In case you hadn’t heard — which would be pretty wild if we’re being completely honest with each other — Rafael Devers has been called up to the majors and is set to make his first major-league start on Tuesday in Seattle. This is obviously a very big day in Boston, as they get to welcome yet another top prospect up to the majors. As is always the case in these kind of situations, the expectations for the young third baseman are all over the place. That, of course, is to be expected when you’re talking about a player with no experience at the highest level. One thing I’ve seen a bunch of is making it into a binary proposition involving a couple of top prospects who were called up last season. Either Devers is going to hit well and be the Andrew Benintendi, or he’s going to struggle and be the Yoan Moncada. This is a major oversimplification of the situation, as Devers has clear differences from both of these players.
We’ll start with Benintendi, because...I don’t know. Alphabetical order? Sure. We’ll go with that. There are some similarities between the outfielder and Devers. Most glaringly, both are/were being called up in the middle of a postseason chase to fill a massive hole that many expected to be filled at the trade deadline. In terms of who they were as a player, though, it just isn’t the same. While Devers’ ceiling with the bat is almost certainly higher than Benintendi’s, the latter’s was much more polished throughout his run in the minors. That was clear immediately upon seeing both of them at the Double-A level.
It’s also fair to say that, while he had spent less time as a professional, Benintendi was further along in his development. For one thing, he was a little less than two years older than Devers at the time of his call-up. Furthermore, he played at the highest level of college ball, which even if the talent level isn’t the same gave him more time in the spotlight than Devers would get in the lowest levels of the minor leagues. Really, you can see the difference in the two in their strikeout rates. While Devers’ 17 percent strikeout rate in the minors this year is hardly a concern, Benintendi avoided strikeouts at a much better rate. This isn’t to say Devers can’t have the same kind of success as Benintendi in his first taste of the majors, but it shouldn’t be the expectation. Plus, he’d likely do it with less contact and more power.
On the other end of the spectrum, we all remember Moncada’s lackluster major-league debut last year. If you have blocked it out of your mind, I’ll remind you. In all of 20 plate appearances in September of 2016, the infielder struck out a whopping 12 times. It was not a pretty display, to say the least. For those worried about how Devers is going to perform upon his call-up to the majors, this is the player they will point to.
Fortunately, as with Benintendi, there are big differences between Devers and Moncada. For one thing, although both players are from the same part of the world they had very different routes to the United States. Moncada, coming from Cuba, wasn’t immediately eligible to sign as soon as he turned 16. He waited a few more years before defecting and was only in his second year as a professional player in the States when he was called up to the majors. That is a big adjustment to be making while also trying to adjust to major-league pitching. Devers, meanwhile, was signed back in 2013 and started playing professionally in 2014. He is currently in his fourth season playing in the U.S.
There is also their actual profile as players. Like Devers’ ceiling is higher than Benintendi’s, Moncada’s is higher than Devers’. That being said, he was also more raw at this point last year. Both had the same fatal flaw at the plate — trouble with the breaking ball — but there is a big difference in how it affected them. I already mentioned Devers’ strikeout rate around 17 percent, which is more than low enough to live with. Moncada’s, in 207 plate appearances at Double-A, was over 30 percent. Clearly, it’s unlikely Devers will have the same kind of struggles as Moncada. If he does struggle, he’ll probably be caught off guard by breaking balls, just not to the same extent. I’d also expect him to get into a little bit of trouble trying to pull the ball too much.
If you’re desperate to compare Devers to a recent top prospect call-up in Red Sox history, the best option could be the guy who will be standing immediately to his left on the infield. Like Devers, Xander Bogaerts was a top prospect who had been on the radar for a long time as an international amateur signee. Furthermore, both infielders were/are seen as bat-first players who could use work with the glove and may have to change positions down the road. There’s also the fact that, at the time, Bogaerts was well-regarded for his big power. This isn’t a perfect comparison — if my memory is serving correctly, Bogaerts was a more highly-regarded prospect and he had much more time at Triple-A — but it could serve as a good midpoint between Benintendi and Moncada.
The real takeaway from all of this, though, is that all of these comparisons are stupid. There’s a scene in Bojack Horseman (which is the best show on television, by the by) when a movie director says “We’re not making Casablanca.” He says this not because of the quality of the movie he is making, but rather because the movie is literally not Casablanca. That is what I’m saying here. Devers might be better than everyone named above. He might be worse. He will probably be in the middle. Either way, he’s a different person, and just evaluating him through the scope of recent call-ups won’t help us much.