Much has been made about the depletion of the Red Sox farm system, about the fact that the team’s pool of prospects has been steadily drained in recent years.
Yet the more foreboding claims about the farm system fail to account for the reality that the Red Sox created a remarkable young major league core with potential stars who seem likely to impact the team well into next decade.
Put another way: If 20-year-old Rafael Devers and 23-year-old Andrew Benintendi were in Triple A — where both would be younger than the league-average player — the Red Sox farm system would look well-stocked. Instead, both were in Yankee Stadium Sunday night, performing in ways that were in their own right stunning in a 3-2, 10-inning victory over the Yankees.
Devers — still less than three weeks into his big-league career — actually would have fit comfortably into Sunday’s lineup of the short-season Lowell Spinners, at a level where players are typically four stops and several years from the majors. Of the 13 Lowell players who took part in the 12-3 victory over Auburn, 11 were older than Devers.
Yet Devers did something virtually unprecedented Sunday night, regardless of age. In the ninth inning, on a night when Aroldis Chapman featured explosive stuff, Devers fell behind the Yankees closer, 1-and-2. The circumstances for Devers and the Sox appeared grim.
Chapman had allowed just one homer to a lefthanded hitter in his career, that coming when Luke Scott of the Orioles went deep on June 26, 2011. He’d held lefties to a .128/.245/.164 line, having struck out 47 percent of them.
With two strikes, the task facing Devers seemed all but impossible: lefthanded hitters entered the night with a .077/.169/.089 line when getting to a two-strike count against Chapman. In his career, Chapman had permitted just three extra-base hits (all doubles) against lefties on two-strike pitches, and none in more than a full calendar year.
No matter. Devers showed the electrifying bat speed that prompted the Sox to call him up late in July, jumping on a 102.8-mile-per-hour fastball up in the strike zone and driving it out to left-center.
Since the introduction of leaguewide pitch-tracking data in 2008, no one had hit a homer against a pitch thrown that hard, let alone doing so on a left-on-left fastball — or at the age of 20. Though still a baby who would fit comfortably into a short-season lineup, Devers did something that had no known precedent in the big leagues.
Of course, Devers’s deed would have been an interesting footnote had the Sox lost the game. Instead, Benintendi punctuated a brilliant weekend (5 for 13 with three homers while driving in nine runs) by rifling a bases-loaded single to right in the 10th inning to give his team the victory. His nine RBIs were the most by a Red Sox in a single series against the Yankees since Manny Ramirez plated 10 in a May 2006 series.
The pair continued to shine Monday in a 7-3 loss to Cleveland, with Devers hitting two solo homers and Benintendi adding his own.
Though he has endured some valleys, Benintendi is now hitting .278./.358/.451 for the year. He’s on pace for 22 homers in his age-22 season, which would make him the youngest Red Sox player to reach the 20-homer plateau since Ellis Burks in 1987.
Devers, in 16 games, is on a .339/.397/.677 tear with six home runs and 12 RBIs.
Both players are just starting to learn what it means to compete in the big leagues. Yet while many of their peers are going through growing pains in the lower levels, Devers and Benintendi have found ways to help a first-place team improve.
Their contributions offer a reminder that the Red Sox haven’t mortgaged their future. To the contrary, their future is now taking shape on the biggest of all stages.