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Alex Speier

Rafael Devers isn’t playing like a typical 20-year-old major leaguer

Red Sox rookie Rafael Devers had a double and three singles in Monday’s win over Cleveland.JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF

As Rafael Devers progressed through the minor leagues, outperforming players who were years older than him along the way, more than a few scouts had the same thought about his progression and his on-field demeanor.

There was, they thought, some of Robinson Cano’s whip in his swing and the looseness in the batter’s box that served as a prelude to easy power. But there were also hints of a teenage (though lefthanded) Adrian Beltre in his skill set based on that unusually loud sound the bat made when crunching baseballs, and at times in the way Devers would make certain plays — most notably barehanded when coming in on slow rollers.


To Devers, such assessments represented one of the highest compliments imaginable.

“He’s a superstar in the big leagues. I think a lot of people want to be like him, especially me being a Dominican third baseman,” Devers said through translator Daveson Perez during a weekend in which Beltre collected his 3,000th hit. “I feel like a lot of players would love to be like Beltre and reach the milestones that he’s reached, break all the records that he’s broken, have the Gold Gloves that he has. Of course I look up to players like him.”

Beltre positioned himself for a Hall of Fame career in part because of what he accomplished at an uncommonly young age. He was 19 when he reached the big leagues, 20 when he launched 15 homers. There were rough edges to his game — he made a ton of errors, for instance — but he was good enough to hold his own as a baby in the big leagues.

Now, Devers is making his mark. On Monday, in the Red Sox’ 6-2 win over Cleveland, he went 4 for 4 with a double to the opposite field off the Green Monster scoreboard as well as three singles. In the process, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Devers joined Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Tony Conigliaro as the only Red Sox 20 or younger to go 4 for 4 or better.


It’s just six games. Say it again: It’s just six games.

But in forging a .417/.481/.750 line with three walks and five strikeouts through 27 plate appearances, Devers already has accomplished things that have almost never been done to start a career by a player so young. A few markers:

■  Devers is the eighth player, at the age of 20 or younger, in the last 100 years to post a four-hit game in one of his first six career contests. The short list of players to do so also includes Williams and Stan Musial.

■  He is one of 15 players in the last 100 years to homer in two of his first six career games, joining a list that includes Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda, Carlos Correa, Manny Machado, and Conligliaro.

■  He is one of 19 players in the last 100 years to reach base in each of his first six big league games, a list that includes Hall of Famers Williams, Roberto Clemente, and Ron Santo.

Beyond those statistical markers, there are other elements that have stood out. The way that Devers drives the ball to the opposite field — a hallmark of his ascent through the minors — has remained intact in the big leagues, as evidenced by his homer just over the Wall on Sunday and his double on Monday. He demonstrates excellent bat-to-ball skills, having swung and missed at just 6.3 percent of the pitches he’s seen, meaning he’s getting to power without selling out his approach.


“It’s extremely rare. So is being in the big leagues at 20,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said of Devers’s approach. “He’s a unique talent. But the bat speed combined with the power and the all-field approach, those are things you can’t teach. That’s hand-eye coordination and instincts to stay behind the swing and drive the pitch where it’s located. And for a young hitter, that is rare.”

Twenty-year-olds aren’t supposed to be in the big leagues (Devers is, after all, the youngest player in the majors). And those that do get there this fast aren’t supposed to hit the ground running, no matter how gifted.

When Xander Bogaerts got to the big leagues as a 20-year-old in 2013, the Red Sox carefully integrated him into the lineup, letting him start roughly one out of every three games in an effort to prevent him from being overwhelmed. When Mike Trout made his big league debut as an almost 20-year-old in 2011, he went 3 for 20 with one extra-base hit in his first half-dozen games.

Red Sox bench coach Gary DiSarcina, who was a special assistant to the GM for the Angels working with Trout during that transition to the big leagues, marveled at Devers’s precociousness.

“He gets into the batter’s box, commands the strike zone, he never gets really too antsy out there, he slows the game down and plays at a nice speed,” said DiSarcina. “There’s no panic in him. For a 20-year-old kid, I guarantee you if someone walked into the ballpark and watched the [27] at-bats he’s had here for us, you wouldn’t say he’s 20 years old. He looks advanced . . . You just kind of expect him to put up a good at-bat.”


It’s just six games. These things can change drastically, as seen with a player such as Andrew Benintendi this year or Bogaerts in 2014. Few 20-year-olds can be thrown into the big leagues and help shape pennant races.

But there are outliers. As a 20-year-old, Correa helped turn the Astros into a playoff team in 2015. In 2012, an Orioles team that didn’t make any trades at the deadline instead turned to their 20-year-old phenom, Machado, as an August addition to help them reach the playoffs for the first time in 15 years.

Rare is the 20-year-old who can make that kind of difference. But while it would be misguided to say definitely that Devers can be that kind of player, based on the early returns, it would also be a mistake to suggest that he can’t.

Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.