Sox Week: Devers is the real deal, but he should not be rushed to Boston

  • Portland Sea Dogs third baseman Rafael Devers looks toward fans in the stands at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester during a game against the Fisher Cats on Wednesday. Devers, a top prospect for the Boston Red Sox, has created plenty of excitement in Double-A. MICHELLE BERTHIAUME / Monitor staff

  • MICHELLE BERTHIAUME / Monitor staffPortland Sea Dogs starter Jalen Beeks delivers a pitch at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester during a game against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats on Wednesday, May 24, 2017. The southpaw is in the midst of a breakout season in Double-A. 

  • Portland Sea Dogs starter Jalen Beeks delivers a pitch at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester against the Fisher Cats on Wednesday. The southpaw is in the midst of a breakout season in Double-A. MICHELLE BERTHIAUME / Monitor staff

  • MICHELLE BERTHIAUME / Monitor staffPortland Sea Dogs third baseman Rafael Devers gets ready to fire a throw to first base as second baseman Josh Tobias watches on at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester during a game against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats on Wednesday, May 24, 2017. Devers, one of the top prospects in the Boston Red Sox organization, has stirred up plenty of excitement in Double-A this season. 

Published: 5/28/2017 11:38:55 PM

It’d be tough to find someone who has a better pulse on the Boston Red Sox farm system right now than Portland Sea Dogs Manager Carlos Febles.

Febles, who managed at the Single-A level for five years before landing the top job in Portland prior to last season, visited the New Hampshire Fisher Cats for a four-game series in Manchester last week.

Speaking to media members in the bowels of Northeast Delta Dental Stadium on Wednesday, Febles’s optimism was hard to miss, especially when he was talking about Rafael Devers.

One thing Febles reiterated during the interview was the third baseman’s youth.

It’s both a blessing and a curse. Devers is just 20 years old, and presumably has many years of major-league ball ahead, but he’s also got more to learn at the minor-league level.

“He’s a 20-year-old kid. He has to continue to work on his overall game. So far, I’ve been real impressed with both” offense and defense, Febles said after Portland’s 4-3 win over the Fisher Cats. “He’s growing and this is a kid who has a bright future.”

The key word there is future.

Boston’s struggle to find a suitable everyday option at the hot corner has left some daydreaming about Devers being called up. Febles’s cautious warning that Devers is still only 20 years old sounded both like a testament to his maturity and a reminder that he can’t even legally drink alcohol in the United States yet.

There’s no need to rush him to Fenway Park, although Febles expects his natural power to translate well once he gets there. The most important thing for Devers right now is getting better against better pitching. He has just 148 Double-A at-bats, about 80 less than Andrew Benintendi had before he was called up from Portland straight to the big-league club last season.

Devers already has 32 strikeouts in 40 games this season. Benintendi struck out 30 times in 63 games with Portland last year. Being more selective is clearly one thing Devers has been working on, though. After drawing just two walks over 16 games in April, he’s drawn 13 in the month of May.

That’s due in part to pitchers giving him a little more respect these days, but it’s also a testament to improving patience.

No one has a better seat to Devers’s growth and development than Febles, a former Major Leaguer with the Kansas City Royals.

“For me, he’s one of the best players I’ve coached,” Febles told MiLB.com’s Craig Forde earlier this month. “He’s a kid that brings it every day. He plays with joy. He’s a hard worker and he’s great in the clubhouse. … I feel like he will be an All-Star third baseman in the big leagues.”

And Febles knows what stars look like. He coached Jackie Bradley Jr. with the Lowell Spinners in 2011, Mookie Betts with the Greenville Drive in 2013 and Benintendi and Yoan Moncada in Portland last year.

Febles didn’t go as far as to compare Devers to David Ortiz, but he did say taking a similar path could help him find success at the next level.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s going to be a power hitter,” the manager said Wednesday. “If you want to play in Boston, you have to be able to be able to do that. You have (the Green) Monster there and Ortiz made his living hitting the Monster against left-handed pitching. That’s something (Devers) has to do and that’s exactly what he’s doing right now.”

Going into the weekend, Devers was ranked 15th in the Eastern League in batting average (.300). He was also the second-youngest player listed in the top 50, behind only future New York Yankee Gleyber Torres, Baseball America’s No. 2 overall prospect who was recently promoted to Triple-A.

It’ll be interesting to see how the next few weeks play out for Devers.

If Torres makes an instant impact at the Triple-A level, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Red Sox promote Devers to Pawtucket. I do, however, think he’s a long way from the big-league club. Barring an emergency situation in Boston, it would be hard to picture him being called up before August.

One way or another, Devers seems pretty certain that he’ll be ready when the day comes.

“I can only control what I can control,” he told Forde of MiLB.com. “If the phone call comes, I think I’ll be ready. If they make that decision, it’s because they feel I’m ready.”

Jalen Beeks, a 12th-round pick out of the University of Arkansas, is another prospect gaining traction in Portland.

The 5-foot-11, 180-pound left-handed pitcher started Wednesday’s game but didn’t factor into the decision after struggling with an all-too-familiar efficiency issue.

“He’s been having an outstanding year. (It was) just one of those starts,” Febles said after Beeks’s three-inning, 79-pitch effort. “There’s no doubt in my mind that he will bounce back from it.”

Although Febles said increased efficiency has been Beeks’s biggest improvement this year, it’s still his biggest enemy at times.

After being promoted to Portland last season, Beeks pitched at least six innings in just four of his 13 starts. This season, he’s already done that three times in just eight starts, posting a 5-1 record.

“That’s a guy last year who was 95 (pitches), five (innings). This year, he’s been able to go deep into games,” Febles said. “With his stuff, there’s no doubt in my mind that if he’s efficient and pitches to contact, he’ll get a lot of outs. … That’s the one thing that he has done this year is be a little more efficient.”

Control still seems to be a bit of an issue for Beeks, who uses an above-average four-seam fastball to accompany his changeup, cutter and curveball. He walked four of the 17 batters he faced Wednesday, making it his sixth start this season with multiple walks. Beeks needed 21 pitches to get out of the first inning and 28 more to make it through the third.

Even with the 21 walks this season, Beeks still has the second-best ERA in the Eastern League at 2.13.

As he continues to work on mechanics, it’s reasonable to assume the control will come. He doesn’t seem to have an issue with making adjustments. In fact, that’s what he credits his early successes this season to.

Beeks talked about switching from a slider to a cutter this offseason with Fangraphs writer David Laurila last week.

“I used my slider a lot last year but it just never felt natural, so I tried something new,” Beeks told Laurila.

Adjustments like that one could soon lead him to the next level.

If starting pitching depth becomes an issue for the big-league club again this season, Beeks’s opportunity could be coming. There’s very little chance he makes the jump to Boston anytime soon, but promotions for Triple-A pitchers would presumably result in some Double-A promotions as well.

“That’s our job, to get those guys ready for the next level, not necessarily the big leagues, just get them ready to play at Triple-A,” Febles said. “That being said, the team has the last say on that and our job is to make sure those guys are ready whenever they get the call.”

With the promising talent Portland has trotted out this season, Febles might want to keep his phone nearby, because some of those phone calls are certainly on the horizon.

(Michelle Berthiaume can be reached at 369-3338, mberthiaume@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @MonitorMichelle.)




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