Tomase: Devers doesn't get respect he deserves as young star originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
Discussions of the best young sluggers in baseball almost never include Rafael Devers.
You've got Washington's Juan Soto, 22, who's already a World Series champ while posting numbers that rival Ted Williams at a similar stage of his career. There's Toronto's Vladimir Guerrero, who just became the first player to reach 16 homers this season and is still only 22. There's Braves MVP candidate Ronald Acuna Jr., a 23-year-old five-tool star who leads the NL with 15 bombs.
And then there's Devers, a 24-year-old slugger with few equals when it comes to authoritative contact. The only hitters in the game who barrel up the ball more frequently are Angels freak Shohei Ohtani, Rangers out-of-nowhere comet Adolis Garcia, and Acuna. Devers also ranks in the top four percent in hard-hit percentage and expected slugging percentage.
It's easy to lose Devers in baseball's sea of great young talent, however. This may be partly because he tends to start slowly, robbing him of any chance to build early-season momentum, a la Guerrero and Garcia. It may also be because he has yet to make an All-Star team. Or maybe it's a function of his defensive shortcomings, which make him more one-dimensional than some of the other players on the list.
Whatever the case, Devers is flying a bit under the radar while helping carry one of the best offenses in baseball. Rest assured, his teammates know what he means to the lineup.
"Yeah, he's locked in, man, and you guys know it," said Xander Bogaerts after Devers homered in Wednesday's 9-5 victory over the Braves.
"When he's locked in, he's very dangerous and it was very fun to see him put the team on his bat for weeks and months. He's not the type of guy who can just do it for a couple of days. He can ride it a long time. That's just a credit to the talent and the work he puts in. As I said, once you see him so confident, it's something that's very nice to see."
There's little doubt that Devers is finding his power stroke. He's got seven home runs and 22 RBIs in May alone, boosting his season totals to .278 with 14 homers, a league-leading 43 RBIs, and a .954 OPS. He has homered five times in his last 10 games.
On Wednesday, he solved a couple of problems that have plagued him this season -- left-handers and fastballs. He launched an 0-2 curveball 434 feet from left-hander Drew Smyly for the game-tying two-run homer in the fourth. He then broke a 4-4 tie in the sixth by smoking a Smyly fastball the other way for a double, giving him 14 extra-base hits in his last 18 knocks.
"He got an 0-2 breaking ball, put a great swing on it and hits a home run," said manager Alex Cora. "Then he stays on a fastball, doesn't get pull happy, and hits it off the wall. So that's a good sign right there for him to get a fastball and hit it the other way."
Because he bats fifth in a top-heavy Red Sox lineup, Devers often finds himself with RBI opportunities, and he has been cashing them in with regularity. At his current pace, he'll finish with over 140. Not bad for a guy who's only occasionally mentioned with baseball's other bright young lights.
"Devers just hits it hard," Bogaerts said. "It's coming hard at you, so you'd better get out of the way or you're going to get hit."