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August 19, 2013
The Situation: With the Red Sox 3-7 in their last 10 games and playing only .500 baseball since the All-Star break, the club has decided to call up top prospect Xander Bogaerts, who ranked no. 3 on our Mid-Season Top 50. Bogaerts is likely to spell Stephen Drew during the stretch run, especially against left-handed pitching, and can also spend some time at third base when Will Middlebrooks needs time off. Look for the infield prospect to play both positions as needed during the Red Sox’ push to the postseason.
Background: Bogaerts was signed as an international free agent out of Aruba in 2009. Since coming stateside, the infield prospect’s stock has skyrocketed in parallel with his rapid ascension up the rungs of Boston’s system. Bogaerts was a standout at the Fall Instructional League in 2010, with his talent and potential clearly on display. As an 18-year-old in the South Atlantic League during his 2011 campaign, the right-handed hitter slammed 16 home runs in 72 games and began to turn heads with the way the ball jumped off his bat. The following season saw the now 20-year-old breeze through the Carolina League, showing both power and the ability to hit for average while beginning to prove that the bat was more than ready for the upper minors in a 23-game taste of Double-A. This season, the infielder has continued to take the upper minors by storm, posting a .299/.389/.481 between Portland and Pawtucket at the time of his promotion.
Scouting Report: Bogaerts generates very easy bat speed, enhanced by his ability to keep his hands back during his stride and unfold from a balanced base. There’s some length in the swing, but the righty has the loose hands to stay inside of the baseball and barrel pitches up in multiple spots, and he routinely drives the ball with backspin to all fields. I see Bogaerts’ game power with a strong chance to approach an output of 30 home runs annually, possibly higher in a peak season. There’s plenty of leverage in the swing and explosiveness through the hitting zone.
The biggest development for the infielder has been the polishing of his hit tool. The hit tool’s development was once a question for me, but Bogaerts has consistently shown that he can adjust to the path of the ball against rising competition. Most importantly, he’s made the necessary overall hitting adjustments, both in batting practice sessions and mid-stream during games.
Two areas of Bogaerts’ game that still need work are his defense and strike zone judgment. As a shortstop, he’s made strides in improving his footwork and technique, and the reads off the bat have gotten better as well. The foot speed is only average, however, and further loss of speed into his mid-20s is going to decrease his average-to-slightly-better-than-average range. Given his athleticism, reactions, and instincts, a permanent move over to third base should agree well with Bogaerts, and he has potential to round into a plus defender at the hot corner.
Although he will take a walk, the young hitter’s greatest present weakness is his strike zone judgment. Bogaerts has definitely fine-tuned his selectiveness over the last year, but he still can expand the zone, especially against breaking balls moving across his line of sight and fastballs up and away. The unforgiving arms of The Show will test the boundaries to see whether Bogaerts will get himself out or make them deliver quality pitches during the first phase of his career. —Chris Mellen
Immediate Big-League Future: Bogaerts has been working out at third base, which adds to the parallels between him and another superstar shortstop prospect-turned-third baseman, Manny Machado. Machado made his debut at age 19 a year and 10 days ago after just two minor league games at the hot corner for Double-A Bowie. Bogaerts has played nine games at third and joins the Red Sox a year older and with more upper-level experience than Machado had when he joined the Orioles. Bogaerts has split his season almost equally between Double- and Triple-A, with minimal difference in results after accounting for the elevated difficulty of the highest minor league level. Keep in mind that he was the youngest player in Triple-A at the time of his promotion.
Bogaerts has shown an incredible hit tool throughout his minor league career, along with an improving batting eye that has yielded a near-100-point split between his batting average and on-base percentage. That gives him a leg up on 24-year-old Will Middlebrooks, who has struggled with his approach at the big league level, turning in a 26 percent strikeout rate with just a five percent walk rate. Bogaerts has put up at least an eight percent mark at every stop at which he has had a sizeable sample (he posted a meager one percent mark in 97 PA in Double-A at the end of last year, though he also hit .326). Bogaerts’ hit and power tools alone would make him a prospect, but the walks make the package that much more impressive.
The extra experience for Bogaerts pushes his ceiling even higher than the .262/.294/.445 line we saw from Machado a year ago, assuming he gets regular playing time. Ideally, Bogaerts would be the platoon partner for both Stephen Drew against lefties and Middlebrooks against righties, although frequent position-switching might be more than the Red Sox are willing to ask of a 20-year-old.
The youngster has shown no abnormal platoon spit in his minor league career, recording an .882 OPS against righties and an .838 mark against lefties (his split this season is even smaller). Bogaerts might struggle to match the seven homers, 26 RBIs, and 24 runs scored that we saw from Machado last year, but only because he has less time to increase his counting stats. Machado played 51 games in 2012, while the Red Sox have just 36 games left this season.
Fantasy Impact: Playing time uncertainty is something we have to consider when making FAAB bids on players, but when the upside is high, that uncertainty isn’t as troubling. Expect the bids to be significant with Bogaerts given his potential not only for instant success, but instant success at a premium position. He could also gain dual eligibility if he does see time at third base.
You’ll have to spend a large portion of your remaining budget to get Bogaerts’ services, but the extra two weeks of numbers should push you to spend on him now as opposed to waiting on guys who might get called up when rosters expand on September 1. Your bid probably has to start with a two even to get in the door, and depending on your league (and the overall budget), you should prepare to push quite a bit higher. If the potential of a power-infused middle infielder is just what your contending team needs, spare no expense, leaving just a few remaining bucks in case you’re hit with another injury or two the rest of the way. You’re betting on the come here, and while you might get saddled with something akin to Mike Trout’s debut season (.672 OPS in 40 games), you could also get something as successful as Desmond Jennings’s first 36 games, minus the speed (.343/.434/.620, 8 HR, 19 RBI, and 23 runs scored in 162 PA.) —Paul Sporer
Chris Mellen is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @ChrisMellen