Rafael Devers and 20-Year-Old Call-Ups

Keith Allison

The list of 20-year-old third basemen is impressive, includes Adrian Beltre. (Photo: Keith Allison)

Rafael Devers will be called up to the majors on Tuesday. Well, I suppose he may technically be called up today, but he’s not expected to start Monday’s game, so it might not be until Tuesday. Whatever day he’s officially promoted, he’ll become the first 20-year-old position player promoted to the majors this season. While Travis Sawchik has already discussed Devers in the context of the Red Sox’ situation, I’d like to look at him in the context of 20-year-old call-ups.

I went back to 1985 in pulling info for 20-year-old call-ups, and there are some interesting things to be shared. Let’s start at the beginning: Devers will become just the 78th player since 1985 to be called up to the majors for his debut as either an 18-, 19- or 20-year-old. Here’s a breakdown of all the relevant players:

MLB Debuts, 18- to 20-Year-Olds, 1985-2017, By Year
Year 18 YO 19 YO 20 YO Total Year 18 YO 19 YO 20 YO Total
1985 3 3 2002 4 4
1986 3 3 2003 3 3
1987 2 2 2004 1 4 5
1988 1 1 2 2005 2 2
1989 2 3 5 2006 2 2
1990 1 1 2007 1 1 2
1991 1 1 2 2008 2 2
1992 3 3 2009 2 2
1993 4 4 2010 5 5
1994 1 1 2011 1 1
1995 1 1 2 2012 3 3
1996 2 1 3 2013 2 2
1997 0 2014 3 3
1998 1 3 4 2015 1 1
1999 2 2 2016 1 1
2000 2 2 2017 1 1
2001 1 1 Totals 1 16 61 78

(Note: You get one attempt to guess who the 18-year-old was. If you get it wrong, you must serve a self-imposed banishment from FanGraphs for a period of 10-10.5 hours.)

As you can see, the last three years have represented a bit of a dry spell for young call-ups. From 1985 to 1994, there were 26 call-ups. There were also 26 from 1995 to 2004 and 24 more from 2005 to -14. This season is far from over, obviously, but if this holds, it will become the lowest three-year total since ’85. The current lowest periods are 2014-2016 and 1999-2001, at five. Teams are either more cautious these days or front offices are experiencing less pressure to produce winners — which may be an inevitable result of teams purposefully tanking.

Or it could just be random variance. We’re talking about a handful of players, at most, per year. And of course, the end of this season, when these call-ups typically happen, could bear more fruit, so to speak. Now it’s time for a breakdown by month.

MLB Debuts, 18- to 20-Year-Olds,
1985-2017, By Month
Month # %
April 9 11.5%
May 6 7.7%
June 10 12.8%
July 10 12.8%
Aug. 11 14.1%
Sept. 32 41.0%

As you can see, 41% of such call-ups occur in September (as a result of roster expansion, surely) and are pretty evenly distributed across the other months. Some happen because of injury, some happen because the prospect forces his way, and some happen because the team has a need. How you want to classify Devers’ call-up is up to you, but it’s likely some combination of the latter two reasons.

Call-ups for team need are tricky, because if the prospect is rushed and doesn’t respond well to that, then the corresponding organization may do more harm than good. Which timeframe is more important for the team? It’s hard to know that sometimes, because as always, the future is unknown. What we can do, though, is look to see just where Devers fits in in the context of these past call-ups. I looked at how many games each player played at both Double-A and Triple-A before their call-ups. These figures might not be 100% exact; if not, though, they’re damn close.

MLB Debuts, 18- to 20-Year-Olds, 1985-2017, by AA-AAA Games
Season Name Team Age Pos 1 Pos 2 AA Gms AAA Gms Total MLB Debut
1995 Roger Cedeno Dodgers 20 LF CF 122 209 331 Jun. 20
1992 Wil Cordero Expos 20 SS 2B 131 150 281 Jul. 24
2000 Luis Rivas Twins 20 2B SS 214 41 255 Sept. 16
2002 Omar Infante Tigers 20 SS 132 120 252 Sept. 7
2006 Delmon Young Devil Rays 20 RF CF 84 138 222 Aug. 29
2002 Carl Crawford Devil Rays 20 CF LF 132 85 217 Jul. 22
2004 Jose Lopez Mariners 20 SS 3B 132 74 206 Jul. 31
2009 Fernando Martinez Mets 20 CF LF 146 42 188 May 26
1986 Ruben Sierra Rangers 20 RF LF 137 46 183 Jun. 1
1996 Edgar Renteria Marlins 19 SS 135 35 170 May. 10
2004 Dioner Navarro Yankees 20 C 128 40 168 Sept. 7
2010 Freddie Freeman Braves 20 1B 41 124 165 Sept. 1
2006 Adam Jones Mariners 20 CF SS 63 96 159 Jul. 14
1993 Marc Newfield Mariners 20 DH LF 142 0 142 Jul. 6
1987 Gregg Jefferies Mets 19 PH 139 0 139 Sept. 6
1988 Roberto Alomar Padres 20 2B 130 9 139 Apr. 22
2013 Xander Bogaerts Red Sox 20 SS 3B 79 60 139 Aug. 20
1986 Jay Bell Indians 20 2B DH 138 0 138 Sept. 29
1998 Eric Chavez Athletics 20 3B 88 47 135 Sept. 8
1988 Gary Sheffield Brewers 19 SS 77 57 134 Sept. 3
2010 Ruben Tejada Mets 20 SS 2B 134 0 134 Apr. 7
1989 Dean Palmer Rangers 20 3B DH 133 0 133 Sept. 1
1989 Juan Gonzalez Rangers 19 CF 133 0 133 Sept. 1
1993 Cliff Floyd Expos 20 1B 101 32 133 Sept. 18
1990 Andujar Cedeno Astros 20 SS 132 0 132 Sept. 2
2005 Melky Cabrera Yankees 20 CF LF 106 26 132 Jul. 7
2010 Giancarlo Stanton Marlins 20 RF LF 132 0 132 Jun. 8
1985 Jose Gonzalez Dodgers 20 RF CF 128 0 128 Sept. 2
1986 Jerry Browne Rangers 20 2B 128 0 128 Sept. 6
2004 Melvin Upton Jr. Devil Rays 19 SS 58 69 127 Aug. 2
2012 Jurickson Profar Rangers 19 SS 2B 126 0 126 Sept. 2
1991 Jim Thome Indians 20 3B 84 41 125 Sept. 4
1995 Karim Garcia Dodgers 19 RF LF 0 124 124 Sept. 2
2016 Raul Mondesi Royals 20 SS 2B 110 14 124 Jul. 26*
1985 Jose Canseco Athletics 20 RF LF 58 60 118 Sept. 2
2000 Corey Patterson Cubs 20 CF 118 0 118 Sept. 18
2009 Elvis Andrus Rangers 20 SS 118 0 118 Apr. 6
2008 Travis Snider Blue Jays 20 RF LF 98 18 116 Aug. 29
2013 Jose Ramirez Indians 20 2B SS 113 0 113 Sept. 1
1996 Luis Castillo Marlins 20 2B 109 0 109 Aug. 8
2012 Manny Machado Orioles 19 SS 3B 109 0 109 Aug. 9
2003 Jose Reyes Mets 20 SS 65 42 107 Jun. 10
2002 Wily Mo Pena Reds 20 LF CF 105 0 105 Sept. 10
1992 Melvin Nieves Braves 20 LF RF 100 0 100 Sept. 1
1993 Shawn Green Blue Jays 20 RF DH 99 0 99 Sept. 28
1992 Willie Greene Reds 20 3B 96 0 96 Sept. 1
2011 Mike Trout Angels 19 CF LF 91 0 91 Jul. 8
1989 Sammy Sosa – – – 20 CF LF 66 23 89 Jun. 16
2017 Rafael Devers Red Sox 20 3B 77 9 86 Jul. 25**
2007 Justin Upton Diamondbacks 19 CF RF 71 0 71 Aug. 2
2003 Miguel Cabrera Marlins 20 3B LF 69 0 69 Jun. 20
1998 Adrian Beltre Dodgers 19 3B SS 64 0 64 Jun. 24
2005 Ryan Zimmerman Nationals 20 3B SS 63 0 63 Sept. 1
2014 Rougned Odor Rangers 20 2B SS 62 0 62 May 8
2014 Dilson Herrera Mets 20 2B SS 61 0 61 Aug. 29
1999 Vernon Wells Blue Jays 20 CF 26 33 59 Aug. 30
2012 Bryce Harper Nationals 19 RF LF 37 21 58 Apr. 28
2010 Starlin Castro Cubs 20 SS 57 0 57 May 7
2015 Carlos Correa Astros 20 SS 29 24 53 Jun. 8
1991 Ivan Rodriguez Rangers 19 C 50 0 50 Jun. 20
1996 Andruw Jones Braves 19 RF CF 38 12 50 Aug. 15
2010 Jason Heyward Braves 20 RF CF 47 3 50 Apr. 5
1994 Alex Rodriguez Mariners 18 SS 17 32 49 Jul. 8
1998 Aramis Ramirez Pirates 20 3B 0 47 47 May 26
2001 Wilson Betemit Braves 19 SS 47 0 47 Sept. 18
1999 Gookie Dawkins Reds 20 SS 32 0 32 Sept. 3
2002 Chris Snelling Mariners 20 CF LF 23 0 23 May 25
1989 Ken Griffey Jr. Mariners 19 CF 17 0 17 Apr. 3
2007 Cameron Maybin Tigers 20 CF 6 0 6 Aug. 17
2004 Rene Rivera Mariners 20 C 0 4 4 Sept. 22
1985 Manuel Lee Blue Jays 20 2B SS 0 0 0 Apr. 10
1989 John Olerud Blue Jays 20 1B 0 0 0 Sept. 3
1993 Benji Gil Rangers 20 SS 0 0 0 Apr. 5
1998 Dee Brown Royals 20 DH RF 0 0 0 Sept. 14
2003 Rickie Weeks Jr. Brewers 20 2B 0 0 0 Sept. 15
2004 Andres Blanco Royals 20 SS 0 0 0 Apr. 17
2008 Conor Gillaspie Giants 20 3B 0 0 0 Sept. 9
2014 Jorge Polanco Twins 20 SS 2B 0 0 0 Jun. 26
* – Technically his MLB debut was Oct. 30, 2015, but we won’t count postseason games.
** – Technically we don’t know that debut date for sure, because the future is unknown.

