Most baseball fans are familiar with the phrase "Three True Outcomes", which refers to walks, strike outs, and home runs. These outcomes are "true" in that they pit the pitcher against the batter, largely independent of outside factors like defense or foot speed. When ball four is awarded to the batter, it is a certainty that he will be reaching first base.
When it comes to prospects, certainties do not exist. Every prospect has a wide range of outcomes between his ceiling and floor potential, with most players settling somewhere in between the two. I like to think of prospect outcomes as the Dream (the player's ceiling), the Nightmare (the player's floor) and the Reality (weighing all the factors to come up with the most likely outcome). Throughout the year, I will be examining the ceilings and floors of players across the minor leagues, and making my best forecast on the eventual outcome. Today's prospect is infielder Xander Bogaerts of the Boston Red Sox.
Entering the 2011 season, Xander Bogaerts was by no means a household name (among prospect enthusiasts), nor was he mentioned among the elite young talents in the game. Baseball America ranked him as just the 14th best prospect in a Boston system that was not particularly deep. Still, one line in his 150-word gave life to the legend of Xander Bogaerts in many circles:
Bogaerts is the most intriguing prospect to play for the Red Sox' Rookie-level Dominican Summer League team since Hanley Ramirez in 2001.
It wasn't a comp, it wasn't even an endorsement of his talent, and yet it so perfectly encompassed the promise attached to the then 18-year old infielder that the Sox signed for $410,000 out of Aruba. Since the beginning of 2011, the excitement level for his future has only grown as scouts, coaches, and fans have all watched him hit at every level of the Minor Leagues, culminating in his performance in 2012. Bogaerts began the year in the High-A Carolina League and finished it as the youngest position player in the Double-A Eastern League, both notorious pitcher's leagues. Even if he would have struggled as a 19-year old against older competition, no one would have batted an eye, but he wrapped up last season with a .307/.373/.523 line with 20 home runs in 127 games. Now, everyone has heard his name and he ranked in the top-10 of both Keith Law and Baseball America's preseason top-prospect lists, and 12th in Baseball Prospectus' rankings. The bat is among the best in all of the minors, drawing high praise for the ease and fluidity of his swing and for the plus-plus raw power that translates rather well into games. Both his hit tool and his in-game power project as 65 or better tools in the big leagues, meaning he should be a .300+, 30 home run infielder, which is becoming increasingly rare in today's game. The big question is what position will he fill when he's hitting all those home runs, but after some skepticism early in his career, there is a growing faction of baseball people that think he can be an adequate shortstop at the big league level. If he can stay at short, he can become one of the best fantasy players in the game.
Ceiling Fantasy Line: .324 average, 39 home runs, 119 runs, 139 RBIs, 6 steals at shortstop
The negatives with Bogaerts begin with his defensive profile. While his hands work well, his actions can get a bit stiff, something that Boston's coaching staff is working with him on fixing. His size also poses a problem, as he's already quite large for shortstop, standing 6'3", and although he's an athletic player he does not have the foot speed you expect from an up the middle player. Also, he's still thin, so if his frame continues to fill out, his speed will go from fringe average to below average rather quickly. He has the arm strength to move to 3B or RF if needed, but any move to a corner position will put that much more pressure on his bat. At the plate, I like his aggressiveness, but that can get him in trouble if he doesn't refine his pitching selection to make it controlled-aggressiveness. In his short stint in Double-A, he walked just once while striking out 21 times, not alarming considering his age, yet I'm sure Boston would like to see that improve. Scouts also question his ability to hit quality offspeed pitching because right now it seems like he really focuses his attention on hitting the fastball. The last, and possibly largest, concern has to do with the town he plays in. Assuming he debuts with Boston, Bogaerts will be the most-heralded Red Sox prospect to ascend up their Minor League ladder in quite some time, and the pressure of the Boston spotlight is not something prospects in smaller markets worry about. With that pressure, the question his position, and the ever-present mystery of which prospects will hit, Boagaerts could turn out to be a player like Brandon Wood, showing glimpses of potential but always disappointing.
Floor Fantasy Line: .249 average, 16 home runs, 48 runs, 67 RBIs, 0 steals, at first base
The reason evaluators and writers don't like using comps is because most fans run wild with expectations the minute a minor league player is compared to an established big leaguer, especially if the player is any good. I say that because I know I shouldn't do what I'm about to, and yet I can't stop my fingers from typing the words. Reading the reports, doesn't Bogaerts remind you a bit of Miguel Cabrera? Before you throw a fit, just read this excerpt from Cabrera's 2002 Baseball America scouting report:
Signed as a shortstop, Cabrera moved to third base last spring and fared well. He's a below-average runner but is quick on his feet and has drawn comparisons to countryman Andres Galarraga in that regard. He has soft hands and a plus arm that's accurate and ranks as the best among the system's infielders. Cabrera's line-drive swing has produced more doubles than homers so far. While some of his teammates were frustrated by hitting in the Florida State League, Cabrera took his doubles off the wall and stayed positive. He projects to hit for both average and power, with annual totals of 35-40 homers not out of the question down the road. He loves to play, doesn't get too emotional and constantly works to get better. While he has a good grasp of the strike zone, Cabrera should accept more walks and lay off breaking balls out of the zone. He isn't much of a threat on the bases, though he's an instinctive baserunner.
Again, many of you will dismiss the similarities (and possibly rightfully so), but they really intrigue me. I love the swing, and even Keith Law, whom I consider to the most pessimistic of the well-regarded writers, puts his chances of staying at short at better than 50-50. The footage I've seen and the reports I have read lead me to believe two things:
- Bogaerts can play shortstop (at least initially) in the Major Leagues
- He is going to be a middle of the order force, regardless of position
Right now he's making a strong case to be promoted to the Majors at some point this year, hitting .305/.373/.495 in Double-A as a 20-year old (the same age that Cabrera debuted in the show). Tagging Bogaerts as a perennial all-star may seem unfair or unwarranted, but there are some players that do turn into upper-echelon, franchise Major League players. I say that Xander Bogaerts is one of those players, and that he'll be the best shortstop Boston has had since Nomar Garciaparra.
Fantasy Line: .316 average, 34 home runs, 115 runs, 126 RBIs, 6 steals, as a Shortstop
Fore more on the Red Sox and their prospects, be sure to check out Over the Monster.
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