KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The return of third baseman Will Middlebrooks to the Red Sox lineup does not mean the Sox have abandoned the idea of promoting top prospect Xander Bogaerts before rosters expand Sept. 1. Quite the contrary. Manager John Farrell said Bogaerts will divide his time in Pawtucket between playing third and short, and that he is next in line for a call-up when a need for another infielder should arise.
"We still see him as a shortstop," Farrell said of Bogaerts, who played shortstop for Pawtucket on Saturday night. "If something were to happen unforeseen, where we've got to call him up at third, he's the next bat. He's the next infield bat to come to us. We've got to be sure he's had repetitions at both positions."
Farrell did not rule out the possibility that the 20-year-old Bogaerts could be added to the club and deployed in a fashion similar to how Jose Iglesias was used earlier in the season, when Iglesias rotated with Middlebrooks and shortstop Stephen Drew before displacing Middlebrooks as the full-time third baseman.
"We haven't contemplated that like there's a point in time in the near future," Farrell said. "He can still use the reps, as we've talked about. If we find, in a period of time, that that's the best combination that gives us the most, the best team -- again going back to age, that's irrelevant. It's a matter of what the best 25-man team we field."
Like Iglesias, Bogaerts had played exclusively at short as he came up through the Sox system. Iglesias, a gifted defensive player, made a seamless transition to third and was promoted to the big leagues after just one game at the position in Pawtucket. Bogaerts, who is regarded as the team's best offensive prospect in years, has played seven games at third for the PawSox so far, handling 14 chances. The Sox would like him to get more work there before he's called up. Pawsox manager Gary DiSarcina has said Bogaerts needs to "marinate” more before he goes to the big leagues. That, as much as Middlebrooks's improvement -- an eight-game hitting streak (11-for-33, .333) at the time of his recall -- is the reason the Sox elected to promote Middlebrooks at this time, Farrell said.
"Based on the recommendations of those who have gone through [Pawtucket] lately, as well as DiSar, it was very clear in [DiSarcina's] mind that Will was the choice," Farrell said. "And that's not to take anything away from Xander's abilities. He's swinging the bat well. It's more on the defensive side, and the finer points of game. Right now he needs to continue the reps.
"I don't know that it's age-related. It's a matter of who's the best fit right now for the needs we have to be an everyday third baseman. That was a clear choice. Not only because Middlebrooks [has] been a third baseman his entire pro career, but what he's been doing lately."
It was almost a year ago Saturday -- last Aug. 9 -- that the Baltimore Orioles promoted their 20-year-old phenom, Manny Machado, and switched him from short to third. Machado struggled at times, posting a slash line of .262/.294/.445 with 7 home runs and 26 RBIs in 51 games, but played extraordinary defense and played a vital role in the Orioles' clinching a playoff spot. Machado has blossomed into an All-Star in his first full season, leading the majors with 42 doubles.
Farrell referenced Machado Saturday while discussing Bogaerts. "[The reason] he's not here is [not] because he's 20 years old," Farrell said. "He's not here because some development still needs to be done. The natural comparison is Machado, but they're two different people. Some might be advanced in some ways than others, if you compare both head-up. We feel there's still work to be done."
What could also factor into a promotion for Bogaerts is Drew's struggles against left-handed pitchers. He came into Saturday's game batting .200 (20-for-100) against lefties, though during his current 11-game hitting streak, he has 6 hits in 15 at-bats against lefties, a .400 clip.
"I can't say it doesn't [factor]," Farrell said. "Once [Drew] got back from the All-Star break and into the flow of things, he's hit some lefties. I don't want to say it's the same production [as against right-handers] but he's taken some very good swings against left-handers. Maybe that wasn't the case in the first half of the season."