As you can see, Devers is certainly on the low side, particularly when it comes to Triple-A, but he’s not all that close to the bottom. By Double-A games, he’s tied for 41st with Gary Sheffield, just two games behind his soon-to-be-teammate, Xander Bogaerts. The difference is that Bogaerts had 60 games at Triple-A, whereas Devers only had nine.

One thing I don’t think we can do is project Devers’ future from the number of games he played at Triple-A. The three players who had the most Double-A/Triple-A time — Rivas, Martinez and Newfield — didn’t exactly light the world on fire. We shouldn’t look at Rivas’ 67 extra games in the high minors as some magic formula for success, just as we shouldn’t look to the other end of the scale and see John Olerud or Rickie Weeks Jr. skipping the high minors as some magic formula.

Before we go, I want to look at two more things. First, how well did these players do once they were called up? Specifically, how well did they do that first year? (Note: players are ordered by wRC+, but the table is sortable.)

MLB Debuts, 18- to 20-Year Olds, 1985-2017, MLB First-Year Stats
Season Name AA-AAA Gms MLB PA MLB wRC+ MLB WAR
2014 Jorge Polanco 0 8 254 0.3
1987 Gregg Jefferies 139 6 222 0.1
1986 Jay Bell 138 16 206 0.1
2005 Ryan Zimmerman 63 62 163 0.7
2013 Jose Ramirez 113 14 159 0.2
1986 Jerry Browne 128 25 158 0.0
2015 Carlos Correa 53 432 135 3.4
2010 Jason Heyward 50 623 134 4.7
2004 Dioner Navarro 168 7 133 0.0
1985 Jose Canseco 118 100 129 0.6
1985 Jose Gonzalez 128 12 125 0.2
2012 Bryce Harper 58 597 121 4.6
2010 Giancarlo Stanton 132 396 118 2.7
1992 Wil Cordero 281 137 118 0.5
1992 Willie Greene 96 104 117 0.1
1989 John Olerud 0 8 113 0.0
2002 Omar Infante 252 75 112 0.6
2006 Delmon Young 222 131 110 1.0
2008 Travis Snider 116 80 110 0.4
1988 Roberto Alomar 139 611 107 3.9
2004 Andres Blanco 0 67 107 0.6
1989 Ken Griffey Jr. 17 506 106 2.5
1996 Edgar Renteria 170 471 106 3.5
2003 Miguel Cabrera 69 346 106 0.8
2014 Dilson Herrera 61 66 105 0.2
1998 Eric Chavez 135 48 104 0.2
1986 Ruben Sierra 183 411 103 1.6
2003 Jose Reyes 107 292 102 2.2
2010 Starlin Castro 57 506 99 1.8
2012 Manny Machado 109 202 97 1.3
2008 Conor Gillaspie 0 7 97 0.0
1988 Gary Sheffield 134 89 95 0.0
2014 Rougned Odor 62 417 91 0.5
2004 Melvin Upton Jr. 127 177 91 0.2
2011 Mike Trout 91 135 87 0.7
1989 Sammy Sosa 89 203 86 -0.4
2013 Xander Bogaerts 139 50 85 0.1
1991 Jim Thome 125 104 82 -0.1
2009 Elvis Andrus 118 541 81 3.2
2000 Luis Rivas 255 64 80 -0.1
1996 Andruw Jones 50 113 79 0.0
1998 Adrian Beltre 64 214 75 0.2
2002 Carl Crawford 217 278 74 0.7
1991 Ivan Rodriguez 50 288 73 0.7
