Rafael Devers is a man to keep an eye on in 2018. The 21-year old 3rd baseman put his talent on display last year. Called up in late July, he impressed everyone with his maturity and his ability to hit in big situations.
In just 58 games, Devers hit .284 with 10 HR and 30 RBI while spraying the ball to all parts of the field, and even more impressive were his .482 SLG and .819 OPS. If you were to adjust those numbers and average them out to a 162-game season, you’d get 28 HR and 84 RBI. It’s output like this that earned Devers the respect that won him a spot in/near the heart of the order last year. We routinely saw former manager John Farrell pencil him in the 5-7 spots in the order, a feat for a rookie who came into an already talented (albeit underperforming) offensive lineup.
It’s obvious that Devers has the ability to excel at this level, and he seems to be ready to break out even further and establish himself as one of the top 3rd basemen in the league. He’s been one of the hottest hitters for the Sox so far this Spring, batting .342 with 2 HR, 3 doubles and a triple, good for an impressive .974 OPS.
All of this is not to say that he doesn’t have areas he needs to improve, though. He was a sub-par defensive 3rd baseman in 2017, with a fielding % of just .906 and DRS (defensive runs saved) of -1. Compare that to Mookie Betts, statistically Boston’s best glove, who posted a DRS of 31 in 2017, and it’s clear that Devers needs to improve this part of his game. Alex Cora and the rest of the coaching staff is said to be drilling him hard at 3rd base in camp, though, which will likely lead to an advancement defensively. Additionally, he struck out in 26% and walked in just 8% of his at-bats (57 K’s and 18 BB’s in 222 AB’s). For reference, 20% qualifies someone as an average hitter for both categories, leaving Devers below the curve in both regards.
With guys like J.D. Martinez and a revitalized Hanley Ramirez presumably hitting directly in front of him in 2018, Devers should see a lot of pitches with RISP. If he can improve his plate discipline and put some more balls in play, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him capitalize on those situations and put up big numbers this year.