When you are a 21-year-old baseball player with 18 games of professional experience under your belt and a team trusts you to take over as the starting third baseman in the middle of the American League Championship Series, odds are good that you have special abilities.
In the case of Boston Red Sox prospect Xander Bogaerts, last year's postseason was a blip on the radar for what this young stud is capable of doing.
What's scary for other teams around baseball is that Bogaerts could end up being one of the two or three best hitters in Boston's lineup by the end of 2014, no easy feat considering David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino are already featured players.
Who will be baseball's best rookie in 2014?
But seeing how comfortable Bogaerts was on the biggest stage in baseball last October, putting up quality at-bats night after night, even if he didn't have the hits to show for it, this is a special talent with no apparent ceiling.
Going up against the likes of Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha in the postseason, Bogaerts could have easily crumbled under the pressure of his first exposure to MLB pitching.
Instead, Bogaerts, who turned 21 just days before the 2013 postseason started, put together some of the best at-bats in the postseason. His seven-pitch walk and double in his first two at-bats against Scherzer during Game 6 of the ALCS set the tone for the Red Sox in that series-clinching win.
Now, with Stephen Drew alone on a free-agent island, Bogaerts has the inside track on the starting shortstop job for the defending World Series champions in 2014. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe tweeted that Bogaerts will only be working at shortstop for the time being:
The Red Sox have decided Xander Bogaerts will workout strictly at SS. At least for time being. They don't want to overload working at 3b— Nick Cafardo (@nickcafardo) February 11, 2014
Drew could still re-sign with the Red Sox, though general manager Ben Cherington told MLB Network Radio that any deal with their former shortstop wouldn't happen before the team opens camp on February 15 (via NESN.com's Ricky Doyle).
If Drew returns to Boston, Bogaerts would presumably return to third base and push Will Middlebrooks down to Triple-A or give the Red Sox a trade chip to fill another hole that may develop during spring training.
Regardless of where the Red Sox put Bogaerts in the field, they want his bat in the lineup. He's the consensus number two prospect in baseball right now behind Minnesota's Byron Buxton, with MLB.com writing that a lot of his offensive skills are already playing in games:
During his brief time in the big leagues, Bogaerts showed the kind of special player he can be. He uses his smooth, balanced swing to make hard contact and drive the ball to all fields. He has big raw power and already knows how to use it in games.
That last part, about being able to hit for power in games, is critical to explain why Bogaerts will be special in 2014. A lot of young players, especially those who are still growing into their frame like Boston's shortstop, haven't developed the muscle or actions/balance with their swing to drive the ball consistently.
Bogaerts hasn't had that problem. Even coming up through the minors, when he was still refining his offensive tools, Bogaerts slugged over .500 in 2011 and 2012 before falling back to a .477 mark in 2013.
Everything he hits is with authority. Take a look at these two swings, one from the regular season and one from the World Series. Both come on fastballs about belt high, very hittable pitches.
One thing you will see from a lot of young players, especially when they have pitches to drive, is a tendency to swing as hard as possible to make sure the ball goes a long way.
Bogaerts' brilliance is how he doesn't ever change his swing. It's always the same balanced, quick stroke through the zone that finds the barrel and goes with pitches. There is nothing at all fundamentally different in the swing against New York and St. Louis, but the second pitch moves away from him, so he drives it to right-center field for extra bases.
That textbook approach to hitting is why Bogaerts is going to be special right away. In his writeup for ESPN's Top 100 prospects list (subscription required), Keith Law wrote that Bogaerts "could be Troy Tulowitzki with a little less arm, and that's an MVP-caliber player."
The world got a small look at how good Bogaerts is as a 21-year-old, but now we will get a real taste of what this young man will do in Boston for years to come.
Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.
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