapman in New York. That was no joke for Devers.

Negatives

While Devers was mostly fantastic in his first taste of major-league ball, the Red Sox new third baseman certainly wasn’t without his warts. First and foremost among these warts, of course, was with the glove. We knew that Devers’ defense was going to be a work in progress as he first got called up, and there were definitely some signs that he has the tools to be solid at the hot corner at some point in the future, but the bad outweighed the good. This winter will surely be filled with some work for the third baseman, but he has a long way to go.

There was also his overall aggression at the plate. This part of Devers’ game may not be a negative for a long time, but it hurt him plenty of times in 2017. As I mentioned above, there were important times throughout the season in which he was able to lay off some really tough pitches, and that was a great sign. However, on the whole he was a bit of a free swinger. This kind of aggressive approach is fine when you most swing at strikes, but Devers was fooled on some breaking pitches that left the zone as well. With a better understanding of the strike zone this will turn into a strength, it’s just a matter of Devers getting more experience against major-league pitching.

The Big Question

N/A

Looking Ahead to 2018

Devers figures to be one of the few players in the Red Sox organization that will be off-the-table in virtually all trade discussions, and that is a very good thing. There is always a chance at a sophomore slump, particularly for a hitter with that kind of aggressive approach, and that is something to keep in mind for next year. That being said, it seems much more likely that he’ll be a key part of the lineup for next year. As they search for more power in 2018, Devers should be one of the in-house pieces that improves that in his first full-season in the bigs.