1996 Luis Castillo 109 180 72 1.0
1998 Aramis Ramirez 47 275 70 -1.0
2001 Wilson Betemit 47 5 67 0.0
2010 Ruben Tejada 134 255 64 -0.3
2004 Jose Lopez 206 218 63 0.2
1999 Vernon Wells 59 92 61 -0.1
2012 Jurickson Profar 126 17 60 -0.1
1995 Roger Cedeno 331 46 57 -0.5
1992 Melvin Nieves 100 21 57 0.0
2007 Justin Upton 71 152 53 -0.6
1993 Marc Newfield 142 70 51 -0.4
2002 Wily Mo Pena 105 18 51 0.0
2003 Rickie Weeks Jr. 0 14 48 -0.1
2000 Corey Patterson 118 47 42 -0.4
1993 Cliff Floyd 133 31 42 -0.3
2006 Adam Jones 159 76 39 -0.2
2009 Fernando Martinez 188 100 38 -0.4
1989 Juan Gonzalez 133 68 36 -0.1
2016 Raul Mondesi 124 149 32 -0.5
2002 Chris Snelling 23 29 26 -0.4
2010 Freddie Freeman 165 24 25 -0.2
1985 Manuel Lee 0 43 20 -0.3
2007 Cameron Maybin 6 53 19 -0.4
1994 Alex Rodriguez 49 59 15 -0.3
1999 Gookie Dawkins 32 8 9 -0.2
1995 Karim Garcia 124 20 5 -0.3
2005 Melky Cabrera 132 19 5 -0.5
1993 Benji Gil 0 66 -11 -0.4
1989 Dean Palmer 133 20 -26 -0.4
1990 Andujar Cedeno 132 8 -100 -0.2
1993 Shawn Green 99 6 -100 -0.1
1998 Dee Brown 0 3 -100 -0.2
2004 Rene Rivera 4 3 -100 -0.1
2017 Rafael Devers 86

You know what? There’s a lot going on here. Let’s narrow this down to players who notched at least 100 plate appearances, because if he stays up for the rest of the season, Devers should clear that bar. (Once again, players ordered by wRC+, table is sortable.)

MLB Debuts, 18-20 Year Olds, 1985-2017, MLB First-Year Stats
Season Name AA-AAA Gms PA wRC+ WAR
2015 Carlos Correa 53 432 135 3.4
2010 Jason Heyward 50 623 134 4.7
1985 Jose Canseco 118 100 129 0.6
2012 Bryce Harper 58 597 121 4.6
2010 Giancarlo Stanton 132 396 118 2.7
1992 Wil Cordero 281 137 118 0.5
1992 Willie Greene 96 104 117 0.1
2006 Delmon Young 222 131 110 1.0
1988 Roberto Alomar 139 611 107 3.9
1989 Ken Griffey Jr. 17 506 106 2.5
1996 Edgar Renteria 170 471 106 3.5
2003 Miguel Cabrera 69 346 106 0.8
1986 Ruben Sierra 183 411 103 1.6
2003 Jose Reyes 107 292 102 2.2
2010 Starlin Castro 57 506 99 1.8
2012 Manny Machado 109 202 97 1.3
2014 Rougned Odor 62 417 91 0.5
2004 Melvin Upton Jr. 127 177 91 0.2
2011 Mike Trout 91 135 87 0.7
1989 Sammy Sosa 89 203 86 -0.4
1991 Jim Thome 125 104 82 -0.1
2009 Elvis Andrus 118 541 81 3.2
1996 Andruw Jones 50 113 79 0.0
1998 Adrian Beltre 64 214 75 0.2
2002 Carl Crawford 217 278 74 0.7
1991 Ivan Rodriguez 50 288 73 0.7
1996 Luis Castillo 109 180 72 1.0
1998 Aramis Ramirez 47 275 70 -1.0
2010 Ruben Tejada 134 255 64 -0.3
2004 Jose Lopez 206 218 63 0.2
2007 Justin Upton 71 152 53 -0.6
2009 Fernando Martinez 188 100 38 -0.4
2016 Raul Mondesi 124 149 32 -0.5
Minimum 100 MLB PA

Again, not much to go on here. The top 10 has one guy who had less than 20 games in the high minors (Griffey) and two who had more than 200 (Cordero and Young). Similarly, the bottom 10 has two guys at 50 games or fewer in the high minors (Ramirez and Rodriguez) and two at more than 200 (Crawford and Lopez).

One way to more directly compare Devers to his 20-year-old predecessors is to look exclusively at others who’ve played the same position. How many other third basemen have been called up this early? What’s the positional breakdown?

MLB Debuts, 18- to 20-Year-Olds, 1985-2017, By Position
Position # Min Max Avg. Median
SS 23 0 281 110.3 124.0
CF 13 6 217 100.2 91.0
RF 11 50 222 116.3 118.0
2B 10 0 255 110.5 111.0
3B 10 0 135 81.8 77.5
1B 4 0 165 110.0 137.5
LF 4 0 331 134.0 102.5
C 3 4 168 74.0 50.0
Total 78 0 331 104.4 111.0

So, Devers will be the 10th third baseman called up. He’s on the top side of the average and median for his position, though the position is on the low end for both. If you take Devers out of the third-base sample, the average doesn’t drop, but the median drops to 69 games, which is a nice number. Let’s take a quick look at those third basemen.

MLB Debuts, 18- to 20-Year-Olds, 1985-2017, Third Basemen
Season Name Team Age G PA wOBA wRC+ WAR AA Gms AAA Gms Total MLB Debut
1989 Dean Palmer TEX 20 16 20 0.131 -26 -0.4 133 0 133 Sept. 1
1991 Jim Thome CLE 20 27 104 0.296 82 -0.1 84 41 125 Sept. 4
1992 Willie Greene CIN 20 29 104 0.345 117 0.1 96 0 96 Sept. 1
1998 Eric Chavez OAK 20 16 48 0.343 104 0.2 88 47 135 Sept. 8
1998 Adrian Beltre LAD 19 77 214 0.287 75 0.2 64 0 64 Jun. 24
1998 Aramis Ramirez PIT 20 72 275 0.290 70 -1.0 0 47 47 May 26
2003 Miguel Cabrera FLO 20 87 346 0.338 106 0.8 69 0 69 Jun. 20
2005 R. Zimmerman WAS 20 20 62 0.423 163 0.7 63 0 63 Sept. 1
2008 Conor Gillaspie SF 20 8 7 0.330 97 0.0 0 0 0 Sept. 9
2017 Rafael Devers BOS 20 77 9 86 Jul. 25**

Well, isn’t that some nice company to be in? While two of the players included here didn’t stay at third base for very long, three of those nine players are going to end up in the Hall of Fame. Of the rest, the only ones who didn’t have great careers were Greene and Gillaspie, and they at least hung around for awhile — 655 games / 2,183 PA / 4.4 WAR for Greene and 506 games / 1,538 PA / 1.8 WAR for Gillaspie. There have been far worse careers.

What kind of career will Rafael Devers have? We can’t really say definitively based on these comps here. He didn’t play in the high minors for as long as others did, but he isn’t the greenest either. Was he rushed? Only time will tell. What we can say for sure is that, since 1985, 3,458 non-pitchers have garnered plate appearances in the majors. Only 77 of them have been 18-, 19- or 20-year-olds in their debut season. That Devers will be the 78th makes him pretty special, no matter what kind of career he ends up having.





Paul Swydan used to be the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com and The Boston Globe. Now, he owns The Silver Unicorn Bookstore, an independent bookstore in Acton, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan. Follow the store @SilUnicornActon.

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sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

I would agree he’s one of the most promising prospects out there–a real Top 10 guy. And I think it’s important to remember that, because there are some really good players on the bottom half of that list.