High-A Salem third baseman Rafael Devers is viewed as a 20-30 home run player. (David Kohl/USA Today Sports)

Red Sox minor league notebook: 3B Rafael Devers could hit '20 or 30' home runs in big leagues

Ryan Hannable
August 18, 2016 - 6:57 am
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1. What a difference a few months have been for High-A Salem third baseman Rafael Devers. The 19-year-old batted just .138 in April and has now raised his average to .281 on the year, due in large part to a monster second half of the season where he's hit .337 with seven home runs and 37 RBIs. "I think just the processes of him working on staying behind the ball and using the whole field and being more patient," Salem manager Joe Oliver said of what has changed with him at the plate. "Working with our hitting coach Nelson Paulino finally started to settle back in and his natural ability and swing started to click and he started putting more balls in play and wasn't so pull happy. He showed a lot more patience and good pitch selection as opposed to what he was doing earlier in the year." Devers is a special talent. He was named to the Futures Game as an 18-year-old last year, but didn't get invited back this year because of his poor start. Although the numbers weren't there earlier in the season, he was still considered a step below Andrew Benintendi and Yoan Moncada in terms of how much the organization values him, and thus was not dealt at the trade deadline despite numerous inquiries on him. "This young man is one of the best third baseman I've seen -- not just in the Carolina League, I'm talking he's pretty special," Oliver said. "Really the sky is the limit for him. His struggles offensively, he could have taken it out to the field on defense and he didn't let that happen. He's played All-Star caliber defense and really has saved our ballclub and our pitching staff numerous hits and runs by the excellent defense that he's played. A special talent. "The young man has an internal clock that is built in that special players have that he knows how fast each runner is whether they are going to first or second. He doesn't rush or hurry anything. He knows how hard and how quick he has to be to get the ball across the diamond." Although he stands just 6-feet, 195 pounds, he has extremely quick hands, similar to Mookie Betts and can hit the ball a long way. Oliver wouldn't be surprised to see him hit 20 or 30 homers a year in the big leagues one day. "I don't see why he couldn't hit 20 or 30 home runs in the big leagues," Oliver said. "He has that type of swing and as long as he stays within his approach and doesn't become pull happy, he can hit the ball out. He gives himself a good opportunity to hit it anywhere." 2. In eight starts with High-A Salem, right-hander Michael Kopech has been outstanding. The 2014 first-round pick is 2-1 with a 1.41 ERA and has an astonishing 60 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings. Despite a 1.41 ERA, he hasn't been as dominant as it seems. He's walked at least three batters in five of his eight starts with Salem, but has been able to make big pitches when he's needed to, which has allowed him to escape numerous jams. "That's definitely something that he's been able to overcome at this point in time," Oliver said. "Usually guys with big arms like that tend to have innings where they walk guys with the fastball and it gets a little elevated. He's been able to overcome it and not let it amount to anything. He is going to learn that he's going to need to be ahead in the count and use his secondary pitches so the hitters can't sit on the fastball." For the rest of the season, Kopech will have an increased focus on his secondary stuff as just because his fastball sits 98-101 mph consistently, he needs other pitches to go along with that in order to be successful as he moves up in the system. "That is our main focus right now," Oliver said. "We're not really throwing out a hard number, but just saying you have to use it more and more in different counts. You just don't want to be a guy who throws his secondary on the first pitch, or on a 1-2 count. You need to be able to throw it any time throughout the count so you have familiarity when you need a big pitch. It's not just going to be the fastball." 3. The professional debut of Red Sox first-round pick Jason Groome will be Monday in the Florida Gulf Coast League, according to sources. Everything went as planned in his bullpen session on Wednesday and with him being on a five-day routine, it means Monday will be the day for him to take the mound in a live game. With the organization being extremely cautious with him, he will be on a pitch count, one or two innings and 35 pitches. Groome hasn't pitched in a live game in roughly three months. With Barnegat High School in New Jersey, he posted a 0.77 ERA with 90 strikeouts and 15 hits allowed in 39 2/3 innings as a senior this past spring. 