SEATTLE – Rafael Devers can powder a good fastball and send it a long way, and this season, he’s done a better job at handling breaking pitches and remaining more disciplined at the plate.
But at just 20 years old, his development is far from complete. There’s a lot to still learn, especially when it comes to his defense, where Devers is very much a work-in-progress, enough so that John Farrell hinted Monday that he had already spoken to Devers about the prospect of lifting him from games in late innings when they’re protecting a lead.
Brian Butterfield, the Red Sox’ third base coach and infield instructor, will be tasked with helping Devers.
Already, as Devers readies for his major league debut Tuesday night at Safeco Field, Butterfield has been doing his homework. On Monday, he spoke with Red Sox minor league infield coordinator Andy Fox, Pawtucket coach Bruce Crabbe and Devers’ last two minor leaguer managers: Carlos Febles (Portland) and Kevin Boles (Pawtucket).
“(The feedback) was all favorable,’’ said Butterfield, “about the person, and the player. I think that when a kid that young comes to the big leagues, everybody’s a little cautious. There’s going to be a lot that he’s never experienced before. They love the kid, love the work ethic. They say he still has a lot to learn, but there’s an awful of potential there.
“We’re not under any illusion. With youth comes nervousness, with mistakes. So it’s going to take some patience.’’
While Devers hit .400 in his brief time at Triple A, he also committed three errors in the span of a little more than a week, sending off alarms about his readiness.
“When I had an opportunity to work him out in the spring,’’ Butterfield recalled, “I was impressed (with his defensive aptitude). It’s a big body, but don’t be fooled by the body size – he’s got good feet, he’s under control and he’s got a powerful arm. Sometimes, he sprays the ball around (on his throws), but I think all young infielders do, anyway. There are a lot of good things to work with, although it’s not refined, I can’t wait.’’
In addressing the rookie’s recent defensive struggles at Pawtucket, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski noted that they were mostly the result of timing – hurrying a throw when it wasn’t necessary and other issues related to a player’s “internal clock.’’
“That’s one of the last things that comes (for a young player),’’ Butterfield said. “You try to slow the game down, slow your heart rate down. We’ll help him with that, (let him know) what baserunners you have to shorten up on and get the ball in the air in a hurry.’’
If Devers lacks some of the nuances for the position for now, he’s not without raw talent and skills.
“I saw a plus arm and all the reports I’m getting from (people on the development side) say the same thing,’’ said Butterfield. “As a young player, he passes the test on everything lateral, his ability to move his feet. So even though he’s a big guy, he’s got some athleticism.’’