Imagine if a prospect called up at the end of 2020 hit .307/.350/.573 over 160 plate appearances as a third baseman in his Age-23 season. Then factor in only Eugenio Suárez , José Ramírez and Manny Machado hit more home runs than him in this time frame from August 18th until the end of the season. Plus, only Machado, Alec Bohm and Anthony Rendon recorded a higher batting average. Intrigued?

Of course, but a slow start, a nagging ankle injury and high expectations cast aspersions on the sprint of a season for Rafael Devers . In season reports exacerbated by zoom interviews and limited access kept Boston's third baseman playing through injury under the radar. However, it's found within a post-season review of Devers in the Boston Globe by Alex Speier:

“Yet just when Febles and others thought Devers had done just that, he suffered another setback that lingered for most of the season. On August 9th, Devers injured his left ankle when stretching for the bag on a ground out (the broadcast captured a grunt just after he crossed the base). He missed two games on August 10th and 11th, then played 42 of the final 43, appearing in a team-leading 57 for the season.

But the ankle never truly healed, and that affected his range and throwing mechanics. He committed three throwing errors in a game shortly after his return to the field and made nine in total after returning. While there was no structural damage serious enough to keep him out of the lineup, Devers nonetheless struggled through the end of the year.”

Most of the focus covering players from a fantasy perspective defer to results while at the plate. However, this sheds some light on Devers struggles at third base in 2020 putting his future at the position in jeopardy. Add this in with the introduction and 2020 appears to be a step back for Devers. But, further digging into his results expose a slow start then trying to hit with a sore ankle over the last month of the season for a talented young hitter.

Overall, Devers appeared in 57 games for Boston logging 248 plate appearances with 32 runs, 11 home runs, 43 RBI and a .263/.310/.483 slash line. While no stolen bases could represent a disappointing outcome, the ankle report sheds light on a possible reason why. Shelve this for later. A bigger concern from the truncated season, Devers spike in strikeout percentage to 27 percent, up 10 percentage points compared to 2019 with more swinging strikes, less contact and reduced contact in the strike zone. Discerning if this portends regression in Devers plate discipline going forward or just an early slump affecting his shortened season needs to be assessed.

According to Statcast, Devers produced 165 batted ball events last year with 20 barrels (12.1 percent), a 93 MPH average exit velocity and 43.6 hard hit rate. His sweet spot percentage remained stable at 33.3 percent in line with his 2019 total yet his expected numbers suffered. Devers recorded a .259 expected batting average (xBA), .465 expected slugging (xSLG) and .318 expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA). For the visual crowd, here's Devers zone profile courtesy of Statcast:

Compared to 2019, Devers swing percentage also remained anchored but his whiff percentage rose by 7.8 percentage points. Despite a robust 29.7 line drive percentage, Devers expected numbers lagged. For the third straight season Devers increased his average exit velocity, owned a career high in line drive percentage and his barrel rate rose. In terms of his percentile ranks among his peers, Devers exit velocity finished in the 96th percentile and his barrel percentage in the 94th. Remember, Devers turned 24 in October of 2020.

Taking this a step further, Devers launched 11 home runs with nine of them rating in the no-doubter (out of any MLB) park for a robust 81.8 no-doubter percent. Devers notched the second highest maximum exit velocity (116.7 MPH) in the majors trailing only Pete Alonso . When Devers produced a fly ball or line drive, his average exit velocity (95.2 MPH) ranked 33rd overall in the majors.

In an effort to expand his sample size, Devers' resultant numbers from the second half of 2019 through the end of last season along with his last three years should help determine how to project his upcoming year for fantasy. First:

  • Devers 2H 2019-through-2020: 126 games, 572 plate appearances, 92 runs, 27 home runs, 96 RBI, zero stolen bases; .281/.329/.529, 5.8 BB%, 22 K%, .248 ISO, .355 wOBA

Even absorbing his abysmal start to 2020 during which Devers hit .183/.239/,317 with only two home runs, his overall statistics provide hope, especially in regards to his counting categories, except steals. Illustrating his fly ball and line drive data, here's his spray chart from this time frame:

Backed up by his radial chart showing his exit velocity and launch angle together:

Noting most projection systems account for the last three years when determining outcomes, here's Devers aggregate numbers in them:

  • Devers Last Three Years: 335 games, 1,432 plate appearances, 222 runs, 63 home runs, 211 RBI, 16 stolen bases; .282/.335/.501, 7.3 BB%, 20.7 K%, .219 ISO, .349 wOBA

Before delving into his projections, weighing opportunity costs makes sense. Devers should migrate back towards his slash lines from the second half of 2019 through the end of 2020 as evidenced by his last 36 game sample from last season. With Boston focused on Devers improving his discipline metrics, being at full health in 2021 and less swinging at pitches outside the strike zone should only enhance his power. Factor in past outcomes along with starting his Age-24 campaign poised for a rebound, Devers at a reduced price point sets up like Machado prior to last year's drafts. Without further ado, here's how three projections forecast Devers in the season ahead:

  • Devers 2021 Steamer projection: 150 games, 658 plate appearances, 100 runs, 35 home runs, 104 RBI, seven stolen bases; .287/.346/.539, 7.7 BB%, 20.3 K%, .252 ISO, .365 wOBA
  • Devers 2021 ZiPS projection: 154 games, 675 plate appearances, 102 runs, 32 home runs, 112 RBI, five stolen bases; .287/.338/.521, 6.7 BB%, 21.6 K%, .234 ISO, .368 wOBA
  • Devers 2021 THE BAT X projection: 152 games, 661 plate appearances, 94 runs, 32 home runs, 95 RBI, six stolen bases; .275/.336/.508, 8 BB%, 20.5 K%, .232 ISO, .356 wOBA

All told, pretty close in most areas with Steamer bullish on Devers power taking a step forward while THE BAT X projects the lowest batting average of the group. For our purposes, Devers should hit somewhere at or above his last three years average of .282 with a high tide in the low .290's (think .293-ish). Since there's so many factors affecting the upcoming season in terms of total games played amidst a pandemic, here's three ranges of statistics for Devers dependent on factors beyond our control:

  • Devers with 350 plate appearances: 55 runs, 18 HR, 52 RBI, three SB
  • Devers with 500 plate appearances: 78 runs, 26 HR, 75 RBI, four SB
  • Devers with 650 plate appearances: 102 runs, 34 HR, 97 RBI, five SB

An amalgamation of his numbers included in this piece along with some regression for the Red Sox offense, Devers remains a beacon of hope in it with the potential to rebound to the player many thought could show up in 2020. Due to his underwhelming results from last year, he's a terrific target to bounce back in grand fashion. With a reduced price in draft capital, Devers should be targeted at or slightly above his cost with confidence.

Statistical Credits:

ZiPS courtesy of Dan Szymborski

THE BAT X courtesy of Derek Carty