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November 8, 2013 at 8:00 AM

Top 40 Season in Review: Xander Bogaerts

Today, we wrap up our 2013 Top 40 Season in Review with who else but Boston's budding Aruban superstar. You can check out the other entries in this year’s series here.

2013 Teams: Portland Sea Dogs/Pawtucket Red Sox/Boston Red Sox
Final Stats: 515 PA, .297/.388/.477, 15 HR, 23 2B, 63 BB, 95 K (minors)
50 PA, .250/.320/.364, 1 HR, 2 2B, 5 BB, 13 K (majors)


Pre-2013: Entering this year, Bogaerts was already among the game’s brightest young prospects, considered unanimously to be one of the top 20 prospects in the game after three seasons as a pro. The Aruban shortstop signed with the Red Sox in August 2009 along with his twin brother, Jair, and received a $510,000 signing bonus. Debuting the following summer in the Dominican Summer League, he showed the talent that had first excited Red Sox scouts after seeing him on the backfields of Aruba, hitting .314/.396/.423 with three home runs and seven doubles over 239 at-bats. SoxProspects.com readers voted him the system’s Rookie of the Year, and the Red Sox tabbed him as Latin Program Player of the Year.

The big surprise came the following June, when Bogaerts made the rare jump directly to Greenville in his state-side debut. He failed to disappoint, showing great power for an 18-year-old in the South Atlantic League by clubbing 16 home runs and 14 doubles in 265 at-bats. After finishing with a .260/.324/.509 line, he was named the SoxProspects.com Breakout Player of the Year, and became arguably the most exciting prospect in the system.

Bogaerts entered the 2012 season as the second-youngest player in the Carolina League at 19 years old. He acquitted himself reasonably well to start the year, hitting .267/.332/.420 with four home runs in just under 200 plate appearances through May. But once the weather heated up, so did Bogaerts, as has been the trend in his short career. He hit eight home runs and five doubles in the month of June, and earned his first invite to the Futures Game, firmly putting himself on the national radar. From June 1 through his final game in High A on August 8, he hit .332/.415/.577 with 11 home runs and 16 doubles. On July 20, he ascended to the top of the SoxProspects.com rankings, the spot he should graduate from early next season.

Incredibly, he was even more impressive after his surprising promotion to Double-A, where he was the youngest hitter in the Eastern League. In just 97 plate appearances over 23 games, he hit five home runs and 10 doubles, putting up a stunning .326/.351/.598 line. He walked just once compared to 21 strikeouts, but this was regarded as a statistical anomaly of a player who was driving pitches regularly rather than a symptom of a plate-discipline issue. At season’s end, both the Red Sox and SoxProspects.com named him the system’s Offensive Player of the Year.

Questions remained about whether Bogaerts could stick at shortstop, but he had begun to answer them. After the 2011 season, the scouting consensus was that Bogaerts would need to move off short as he got bigger and filled out his 6-foot-3 frame. As 2012 wore on, while it was not a sure thing that he could stick up the middle, he showed signs that he might be able to stay at short to start his career, which combined with the prodigious power he displayed, made him one of the top prospects in the game.

2013 Season in Review: Somehow, Bogaerts was able to elevate his prospect stock even more in 2013, a year that ended with him winning USA Today Minor League Player of the Year award and riding on a duck boat to celebrate the Red Sox’s World Series win at age 21. His season got off to a unique start, as he represented The Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic. Perhaps most noteworthy was that he played third base for the Dutch—in deference to defensive wizard Andrelton Simmons—giving him his first exposure to the position. Bogaerts went 5 for 19 in the tournament with a pair of doubles, but saw himself pushed out of the lineup when Jurickson Profar joined the squad after the Netherlands surprisingly advanced to the final round over Cuba.

Due in parts to the Dutch team’s brutal travel schedule (they traveled more than any other team in the tournament thanks to first- and second-round pods in Taiwan and Japan), not having a true spring training, and to spending his first spring in the cold northeast, Bogaerts did not hit for much power to start the year. After going 7 for 41 with three walks and 14 strikeouts to begin the year for Portland, he got going enough by the end of the month to push his average past .300, driving three doubles and three triples in the second half of April. In May, Bogaerts’ power returned, and he spent the next month and a half terrorizing the Eastern League to the tune of a .313/.423/.560 line with six home runs, nine doubles, and another three triples in 163 plate appearances. Needless to say, it surprised no one when he earned a promotion to Pawtucket on June 13, becoming the youngest player in all of Triple-A.

