August 8, 2013 at 10:00 AM
- Following his promotion from Double-A Portland, shortstop Xander Bogaerts (pictured, left) took a few games to get acclimated to Triple-A. However, since then he has continued to hit and show why he is arguably the top hitting prospect in the minor leagues. While the long-term projection of Bogaerts hasn’t changed, his prospects of getting to the big leagues this season increased greatly after the trade of Jose Iglesias, and given how he well he has been playing, he has put himself in the conversation to be called up sooner rather than later.
Compared to past looks, the biggest thing that has stood out with Bogaerts at Triple-A is the success he's having at making adjustments that were previously unnecessary during at-bats. Unlike the pitchers he was facing in Double-A, many of the pitchers in Pawtucket have major-league experience and tend to have multiple solid secondary offerings to complement their fastballs.
In the games I’ve seen, Bogaerts has been getting a steady diet of secondary offerings and it hasn’t fazed him one bit. He has been seeing the ball really well, spitting on tough secondary offerings and attacking fastballs with a smooth, controlled swing. He is also doing a great job controlling his at-bats and rarely gets cheated at the plate. The biggest change since his promotion, however, is that he is starting to make in-game adjustments based on how the pitchers are dealing to him. One outstanding instance was from a recent game against Lehigh Valley with a crafty left-hander on the mound. In his first at-bat of the game, Bogaerts got four straight off-speed pitches, weakly flying out to center field on the last one. He was ahead in the count 2-1 but got overly aggressive and caught out in front of the changeup. Next time up, Bogaerts again was ahead in the count 2-1. He got the same pitch as the previous at-bat, but this time he recognized the changeup early, keeping his weight back, and lined the pitch right back up the middle for a single. In the past, Bogaerts didn’t really have to make in-game adjustments like this, but it is a good sign that he is making these adjustments even though he has less than 200 at-bats at the level. He is very close to being big-league ready, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him called up any day now, at which point the plan would be for him to be up permanently.
- Alex Hassan (pictured, right) got a late start to the 2013 season, but since he got to Pawtucket all he has done is hit. Hassan has always had good pitch recognition skills and put together quality at-bats, but in the past his swing has been long and his fringy bat speed was exposed by quality pitching, especially high-velocity offerings. This season, however, Hassan has made an adjustment at the plate, going from using a toe tap during his stride to a slight leg lift. This small change has had a two-fold impact, as it has improved his timing at the plate and allowed him to get more leverage, and thus hit for more power. Hassan is much quicker to the ball and has shown the ability to drive the ball with backspin to all fields. To illustrate the second part of that point, Hassan has 20 extra-base hits on the season in 183 at-bats over two levels. Last season in 312 at -bats, he also had 20 extra-base hits.
With the improvements he has made at the plate and the defensive flexibility he brings now that he has started to play first base in addition to corner outfield, Hassan has grabbed a firm hold of his spot on the 40-man roster. Also, if he continues to play like he has been, I’d expect him to be one of the first players called up once rosters expand and the Pawtucket season finishes.
Dan Butler (pictured, left) has made slow but steady progress through the system.With the improvements he has made at the plate this season, he has put himself in line for his first big league call-up. Butler is short and stocky, and built like a typical catcher. He has a strong defensive skills set, something that has improved greatly since he entered the system, especially how he handles pitchers and blocking pitches in the dirt. He has good arm strength, and his pop times are consistently around average to slightly below.
Where he really has improved this season is at the plate. Butler has good bat-to-ball skills and a strong knowledge of the strike zone. His swing can get a little long at times, but this season he has been more direct to the ball and done a better job against inside fastballs, a pitch he really struggled with in the past. While Butler doesn’t have a lot of upside, the skill set is there for him to carve out a major league career, and if he continues to hit like he has been and Ryan Lavarnway continues to struggle at the big league level, he could potentially be in line for a September call-up as the third catcher.
Photo Credits: Xander Bogaerts, Alex Hassan, and Dan Butler by Kelly O'Connor
Ian Cundall is a Northeast Scout for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @IanCundall.