Rafael Devers’s underwhelming defensive play ruled his 2020 season. It may have been shortened to 60 games because of COVID-19, but Devers had a long season.
He hit just .263 with 11 homers, though the sample size of 57 games should be taken into account. A hitter of Devers’s caliber almost certainly would have gotten to his usual numbers for a 162-game season.
But the defensive flaws that have drawn questions throughout Devers’s young career emerged once more. He committed 14 errors, nine of which came on throws.
Devers reportedly was plagued by an ankle injury that inhibited his ability to get his legs into his throws. But his defensive reputation didn’t allow fans and some members of the media to hand him the benefit of the doubt.
In 2021, Devers had everything lined up in his favor. He had Alex Cora, a manager he responded to well. He had a full season ahead.
He responded offensively, hitting .279/.352/.538 with an .890 OPS. His 38 homers and 113 RBIs led all third basemen in baseball. But he also led all third basemen in errors with 22 — a total that was second overall in the American League to the 24 by the Blue Jays’ Bo Bichette, who plays shortstop.
Granted, Devers made some strides on defense that resembled his 2019 form. But what is his ceiling at the position? How much can he realistically improve? Despite his massive talent offensively, the defensive side of his game is still far behind.
At the middle of the 2020 season and the end of 2021, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom made it clear that the Red Sox see Devers and Xander Bogaerts as cornerstone players.
There have been rumblings regarding a Devers extension, but with two more years of control prior to the third baseman reaching free agency, that might be jumping the gun a bit. Not when it comes to the bat; the Sox know what they get with that. But with the glove?
You don’t pay a designated hitter the same as an everyday position player. J.D. Martinez has just one year left on his deal after he decided to opt in to his 2022 contract. Next year could be a good time to assess what position best fits Devers and where his value truly lies.
To be clear, Devers is committed to becoming a better defender, and if you ask Cora, errors get to Devers more so than when he doesn’t come through at the dish.
Devers has worked tirelessly with infield coach Carlos Febles on his craft. He began long tossing with Kiké Hernández during spring training, which benefited him when it came to the accuracy and carry of his throws.
“Errors are a part of the game; we know that,” Cora said back in June. “But I mean, he’s improved night and day compared to ‘17 and night and day compared to ‘18 and ‘19.”
But Devers still made 10 throwing errors, the most among third basemen and tied for fourth-most in all of baseball. Yet there’s perspective with everything. At the end of the year, Cora offered, “Raffy Devers ‘struggles’ defensively, but on a daily basis you want Raffy Devers [out there].”
Devers is a tantalizing performer who just turned 25, and despite having a more sure-handed fielder across the diamond at first in Bobby Dalbec, there’s likely not a scenario where the Sox swap the two. You give your cornerstone guy a chance to figure it out.
One scenario that has gained momentum is if the Sox somehow sign free agent shortstop Carlos Correa. That would move Bogaerts to either second or third. Or if the Sox stand pat this year, they could nab Trea Turner, who becomes a free agent at the end of 2022 and is also a high-caliber shortstop.
But, at this moment, the Sox say they are confident with their left side of the infield.
“I don’t think you should ever take anything off the table,” Bloom said. “But, with that said, with both those guys we don’t have concern about the positions they play. We love them both and feel very well set up on the left side of our infield.”
They should be. But that shouldn’t be that much of a reason to question Devers’s future at the position and what lies ahead.
Primary 2021 starter: Rafael Devers
Projected 2022 starter: Rafael Devers
Major league depth: Hudson Potts, Bobby Dalbec, Jack Lopez, Jonathan Araúz
Prospects to watch: Blaze Jordan, Brandon Howlett
Read the rest of the Around the Horn series
- Here’s where things stand with the Red Sox rotation
- Where things stand with the Red Sox bullpen — the free agents and the returners — as the offseason begins
- Between Bobby Dalbec and Triston Casas, first base will get a second look from Red Sox
- For Red Sox, there are a lot of moving parts at second base
- Xander Bogaerts is an institution as Red Sox shortstop — but for how much longer?