The 2018 season was amazing for the Boston Red Sox. A franchise record 108 regular-season wins, wins against the 100+ win New York Yankees and Houston Astros in the ALDS and ALCS respectively, and a convincing World Series victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers in 5 games. Everyone associated with the team felt great rolling into the off-season, but it’s now mid-December and 2019 has started to come into focus. The core components of the team are mostly returning with visions of back-to-back titles, but some questions still remain. One of the biggest questions is what to expect from the 3rd base spot.
After a breakout showing during the 2nd half of 2017, Rafael Devers appeared to be the next up-and-coming young star in the Red Sox lineup. His much talked about HR off of Aroldis Chapman on August 13, 2017 brought national attention to the young 3rd baseman. He showed his tremendous power and clutch gene by hitting a 103-mph pitch for an opposite-field, game-tying HR. The raw power and talent was apparent and most, myself included, figured his early success showed he was only scratching the surface of what he could really accomplish. Many figured that after a full spring training and a spot on the opening day roster in 2018, Devers would come into the year confident and ready to roll. He started the year off strong, but then struggled to maintain success as pitchers figured him out.
On April 19th, 17 games into the season, Devers was hitting an even .300 with 3 HRs and 17 RBIs. Pretty damn good for a 21-year old who hadn’t even reached 300 career plate appearances yet. Unfortunately, things began to unravel after that point. He hit just .171 during the remainder of April with 1 HR and followed it up with a .212 May with 5 HRs and just 7 RBIs. From May 15th through the end of the regular season, Devers appeared in 81 games and hit just .231. He had 3 stints on the DL with shoulder and hamstring issues which certainly slowed him down, but even when healthy, he looked over-matched and confused much of the time at the plate and in the field. All young players struggle at times, but this was a prolonged streak of mediocrity that was concerning.
Devers rebounded a bit in the postseason, hitting .294 in 11 games, but his power was mostly absent (1 HR). Instead of being a feared middle-of-the-lineup hitter, he was a decent bottom 3rd type of player with the ability to get on base occasionally (he hit 5th in the first 2 games of the postseason, then 6th, 7th, or 8th in the other 9 games). It was clear his stock had fallen and his defensive struggles were even more amplified with his cold bat. He suddenly became more of a platoon player than an everyday lineup mainstay.
After a challenging season, 2019 is a make-or-break year for the young 3rd baseman. If he struggles for a 2nd year in a row, the Red Sox may need to consider moving on from the young star and trying to find stability with someone else. The good news: Devers appears to understand the situation he’s in and has re-committed himself early in the offseason to be in better shape and ready for opening day.
On Wednesday, many reports out of the winter meetings were that Devers had hired a nutritionist and personal trainer this offseason to improve his conditioning in the Dominican Republic. This is great news, because the 237lb 3rd baseman looked out of shape at times in 2018 and had multiple injury-related issues. Alex Cora told the media that Assistant GM Eddie Romero went to visit Devers in the Dominican and he looked great. While you can never really believe what the manager says about a player, the fact that Devers hired professionals to help him get in shape this early in the offseason is a great sign.
I still believe Devers is the Red Sox 3rd baseman of the future and a potentially scary middle-of-the-lineup bat going forward, but am a bit more cautious than a year ago. Will 2019 be a breakout season for the 22-year old they call “carita” (babyface)? Let’s hope so.