Answer: It’s major league baseball.
Question: Why are the Red Sox’ rookie hitters struggling so much?
You can tear it up at Double A and Triple A, receive all the accolades of being a top prospect, but once you hit the big time, the big time can be a scary place.
Yet there’s no way the Red Sox anticipated this level of struggle from Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. And in his first 10 at-bats, Mookie Betts had one hit (although he went 2 for 5 with his first home run in the Sox’ 16-9 loss to the Cubs Wednesday night).
Brock Holt is 26, considered a rookie, and is excelling after he was developed in the Pirates’ system. As surprised as you might be with the struggles of Bogaerts, Bradley, and Betts, you’d also be surprised by the quality of Holt’s offense.
The Red Sox promoted another highly touted prospect, shortstop Deven Marrero, to Triple A Pawtucket on Wednesday. There’s a fast track for their top prospects, but so far the fast track has also eaten them up.
As well as Bogaerts started, since June 1 he entered Wednesday night’s game against the Cubs hitting .130 with two doubles, three homers, and 29 strikeouts in 100 at-bats. He went 0 for 4 Wednesday. Overall, he’s made the final out of an inning 77 times, and he’s hit .000 in 28 plate appearances with runners in scoring position since June 1. Bradley, out of the starting lineup Wednesday night, has been hitting below .210 most of the season, and just .100 against curveballs since June 1.
There’s a theory that the reason Bogaerts is slumping is because he was moved from shortstop to third base to accommodate Stephen Drew, who also is hitting poorly. There’s also the possibility that Bradley feels the pressure of replacing Jacoby Ellsbury in center. Do you really believe either?
Betts has said he sees no difference between the minors and the majors, except for that fact he isn’t hitting.
In a perfect world, Bogaerts, Bradley, and Betts would be sent back to the minors. Their struggles aren’t helping a punchless lineup.
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer recalled how hard it was to break in both Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz with the Red Sox lineup in 2007. And that went a lot smoother.
“It’s hard with just one rookie,” Hoyer said. “Imagine three?”
It’s hard because of the ups and downs a rookie has to endure.
“I think what they’re realizing — and I probably wouldn’t even put Mookie in this topic, just because it’s been what, 12, 14 at-bats to date — the one thing that you see with other guys that have been here from pretty much Opening Day is that sometimes the downturns are a little bit longer than you might otherwise expect,” said Red Sox manager John Farrell. “But I think that’s realizing that advance scouting and pitchers being able to pitch to scouting reports are accurate. And the consistency of the pitching they’re facing is very good every night.”
It doesn’t mean Bogaerts, Bradley, and Betts will be busts, but right now the Sox’ pitching is so good, there’s hope that with good hitting the team could have a good second half.
As one National League scout said, “When your 3 and 4 hitters aren’t hitting, and then the bottom of the order isn’t hitting, you have no chance.
The Red Sox have no chance unless [David Ortiz] is hitting home runs. The bottom of the order can’t be the savior in that case.”
And so, it’s a vicious cycle.
Meanwhile, general manager Ben Cherington is still waiting for a trade partner. But given the woeful offense, maybe you just keep playing the young players and write off the season.
If Cherington does make a deal for an outfielder, that could knock Bradley back to the minors. Cherington really has no answer at third base, unless he shifts Holt there permanently or brings up another struggling player in Will Middlebrooks.
“I don’t know that we’re going to make wholesale changes with personnel,” Farrell said after he emerged from a meeting with Cherington. “That’s not in the cards. My answer remains fairly consistent, and that is, we continue to create opportunities for ourselves. The elusive base hit is the difference. We’re not going to look to become a speed-oriented team overnight. That’s not available to us. We have to stay with a consistent, relentless approach that these guys have done and have a long track record at.”
Farrell said coaches are working hard with Bogaerts to find a solution to his struggles.
“The one thing that Xander is, obviously, he cares,” said Farrell. “He’s accountable for his actions both in preparation and the ultimate results. What we monitor is if, does that become a distraction between the lines. And right now, it’s not. He is working on some things, particularly with his balance and trying to keep his legs underneath him rather than lunging to the front side. Those are things that we’re hopeful will start to show up in games. And I thought the line drive to center field [Tuesday night] was a prime example of that being the case.”
Farrell said sending Bogaerts back to Pawtucket isn’t being considered. And there’s no sense of Bogaerts’s confidence being shattered.
“It might be a little bit more prevalent for a guy that’s still creating a foundation here at the big league level, where those swings of confidence might be a little bit wider,” Farrell said. “But there’s also somebody that we believe in and we’re going to continue to have him in the lineup and provide opportunities.”
In Farrell’s opinion, better times are ahead. The question is, will the better times be too late for the Red Sox to score enough runs to support their very good pitching?
“I look at it, how is the young player’s mental strength going to allow them to endure the challenges that they’ll face?” said Farrell said. “That’s what will continue to give you confidence to give them opportunities. And you feel like they’re going to handle some of the downturn and maybe some of the focus and the attention that maybe some struggles will generate. But on the flip side, you don’t say that by X number of games he’s going to be an established big leaguer. That’s difficult to project.
“You look at guys internally through the month of June and certainly in the first part of July, and then there’s other options that become available that might be external. That’s the common thread. How are we looking to improve the team? The internal options are going to be looked at first, and then what other players might become available are secondary. So we’re approaching the second part of that.”
There is that point, however, at which it’s just not worth it.
“When you get to the point where you’re not getting five days a week on the field, then those number of at-bats that are being missed, then you start to consider the alternative,” said Farrell. “And like I said, we’re not at the point yet.”
But it is to the point where you could easily say, maybe the season is over and it’s time to sink or swim with the rookies.
Right now, they’re sinking fast.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.