By Gerard Lombardo – @wickedlinedrive
On July 25th, the Red Sox top minds came together at the arranged meeting place, determined by the president of baseball operations himself. Each member of the front office took their seat at the round table, with notebooks, iPhones, and Microsoft Surfaces in hand. A dimly lit light hovered overhead, as vape smoke danced in the air, with the bright summer sun peeking through the drawn closed blinds.
“Gentlemen,” Dave began, “we’ve made an egregious error.”
The tension in the room became instantly palpable. John & John exchanged glances of bewilderment, and with a nervous gulp, Sam Kennedy leaned in, as if it would make the news come faster.
After a deep breath: “There’s four… there’s four positions on the infield.” Mr. Dombrowski finally sputtered.
“Preposterous!” John Henry exclaimed, slamming his fist to the table. Manager John sat silently, head down, wondering how he could overlook such a thing. How would explain this to Dale, Michael and Keefe that afternoon?
So, there it was. Out in the open. All along, there was an inescapable black hole manning the bag 90 feet to the left of home plate, and it had been detrimental to the offensive and defensive output for months on end.
They took a vote, and Farrell was outnumbered 3-1; Boston’s brass determined to add a fourth player to the diamond. It was time to create production out of third base, so they made the call to bring up a young slugger that had decimated pitching at every level of the minors. They were turning to a lovable left handed batter, who hailed from the Dominican Republic province of Sanchéz, where he was signed to the tune of a million and a half bucks at just 16 years old- the same age Bryce Harper was when he donned the cover of Sports Illustrated. There wasn’t an international free agent at the time that rivaled his power, charisma or energy; and it’s those attributes that have led the infielder through the A-level affiliates, and onto the big league squad. He truly loves the game of baseball, as evident by the toothy grin sported on a regular basis, whether it be on the diamond, or in a post game interview. In a lot of ways, he resembles Large Father: a big lefty from the DR, that people want to be around, who has a never ending affinity for the game, and displays light tower power.
His name is Rafael Devers.
In the 20 year old’s initial 30 starts with the Red Sox, Raffy Big Stick – I did not make that up – crushed 8 jacks, posted 17 steaks, crossed the plate 21 times, and even contributed a trio of stolen bases; more importantly though, the departed Travis Shaw was now an afterthought, and the third base abyss was forged into a position of clout and stability.
Devers is a special player, made apparent by his ascent through the Sox minor league system. At the age of 17, he dominated the rookie league with an OPS over .900, then continued said dominance after his 18th birthday in low/high A ball with 101 extra base hits over seasons of 115 and 128 games. Some guys struggle adjusting to AA pitching, as breaking balls are refined and added to repertoires, but Rafy isn’t just some guy- he slugged .578 before getting the news he’d be joining the Sox in Seattle, where he was quickly inserted into the starting lineup for a (big surprise) 13 inning affair. The young man is legit. This isn’t the curious case of Will Middlebrooks, nor should we expect a Ben Grieve career nosedive to take place. He mashed eight homers off righties, and did more than hold his own against southpaws, putting together an eyebrow raising batting average of .400 in 50 at bats. What endeared me to Rafael this year was his 13th of August heroism. Not only did he homer off the rival Yankees, but it was a game tying long ball.. in the 9th inning. Off Aroldis Chapman. A lefty. Throwing at 103 MPH. And to think, he is still over a week away from being legally allowed to partake in celebratory champagne clubhouse swigs.
Despite some fielding hiccups at the hot corner, there’s been a lot of improvement regarding his defensive capabilities. His early 2016 scouting report fromSoxprospects.com labeled him as an average fielder with a plus arm. But since, reports have been pleasantly modified to show a steady incline in his abilities, both with the glove and arm. He makes heady decisions with the ball, never seemingly phased by a the situation at hand. The errors he committed later on in the season may be a result of fatigue, as Devers played in a career high 144 games during a busy ’17, where he saw time at AA, AAA, and with the big boy Sox for both the regular season, and (another) short postseason run. His divisional series included a home run that gave Boston their first lead in the playoffs since game one vs Cleveland last year, plus an inside the parker that was muddied by Kimbrel’s decision to take game four off.
Sometimes, the best move is the one you don’t make. What if Dombrowski had shipped the teenager to Chicago, in place of Yoan Moncada, who’s slugging under .400 through his first 62 games in the show? We might be having a completely different conversation in terms of the Red Sox future at 3rd base. Instead, it’s locked down by as much of a sure thing as Mookie in right, or Beni in left. The 2018 Red Sox will have question marks at all levels: a likely rookie manager, the pillaged farm system, no starting pitchers (as currently constituted) with post season success, and bless us our Lord, we’ll be enduring year three of the David Price saga. But for the first time since Adrian Beltre in 2010, there’s a bona fide hot corner inhabitant, and I can’t wait to see what he can put together over an entire season.