By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Red Sox opening day lineup is out to start the 2019 season. And there’s one very notable spot: third baseman Rafael Devers is starting the year in the 3-hole. Is a breakout season on the horizon for the cherubic 22-year-old?
Devers pushes J.D. Martinez, who will play DH, down to cleanup on Thursday night in the season opener against the Seattle Mariners. Another notable change, which manager Alex Cora hinted at over the winter, is right fielder Mookie Betts switching lineup spots with left fielder Andrew Benintendi. The reigning American League MVP will bat second to start the season.
Check out the full lineup below.
2019 Red Sox Opening Day Lineup:
1. Andrew Benintendi, LF
2. Mookie Betts, RF
3. Rafael Devers, 3B
4. J.D. Martinez, DH
5. Xander Bogaerts, SS
6. Mitch Moreland, 1B
7. Eduardo Nunez, 2B
8. Jackie Bradley Jr., CF
9. Christian Vazquez, C
The most significant change to this season’s lineup, however, remains Devers parking in the third spot in the order. He’s had a strong spring, batting .385 with a .954 OPS to go with a homer and seven RBIs in 52 at-bats.
Cora did acknowledge, however, that Steve Pearce’s injury helped make his decision easier. The manager still expects to bat Pearce third against lefties. But maybe Devers makes him reconsider if he gets off to a hot-enough start.
“When Steve is healthy he’ll hit third against lefties and we’ll decide what we’ll do with the rest of the lineup,” Cora told reporters on Wednesday. “Steve is not here, Rafael did a good job, so go get them, kid.”
There are signs that a power breakout could be coming for Devers. He cut back on the grounders and hit more flyballs in 2018. His BABIP dropped by 62 percentage points from .342 to .281, but his raw power (ISO) remained virtually unchanged (.198 to .193). Key will be cutting back on the strikeouts; he whiffed in 24.7 percent of his plate appearances last season, compared to 23.8 percent in 2017.
Also key will be improving his hitting against lefties, the impetus for Pearce taking his spot in the lineup against southpaws in the first place. Devers has a better batting average against lefties than against righties in his career so far (.280 vs. .246), but he’s struck out at a higher rate (26.4 percent vs. 23.7 percent).
The ball has flown out of the park much more often against righties as well. Devers has homered once ever 19.4 at-bats against right-handers, compared to 33.6 at-bats per home run against lefties.
Cora has presented the kid with a huge opportunity in his second full major-league season. It’ll be up to him to provide the Red Sox lineup with a huge power boost. If all goes well, he should legitimately challenge Martinez and Betts for the team lead in homers and OPS.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.