This year, the Red Sox are counting on several core superstars to rebound and carry the team towards contention. In particular, Boston needs greater production from Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli, Allen Craig and Shane Victorino if hopes of October baseball are to be realized. Yet, in the case of a few younger players, especially Xander Bogaerts, the Sox aren’t so much hoping for a rebound, but rather a full season that truly reflects who they are and what they can do. Quite frankly, it’s time for the kids to answer some questions and prove their worth.
As he progressed through the system, Bogaerts was hailed as the next great franchise cornerstone; a young, agile, cost-controlled solution to Boston’s chronic shortstop conundrum. In Derek Jeter’s nineteen-year span with the Yankees, the Red Sox used ten different shortstop, from John Valentin and Nomar Garciaparra to Julio Lugo and Stephen Drew. Xander Bogaerts, the Aruban kid who wears number 2 in homage to Jeter, was meant to be the long-term antidote to that problem.
Accordingly, in August 2013, aged 20 and with just 139 games of experience above Advanced-A ball, Bogaerts was promoted to the big leagues. He subsequently came up trumps in the playoffs, hitting .296 and getting on base at a .412 clip as the Sox battled past Tampa Bay, Detroit and St Louis en route to a World Series championship. The baseball world was duly stunned, fast-tracking this poised and powerful youngster into the elite realm inhabited by Giancarlo Stanton and Bryce Harper.
However, in 2014, Bogaerts epitomized the Red Sox’s struggles and failures; the heralded wunderkind, so full of potential and promise, ultimately struggling to perform and, at times, becoming truly painful to watch.
In his first full season of big league ball, Xander hit .240 with 12 home runs and 46 RBI; got on base at a disappointing .297 clip; and struck out 23.2 percent of the time. Occasionally, he showed glimpses of competent Major League ability, but those periods where usually offset by prolonged slumps. For instance, Bogaerts hit just .135 in June, .228 in July, and .159 in August, while showing fairly limited defensive skills in the field.
Playing on such a lackluster team didn’t help, and the changes back and forth between shortstop and third base, coupled with the lack of a regular slot in the batting order, surely caused disruption, but Sox fans couldn’t hide their disappointment with Bogaerts’ output.
Perhaps we all just expected far too much far too soon. After all, Xander doesn’t even turn 23 until October. The guy still has an abundance of talent and a bright future ahead. This spring, for instance, he has gotten off to a hot start, hitting two round-trippers and driving in six runs in his first thirteen plate appearances. However, in order to become truly valuable to the Red Sox, beyond the financial flexibility and long-term optimism his precocious, homegrown talent allows, Bogaerts must master at least one facet of the game.
Over the next year or two, he must become a distinguished hitter, fielder or baserunner, or risk becoming expendable in Beantown, especially with Hanley Ramirez, a three-time All-Star shortstop, on the roster, and Ben Cherington, an ambitious General Manager, counting his trade chips in pursuit of an ace.