4. It's been an up-and-down second full season in High-A Salem for left-hander Trey Ball. Overall, he's 6-5 with a 3.91 ERA in 20 starts, but he really had troubles in the month of July. In six starts he was 0-2 with a 8.17 ERA and walked 24 batters in 25 1/3 innings. For the No. 7 overall pick in the 2013 draft, it comes back to being able to repeat his delivery. The 22-year-old has been a little better of late as he allowed one run over six innings with a season-high seven strikeouts two starts ago and then went five innings and allowed three runs in his last time out. "With Trey, and Paul (pitching coach Paul Abbott) and I discuss this quite a bit, it's just the inconsistency of being able to repeat his delivery time in and time out," Oliver said. "When he starts fighting his delivery is when he becomes a little erratic in the zone and he pitches behind in the count. It's not so much the hits he's given up, it's walks and putting hitters in better hitting situations. He puts himself in tough spots. When he's been really good, he's been able to repeat his delivery time in and time out. That is just the calling card for a young pitcher trying to break through and find that consistency." 5. Moncada returned from a sprained ankle last Thursday after missing a week and then made his professional debut at third base last Friday, but he hasn't played since. Portland was rained out Saturday, had one game of a doubleheader postponed on Sunday, an off-day Monday, a doubleheader postponed Tuesday and finally played a doubleheader Wednesday. All this has gone into Moncada not playing in these games. According to a source, Moncada didn't have a set back, it's just been a matter of the weather creating wet field conditions and the team taking precautionary measures. As for when he does return to the field, he won't strictly play third base. The plan is said to be similar to Benintendi's when he started playing left field and he still kept center field in the mix as well. 6. One of the most underrated players in the system is Portland shortstop Mauricio Dubon. In 45 games since being promoted from High-A Salem, he's batting .319, while slugging .500. His average has gone up every month as he batted .304 in June, .314 in July and now .333 in August. His future will be interesting as obviously he's blocked at shortstop with Xander Bogaerts, so perhaps the team could try and move him for a big piece this offseason, or they can find a way to keep him around. 7. Left-hander Bobby Poyner dominated in Single-A Greenville as he posted a 0.35 ERA in 16 outings before being promoted to High-A Salem in June. Things didn't carry over as well as he would have liked, as he had a 9.75 ERA in seven appearances in July, but after a conversation with Oliver and Abbott he appears to have straightened things out as in his last five outings he has a 1.05 ERA. "When he first got here he absolutely dominated down in Greenville and had a little bit of struggles up here his first month," Oliver said. "We had a nice little sit down talk with him and Paul Abbott and we discussed what he was doing in Greenville and how he needed to do what he was doing there here." 8. Things haven't gone the way both Triple-A starters Brian Johnson and Henry Owens had hoped they would this year, but both are showing signs of turning things around. Over his last five starts, Owens has a 1.57 ERA, including allowing one run in seven innings with just one walk his last time out. After coming back from taking a leave of absence with anxiety, Johnson has an ERA of 1.78 in his last four starts, which includes one run over seven innings his last time out. It wouldn't be a surprise in the least to see these players get added to the major league roster once rosters expand in September and with how unpredictable the Red Sox pitching staff has been this year, one of or both of them could find themselves carving out a role down the stretch. 9. Two players selected high in the 2016 draft aren't off to the best of starts in the Gulf Coast League. Catcher Alan Marrero, selected in the eighth round, is batting .085 with 27 strikeouts in 47 at-bats and then 10th round pick, shortstop Santiago Espinal is batting .143 in 15 games. Marrero got a $160,000 signing bonus, which was much more than many predicted. 10. Working his way back from Tommy John Surgery and then suffering a setback with an oblique strain, Brandon Workman is now in Double-A Portland. While it appears unlikely he will be able to make it all the way back to Boston this season, the right-hander is making progress. "It's definitely been a long process," Workman said via the Portland Press Herald. "You hear 12 months (recovery time) and that's what you set your sights on. It's been a little bit longer than that." "I feel good right now," he added. "The pitching is coming along. It's getting a little sharper each time out. I just need to keep building off that. It's been a year and a half since I've thrown a ball competitively. Getting the rust knocked off, getting into a rhythm out there, getting comfortable on the mound." Workman struggled on Wednesday, allowing two runs on three hits with five walks and no strikeouts over 1 2/3 innings of relief.