There’s not much more exciting in baseball than a top prospect breaking through to the big leagues. The player is often seen as a new hope for any team and has a lot of expectations placed upon him right away. After seeing how Blake Swihart and Mookie Betts are doing so far, Rick Rowand takes a look at Xander Bogaerts to see how he’s progressing in his second full season in Major League Baseball.
As the weather heats up, so has the Boston Red Sox version of the early Seventies power trio Beck, Bogert and Appice. Betts, Bogaerts and Swihart, who average just under 23 years of age, were deemed “untouchable” by the Sox front office earlier this year when trade rumors involving Cole Hamels were swirling around the internet.
Xander Bogaerts made his MLB debut with the Red Sox as a 20-year old in 2013. He played in 18 games in the regular season, splitting time almost equally between SS and 3B and hitting .250/.320/.364. Bogaerts played a big part in the Sox run to the World Series title, mainly at 3B. In 12 games in the postseason he hit .296/.412/.481.
In 2014, his first full season as a MLB player, Bogaerts shuttled back and forth between shortstop and third. Starting the season as the shortstop, Xander was moved to 3rd base when the Sox acquired Stephen Drew in May and named him the team’s shortstop. Bogaerts was moved back to shortstop when the Red Sox traded Drew to the Yankees at the July 31 trading deadline.
Bogaerts didn’t look confident at the plate or in the field during much of the 2014 season, hitting just .240/.297/.362 for the year. After the first two months of the season, in which he hit .293/.384/.444, Bogaerts began to slump. Pitchers started to feast on his uncertainty with pitches low and away, at which Bogaerts would flail helplessly. In June, Bogaerts hit just.135/.176/.250. In July, he improved to .228/.253/.342, but fell off again in August, hitting a lowly .123/.195/.164.
Like all fans, I was wondering how he would react to the disappointment of 2014 this season. We had read the stories about how he’d worked hard with Pedroia to improve in the field and at the plate, but what about his head? In an earlier article, I looked at how he had changed his approach at the plate this season and how those changes were making him a much better hitter. But is he maintaining that success at the plate? In a word, yes. He’s also become a much better fielder.
To give you a little context, I wrote this in the previous article:
But one thing really struck me. Bogaerts has become a much more balanced hitter this year than he was at the same time last year. He is hitting to all fields at almost the same percentage (pull 32.9%, center 34.1%, and opposite field 32.9%). Last year it was pull 48.5%, center 33.3%, and opposite field 18.2%. This change could also be why his line drive percentage is currently at 16.1% and his hard hit ball percentage is at 28%. Last year at this time, the numbers were LD 21.8% and HHB 43%. Chili Davis might be stressing contact and that would result in the huge difference.
Bogaerts finished June hitting .312/.330/.440 with 11 doubles and one home run. He is pulling the ball a bit more than he was earlier in the month – 35.9% vs. 32.9%, while still hitting the ball to the opposite field at a good rate – 31.5% vs. 32.9%. He has also raised his LD% from 16.1% in the first week of June to 20.7% while maintaining his hard hit ball%. To give you a better idea about how he’s stacking up at the plate against 21 other qualified shortstops for the season, he is 4th in batting average (.289), 6th in OBP (.325), 5th in Slg% (.403) and 5th in wOBA (.318). Not bad for a 22-year old player in his second season in the majors.
His defense has improved significantly from earlier in the season, with better range and better footwork. He’s also taking charge of the left side more. He’s ranging farther out into left field on pop ups to help make up for some of Hanley Ramirez’ fielding deficiencies and has been telling Pablo Sandoval where he should be on plays when he’s out of position.
Because of his age and talent, Bogaerts should at least be able to maintain this level of performance for many years to come. However, I’m confident in saying that he’ll do more than that by continuing to develop at the plate, adding more power as he fills out, as well as continuing to improve in the field as he gains insight from coaches and his own experience.
*stats are courtesy of fangraphs.com