Xander Bogaerts is the best shortstop in the American League.
The 21-year-old isn't on highlight reels with regularity, but he's quietly having a big offensive season and is one of the only bright spots in a moribund Red Sox offense that is struggling to score runs amid a 7-15 streak that has dropped Boston to fourth place in the AL East.
Bogaerts has become a fixture at the No. 2 spot in the lineup and may remain there for the rest of the season—even when reinforcements come off the disabled list.
It would be a mistake to move him out of the spot, as his blend of plate discipline and power helps set the table for the power bats.
Bogaerts' weighted on-base average—wOBA is essentially OPS, but with adjusted numbers to better capture offensive value—is tops in the American League among shortstops and second among all shortstops behind Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki.
Even the rookie's move to third base to accommodate Stephen Drew's return to shortstop hasn't dampened Bogaerts' value. Only Josh Donaldson has a higher WAR than Bogaerts among third basemen in the AL.
Yes, Bogaerts is better than Evan Longoria, Adrian Beltre, Kyle Seager and every other third baseman in the American League.
It wasn't that long ago that Bogaerts was merely holding down the fort at shortstop, not doing enough to prevent Boston from re-signing Drew to play the position.
The right-hander was hitting .254/.360/.348 through May 17, and it looked as if Bogaerts had a lot of growing pains ahead of him to develop into a legitimate threat at the plate.
From May 17 through June 7, Bogaerts hit .373/.435/.627.
I guess the growing pains are over.
Bogaerts' plate discipline put him on the map last October, manning third base for the final eight games of Boston's run to the World Series. He ended his postseason run with an impressive .412 OBP, turning heads in the process.
Bogaerts' calm demeanor under the biggest kind of pressure there is in baseball, at an age which had just given him the ability to legally drink (his birthday is October 1), was more than impressive.
That has carried over to 2014.
Manager John Farrell spoke with Katie Morrison of WEEI.com about Bogaerts in May:
Regardless of the age, I think any guy that was able to lay off some of the pitches that he did against [Tigers pitcher Max] Scherzer was impressive, but Xander has always had a calmness about him, even in moments of postseason or on a heightened stage, and he’s still shown that this year with his overall approach. I can remember [Tigers catcher Alex] Avila receiving a few pitches and almost looking up at Xander with a little bit of awe about him, saying, "My gosh, that’s pretty impressive for a young guy to lay off some pretty tough pitches," and probably heightened with the setting.
While Bogaerts hasn't been as big a name in 2014 as he was when he introduced himself to the game on baseball's biggest stage, he's starting to make people stand up and pay attention.
Bogaerts' emergence has come at the just right time. Without his hot streak, the Red Sox could be much worse off than their current position.
While one man isn't enough to turn around Boston's fortunes, it's safe to say the club's 27-34 record entering Sunday night's game would be worse without the youngster.
Having someone be such a vital part of the team at such a young age while making the league minimum is huge for the Sox. Though the team doesn't lack for dollars, boasting a high producer at such a cheap salary allows the team to spread its resources more aggressively over 24 other roster spots.
As Gary DiSarcina, then-manager of the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox, told Jackie MacMullan of ESPNBoston.com about a slump Bogaerts scuffled through prior to his call-up to Boston in 2013, "There are three words I use when I talk about [Bogaerts] offensively: he struggled, he adjusted, he performed."
Sounds a lot like Bogaerts' 2014 season for the Red Sox.
From here on out, Bogaerts' offensive contributions won't be so quiet.
Advanced statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.