CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — When the Boston Red Sox traded Yoan Moncada, they gave up a player in whom they invested $63 million, a player who featured a ripped, muscular body, along with speed to steal bases at will.

Impressive qualities … none of which Rafael Devers possesses.

Yet when Moncada was sent to the White Sox in the Chris Sale trade, Devers replaced him as the top Red Sox prospect, with a chance of becoming a future third baseman at Fenway Park.

Portland Sea Dogs fans watched Moncada briefly, as he elevated from Class A Salem, through Portland and on to the majors. They will see Devers this season. He is expected to begin 2017 at Hadlock Field.

Moncada and Devers were teammates for a time last year in Salem.

Moncada, who turned 21 last May, had 228 at-bats in Salem. He hit .307, with a .923 OPS and four home runs.

Devers, who was 19 last season, had 267 at-bats in the second half of last year: .326 average/.906 OPS, seven home runs.

“Raffi has such a great skill set,” said Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett last week, during Boston’s rookie program at Boston College. “He’s a really impressive hitter. Defensively, he took some steps forward this past year.”

Devers has been a touted prospect, but also unknown. He signed for $1.5 million as a 16-year-old from the Dominican Republic in July 2013. He has moved up quickly in the system, but in the shadow of other prospects, including Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, and Moncada, who made a big splash with his expensive signing in 2015.

In Salem last year, Devers watched both Benintendi and Moncada move on.

“I was very happy for them,” Devers said through an interpreter. “I understood, from the point of view of the Red Sox, in bringing them up and not me. I personally was not doing very well.”

True. Devers hit .138 in April.

“Some of it was learning to deal with expectations. He was trying to do too much,” Crockett said.

“The (Salem coaching staff) did a great job getting him to remember who he is, remember his strengths – re-centered with what he needs to do.”

Devers, the second youngest player in the Carolina League, got the message. He improved in May and then put up those impressive numbers in the second half.

“That was a learning experience for me,” Devers said. “I had never had a bad season.”

People like Crockett love to hear those words. A key ingredient in developing a ballplayer is teaching them how to work with failure, and move on.

“What he did, having to deal with some adversity early on, is something we were really positive about,” Crockett said.

“Given what Rafael did last year – the arrow is pointing up.”

The Red Sox are optimistic about Devers, giving him an invitation to major league spring training camp.

“I’m excited,” Devers said. “To play with guys like Hanley (Ramirez), Pablo (Sandoval), Mookie Betts …”

The Sandoval reference is interesting since Devers might someday replace him at third. Sandoval, of course, is the high-priced free agent who is recovering from shoulder surgery, as well as an extreme case of being out of shape.

Devers is not overweight, but he is not trim, at 6 feet and about 210 pounds. There were questions if Devers would stay at third, but Crockett said that is the plan for now.

“We see him that way,” Crockett said. “He’s a young kid with development left to do on the defensive side. He slows the game down really well. Always seems to have his feet underneath him, and has a real good internal clock.”

In 123 games in his first two seasons, Devers made 28 errors. He made 15 in 117 games last year.

One can imagine the improvement Devers may show after working with infield coaching guru Brian Butterfield during spring training.

The jump to Double-A is considered the biggest step in the minors. We will see how Devers’ bat and glove play in Portland.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: @ClearTheBases


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