In a 2012 Red Sox campaign that can be described as anything but steady, a 19-year-old Aruban with quick hands and limitless potential has been logging his four at-bats each day and developing into one of the most exciting prospects in the Red Sox organization.
Xander Bogaerts, however, is only focused on one at-bat at a time. Recognition of his rank among prospects, he said, is not good for your head.
“I think he’s getting better,” Salem manager Billy McMillon said late last month. “I think he doesn’t have a lot of baseball experience, and the more games he plays, the more situations he’s in, the better he’ll be because he’s a bright kid. He usually does not repeat mistakes. He just needs to see more situations and when he sees those consistently, I think he’ll be prone to making better decisions.”
Bogaerts, the No. 1 ranked prospect on SoxProspects.com, was promoted to Double-A Portland on Thursday, an immense step in the star shortstop’s development during a season in which he admittedly has struggled for consistency. At 19 years of age, he’ll be the third-youngest player in all of Double-A, behind the recently-promoted Orioles right-hander Dylan Bundy and Rangers shortstop Jurickson Profar.
“I’ve had a lot of ups and downs,” Bogaerts said. “I haven’t been very consistent throughout the whole year. You try not to get too frustrated.”
Bogaerts leaves Salem with a .302/.378/.505 batting line, 15 home runs and 64 RBIs, but those hills and valleys presented themselves in his final month in the Carolina League. In his final 16 games with High A Salem, Bogaerts hit .412 with nine doubles, three home runs and 13 RBIs. But in the preceding dozen games, Bogaerts was hitless in seven contests while batting .227 with just two extra-base hits.
When things are going poorly, however, Bogaerts remains level, treating his struggles with levity that’s uncommon in a world where so much is perceived to be at stake. After a game in which he repeatedly popped out to the opposing infielders, he said that he didn’t want a hit, but a ground-out.
As was the case in 2011, when he was added to the Low A Greenville Drive roster in June and hit .260/.324/.509 with 16 home runs in 72 games, Bogaerts is still adjusting to the advanced pitching of affiliated ball. In the Dominican Republic, where he played in 2010, he simply didn’t see many breaking pitches.
“Here, they just pound them, and here, they control it for strikes, so that makes it even tougher,” Bogaerts said. “I just got to learn how to lay back on the ones in the dirt, swing at the good ones, or if I have one strike, just leave it because I have another strike more. With experience, I’ll get there.”
SoxProspects.com Director of Scouting Chris Mellen said that inexperience is to be expected, though he said Bogaerts has made improvements since the 2010 Fall Instructional League on staying back on the ball to see it deeper into the strike zone.
While sharp breaking balls still give Bogaerts trouble, Mellen said he’s improved in every scouting opportunity he’s had over the last two years.
Bogaerts also said he has worked to improve his defense at short, and though most well-known for his power potential, he said he likes to hit for average, a desire the .301 average he left in Salem surely satisfies.
But for all the talk about Bogaerts’ ranking on the national lists or the position he’ll be playing in 2015, the tall, lanky teenager is content to fit the world he knows into the one he’s growing into.
At the MLB Futures Game, where rising stars from every organization gather to give the world a brief look at the future of baseball, Bogaerts marveled at the capacity crowd and the skill of his teammates, but was most proud of the fact that his mother watching at home in Aruba saw him single off Seattle left-hander Danny Hultzen.
The Futures Game, he said, was his goal when he left Aruba for Fort Myers earlier this year. He hasn’t begun to think about it yet, but next year he could go from Aruba to representing the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic.
But until then, Bogaerts will continue to put in the work for which he has become known. Last summer, in the dogged, humid Mid-Atlantic heat, Bogaerts and a teammate ran extra sprints in the outfield before an afternoon game while their teammates were in the clubhouse. Between his efforts to improve in the field and at the plate, those pre-game sessions are important to Bogaerts’ development, Mellen said.
“He has the type of baseball makeup where he brings the adjustments made in his practice sessions to game action and also shows the ability to handle the ups and downs of the long baseball season,” Mellen said. “Bogaerts is always a high-energy player out on the field, who is constantly engaged in the game and most importantly learns from his mistakes while working to not repeat those mistakes.”
Jon Meoli is a Senior Columnist at SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonMeoli.