On the heels of his election to and performance in the Futures Game, I wanted to take a look at Xander Bogaerts, currently a shortstop but projecting to be a third baseman in the Boston Red Sox organization. We didn't get to see Bogaerts at either his current or prospective position, as he was playing the role of designated hitter in this game, as the world team (Bogaerts hails from Aruba) featured two of the best complete shortstop prospects in the game (Jurickson Profar and Francisco Lindor) at the position. Bogaerts went 1-4 with a single, playing the entire game, though that did come with two strikeouts, not completely surprising for someone striking out in just under 21% of his at-bats this year facing competition superior to that which he is used to. It was good to see Bogaerts on a stage like this, though of course few helpful conclusions can be drawn given the small sample size. I was unable to find footage of Bogaerts in the Futures Game that could be embedded, so instead I have footage from July of last year courtesy of the incredibly helpful Mike Newman of Fangraphs.
Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox (via ScoutingTheSally)
A look at what Bogaerts has done in 2012 after the jump...
Lauded for his power potential, Bogaerts hasn't disappointed in 2012 delivering 12 home runs and a .480 slugging percentage as a 19-year old in Hi-A. Detractors may point to his four fewer home runs in almost 40 more at-bats as signs that he isn't developing like he should, however 2012 has been equally impressive if not moreso than his breakout last year, posting a slash line of .287/.365/.480. Bogaerts has accomplished the noteworthy task of elevating his BB% (9.4) and limiting his K% (20.9), meaning he is being more patient at the plate, but not at the expense of contact, as he is connecting more and hitting for a significantly better average. Part of the spike in average is due to his jump in BABIP from a below average .291 in 2011 to a well above average .340 in 2012, but that doesn't mean it is all luck. There's a good chance that Bogaerts increased contact rate has played a part as well as the chance that he is making hard contact that would result in an elevated BABIP. Bogaerts calling card is his power, and while he's seen a dip in that regards with his ISO dropping from .249 to a still impressive .193, likely a side effect from the decreased K% as well as moving up a level. Bogaerts has continued to play shortstop despite near universal opinion that he will require a move to the hot corner and while it is likely that he will shift at some point, his chances of sticking at short are non-zero, which means Boston will leave him there until he plays himself off of it. Speed isn't much of a factor for Bogaerts, despite playing up the middle (for now) as he has never recorded more steals than caught stealing, and is only 3/6 so far this year.
The numbers are all well and good, but they don't have much meaning without understand the process behind them. What Bogaerts does well is hit and hit for power with BaseballAmerica saying "He could be a .280 hitter with 30 home runs, and that might be setting the bar low." There's obviously plenty of projection in that quote, given Bogaerts' age and distance from the majors, but he has all the tools do it and more importantly for me has proven adept at adjusting to the competition he is facing. While he struggled with breaking balls early in the 2011 season, he has shown the ability to handle them of late (though not the nasty sliders he received from Gerrit Cole in the Futures Game). His bump in BB% and decrease in K% also indicate his ability to apply the instruction he's receiving as well as adapt to the competition. Bogaerts produces his power by extending his arms, making hard contact to all fields. Add that to his plus bat speed, generated by his strong forearms and explosive wrists, and you have a power hitting monster in the making. Bogaerts employs a torque heavy swing that combined with his bat speed allows him to hit balls out, even when he doesn't square them up. There aren't a ton of minor leaguers that project for 30 home run power, but Bogaerts is in that class with plus-plus raw power, and he's likely not done filling out his 6'3/175 pound frame. As constituted, he is unlikely to hit .300 in the majors at any point, but I wouldn't preclude him from making enough adjustments that result in him outperforming current projections. On defense he has fluid actions at short and has shown enough to stay there for now, but while filling out his frame might be a boon to his power stroke, it will be a detriment to his defense, where he is already a bit slow-footed. The likely result is a transition to third base where his smooth actions should play well, though it is a bit of a different skill set, based mostly on quick reactions. His arm is plenty enough for short, and will be so for third base as well. Any move down the defensive spectrum will put more pressure on his bat, but if he develops as expected, his bat will play at third, or even in the outfield. As discussed earlier, speed is not part of his skillset, and I'd wager he runs less and less each year given his propensity to get caught.
Bogaerts was the third youngest player in Lo-A last year, trailing only Bryce Harper and Jurickson Profar. While he hasn't quite kept pace with them (talk about tough acts to follow), Bogaerts is making his way up prospect lists and onto the national radar in his own right. Boston has a lot of depth in their system, but few top flight prospects, and Bogaerts might be the crown jewel among them. He, along with teammates Matt Barnes and Brandon Jacobs represent the future of the Boston Red Sox. The operative word there being future. While Bogaerts was the #2 Boston prospect as ranked by BaseballAmerica, and #1 as ranked by ESPN's Keith Law and BaseballProspectus' Kevin Goldstein, he is only in Hi-A and will likely only move one level at a time, which would put him in the major leagues at the tender age of 22. We won't need to jump the gun and try to get Bogaerts to the big leagues quickly, because he's going to force his way there soon enough. In regards to fantasy, you're looking at a legitimate middle of the order bat at a scarce position (either shortstop or third base) who plays for an organization that is likely to put guys on base ahead of him. Bogaerts is subject to the same risks and potential for failure as any other prospect, but his ability to adapt and adjust gives me hope that he can avoid that failure, or at worst, learn from it and become what we hope he can be.
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