In Pawtucket, Bogaerts needed just over a week to adjust, but still went on to hit .287/.369/.457 at the level. He was arguably the star of the Futures Game in his second visit to the showcase, singling twice and showing uncanny baseball instincts with a heads-up slide to avoid a tag at home to score a run. And after taking ground balls at the position behind the scenes in Portland, Bogaerts began seeing time at third base in games starting in July.

By early August, with Brock Holt and Brandon Snyder sharing duties at third following the trade of Jose Iglesias, the buzz calling for Bogaerts to be summoned to the majors grew louder each day. Although Will Middlebrooks was the one picked to take over at the hot corner, the Red Sox summoned Bogaerts on August 19. He played only sporadically over the next month-plus—much to the chagrin of fans on Twitter and message boards across the Web—but few will remember the regular season. It was in the playoffs where Bogaerts announced his arrival with authority. After scoring four runs in four plate appearances off the bench during the ALDS and early part of the ALCS, including two huge walks in Game 4 against Tampa Bay and a double in Game 4 against Detroit, Bogaerts started at third base in the final two games against the Tigers and all six contests of the World Series. With the entire Red Sox lineup dealing with slumps of various degree (it’s easy to forget that even David Ortiz went 2 for 22 in the ALCS, particularly because one of those hits was the grand slam that birthed the phrase “bullpen cop”), Bogaerts was astonishingly consistent, finishing the playoffs with eight hits in 27 at-bats, including three doubles and a triple, along with six walks to nine strikeouts, scoring nine times in 34 plate appearances. All this despite not being able to celebrate clinching a first-place finish in the American League with his teammates because he did not turn 21 until just after the regular season ended.

First-Hand Report and 2014 Outlook: Prospects like Xander Bogaerts don’t come around very often. The Red Sox haven’t had a prospect of this caliber in some time, one who has the potential to be one of the best players in all of baseball. At the plate is where Bogaerts excels, as he is one of a handful of prospects in the minors with a plus-to-better potential hit tool and plus-to-better power potential. Bogaerts has elite batspeed and a loose, effortless swing. The ball explodes off his bat, and his strong, quick wrists and the leverage he creates help generate lift and allow him to drive the ball to all fields with backspin. Each year in the organization, his approach has steadily improved, and he now has solid pitch recognition skills to go along with an improving knowledge of the strike zone. He has had his struggles with plus secondary offerings, but has made noticeable in-game adjustments to these type of pitches, so that if he is fooled during one at bat, he will not be his second time up. The gap between his present hit and power tools and his future is not very large, and as was evident during the World Series, Bogaerts is ready to hit at the major league level.

Bogaerts's calling card will always be his hitting ability, but he has also steadily improved defensively and will be able to stick at shortstop for the foreseeable future. At 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, Bogaerts has filled out since he entered the system, but he has not lost any athleticism. He has plenty of arm for the position, showing plus in game action. He has soft hands and solid range to either side. The area where he could still use improvement comes with his footwork, which can get sloppy at times. He still does not gain ground all that well on the ball, preferring to stay back and wait for a perfect hop, and he has some trouble throwing on the run. His reads at the position are improving, but his first step is still a little slow and with only average foot speed, he does not have the ability to recover. These are small issues, but in combination they hold him back from projecting as a plus-to-better shortstop. Even with that in mind, with his bat and the ability to play average to solid-average defense at a premium defensive position, you have the makings of a potential superstar. – Ian Cundall

Bogaerts’s talent has been evident since he came stateside, but plenty of talented players have failed to ascend as high and as quickly as the 21-year-old Aruban has thus far. Much of that comes down to his makeup. Over three years of coverage, Bogaerts showed top-shelf makeup both on and off the field. On my first look in 2011, in triple-digit July heat in Hagerstown, Md., Bogaerts was dragging teammates to the outfield for extra wind sprints after batting practice. After bad games at the plate in 2012 with Salem, Bogaerts would joke that the hits would come in the following game. Ian mentioned his ability to make adjustments above. He is confident—but not cocky—in his ability to do this: see, for example, his statement that he would "probably do damage" to Joaquin Benoit if he faced him again after the Detroit closer struck him out in Game 1 in the ALCS, followed by his ground-rule double against Benoit in Game 4.  In a game that is just as much about dealing with failure as it is succeeding, Bogaerts lets the former roll off his shoulder while setting himself up to do the latter.

His mannerisms and dealings with people give an impression of a young man who is supremely confident in his abilities, but not flashy or arrogant. His ability to succeed in whatever role given to him in the playoffs this year was the latest and perhaps greatest example of his drive, mental toughness, and talent. Bogaerts should be written in pen in the 2014 big-league lineup, though which position on the left side of the infield he plays will be largely determined by roster composition. – Jon Meoli

Photo credit: Xander Bogaerts by Kelly O'Connor