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November 9, 2012 at 8:00 AM

Top 40 Season in Review: Xander Bogaerts

#1 Xander Bogaerts, SS
2012 Teams: Salem Red Sox, Portland Sea Dogs
2012 Stats: .307/.373/.523, 37 2B, 20 HR, 81 RBI


Pre-2012: The Red Sox' courtship of Bogaerts started long ago when scout Ray Fagnant saw him play in Bangor, Maine in the World Junior Tournament when he was 16 years old. Conversations between the two laid the foundation for the Red Sox to sign him out of Aruba as an international free agent in 2009 for a signing bonus of just over $500,000. Bogaerts showed his potential almost immediately, posting an OPS of .819 in 2010 while playing in the Dominican Summer League. He led the Red Sox entry in batting average, slugging, hits, home runs, and RBIs, and was second in triples. His performance garnered him enough notice that he was named SoxProspects.com Rookie of the Year, and when scouts saw him domestically for the first time in the 2010 Fall Instructional League, he began shooting up prospect lists.

In 2011, the plan was for Bogaerts to continue on a standard development path, which would have put him in either Lowell or the Gulf Coast League, but Bogaerts hit so well over the first couple months of extended spring training that he earned an aggressive assignment to full season Greenville on June 9. Bogaerts was one of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League - something that has become a theme over his minor league career - but he rewarded the Red Sox's faith, hitting .260/.324/.509 over 72 games. His 16 home runs as an 18 year old in just 265 at-bats showed his great power potential, and he understandably entered the offseason as a consensus top three prospect in the system. 

When he signed, Bogaerts had yet to fill out his tall frame, and as the season progressed you could see him start to do so. He struggled a bit in the field, perhaps partly as he was adjusting to his bigger body, and scouts began to think his long term position may lie elsewhere such as third base or right field.

2012 Season in Review: Another year, another aggressive promotion for Bogaerts as he moved up to Salem. By this point, Bogaerts had become a well known name and highly regarded prospect, but it was only natural to assume he may struggle as the second-youngest player in the Carolina League on opening day. Instead, he hit .302/.378/.505 with 15 home runs in 104 games, earning a trip to the Futures Game and an All-Star selection along the way. His quick wrists, smooth swing, and elite bat speed made him capable of handling the more advanced pitching. The backspin he creates naturally with his swing plane also reinforced that the power he showed in 2011 was not a fluke. 

Finding it difficult to challenge Bogaerts offensively, the Red Sox unexpectedly promoted him again on August 9 to Portland, where he was the youngest position player in the league and would have been the youngest player in the league had Baltimore not promoted fellow über-prospect Dylan Bundy the night before. He continued excelling in the small 23-game sample, adding another five home runs to bring his total to 20 on the year while hitting .326/.351/.598, as he continued his trend of improving at each level in his progression. The only potentially concerning thing was that he stopped walking as much as he had in Salem, with just a single walk compared to 21 strikeouts over those 23 games.

His offensive output was enough to put a smile on any Red Sox executive's face, but the doubts about his defensive abilities dimmed a bit as well. In his native Aruba, the baseball talent level was below that of more baseball-loving countries such as the Dominican Republic. Possibly because of this, Bogaerts was very raw defensively upon turning pro. Over the last two seasons, his defensive fundamentals have continued to improve, which resulted in a much better fielding performance to go along with his above-average arm. After such a strong season at age-advanced levels, Bogaerts is expected to be a consensus top-25 prospect on industry lists this offseason.

2013 Outlook: Bogaerts will return to Portland to begin the 2013 season with to continue to work on his approach, plate discipline, and defense. Pitchers were unfamiliar with him during his short stint in 2012, and they likely will have developed a more refined game plan on how to attack him. It will be up to Bogaerts to prove he can adjust to these adjustments as the book on his strengths and weaknesses becomes more detailed. His walk rate at Salem was right around 10 percent, which is above average, and the Red Sox would probably like him to restore it to those levels. He has shown the ability to drive balls to all fields, and his opposite field power is quite impressive, but the club would like him to continue to get into hitters counts in order to get pitches he can drive.

His defense at Portland will be another area to watch. He has been a candidate for a position change, with some of that thought based on his physical size. It is uncommon to see 6-foot-3, 200 pound players at shortstop, but Bogaerts's athleticism may give him the opportunity to do that, at least in the short term. If he continues to display adequate range, the Red Sox could keep him there for the time being. Bogaerts seems to be more relaxed and fluid during drills and as he becomes more comfortable with his mechanics, hopefully that will carry over to the games. While some still think he would be a better fit elsewhere, perhaps at third base or an outfield corner, the scouting consensus has softened from its pre-2011 assessment that he has no future at the position.

Although the Red Sox have promoted Bogaerts aggressively through the system to this point,  the club will do its best not to rush him, as tough as that may be. This means he will not be with the major league club out of spring training, despite the occasional out-of-left-field suggestion this offseason that he do so. However, he could see a promotion to Pawtucket later in the year, and has a slight chance of a cup of coffee with the Red Sox in September, although 2014 is a much better prediction for his major league debut.

It is hard not to see the tremendous upside Bogaerts possesses. His numbers are unlike any we have seen from a prospect his age in a long time and the scouting reports match. He currently plays a premium defensive position, which only adds to his value, but if he does have to move to another position, his bat and his power should be able to make the move easily. It all these factors that make Bogaerts our #1 prospect at the end of the 2012 season; now all we can do is (impatiently) wait to see what he has in store for us next.

Top 40 Seaon in Review:
11/6: #4 Allen Webster
11/5: #5 Bryce Brentz
11/2: #6 Garin Cecchini
11/1: #7 Blake Swihart
10/31: #8 Henry Owens
10/30: #9 Jose Iglesias
10/29: #10 Drake Britton
10/26: #12 Deven Marrero, #11 Brandon Workman
10/25: #14 Alex Wilson, #13 Brian Johnson
10/24: #16 Keury De La Cruz, #15 Anthony Ranaudo
10/23: #18 Jose Vinicio, #17 Brandon Jacobs
10/22: #20 Pat Light, #19 Stolmy Pimentel
10/19: #22 Chris Carpenter, #21 Ty Buttrey
10/18: #24 Travis Shaw, #23 Mauro Gomez
10/17: #26 J.C. Linares, #25 Jeremy Hazelbaker
10/16: #28 Jamie Callahan, #27 Frank Montas
10/15: #30 Cody Kukuk, #29 Tzu-Wei Lin
10/12: #32 Chris Hernandez, #31 Christian Vazquez
10/11: #34 Ivan DeJesus, #33 Josh Fields
10/10: #36 Kolbrin Vitek, #35 Sean Coyle
10/09: #38 Mickey Pena, #37 Noe Ramirez
10/08: #40 Dan Butler, #39 Che-Hsuan Lin

Will Woodward is a Staff Writer for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @SPWill.

(Photo Credit: Xander Bogaerts by Kelly O'Connor)