August 23, 2012 at 6:00 AM
As the minor league campaign winds down and focus and performance can begin to wane, Double-A Portland has received a shot of life in the second half with a slew of top prospects joining the club for the stretch run.
“They’ve mixed in nicely,” said Portland manager Kevin Boles, whose team is 26-12 since the All-Star Break and 14-4 in August. “These are guys that play the game the right way, they’re hard workers, and they fit right into the clubhouse. They know that they’ve very talented, it’s a very productive group from what we’ve seen, and again, these guys have got the right character and makeup. We’re really happy that they’re here.”
The day after the July 31 trade deadline, first baseman Travis Shaw, who hit .305/.411/.545 in the Carolina League, was promoted to Portland, kicking off a week that completely changed the face of both the Salem and Portland rosters. Two days later, catcher Christian Vazquez was called up to Double-A as part of a chain promotion that saw Dan Butler move up to Pawtucket. Right-hander Brandon Workman followed on August 8, and a day later, the farm system’s crown jewel, shortstop Xander Bogaerts, got the most surprising call-up. In July, Portland gained relievers Michael Olmstead and Ryan Pressly from Salem as well, and center fielder Jackie Bradley, Jr. was promoted to Portland back on June 20.
Bogaerts, who at 19 is the second-youngest player in the Eastern League and one of the youngest players in all of Double-A, said he began to get “a little hot” as the calendar turned to August, and once he got his average up around .300, thought a promotion could be in the cards.
“I knew there was a chance, but I also knew I was pretty young,” Bogaerts said. “I just played my game and tried to get my hits.” Bogaerts hit .412 in his final 16 games for Salem and is off to a torrid start for Portland. He has collected hits in 10 of 12 Eastern League games, with nine of his 17 hits going for extra bases. He has yet to take a walk (he has been hit by a pitch), but one can hardly blame him for swinging the bat the way he has been hitting.
“I’m seeing the ball really good,” Bogaerts said. “I’m adjusting to pitchers also. They’re in the zone, but they’re always painting the corners. They don’t leave anything in the middle, that’s what I’m noticing. They’re just inside, outside, inside, outside, high fastball. You have to make adjustments or they’re going to get you out.”
Boles said he has been struck by Bogaerts’ maturity so far.
“He’s just an impressive all-around player,” he said. “The offensive potential is there, and age is definitely on his side. The shortstop play has been above-average, he’s a guy that profiles at the shortstop position. Again, we’re really excited to have him.”
Shaw, whose advanced approach and college experience brought him success in High-A, has scuffled a bit. He is hitting .191 in 68 at bats, and said he’s still adjusting to the advanced pitching in the Eastern League. Shortly after his promotion, Portland visited Akron, allowing Shaw to go home for a few days.
Additionally, he said the promotion was a spark as the calendar turned to August and the season began to grind on him.
Likewise, Workman, who had a 3.40 ERA in 20 starts for Salem and has allowed two earned runs in 11 innings for Portland, was satisfied with the promotion, especially after spending all of last season in Low-A Greenville.
“It’s definitely something I’ve worked towards,” he said. “I think anybody, no matter what level, wants to improve and have the opportunity to face new challenges throughout the season.”
Photo by Kelly O'Connor
Jon Meoli is a Senior Columnist for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonMeoli.