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Battle of the phenoms: Gleyber vs. Devers

The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox have been duking it out since before World War II, and with the assortment of young talent (and deep pocketbooks) on both sides of the trench, that ain’t slowing down anytime soon. Despite a disappointing overall season for the Sox, there has been a clear bright spot: young third baseman Rafael Devers.

Devers, regarded frequently as a premier young talent, has broken out to the tune of a 135 wRC+. Pretty darn good, especially considering he’s not even 23 years old yet. Defensively he’s a lot closer to “tolerable” than “good” at the hot corner, but that bat will play.

The Yanks, of course, have their own young terror. On a roster full of good hitters below 30 years of age, Gleyber Torres has rightly earned plenty of recognition for his strong sophomore season. Given the injury issues surrounding Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, Torres has been the stalwart in a Yankee lineup plagued by injuries. He’s hitting .283/.349/.521 for a 124 wRC+ while playing solid defense at both shortstop and second.

Two great young stars. Who’s the better bet long term?

Well, it’s not cut and dry. Devers might crank out a prime where a 135 wRC+ is his floor; his bat has always been regarded as potent. He needed to adjust to big-league pitching to realize that potential, and it sure seems like he’s done just that. Cutting out almost eight percent of his strikeouts is a great place to start. Devers is making more contact than before, and boy howdy is most of it hard. He’s in the elite of the elite when it comes to exit velocity and hard-hit percentage. If Devers puts bat to ball, ball goes far.

Torres’ bat isn’t as good today as Devers and wasn’t regarded in the same breath as a prospect, either. Torres, after watching him for almost two years, strikes me as a hitter with solid tools but great instincts for hitting. He doesn’t have Devers’ power or bat speed, but he’s an intelligent hitter who can mold counts into his favor. In a weird way, Torres reminds me of Trevor Bauer, but as a hitter; his approach is everything. He makes the most of what he has.

Torres’ defensive utility really adds to his value. A bat of Torres’ caliber playing at third base is certainly useful but not necessarily special. But at second base and shortstop? That’s an All-Star. Torres isn’t a vacuum at either position, but he can more than handle the range and that’s enough to make him one of the game’s most valuable pieces. Devers might not be at the hot corner long term, but should his bat continue to improve, it won’t matter.

Like I said, tough call! I love Torres’ ingenuity and versatility. He’s a really good hitter at a premium position. Meanwhile, Devers’ bat could be MVP level someday (that’s purely theoretical in Mike Trout‘s world, of course) and can at least remain at third for awhile longer.

Fangraphs’ Trade Value rankings had Devers 14th and Torres 12th. Seems about right. Even though their paths aren’t identical — Torres was an All-Star as a rookie while Devers took some time getting rolling — both are now critical cogs for the two AL East stalwarts. Both fan bases smirk at the idea of involving either in trade proposals.

Devers and Torres might end up battling for an MVP someday. Imagine that story. Heck, don’t forget that the 2018 AL MVP plays in Boston (Mookie Betts) and the 2017 runner up is, of course, Judge. Neither team is hurting for young talent.

Adam Adkins podcasts and writes about baseball at AdkinsOnSports.com. His most recent Ode to a Pitcher breakdown covered Luis Castillo.

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