Fresh off an eventful series against their archrivals from New York, the Boston Red Sox are grabbing more headlines for all the right reasons with their promotion of a superstar talent: The Xander Bogaerts era will begin on Monday night when the Red Sox take on the San Francisco Giants.
The Red Sox are having a terrific bounce-back season after the horror show that was 2012, leading the AL East by one game. Ranked first in baseball with 628 runs scored, they aren't exactly starving for offensive production.
But Bogaerts isn't your run-of-the-mill prospect. He is a truly special talent who can help Boston win games today.
Using my own analysis, as well as that of fellow B/R prospect czar Mike Rosenbaum, here is why you need to pay close attention to Bogaerts.
The Calling Card: Bogaerts' Do-It-All Hitting Approach
Obviously, a variety of factors influenced that decision—Lee's contract, Boston's ability to acquire Jake Peavy, etc.—but near the top of the list were the skill set and potential Bogaerts possesses.
When you talk about Bogaerts, the first thing you have to discuss is what a great, natural hitter he is. And to be showing off that skill at such a young age is remarkable.
In 116 games across two levels (Double-A and Triple-A), Bogaerts is hitting .297/.388/.477 with 23 doubles, six triples and 15 home runs.
Stats in the minors are nice to look at, but they rarely tell the whole story. Fortunately, Bogaerts has the tools to back those numbers up.
In his midseason top-50 list, Rosenbaum had Bogaerts ranked as the No. 3 prospect in baseball, thanks in large part to his offensive potential:
At 6’3”, 185 pounds, Bogaerts is a right-handed hitter with one hell of a bat; employs an upright stance; big leg lift load; gets all of his weight to backside and then through the ball. Vicious swing results in loud contact to all fields; possesses plus bat speed with exceptional raw power to every field; backspin carry; lift to stroke and flight of ball; extension after contact; can turn around good velocity.
What you don't get from that scouting report is how Bogaerts has evolved in such a short amount of time.
For instance, if you watched the Futures Game, you saw exactly what Bogaerts is all about. In the showcase of the best minor leaguers in baseball, he had no intention of selling out the hit tool for his plus power.
In his first at-bat against Noah Syndergaard, facing a 2-2 count, Bogaerts sat back on a mid-90s fastball and smacked the pitch into center field for a base hit. His second at-bat came against fellow Boston prospect Anthony Ranaudo, and he muscled a well-located 1-2 fastball into center field for another hit.
Those aren't the kinds of hits that will have fans in the stands falling all over themselves, but it is exactly what you want to see from a great hitter in a situation with two strikes against two pitchers who have really good arms.
Rosenbaum also mentions Bogaerts' leg kick. It is a bit extreme and can lead to high strikeout totals, but he gets through the zone so quickly and has learned to lay off close pitches out of the zone—as evidenced by the fact he already has 19 more walks in 2013 than in 2012 despite 17 fewer plate appearances.
As for the power, that comes from Bogaerts' bat speed and natural ability to barrel the ball through the zone. A lot of good hitters are capable of making contact. What separates the great hitters, like Bogaerts, from the rest is the ability to drive the ball when they make contact.
Bogaerts is already a very athletic young man at 6'3", 185 pounds at the age of 20. Combining that athleticism with plus bat speed, Bogaerts projects for plus power (22-25 home runs).
There is still room for his frame to fill out, which will hurt his speed and defense but also help him add a little more pop, pushing him into rarefied air when it comes to power. His swing is already sweet and would be good enough to make him a constant All-Star fixture for a long time to come.
But if Bogaerts adds, say, 10 to 15 extra pounds of muscle (which he likely will and can easily carry), suddenly his power goes from a grade 60 to 65 or 70 on the 20-80 scale. That means he is hitting at least 25 home runs per season.
When you put that kind of hit and power tool at shortstop, you go from having an All-Star to an MVP candidate.
Aside from how he'll mature physically, it's worth discussing how Bogaerts has evolved from his first season in pro ball to being called up to a first-place team in the middle of a pennant race.
Bogaerts has never been a bad hitter at any level. His worst season by batting average came in 2011 when he hit .260 as an 18-year-old at Low-A, but he also slugged .509 with 32 extra-base hits in 72 games.
Bogaerts' exaggerated swing that can be a bit problematic. He struck out 106 times against just 44 walks in 127 games last season.
The results have been much better this year, as evidenced by the improved walk rate, but Rosenbaum notes there are a few things to iron out with Bogaerts' overall discipline:
Hit tool has developed better than expected despite aggressive, free-swinging approach; plus potential with improved pitch recognition. Has posted oddly low line-drive rates throughout minor league career; will have to cut down on strikeouts; chases too many breaking balls out of the zone; lunges and dips during takes.
Bogaerts' approach to breaking balls and his ability to lay off them out of the zone will determine if he becomes a .260-.270 hitter or a .280-.290 hitter in the big leagues. His improved walk rate is a great sign that the approach is coming around.
What Are the Negatives?
No prospect is perfect. Bogaerts has tremendous offensive upside that will allow him to profile as a star anywhere on the field, but defense is his biggest question mark.
Specifically, where will Bogaerts be most effective in the big leagues?
Bogaerts has come up through the system as a shortstop. He has plus arm strength and can make all the throws from deep in the hole, but given his size (especially in the future) and limited range, it is likely he moves to third base, as Rosenbaum points out:
Will continue to develop as a shortstop unless he’s forced to move from position; also profiles as a third baseman or corner outfielder. Solid hands; plus arm strength; lacks quick feet and explosiveness for surefire up-the-middle future.
The Red Sox are aware Bogaerts may have to move off shortstop eventually and gave him 10 games at third base after he moved up to Triple-A Pawtucket.
With Stephen Drew currently manning shortstop, it seems Bogaerts will end up spending most of his time at third base this year.
Playing shortstop, even if it is just at a fringe-average level, gives Bogaerts tremendous value to the Red Sox because his bat is so good. Having an up-the-middle player who can hit 30 home runs—not this season or even next year, but eventually—is part of what makes Bogaerts so highly regarded.
But even when Bogaerts is forced to move off shortstop, his bat is so good that there is no concern about his potential to be one of the 10 to 15 best hitters in the league and a perennial MVP candidate.
As is the case when your body gets bigger, you sacrifice speed. Bogaerts isn't exactly a burner right now, but he does possess solid-average running speed. Eventually that is more likely to settle in the fringe-average range and could limit him to a handful of stolen bases per season during his peak.
We have also mentioned Bogaerts' weaknesses against off-speed stuff. He will have to work on it in the big leagues because pitchers at this level can latch on to a problem area and exploit it to no end.
There will be a learning curve with Bogaerts, but given his year-to-year improvements in the minors, it shouldn't be a steep curve.
Calling up Bogaerts now is an excellent way for the Red Sox to integrate him into the lineup. He doesn't have to be a savior or the missing piece to a championship team. He can come up, hit lower in the order, and watch and learn from guys like David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia before taking over as the full-time shortstop or third baseman in 2014.
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