Should The Red Sox Platoon Rafael Devers?

On Sunday, July 23rd, the Boston Red Sox announced the promotion of their top prospect, Rafael Devers, to Boston. The third base phenom obliterated Eastern League pitching to the tune of a 153 wRC+ over 77 games and didn’t miss a step in eight games at AAA Pawtucket before the Sox brass decided to stop making the fans wait for his much anticipated major league debut. He will take the field for the first time on Tuesday and have his first major league at bat against King Felix Hernandez, though his bat isn’t something that most people question. His glove, on the other hand, gets mixed reviews.

That may be why the Red Sox plan, initially at least, to platoon him with Deven Marrero, with Marrero starting against left-handed pitching. When Devers was initially signed out of the Dominican Republic in July of 2013 at just 16 years old, he already had a thick lower half. He has worked hard to keep himself from growing out of the position and has developed a reputation for working hard on the defensive side of the game, impressing front office personnel at the highest level:

“I think he’s an everyday third baseman. I think he’s light on his feet, he’s got a strong, accurate arm, he’s got confident hands,” said Red Sox assistant GM Eddie Romero. “He hasn’t shown me or our staff any reason to believe he won’t be able to handle third base at the major league level.”

He’s not quite there yet with the glove, making 4 errors in his brief stint with the PawSox, but he should stick as a major leaguer. That said, it takes time to adjust to a new level and Devers is not immune to the pitfalls of rising quickly. According to Alex Speier, he has struggled to adapt to the speed of the game at AAA when manning the hot corner.

It certainly won’t be any slower at the major league level. So, is platooning him with Deven Marrero the right call? It’s the one the Red Sox are making according to Jason Mastrodonato:

Fans will likely feel strongly about this decision, one way or the other, and how you feel about it will likely have more to do with your opinion of Deven Marrero than Rafael Devers. So, allow me to play Devil’s advocate with myself and explore both sides of the argument.

The case for platooning:

As Mastrodonato claimed, Marrero is absolutely mashing against left-handed pitching. He sports a nifty .326/.362/.651 line against southpaws this season with all 3 of his home runs and 5 of his 7 doubles coming against them. That’s good for a 158 wRC+. Marrero also sports an exceptional glove, whether he is at third base or shortstop, and has provided a great deal of stability on the left side of the infield after the failure of Pablo Sandoval.

He routinely makes dazzling plays look easy with excellent instincts, quick reactions, great footwork, soft hands and a howitzer for an arm. Whatever his offensive shortcomings, he is a pleasure to watch in the field. If the above slash line against lefties is indicative of a genuine ability to hit pitching from at least that side, a platoon with Devers might well be the best use of resources, even if the game’s number 6 overall prospect doesn’t have difficulty with them. Of course, there are reasons to doubt that Marrero has a genuine ability to hit left handed pitching…

The case for not:

That sexy looking slash line has been accumulated over just 47 plate appearances this year. As far as sample sizes go, that’s a quite small. Over his career at the major league level, Marrero’s wRC+ against left handed pitching is just 80, a full 20% worse than league average. And even that sample is still very small, coming up one shy of 80 plate appearances. How does a 47 PA sample at a wRC+ of 158 drop to 80 in just another 32 PAs? Well, in 2016 his wRC+ against lefties was -36. In 2016 it was -33.

No, those aren’t typos. Those are figures in the negative, meaning he was 136% worse than league average last year and 133% worse in 2015. His emergence this year might be genuine, but it could also just be a hot streak he is unlikely ever to repeat. If that’s the case, it can, and will, end at any moment.

The fear of Icarus’s wings being set aflame sending him tumbling back down to Earth isn’t the only reason to think a platoon is a bad idea, however. While Devers is the system’s best prospect and one of the most exciting hitters the organization has developed in a long time, he’s just 20 years old and is most certainly still developing. Now, there’s nothing saying he can’t continue to develop at the major league level, but the key to doing so is repetition. He needs to be playing, and likely every day.

Of course, the Red Sox are in the business of winning games, and platooning Devers with Marrero might be the best way to accomplish that. If it works and it slows down his development slightly, I’m sure Dave Dombrowski is happy to live with that as long as the Red Sox reach the playoffs.

For my money, I think it’s likely Marrero is just on a hot streak, but riding that hot streak out is wise, so long as John Farrell doesn’t wait too long to pull the plug once it starts to end. A few weeks of platooning shouldn’t have a significant impact on the long-term development of Devers and may help the team to squeak out an extra win or two along the way. And given how tight the division looks to be going into the stretch, that extra game or two may well be the difference.

Featured Image Credit: Tony Gutierrez/AP Photo

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Damian grew up smack dab in the middle of Connecticut and was indoctrinated into the culture of Red Sox fandom from the moment he was old enough to start swinging a bat. A number of trips to Fenway park and meeting Ellis Burks at his dad's bar cemented what would become a life long obsession that would pay off in spades in both the recent run of post season success and the extra bit of connection he would have with his father throughout the years. After a brief three year stint living in the Bronx with his wife where he enjoyed leisurely strolls through the neighborhood with a Red Sox t-shirt on to provoke the natives, he settled in Roanoke, Virginia where he can fall out of bed and land at a Salem Red Sox game. Damian is a co-host for SoSHCast (the Sons of Sam Horn podcast) along with Justin Gorman.

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