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2021 Marlins Season Preview: José Devers

The youngest player on the 40-man is skilled beyond his years, but unlikely to make his big league debut in 2021.

Washington Nationals v Miami Marlins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

SS José Devers

Opening Day age: 21 | Bats/Throws: L/R | Listed: 6’0”, 174 lbs.

Acquired from Yankees in the Giancarlo Stanton trade (December 11, 2017)

Circumstances have saddled young José Devers with significant expectations from a very early age— his cousin Rafael is a budding star in Boston, and he was traded for reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton mere days after his eighteenth birthday. While some players might struggle under the added scrutiny that Devers has experienced as a young pro, he has proven capable of thriving in the spotlight.

Originally inked by the Yankees at the opening of the 2016 international signing period, Devers was mostly known for his glove when he started his career. Scouts appreciated his combination of speed and smooth footwork which gave him great range on the infield dirt, but saw him as a bit undersized for the shortstop position and were concerned that his arm could force him to second base, where his bat might not play. This confluence of factors allowed the Yankees to acquire his services for a modest $250k bonus, which started looking like a bargain in a hurry when Devers made his way into professional action.

During the 2017 season, Devers made his pro debut with the DSL Yankees, but was quickly pushed to the GCL after just 11 games. Many evaluators got their first chance to see Devers at this point, and came away pleasantly surprised with his performance. As expected, he continued to show speed and a strong defensive acumen on the infield, but he also displayed an improving arm and standout feel for contact, striking out in under 10% of his plate appearances.

The performance earned Devers some positive buzz, with Baseball America ranking him as the 19th-best prospect in the GCL that season. He apparently impressed the Marlins enough to pursue him in trade the following offseason.

Photo by Jeff Mills/News & Record

Following his acquisition by Miami, he was pushed rather aggressively to full-season ball in 2018, getting into 85 games at the Low-A level and hitting .273/.313/.332 with 13 steals. Though the line was good for just an 87 wRC+, that’s a rock solid performance when accounting for age and evaluators continued to be impressed by his play, as few teenagers are capable of holding their own against such competition.

The half-season of modest performance was enough for the Marlins to promote him prior to the 2019 season, and his stock improved further when he hit the ground running at the High-A level with a .325/.384/.365 slash. He continued to fly around the infield with plus range, and his contact skills were beginning to look like they might be of the impact variety. However, his momentum would be slowed by injuries which would end up limiting to just 47 games on the year including rehab, which prevented his stock from really exploding. Scouts were also starting to wonder aloud about whether or not he’d have enough power for the rest of his profile to play- even at his age, a .040 ISO was troubling, and while still projectable to a degree, Devers has a slight build and probably won’t get especially big at maturity.

In a normal 2020, Devers likely would’ve returned to High-A with a chance to earn a midseason promotion with continued offensive performance, but his season was lost to COVID-19. He was able to get some work in at the Marlins’ alternate site which was no doubt valuable, but a more age appropriate assignment likely would’ve been more beneficial to such a young player with significant physical development remaining- especially one who lost so much time to injury in 2019.

This spring, he has been in Marlins big league camp, and has made some plays both in the field and with his bat, including a knock off of longtime big league stopper Brad Hand. His play has generated positive buzz in camp and around the complex, and has given Devers some much needed momentum as he looks to get things back on track entering 2021. Everywhere he’s been sent so far, his skills have stood out, and fans should expect to see that continue when he returns to the High-A level later this spring. Given his track record, it’s likely that his stay will be a short one, and if he’s able to stay healthy he could position himself for a big league call up in mid-2022.

The key driver of Devers’ stock going forward will be his power growth. Most evaluators are very confident in the contact and defense pieces of his profile, but have been cautious to move him up too far while his bat still looks slappy. Projecting on him is a bit complicated, as most teenagers can be expected to add quite a bit of strength by maturity, but Devers’ narrow build doesn’t allow for as much projection at most which has tempered expectations on his long term pop thus far. While it’s fair to say that Devers is unlikely to develop significant home run power at any point, generating more meaningful line drive contact could have a major impact on his offensive production at the major league level—those who are bullish on Devers think he can do just that. If they’re correct, there are everyday player and super-utility outcomes in play.

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