Red Sox

Red Sox

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Rafael Devers understands most questions in English before they're translated into Spanish by Red Sox communications manager Bryan Almonte.

But on Friday morning at JetBlue Park, he waited to hear a question about David Ortiz in his native tongue before breaking into a broad smile. A day earlier, Ortiz had said he never leaves the room when Devers bats, which means one of the greatest hitters in Red Sox history considers the 23-year-old appointment viewing.

Devers looked positively giddy at the concept.

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"It's great to hear that, especially from a legend like David Ortiz," Devers said, via Almonte. "He's someone I watched growing up and obviously he's someone I hold in high regard. Knowing that he's watching me, I just try to pick his brain as much as I can. I know the knowledge that he has and passes down to me is very important to my growth."

As the Red Sox ponder a future without Mookie Betts, they take some solace in the knowledge that Devers has not even approached his ceiling, even after a breakout 2019 that saw him lead the league in doubles (54) and total bases (359).

He has certainly caught the eye of Ortiz, the franchise icon who's in camp as an instructor. It turns out he's not the only baseball legend impressed with the young slugger, who officially checked in to camp on Friday after taking a couple of extra days with his newborn daughter in the Dominican Republic.

"True story, his first year they went to play the Marlins," Ortiz said. "I was sitting right next to Derek Jeter. And I asked Derek, 'Hey, which one is the player in the lineup that scares you the most?' And he said, 'Devers.' His first year. And I totally agreed with him because he was fearless. That's when you know that a hitter is going to be dangerous. So, what he did last year, it was not surprising to be honest with you. I saw that coming."

 

Told jokingly that Devers was only 14 years old last year, Ortiz laughed.

"That's what makes it even crazier," he marveled, "a guy that young figuring things out that quick."

The story of Devers' 2019 is well known. He didn't drive in a run until Game 13 despite opening the season batting third, he didn't homer until May 3, and he finished April on pace for more than 40 errors.

But once he flipped the switch, he couldn't be stopped. He ended up hitting .311 with 32 homers and 115 RBI, and his move to the 2-hole in the lineup led to a team-wide offensive explosion. For his efforts, he finished 12th in the MVP voting and earned one diehard fan who needs no introduction.

"I don't need him to do more than what he did last year," Ortiz said. "His numbers last year were sick. Last year was my first year really watching a lot of games, to be honest with you. I was sitting at home, so of course, I'm going to be watching games more than ever. It seems like every day that guy was doing some damage. Every day. Now I understand why I have people coming to me and telling me, 'Bro, I couldn't wait for you to come to hit. I was always expecting something out of you. Your at-bats were good enough even if you got yourself out.'

"I have the same feeling about him. I couldn't wait for him to come to hit. Because if he gets himself out, he was fighting. He was hitting a rocket at somebody. It was a pitcher making a nasty pitch on him. It was not a giveaway at-bat at all. I saw more than 250 at-bats coming out of him and bro I'm telling you, this guy is on another level."

Devers practically blushes at Ortiz's praise, but says what he has really learned from the future Hall of Famer is the value of consistency and hard work.

"I want to improve on everything," Devers said. "I don't feel like I'm a finished product yet. I want to improve on offense, defense, whatever it is that I can work on every single day because I feel like we always need to keep improving."

The pressure on Devers to replace Betts will be immense, but he's not sweating it, and that's a good thing, as far as Ortiz is concerned.

"Devers, all he has to do from now on is have the same mentality," Ortiz said. "He had a phenomenal year last year, phenomenal. I can't ask him for more than that."