FORT MYERS, Fla. — He’s already won a World Series, now he gets to be Rookie of the Year. There is no slowing down for Xander Bogaerts, no warning track. Only the fast track.
It’s hard to know where to start. The Red Sox have brought a lot of great players to the big leagues through the years. Few players had better career starts than Fred Lynn or Nomar Garciaparra, and we won’t insult anyone by bringing Ted Williams into this conversation. Ted forever will be the all-time greatest Red Sox and there was no shortage of hype when he burst into the big leagues in the spring of 1939.
It’s always a mistake to expect too much. Bogaerts is only 21 years old and is bound to have slumps and struggles as he makes his way in his first full big league season. He is not a potential triple crown winner (Hanley Ramirez was) and we don’t know how he’ll fare as an everyday big league shortstop.
But Bogaerts is as close to a sure thing as you are going to get in big league baseball. If he doesn’t blossom into an All-Star, it means that all scouting, all analysis, and Bill James-ian projection mean nothing. ESPN has declared Bogaerts the second-best prospect in all of baseball (Twins outfielder Byron Buxton got the top nod). The last Sox player who came to the big leagues with this much expectation was Roger Clemens, and Clemens wound up winning 192 games for Boston.
Oh, we should mention that Bogaerts is also polite and mature beyond his years. After an interview with Bogaerts Saturday morning, one of my press box brothers said, “Off the field and in the clubhouse, I think this kid is going to be the next Pedro Martinez.’’
Wow. Maybe somebody should name a field after Bogaerts.
Oops. They’ve already done that near his home in Aruba.
One of the elements that makes it easy to project stardom is the fact that we already have a real sample. Bogaerts came to the big leagues last August, the Sox’ first 20-year-old position player since Dwight Evans was rushed into the 1972 pennant race. Bogaerts hit .250 in 18 games. His only homer was one of the longest homers hit at Yankee Stadium in 2013.
It got even better in the postseason. Playing third and a little short, he scored nine runs in 12 postseason games, compiling a .412 on-base percentage. He didn’t blink against the aces of Detroit and St. Louis and he demonstrated uncommon plate discipline for a youngster with limited professional experience.
He hit a booming triple in St. Louis in Game 3, becoming the third-youngest player to hit a triple in a World Series game. The two who did it at a younger age were Ty Cobb and Mickey Mantle. Bogaerts’s seventh-inning single in Game 5 helped the Sox to a 3-1 victory. Bogaerts was creeping toward the middle of the batting order when the World Series ended.
All he’s got to do now is take over as the everyday shortstop of the defending world champs. In his official rookie year (Bogaerts retains his rookie status because of his limited big league play in 2013).
There’s been considerable noise about the Sox bringing back Stephen Drew and moving Bogaerts to third, but management backed away from Drew this past week and Bogaerts has been told to work at shortstop only.
“I’m definitely the shortstop right now,’’ he said. “I think Drew is still a free agent. I don’t know what’s going to happen with him or what’s going to happen with me, but for now I’m working out at shortstop only. It’s good. You can focus on one position. It’s not like in the World Series and playoffs where I had to focus on short and third.’’
Bogaerts has been spared the playful abuse of Dustin Pedroia. The second baseman was tough on Jose Iglesias but has taken the kinder/gentler approach with Bogaerts.
“Maybe Iglesias did stuff different ways,’’ Bogaerts said, smiling. “I’m really quiet, so I haven’t heard anything yet. He’s been helpful and I’m very thankful to have him on my team.’’
The degree of difficulty at shortstop is obvious, but Bogaerts has the additional “burden” of perhaps being “too big” for short. The Sox list him at 6 feet 3 inches and 185 pounds, but he says his height has been exaggerated.
“Why not, man, I love shortstop,’’ Bogaerts said. “Look at [Derek] Jeter. He’s really tall and he’s one of the best shortstops in the game. I wish I could stop growing. But I’m 6-1. I had the physical the other day and I was 6-1, 210. I have no idea where this 6-3 is coming from.’’
He sounds capable of dealing with ridiculous expectations.
“I’m just going to go out and play like I play and hopefully good things happen,” he said. “Hopefully, I’m here to stay and I’m here for a long time.’’