The Red Sox third base situation has been a disaster this year. I mean, it’s been a disaster for a while now, but at this point all that matters is what’s happening this season. By wRC+, Boston has had the second-worst group of third basemen in all of baseball this season. (I cannot fathom how a team could be worse, but the Giants somehow are.) The good news — well, maybe it’s good news. It really depends on your point of view I guess — is that Pablo Sandoval and Brock Holt should both (hopefully) be back relatively soon. Even with their returns, however, it’s hard to expect much from this group.
All of this angst has, understandably, led to louder and louder cries for the team to just bite the bullet and call up top prospect Rafael Devers. The young third baseman has been on the radar for a few years now after signing for $1.5 million out of the Dominican in the summer of 2013. He’s steadily made his way through the farm system and up national prospect rankings, and is now among the elite minor leaguers in the game. Currently in Double-A Portland, he’s close to major-league ready and the temptation to call him up is getting greater and greater. Unfortunately, we’re going to have to be a little patient.
The desire to see him in the majors is understandable, as I said. The bat is absolutely legitimate, as he has one of the best hit/power tool combinations in all of the minors. Hitting from the left side of the plate, he could probably do alright against major-league pitching right now. When he makes contact, it’s almost always solid and he uses the whole field. That’s not a skillset you see in very many 20 year olds.
That’s not to say he’s a perfect player, though. While he’s one of the most talented young baseball players in the world, he has things to work on against minor-league competition. For one, his plate approach isn’t completely refined. He’s still somewhat aggressive at the plate, and while he has a good enough hit tool to avoid striking out too much he hasn’t consistently drawn a ton of walks. There’s a bit of a ceiling on his on-base percentages until he makes an adjustment. In fairness to Devers, he has been doing a much better job in this regard of late and has his walk-rate above ten percent for the season in Portland (before Wednesday night’s game). However, it’s mostly because of a good stretch over the last couple of weeks. Seeing him make the adjustment is great, of course, but it should be sustained longer before we get too excited.
There is also the matter of his defense. It is infinitely better than it had been in the past and it’s looking more likely than ever that Devers will be able to stick at the hot corner for a significant portion of his career. With that being said, there’s always more room for improvement — particularly in terms of positioning with more advanced coaching/scouting staffs — and it’s better for that to come in the minors than the majors.
Of course, the Red Sox in recent years have been more aggressive than expected with their top prospects, which has helped fuel the cries for Devers this early in the year. Andrew Benintendi was called up at the end of last summer, just over a year after he was drafted. There’s a huge difference between someone who had played in one of the top college baseball conferences in the country before going pro and someone who was discovered as an amateur in the Dominican and was much more raw before turning pro.
Yoan Moncada is another comp, as he was called up to the majors last season as well despite being just 20 years old. Putting aside that the major-league call-up did not go well at all thanks to flaws in his game that could have used more minor-league seasoning to be shored up, there is also a big difference between Moncada and Devers. The former had played professionally in Cuba and against some of the top competition in the world before coming to the States. He was much better prepared for this jump than Devers.
The best comp among recent Red Sox prospects is probably Xander Bogaerts, who was called up during the 2013 run to the World Series as a 20 year old. He was also an international amateur signee and made his way through the system at a similar pace to Devers. In fact, he came from less of a baseball haven than Devers, putting Bogaerts slightly behind. However, he was also a more refined prospect. He was arguably the best in all of baseball at the time, and had an approach that was extremely rare in the minors. This is the type of player who is most likely to succeed after an aggressive promotion.
Devers’ time in the majors is coming at some point soon. I still think he could be an option midway through August if the current options still aren’t working out and they can’t find a reasonably priced replacement at the trade deadline. Even that timetable might be aggressive, though. This is a year that the Red Sox should be looking to compete for a championship, but they can’t totally punt on the future. Devers is part of that future, and making sure he’s as developed as possible before being called up is more important than whatever he may be able to add at third base right now.