LOS ANGELES – Adrián Beltré did not need to hear the end of the question about Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers before he was ready to answer it.
“I’m going to cut you off,” Beltré said prior to managing the American League team in the All-Star Futures Game at Dodger Stadium on Saturday “I think [Devers] is going to be way better than me.”
That’s quite a claim. In 21 big league seasons, Beltré amassed 477 homers, 3,166 hits, 5 Gold Gloves, and 4 All-Star berths in a career that seems almost certain to result in enshrinement in Cooperstown. Yet Beltré was adamant about what he sees as the future of Devers.
There is a personal connection. A few years ago, Red Sox manager Alex Cora connected Devers to Beltré (Cora’s teammate with the Dodgers from 1998-2004), and Beltré gladly offered counsel to a player who idolized him. Beltré, who arrived in the big leagues as a 19-year-old, could relate to a player who struggled at times because of his youth and inexperience.
“Alex talked to me about him and I saw a lot of me in him, not being comfortable in the fact he needed to slow down the game, especially defensively,” said Beltré. “I explained things, how to view things, how I learned the hard way ... He learned right away. I saw the changes. He texted me a couple of times, ‘Hey, I did this like this.’ We kept it going and kept in touch … Man, he’s a player.
“That kid is so talented. I was always a fan, the way he carries himself, the way he learns, the way he is humble in asking questions,” Beltré continued. “We talked before and he asked some questions about defense and stuff, and he’s come a long way. I’m a big fan and I can’t wait for him to stay healthy and see how good he will become. He’s a special kid.”
In making the assessment that Devers will have a better career than he did, Beltré pointed to their respective career arcs. From the ages of 20-24, Beltré hit .265/.323/.432 with 92 homers and a roughly league-average OPS+ of 99. He then had a breakout season at age 25 (.334/.388/.629 with 48 homers) before several more solid but not star-level seasons with the Mariners. His Hall of Fame path took shape starting with one year in Boston at age 31 — his first All-Star campaign — followed by eight standout years with the Rangers.
Devers, by contrast, is preparing to play in his second All-Star Game on Tuesday. At 25, he has a career line of .285/.343/.522 with 134 homers. This year, he’s taken a considerable step forward defensively.
“I had to catch up at the end to have a decent [career]. He’s coming out of the gate and he is proving he is the guy at third base,” said Beltré. “So you can’t compare [us]. Even if he slows down he’s still going to be better. He’s like, I don’t want to say like [Mike] Trout, because Trout was good out of the gate like [Albert] Pujols, but [Devers] just started [performing] right away so he is going to be way better than me.”
“He’s better than me,” he reiterated. “If he stays healthy, no doubt. No doubt he’s going to be better.”