Ever since Rafael Devers was signed by the Boston Red Sox as an international free-agent amateur from the Dominican Republic in August 2013, the arrival of the highly touted prospect has been highly anticipated. Less than four years later -- and just two weeks after ESPN Insider Keith Law named him the third-best prospect in baseball -- Devers made his major league debut on July 25, 2017, taking over third-base duties for a Sox squad in the middle of another tight American League East race. He has already showed that he's been worth the wait, quickly ripping three home runs in his first nine games. ESPN's Marly Rivera caught up with the rookie to talk about his joining the team he rooted for as a youth, his adaptations to playing in the states, and his nickname -- Carita, or "Baby Face."
How did you get your start in baseball?
I can't even remember the first time I went to a stadium, but I have been playing baseball as long as I can remember. But I don't remember very well when it was. I started to play baseball because my dad played baseball, and he always brought me along to watch the games, and when practice was over, the parents would let us play there. I started playing baseball with my little friends. ... My dad did not play professionally; he was an amateur in the countryside leagues, as they call them over there [in the Dominican Republic].
When did your talent begin to develop?
I started playing formally around age 14. I always played in little leagues in the capital. I played in Trinitarios, in Villa Carmen, and I met a guy who told me, 'Hey, I'm going to take you to a program,' and I would always say to him, 'Take me, take me.' I spent about a month telling him, 'Take me, take me,' and finally took me. He took me over there during the afternoon and we went and hit in the cage, but the boss was not there. The next day I went there at 6 in the morning so he could see me.
What was their reaction the first time they saw you?
The first time they saw me they liked me. Since I lived with my parents, every day I had to go to the house of the guy who was in charge of practice and then head to the stadium. I would arrive at the stadium at 6 in the morning and stay there until around 3 in the afternoon. Every day.
When did you start getting scouted?
When you are in a program there are many players, so a lot of scouts go see practice, so they would see me there. But at 15 is when I started doing a lot of tryouts.
Who was your favorite player when you were a kid?
Robinson Canó has always been my favorite player because of the way he plays. I have always been impressed with the swing he has and how humble he looks on the field. But my favorite team was always Boston because I loved watching Manny [Ramirez] and Pedro [Martinez] when they were here; I would sit with my dad to watch games.
Have you met Canó?
The first time I saw him was the day we played in Seattle, and I said hello to him. The only thing he told me was, 'Keep on going, kid, you got a good swing.'
What kind of third baseman do you want to be?
Like Manny Machado right now because of the way he fields the ball; he can stop them all. I would also like to be like [Adrian] Beltre, because Beltre is also a player who has been very well-known for his bat as well as his defense. I want to be a player like that, like them.
Just like Beltre, you got called up young. What in his career would you like to imitate?
How humble he is. He's always been a superstar in the big leagues, and you never hear his name implicated in any gossip or anything like that. He's always had a clean career, and that's why I admire his career.
Did seeing Beltre reach 3,000 hits also inspire you?
Of course, because there are not many players who have even gotten 3,000 hits, so that is a great goal to have.
How have you adapted to living in the United States and learning English?
My first year was difficult because I left all my family behind, even though I traveled in the middle of summer. I played three weeks in the summer, so I was only here half of the year, and it was still very difficult for me. But after that you start getting used to living here, and it helps that I talk to my mom and dad every day
What has been helping you to learn English?
To practice speaking it in the infield, on the field, or when you go out to eat or when I go out to do something with the guys. You know everyone here speaks English, so you get to practice when you go out.
With your being called up so young, who has been the person who has helped you the most to adapt to playing in the majors?
My dad. He's always on top of me: 'Rafael, don't do this and that, you know it's not the same anymore. You've achieved your goal, but now we're going to try to fulfill your dream, which is to stay in the big leagues and be a superstar.'
I know you have to have heard that you look like you're 12 instead of 20. ... You look so young!
Yes, that's why they gave me my nickname. They call me 'Carita' [Baby Face] for that very reason. In my neighborhood, when I played vitilla [baseball with bottle caps], there was always this guy who would say, 'Look at this one with that fresh face,' and from then on I was Carita.
There was criticism of the Red Sox when they called you up; it was seen as a move of desperation. How ready did you feel you were to play in the big leagues?
Well, it's the same baseball, but this is the top level, so there is more pressure, but that's something you can't control. All I have to prove is that I am a player who is always ready to play wherever they put me. In the games I have played in so far, in the first at-bat, in the first inning, I go out and say, 'Wow,' and it feels really good. In the first inning, I feel a little nervous, but afterward I feel confident.
In the short time you have been in the majors, has there been a moment when you have said to yourself, I can't believe that so-and-so is there?
The day when we played in Seattle and I saw Robinson Canó. I saw him during batting practice, and they called me over and congratulated me on being called up. I said to myself, 'Oh man, look at him right here.' He was with Jean Segura, Nelson Cruz. They were all there. I felt really happy about that. I said to myself, "I watched them on television, and now I can see them here."
Eduardo Núñez has always called Robinson Canó his best teacher and the reason why he is in the major leagues. What does him being here as your teammate in Boston mean to you?
I always admired him, the way he plays baseball; he plays aggressively. He always runs hard. I like to follow people like that, just like Dustin Pedroia. That gives me motivation to be like them. Pedroia always plays aggressive.
What do you like about playing aggressively?
That many things can happen. There can be a bad throw and I can be safe, but if I don't run hard there is more chance of getting me out
Tell us a little about your favorite things, music, food...
My favorite music, I listen to bachata; I like it a lot, also dembow, which we listen to in the Dominican Republic. My favorite food is coconut fish. It is a Dominican dish, where fish is cooked after they grate a coconut and take the milk out, and they put it there to cook with the fish.
How was it when you got here to the U.S. and there wasn't coconut fish around?
[Laughs] I ate at McDonald's. But later on, after rookie ball, I went to low-A and from then on I lived in an apartment, and there we could cook whatever we wanted. So that made it easier. We would eat better food.
Some of my teammates. I can't cook. I can't even boil an egg.