By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Rafael Devers is on a power surge at Double-A Portland. If he continues hitting the way he is right now, he could get a chance to make an impact in the major leagues before the end of the year.
With Yoan Moncada traded and Andrew Benintendi in Boston for good, Devers has become the Red Sox’ top prospect. The third baseman went 5-for-5 on Tuesday night for the Portland Sea Dogs, launching two home runs and driving in four runs in a 12-11 win (watch his second homer in the video above). His average is now up to .324 with five homers, 12 RBI, and a .957 OPS through the first 18 games of his Double-A career.
Oh, and there just so happens to be a Panda-sized hole at third base in Boston.
Pablo Sandoval showed a little pop in the early part of the season, but his overall numbers (.646 OPS) were underwhelming at best before the third baseman hit the 10-day DL with a sprained knee. The rest of the Red Sox’ third base spot has been a revolving door of subpar offense and one of the biggest holes in the lineup.
Between Sandoval, Marco Hernandez, Josh Rutledge, and Brock Holt, Red Sox third basemen have batted a combined .207 with a putrid .593 OPS. Sandoval can’t reasonably be relied upon to stay healthy for the rest of the season, let alone put up the kind of numbers the Red Sox have been waiting to see since his days in with the Giants. The others simply aren’t the answer to their troubles.
Would Devers represent the answer?
Red Sox president of baseball ops. Dave Dombrowski spoke about the Red Sox’ offensive woes before Tuesday’s game with NESN’s Tom Caron, quelling any idea of a major move at third base (or any position) on the horizon. He believes the team’s improvement, first and foremost, has to happen with the players already in the major league lineup.
“I think, in our situation, it really has to come from within,” said Dombrowski. “We have some guys I know are better hitters than what they’re hitting right now from a production perspective.”
Dombrowski is onto something with the improvement needed from the current lineup. Xander Bogaerts, Dustin Pedroia, and Jackie Bradley Jr. have hit a combined one home run with 17 RBIs. Only the Kansas City Royals and Oakland A’s have scored fewer runs than the Red Sox’ 100. And outside of Sandoval for a handful of games, they’ve gotten virtually nothing out of the third base position.
When Dombrowski says “within” the organization, he probably doesn’t mean the Portland Sea Dogs. But he may soon need to re-think things and consider an early call-up for the 20-year-old Devers if the Red Sox continue to scuffle at the plate – especially at third base, which is one of the only positions in the lineup that appears up for grabs.
Devers, currently the No. 15 prospect in MLB.com’s Top 100, certainly has the potential to give the Red Sox exactly what they need right now. He has plus bat speed with an advanced approach at the plate, and can drive the ball for power to all fields. He also bats left-handed, which is another glaring need – especially with Sandoval out.
Devers may not hit for Boston right away like he is for Portland this season, but could he give them better than a .593 OPS? If the team’s hitting woes continue, it may be worth a shot.
Despite Devers’ hot streak at Double-A, the major leagues is obviously a whole different level of pitching that he would face. He simply may not be ready right now; Moncada certainly wasn’t when he got the surprise call-up in the middle of last season. But The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier noted in a February column that Devers could be a “significant big league contributor” as soon as the 2018 season, so in the middle of 2017, how far behind can he really be?
The Red Sox certainly don’t want to unnecessarily hinder Devers’ development by calling him up too soon, but a continued hitting slump up and down the lineup could necessitate an early call-up. Benintendi showed last season that it’s possible to leapfrog Triple-A and contribute in the majors straight from Double-A, but he also had a few more years of polish. Moncada’s epic struggles in 2017 showed what a more unpolished prospect could look like if he got called up too soon.
But Dombrowski may eventually be left without a choice. If Devers (four homers in his last four games) continues to tear the cover off the ball in Portland, and the Red Sox continue to have an absolute black hole of hitting at third base, Devers may be the only remaining option to give the Red Sox offense a spark.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.