PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- Red Sox top prospect Xander Bogaerts put up sparkling numbers in 56 games with Portland to start the season before receiving a promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket. In 28 games since that promotion, he has somehow continued to impress and surprise, as the 20-year old shortstop has already hit more home runs than he did in more than twice as many plate appearances in Double-A.
How exactly does Bogaerts explain this power surge? "I don't know, man," he said chuckling. "In Portland, I hit a lot of doubles that would have been home runs I would say. I guess maybe it's that."
This isn't the first time Bogaerts has gotten off to a slow start in the power department, only to erupt as the weather got warmer. Last season, he had just four home runs over the first two months of the season in Salem, and then proceeded to hit 11 more in June and July before receiving a promotion to Portland.
"[I've started slow] every year, I guess I'm a slow starter," he explained. "I guess I heat up when the weather heats up."
He admitted that the weather was a major factor for him in Portland to start the season. Growing up in Aruba, then coming up through the system with the southern affiliates in Greenville and Salem -- he skipped over short-season Lowell -- he had never experienced anything like trying to play baseball in the cold of April in Maine.
"Oh man, Portland was bad," he said smiling. "It was a great learning experience, so next year hopefully I'll have an idea how cold it will be, but it was way different than Salem."
As the youngest player in all of Triple-A, Bogaerts is more than holding his own as he transitions to the new level. Hitting for average has been a challenge for him so far, but he might be getting the hang of it, a six-game hitting streak raising his average from .234 to its current .267 after he hit .315 over two half-seasons in Portland. While most teams would certainly take the .832 OPS Bogaerts currently sports from their shortstop, he is capable of hitting more consistently.
"The power's been as advertised," said PawSox manager Gary DiSarcina. "I don't think the average is where it should be or where he expected it to be, as far as coming from Portland hitting .300. He's making the adjustment to older pitchers pitching him backwards when he gets in good counts. He's put some balls in play weakly with two strikes, but he's been doing a good job battling to get through that.
"Really the home runs have been on mistake pitches -- tonight was a changeup middle-away, centercut. So the power's been there, he's just been battling with getting the average up there due to experience and older pitchers pitching backwards to him."
Bogaerts expressed similar sentiments on the differences at Triple-A, saying, "[The pitching is better and] more consistent. A lot of these guys have played in the big leagues, so it's a challenge."
Defensively, there was much debate as he has come up through the system about whether or not Bogaerts would ultimately stick at shortstop. He has managed to show he can handle the position so far, and the organization has no plans to move him in the immediate future.
"He's 20 years old and he's playing a leadership position out there, and it's a tough position," said DiSarcina, former major league shortstop himself. "Most younger players are inconsistent for stretches. You know, they'll make a great play one time, then the next routine grounder hit to them they'll boot, or they'll throw away a ball or try to make something out of nothing. They just don't have the experience yet. That's the one area we have to be patient with him, we're trying to develop a 20-year-old shortstop at the Triple-A level and get him to the big leagues."
Bogaerts showed exactly the inconsistency DiSarcina was referring to in Pawtucket's game on Thursday. Early in the game, on a play when he had to range up the middle, then spin and throw on the run, Bogaerts rushed and let the throw fly well over the head of the first baseman for an error despite having time to get himself under control. But later in the game, he made a great leaping catch on a line drive, fully extending to catch the ball at the top of his jump.
Another new adjustment for Bogaerts has involved increasing his versatility by getting some experience at third base. Bogaerts played some third base for the Netherlands during the World Baseball Classic, and has been taking ground balls there with Will Middlebrooks before games. He has started two games at the hot corner for the PawSox, and DiSarcina said the plan is for him to play there once a week to give Middlebrooks a break, among other reasons.
"He's actually maybe had one or two groundballs hit to him over there in two days, so he hasn't got a lot of action, but he will," said DiSarcina. "We'll get him over there some more.
"He's a true shortstop, and we want him to play shortstop, but it's important for him to have some experience over there so that if he does get called up and [Red Sox manager] John [Farrell] needs to put him at third, he's not going to be uncomfortable over there."
Bogaerts has no complaints, jokingly saying that third base is "very easy. I haven't had a ground ball in two games, so it's very easy. I don't know why, maybe the balls don't want to come to me or something."
Though it has not been perfect, the transition to Triple-A has been a resounding success overall for the young shortstop so far. With continued adjustments, Bogaerts could find himself in the majors before he can legally drink, if need arises.