Headed into the 2012 season, I ranked the Boston Red Sox’s farm system in the bottom-third of all 30 organizations, citing Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks as their only legitimate prospects.
But then, unexpectedly, everything went right, as the aforementioned prospects exceeded expectations while countless other players came into their own.
The team's 2011 first-round duo, Matt Barnes and Jackie Bradley, thrived in their first full season, while Garin Cecchini and Blake Swihart both enjoyed quietly-impressive seasons at Low-A. However, the pride of their system is undoubtedly Bogaerts, who ranks as one of the elite offensive prospects in the game.
A product of excellent international scouting, the Red Sox signed Bogaerts as a 16-year-old out of Aruba in 2009.
After posting an .819 OPS in the Dominican Summer League in 2010, the Red Sox assigned him to Low-A Greenville for his stateside debut. Spending the full season at the level, Bogaerts put his name on the map by launching 16 home runs in 72 games as an 18-year-old. The impressive debut also earned him a No. 39 overall ranking in my preseason top 50 prospects.
Bogaerts was then assigned to High-A Salem to open the 2012 season, and once again he exceeded all expectations by batting .302/.378/.505 with 45 extra-base hits and 85/43 K/BB in 104 games.
The Red Sox weren’t done challenging the 19-year-old, though, as they promoted him to Double-A for the final month-plus of the minor league regular season. As one of the younger players at the level, Bogaerts batted .326/.351/.598 with 15 extra-base hits (five home runs) and 21/1 K/BB in 23 games, and finished the year ranked as Prospect Pipeline’s No. 16 overall prospect.
At 6’3”, 175 pounds, Bogaerts, a right-handed hitter, is physically mature for his age with room to add more strength. Hitting from an upright stance at the plate, he employs a big leg lift to load his weight to the backside before unleashing a vicious swing.
I don’t typically advocate a leg lift-oriented load, as the quality of the swing becomes entirely dependent on the timing of the lead foot-strike. However, there are exceptions; Matt Holliday, Ryan Zimmerman and Mark Reynolds come to mind. For all three players, the common denominator is brute strength, and also the only reason they’re each able to execute a swing of that nature.
Bogaerts has that same power. His plus bat speed and hyper-aggressive approach generates plus raw power to all fields, and his hit tool has improved faster than anticipated.
While I realize that he’ll more than likely always be a free-swinger, Bogaerts will have to learn more patience at the plate and trim down his strikeout total. Although he made noticeable adjustments throughout the season and chased far less breaking balls, they can still be problematic at times. But considering that he’s been one of the younger players at every level, he still has time to mature as a hitter—and all signs suggest he will.
Even though Bogaerts will continue to be developed as a shortstop, it’s almost a consensus among scouts that he’ll wind up a third baseman. While he has solid hands and above-average arm strength, Bogaerts lacks quick feet and explosiveness, and is expected to outgrow the position physically. If not third base, he’s athletic enough to handle either corner outfield position.
Expect him to open the 2013 season back at Double-A Portland where he’ll continue to refine his plate discipline. If all goes well, it’s conceivable that Bogaerts can reach Triple-A by July, and possibly even the major leagues by September.