FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — His baby face and near constant smile may make him appear younger than his 23 years.
But third baseman Rafael Devers already has parts of three seasons and a World Series championship on his resume. And after finishing 12th in American League MVP voting in his breakout 2019, the Red Sox believe Devers hasn’t approached his ceiling yet.
Devers hit .311 with 32 homers, 115 RBIs, an AL-leading 54 doubles, and a major league-leading 90 extra-base hits last season. He led the Red Sox in games played (156), hits (201), and average. With the departure of Mookie Betts in a trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Devers will be an even bigger part of Boston’s offense this season.
“Especially as much as he’s improved his game defensively, he’s a huge part,” said manager Ron Roenicke. “The bat is good because of especially where it plays in the lineup and how we can push that lineup deeper makes it tough to pitch to us.”
Roenicke expects to bat Devers second this season, behind likely lead-off hitter Andrew Benintendi, where Devers had much of his success last season after taking over the spot in late June.
“Wherever the team feels I should be batting in the lineup, I’ll do whatever they say,” said Devers, who made his 2020 spring debut Friday. “But obviously I had a lot of success batting in the two hole last year. It’s not going to change my approach either way. I’m going to still do what I have to do, go out there and work hard.”
From May through August, there weren’t many hitters hotter than Devers last season. How much more can Boston expect from him offensively?
“It’s hard to say that you can see more than I saw for four straight months last year,” Roenicke said. “Four straight months was as good as anybody you could be in baseball as far as squaring up a baseball when you needed him. When we needed a good at-bat from him, for four straight months we saw a good at-bat. Maybe it was a lineout, but it was a good at-bat. And it was gaps and it was everything, so it’s pretty hard to think of anybody doing that for six months. He had a fabulous year offensively when you look at even just the total numbers, but I know what I saw for four straight months was amazing.”
With Betts gone there will be big expectations for Devers. Former Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, though, only needs Devers to do what he did last season.
“I saw more than 250 at-bats coming out of him (last year),” said Ortiz. “And I was saying, ‘Bro, I’m telling you this guy is on another level.’
Devers knows what will be expected of him this season. But, he’s not feeling pressure to replace Betts, the 2018 AL MVP.
“I don’t feel any pressure at all,” he said. “We have a great team. We have a lot of talent on this team. We have (Alex) Verdugo, we have (Benintendi), we have (Xander) Bogaerts, and J.D. (Martinez). There’s a bunch of guys that we have. So, we know we have to step our game up. So, obviously with Mookie because we know he’s a superstar but we don’t feel any pressure because we know the type of team we have and we’ll be ready for this coming season.”