CHICAGO — Whenever Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers shares a field with White Sox counterpart Yóan Moncada, time travel is irresistible. The pairing of the two offers a reflection on the present, reminders of the past, and visions about the future of a Red Sox superstar.
Devers is now unquestionably one of the brightest lights in the game. White Sox manager Tony La Russa (part of the Red Sox front office in 2018-19) used the same word – “amazing” – five times in the span of less than two minutes to describe him. Red Sox major league field coordinator Andy Fox, who has worked with Devers since he was 16, summed up the player’s status simply.
“Superstar,” said Fox.
At 25, Devers has one All-Star appearance and two top-12 MVP finishes on his résumé and seems poised to add more. He leads MLB in extra-base hits in 2022 (something he did previously in 2019) and entered Wednesday hitting .337 with a .366 OBP and .606 slugging mark while on pace for 39 homers and 100 extra-base hits – projected career highs in every category – while playing the best defense of his career.
“He was amazing at 20. He’s as amazing at 25 – which is when guys should be starting to figure it out,” said La Russa. “He’s already got it figured out, so you can imagine what he’ll be at 30.”
But before imagining his future, it is worth throwing the DeLorean in reverse and thinking back to 2015, when Devers and Moncada were teammates in Single-A Greenville.
Moncada – the most expensive prospect in history, fresh off signing a $31.5 million bonus that also cost the Red Sox an additional $31.5 million penalty – began his pro career amid remarkable anticipation. He did so on a team loaded with potential stars, including Devers, Michael Kopech, and eventually Andrew Benintendi.
When Moncada made his professional debut for Greenville on May 18, 2015 (0-for-3 with a walk), MLB authenticators were there to memorialize the moment. But it was Devers who stole the show as an 18-year-old, crushing a pair of massive doubles off the fence in center.
“The game just seemed so easy to him,” said Kopech, now Moncada’s teammate with the White Sox. “And it still seems that way.”
Devers never took offense at the spotlight occupied by Moncada, but he also never felt overshadowed by anyone else in the Red Sox system.
“We all knew the type of player [Moncada] was, how highly touted he was, as well as the projection that they had for him being 20 years old,” Devers recalled through translator Bryan Loor-Almonte. “I didn’t know what type of player I was going to be, but I knew the type of talent that I had. To me, the most important thing was always if I can stay healthy.”
While Moncada was viewed as one of the best prospects in baseball as he came through the system, Devers was never viewed as being too far behind him. And once Moncada was traded – along with Kopech and two other prospects – in 2017, Devers emerged as the unquestioned top prospect in the Sox system, fast-tracking to the big leagues as a 20-year-old and staying up ever since.
Fast-forward five years to the present. Moncada opened the year on the injured list with an oblique strain, and the 27-year-old has struggled (.164/.207/.291) since coming back. Aside from an All-Star caliber year in 2019, he’s been mostly an above-average big leaguer with flashes of star potential but without the consistency or health to sustain such a performance level over the long haul.
Devers, meanwhile, has established himself as a perennial force. He hits the ball as hard as anyone in the game. He plays every day (he hasn’t missed a game in 2022), and seems on an upward trajectory on both sides of the ball.
“My approach is how can I continue to grow my game?” said Devers. “I always practice my defense, practice my baserunning, and just overall, I focus on just being a complete player. I want to continue to grow.”
It is the same commitment that made him so intriguing as an 18-year-old in Greenville, as a 20-year-old at the time of his big league debut in 2017, and as a 25-year-old now. Yet that exercise of examining the present through the prism of the past comes with a strange realization.
Devers was caught off guard when the team traded Moncada and Kopech in December 2016 but now understands that the odds work against remaining with one organization.
“In our farm system, they were stars – I didn’t ever expect them to be traded,” said Devers. “But that’s just the business.”
Of the 14 eventual big leaguers on his 2015 Greenville team, Devers is the only one who remains in the Red Sox organization. Nearly nine years after signing with the Red Sox in 2013, he remains with the only organization he’s ever known – something that he does not take for granted, even as he edges closer to the possibility of free agency after the 2023 season.
“Growing up as a kid, this was my favorite team. To be able to sign with this club, it meant a lot. … This organization means a lot to me,” said Devers. “We had those [contract] talks during spring training and they didn’t work out. But when the time is right, we’ll have those discussions after the season and see where it goes from there, because obviously I love this place. I want to be here and it’s just a matter of just finding the right formula.”
The issue of the future is a matter for another day, of course. For now, Devers and the Red Sox are simply able to enjoy a player who is flourishing, and starting to realize the full extent of his abilities.
“He’s still so young,” said Fox. “I just think you’re just going to see him consistently get better and better.”
Alex Speier can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @alexspeier.