Third basemen Rafael Devers, who one of the most intriguing players on this year’s Red Sox roster, has been scorching hot throughout spring training. The sample size is small, but Devers has batted .395 with a .974 OPS in 32 at-bats. Manager Alex Cora has hit his young third baseman third in the lineup in most games, and has expressed his desire to keep him in that spot during the regular season. That shows a tremendous amount of confidence in the 22-year-old, but is this a good idea? What should we expect from Devers in 2019?
When Rafael was called up in mid-2017, he was among the top prospects in all of baseball with a ton of potential in a position of need for that particular Red Sox team. He lived up to his hype, and slashed .284/.338/.482 in 240 plate appearances. Then, he struggled through much of 2018, slashing just 240/.298/.433, in addition to rugged defense. There were certainly some points in the year where he showed the potential he displayed in 2017, but there were also times in which he looked like he needed more time in the minors. FanGraphs had Devers at -13 defensive runs saved, which was quite bottom-tier for third basemen.
Despite this, I believe it’s fair to assume much of Devers’ struggles can be attributed to inexperience. At just 22 years old, he has plenty of time and room to grow, and a sophomore slump is expected for most young players. That can be especially true when that sophomore season is also the first full season.
Now, J.D. Martinez enters the picture. It’s been reported that the slugger has been working with Devers on his swing. Martinez, who is now famous for changing the direction of his career after adjusting his swing path, also gave Jackie Bradley Jr advice about his swing, which lead to a big ending to the season for the Gold Glove center fielder, including an ALCS MVP. In addition to the help from Martinez, Devers has worked with a strength and conditioning coach, as well as a nutritionist, all offseason to shed weight for 2019. He’s discussed how he made it an extra point to work on his defense this offseason as well.
Lastly, it comes down to how much we trust Alex Cora’s evaluation. After his magnificent decision-making throughout last season, especially in the postseason, Red Sox fans should have the utmost faith in Cora’s opinions. Also, last year, in the midst of Rafael’s struggles, Cora was not afraid to platoon him with Eduardo Nunez or move him down the lineup. If Cora is of the belief that Devers has improved enough to bat in the top-third of the lineup, we should all be on board. Given the amount of potential he already has, the number of things he worked on during the offseason, and the vote of Alex Cora, I believe Rafael Devers has all the tools to set him up for a big 2019.