The Red Sox have been right in the thick of the American League for a few years in a row now, so it can be easy to remember they are still among the younger teams in baseball. Of course, despite some young ages on the roster, guys like Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts (among others) have the experience where age isn’t much of an excuse anymore. That is not the case for Rafael Devers, who doesn’t yet have a full season under his belt and is only 21 years old. He’ll remain that age until the end of October — he turns 22 on October 24, which for Celtics fans is the exact same day Jaylen Brown turns 22.
The talent-level for Devers is absolutely incredible, and what he’s been able to show at a young age has certainly been impressive. That being said, we know it’s hard to succeed at the highest level of baseball at any age, and it’s particularly hard when you just became able to legally buy an alcoholic beverage. Devers is already a key component of this lineup, and given his age that’s almost unbelievable. Still, while the overall theme of Devers’ young career has been impressive, it has been a bit of a rollercoaster, and we’ve gotten some reminders of just how young he is.
While there have been some shaky moments, and we’re going to get to that, the overall performance from the third baseman has still been solid. His overall batting line (by wRC+) has fallen below-average after a couple consecutive 0-4 performances, but he’s still been a threat more often than not. Overall, he’s hitting .260/.308/.458 for a 97 wRC+. He’s striking out a bit more than you want, but he’s walking a decent amount (seven percent rate) and his .198 Isolated Power is impressive and should get better as the weather gets better on a more consistent basis. Devers is looking a lot like he did in his first taste of the majors last year, and that in and of itself is impressive given that pitchers around the league have had the winter to find adjustments.
Now that the positives are out of the way, though, there are two portions of his game — one on each side of the ball — that continuously remind us that we are still talking about a kid who would be a junior in college. The first comes with the bat in his hand, which is obviously where most of his value is expected to come from over the course of his career. When pitchers have come into the zone against Devers, they’ve come to regret it. He’s an incredible aggressive hitter, and his hands are quick enough that he is going to get most pitches in the zone.
That said, he does have a tendency to chase some pitches out of the zone, particularly when he’s slumping. It appears to be a pretty clear case of pressing, as he can’t discipline himself when he’s going poorly. Put simply, Devers is trying too hard to get out of slumps at times. Even when he is going well, the area above the strike zone has been a blind spot for him. Pitchers are peppering him with more and more high fastballs as the year goes on, and he just can’t lay off. Below, we can see the pitches at which Devers has been swinging this year, and the portion above the strike zone — particularly those against which he can get his arms extended — is too red.
And, here is the whiff-rate on those pitches. Spoiler: It’s not great!
Those are clearly pitches that Devers thinks he can crush, and while he probably could if he got a hold of many of them, he hasn’t. Those are hard pitches to hit — there’s a reason fastball-pitchers lean on that pitch/location combination with two strikes — and Devers needs to find a way to lay off.
On the other side of the ball, the third baseman’s defense has left something to be desired. What’s strange is that the glove hasn’t lacked in a way that makes me think he can’t handle the position. He’s made some strong throws and good reaction plays that are required if you’re to handle the hot corner. Devers has, however, made some mistakes that scream inexperience, mostly coming to over-aggression. He has a tendency to charge any ball he can, regardless of baserunner, instead of letting some grounders come to him. It’s led to him simply missing the ball or having to throw off-balance on plays that shouldn’t be that difficult. He’s also had some bad throws on plays he’s had to rush when he could have either held onto the ball or gotten an easier out at a different base. These are frustrating errors, but they are also the type of issue that can be fixed, as it’s more an issue of calming down rather than physical skills.
Overall, as I’ve said a whole bunch throughout this post, Devers has been more impressive than not, and there’s no reason to expect him to be anything less than outstanding over the course of his career. For now, however, he’s probably being a little overexposed. The third baseman has the most plate appearances on the team, and it likely wouldn’t hurt to get him a few breathers now and then. Not only because he’s going through his first grind of a full season, but also so he can slow down a bit and watch some other players and get experience from the bench. The Red Sox are going to need Devers to get to where they want to go, and they need him at his best. That means him finding a little more discipline at the plate and not being so tempted by the high fastball, and it means collecting himself a bit on defense and stopping trying to win games all by himself at the hot corner. His strugles are to be expected at his age, and watching how he outgrows them will be fascinating to watch.