* Throughout this month, we'll put a member of the 2020 Red Sox and one of their most notable statistics under the microscope while assessing their season and what lies ahead. Today's installment: Rafael Devers.
That's what Devers has hit through the first 20 games in each of the last two seasons. A slow start killed his chance to make his first All-Star team in 2019 -- he didn't slug his first homer until May -- and another one in 2020 basically guaranteed that his final numbers would disappoint, since the 60-game campaign ended just as he was heating up.
A Red Sox club that projects to have little margin for error next season can ill afford for Devers to take the first month to find his swing. He needs to hit the ground running, because he's the most talented hitter on the roster.
What went right for Devers in 2020
After that tough start, Devers caught fire, looking exactly like the young hitter who propelled the club in 2019. Over his final 35 starts, he hit .307 with nine homers, 38 RBIs, and a .923 OPS. Once again, the monster production was in there. It just took a little time to reveal itself.
When Devers is locked in, he's a little like a left-handed Vladimir Guerrero or Nomar Garciaparra, hitting everything hard, whether it's over the plate or not. There's no one on the Red Sox who squares up a ball more loudly.
What went wrong for Devers in 2020
The rough start wasn't even the worst of it. Devers was so bad defensively, leading AL third basemen in errors (14), that the Red Sox have been forced to confront the possibility that his long-term future may rest across the diamond at first base.
There's also a readymade replacement for him on the roster in slugging corner man Bobby Dalbec, who's considered a plus defender at third, but looked a little stiff at first. It's not beyond the realm of possibility that the two flip positions either this season or down the road.
Early outlook for 2021
Whatever optimism anyone feels about the Red Sox traces in large part to Devers. He just turned 24 and is entering that transition period from promising newcomer to stalwart veteran.
Former teammate Mookie Betts had already made an All-Star team and finished second in an MVP race by age 24. Teammate Xander Bogaerts had made an All-Star team and won a pair of Silver Sluggers. It's time for Devers to join their ranks and make the leap.
If Chicago's Jose Abreu can win an MVP award, there's absolutely no reason Devers can't enter that conversation one day himself. He's that good.