BOSTON -- A major league scout who was in Toronto last weekend listened as a visitor described the defensive issues besetting Red Sox rookie shortstop Xander Bogaerts, and shook his head.
“Their shortstop is off the charts,” he said. “He’s so special, it’s crazy.
“Let me tell you something: There’d be 29 clubs lining up for him if he was available. The scouts I’m close to, every single one of them who scouted Boston’s organization last year said Bogaerts was the best player they saw in the minor leagues last year. Period.”
One month into his rookie season, and Xander Bogaerts’ biggest problem may be one of perception: He’s not Jose Iglesias, the defensive wizard who opened the season at short for the Sox last year, and he’s not Stephen Drew, who elevated his game from uncanny reliability (eight errors) in the regular season to as good as it gets in October.
Bogaerts? He’s learning on the job, which means there have been errors, there have been plays that should have been made that weren’t, and throws that have left something to be desired. All have contributed to the Red Sox ranking last in the league in defensive efficiency this month, and with the team taking a losing record (12-14) into Tuesday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays, they have drawn more attention than they would have under more favorable circumstances. Until the Sox start winning, there will be an undercurrent of grumbling that they would have been better served re-signing Drew to play short.
Red Sox assistant GM Mike Hazen acknowledges that to date there have been “challenges.”
“It looks glaring in contrast to the way we played last year,” Hazen said. “Looking at it through that lens is tough, especially when you remember last October we were playing so well every single game defensively. We’re starting over again with young guys in the infield. When you’re learning at this level, you’re going to deal with some inconsistency.
“We knew that. The coaching staff knew that. You’ve got to grind through that a little bit. That’s repetition in some cases. That’s experience in some cases. That’s learning the league in some cases. That’s learning the field in some cases. But we feel like, in the end, the talent is good, the work ethic is good, the makeup is so good, he’s going to figure those things out too.”
Offensively, Bogaerts has yet to hit his stride, but is off to a strong start. His .287 average ranks second among all big-league rookies to Yangervis Solarte of the Yankees (.301), and his .392 on-base percentage ranks third to Josmil Pinto of the Twins and Solarte. Pinto and Solarte are 25, Bogaerts 21.
“Every player has their strengths, every player has things they need to work on a little more,” Hazen said. “There’s that sliding scale. Bogie has some things he has to work on, being in the league for the first time. We also think there are so many strengths he brings to the table, he’s going to bring those out too.
“I think he’s made a lot of progress in a lot of areas. The consistency on the routine play has been excellent, I think, overall. But we all knew there were going to be challenges, growing pains with some of these things.”
Hazen invoked the name of another rookie shortstop who didn’t turn 22 until the middle of his first full season in the majors.
“[Derek] Jeter made a lot of mistakes when he was a young shortstop on a championship team,” Hazen said. “There were probably some nights where it was a challenge for pitchers or some others to watch that and feel, ‘Hey, we’re eventually going to be watching a Hall of Famer and one of the best players ever to play the game, but today he’s not.’”
Hazen made it clear he is not saying Bogaerts is Jeter 2.0. “He’s his own guy,” Hazen said.
“But with the work, the preparation, the coaching staff working tirelessly with him, you have to think with his athleticism and intelligence, you have to trust it’s going to be better, and that’s what we need to rely on. That’s what happened with Jeter. He’s going through a lot of ‘firsts’ right now.”
Having Dustin Pedroia alongside as a mentor is “invaluable,” Hazen said.
“He’s still a very young kid, very inexperienced. His talent has taken him where he is. His makeup has taken him where he is. He deserves to be where he is, but that doesn’t mean the learning stops. A young player in the big leagues still has a lot of learning to do. I think he’s aware of that and open to that.
“He’s a great kid, he’s open, and he’s learning. Again, I think it’s a trust -- trusting that he’s going to gain all those things.”
Any harsh judgments made in April, in other words, might end up looking pretty silly come October.