Two years ago I spent part of an otherwise unproductive afternoon watching scouting videos of 2013's top July 2 signees, including OF Eloy Jimenez and SS Gleyber Torres, now with the Cubs organization, and RHP Marcos Diplan, traded last offseason from Texas to Milwaukee as part of the Yovani Gallardo deal. A pair of teenaged corner infielders, Philadelphia's Luis Encarnacion and Boston's Rafael Devers, piqued my interest, so I watched their videos closely and paid particular attention to their hitting displays. While there was no denying Devers's sweet, left-handed swing, I liked the sound the ball made when it jumped off Encarnacion's bat. So when the time came to make a selection in my dynasty-league draft, I ignored Devers, chose Diplan, and later acquired Encarnacion via trade.
The lesson, of course, is that I'm not a scout.
To be fair, Encarnacion did have a good season in 2015 batting behind Cornelius Randolph for the GCL Phillies, and Diplan was the Brewers' best pitching prospect in rookie ball, but Devers, a third baseman, has emerged as the top player in that entire 2013 international class. In fact, Baseball America ranks Devers the #18 prospect in all of baseball entering 2016. MLB.com has him a notch higher at #17. Here at faketeams.com, our prospect team, which always evaluates players from a fantasy perspective, rated Devers #11 overall in our December consensus rankings, with four of our seven writers placing him in the top 10.
Devers's fantasy outlook exceeds even his lofty prospect ranking for several reasons. First, he does not play a premium defensive position such as shortstop, centerfield, or catcher, and fantasy owners are not inclined to downgrade a non-premium defender the same way ordinary evaluators are. Second, Devers has shown an advanced bat that will play anywhere on the diamond. His sweet swing produces line drives to all fields, and he flashes plus raw power that's beginning to show up in games. He projects, in short, as a hitting machine in the middle of a major-league batting order.
Minor-league statistics have little meaning without context, and the context of Devers's 2015 season makes it one of minor-league baseball's most impressive performances. Devers played all of 2015 as an 18-year-old for Greenville of the Low-A South Atlantic League. Teenage hitters often struggle against the advanced competition of full-season ball, where rotations are filled with former college pitchers in their early 20s. Devers, however, defied the odds en route to an MVP-caliber debut. His .288 batting average with 11 HR, 70 RBI, and .773 OPS look respectable enough, and his 38 doubles and 208 total bases were good for 2nd overall in the Sally League.
If not for Cleveland's Bobby Bradley, who tore up the Midwest League with 27 HR and 92 RBI, Devers would have a strong case for being 2015's top teenage hitter in all the minors.
Naturally, Devers's future looks brilliant. Assuming he can manage his weight--just what the Red Sox need, right?--he has the hands and throwing arm to stick at third base. Otherwise, a move across the diamond to first base is possible. His fantasy value will hold either way.
Devers should open 2016 at High-A Salem of the Carolina League. At some point, one expects his teammate and fellow infielder, the much-ballyhooed Cuban signee Yoan Moncada (whom our own Domenic Lanza profiled last week), who is nearly a year-and-a-half older than Devers, to begin moving more quickly, so it will be interesting to see how the Red Sox handle the respective promotions. Conventional wisdom says Devers should spend all of 2016 in High-A. If Devers continues to develop at his current pace, however, there's a chance that fans in Portland of the Double-A Eastern League could get a look at both of Boston's prized infield prospects before the 2016 season concludes.
The bottom line for fantasy owners is that Devers could arrive in Boston by 2018, become an immediate-impact bat in the middle of a powerful lineup, and then settle in as an early-round pick in all re-draft leagues.