CINCINNATI — In a year when 22-year-olds Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts have represented two of the Red Sox’ foremost bright spots, Sunday offered a reminder that the pipeline of talented youth runs deeper than that duo.
The All-Star Futures Game — a showcase of top minor league prospects — featured a pair of young Red Sox players who are striking in equal measure for their ages and abilities. Center fielder Manuel Margot, 20, gained the moniker “El Baby” when he joined the Sox system, while 18-year-old third baseman Rafael Devers has been called “Carita,” in reference to the fact that both have baby faces. The often-smiling Devers, in fact, has a mouthful of braces that offers a reminder of his age.
For years, it would have been difficult to imagine either player zooming through the Sox system and reaching the big leagues soon. That’s changed in an organization that saw Bogaerts debut as a 20-year-old, Betts reaching the big leagues at 21, and Eduardo Rodriguez (22) and Blake Swihart (23) also riding a fast track.
“Boston is an organization where it’s possible [to reach the big leagues quickly],” Margot, who went 0 for 2 with a strikeout and was robbed of a hit on a leaping catch by the Team USA shortstop, said through a translator. “These are things that depend on work. [Bogaerts and Betts] worked really hard and they got there.”
Margot has earned raves in the Sox system for doing the same. Indeed, Red Sox Dominican area scout Manny Nanita said that when he scouted Margot in 2011 before signing him as a 16-year-old, it was his work ethic that immediately separated the young outfielder from his peers.
“I was watching everybody working out. There were 20 guys. The only guy that was shagging, taking things seriously, was him. He showed a lot of passion,” said Nanita. “He showed close to average running at that point, but he was very weak and skinny at that point. But the makeup and work ethic he showed was more important than the tools . . . He showed he could be an above-average defender. His running speed was good. His bat came later in the process. But the more I saw him, the more I thought he’d be able to get the bat to the ball in games.”
Margot has proven Nanita right in notable fashion, having gone nearly all of April without striking out, earning national attention in the process. Margot has developed into a five-tool talent who has affected games at the plate, on the bases, and in center. He’s considered the Sox’ top defensive outfielder besides Jackie Bradley Jr., while offensively he’s held his own at two levels this year.
Most recently, he’s posted a .278 average, .350 OBP, and .403 slugging percentage in 19 games since a promotion last month from High A Salem to Double A Portland, despite being the second-youngest position player in the Eastern League. It’s the second straight year in which Margot has impressed after a midyear promotion.
“When they call you up to the next level, you’ve got to take advantage,” said Margot. “You’ve got to be ready and you’ve got to take advantage.”
Devers, meanwhile, is the youngest Sox prospect to take part in the Futures Game.
“It means a lot for me to be named here so young,” Devers said through a translator.
He was named on the strength of a .294 average, .324 OBP, and .439 slugging percentage with seven homers for Single A Greenville. Devers, who went 0 for 1, is considered one of the best pure hitting prospects in the minors, with middle-of-the-order power potential based on his ability to drive the ball out of the park to all fields.
“I’ve always been like that, ever since Little League,” Devers said. “I’m just trying to hit line drives. Last year, I was trying to swing really hard and it didn’t always go so good.”
Now, however, his overall approach earned him recognition at a time when players typically haven’t moved beyond short-season ball, performing well while pushing the envelope on the pace of his player development.
“As a scout, he’s exceeded my expectations. I didn’t expect him to move so fast,” said Nanita. “It’s amazing what he’s doing with his bat. It is very interesting how focused and determined he is to become better.”