Red Sox Try To Pump Brakes On Bogaerts' Hype
FORT MYERS, FLA—Mike Lord, then a crosschecker in the Red Sox's international scouting department, was wrapping up a two-day trip to Aruba during the build-up to the international amateur signing period in 2009. He'd seen some players in whom he might have some interest, most notably a catcher with power potential named Jair Bogaerts.
But as he was wrapping up his visit, he asked one final question to those around the workout. Was there anyone else on the island, he wondered, who he should see before heading back to the States?
Yes. Yes there was.
Xander Bogaerts, the twin brother of Jair, was consigned to his bed while completing his recovery from chicken pox. But everyone Lord talked to at the workout said the same thing: This was the guy to see.
The scout met Bogaerts' uncle, Glenroy Brown, the man who had given the twins their grounding in baseball. A call was made, and after some initial reluctance, Bogaerts' mother, Sandra, relented. Bogaerts could go to the workout.
"Xander shows up, and he's broad-shouldered, nice, athletic-looking guy," recalled Lord, now the coach at Trevecca Nazarene (Tenn.) University. "He looked like he just woke up. It was like a rock star just showed up out of a limo. All the guys love him and he was so personable to everyone, had this great smile. They're asking how he's doing, hugging him. It was like, 'Wow, Xander's here.' "
Bogaerts, 16 at the time, stretched briefly then went out to shortstop to take some grounders. As Lord watched how his hands worked while reacting to the bad hops on the rocky infield surface, he had his first "holy cow" moment. Defensive tools? Check.
Bogaerts took only a handful or so of batting practice swings before he stepped into the box during a scrimmage. The quality of pitching wasn't great, but . . .
"There was a little 10-15 mph wind coming in from left field," Lord said. "He blasts one. He turns on a fastball and puts it into a house through the wind a long way in his first at-bat. Next time up, he went oppo to right-center, got one up in the air and took it out."
Lord had some video from the performance. He e-mailed Craig Shipley, then the vice president of international scouting for the Sox, with an uncharacteristically brief message: "Ship, watch this."
"In about two seconds, my phone starts ringing," Lord said. "He's like, 'Holy cow, where did you find this guy?'"
Lord and Shipley built a relationship with the family, and by the time other teams had discovered him, it was too late. Once he finished high school that summer, both Bogaerts brothers would sign with the Sox, with Xander receiving a $410,000 bonus and Jair getting $180,000.
It remains early in Xander Bogaerts' professional career, creating a need, in the words of international scouting director Eddie Romero to "pump the brakes a little bit" on the hype machine surrounding the phenom. That, however, is easier said than done after a remarkable 2011 season.
Straight To The Sally League
Bogaerts had a dominant performance in extended spring training last year, persuading the Sox to take the unusual step of promoting him directly to low Class A Greenville at age 18. There, though one of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League, Bogaerts hit .260/.324/.509 with 16 home runs in just 72 games, with the power total obliterating any expectations that either the Sox or Bogaerts himself had for the SAL.
Beyond the numbers, Bogaerts showed terrific aptitude at the plate, a great work ethic—"I like to train; I don't like to sit down and be lazy."—athleticism and a beyond-his-years willingness to drive the ball with power to all fields, all while maintaining a textbook fluid swing.
"My uncle always told us to go to the middle. Maybe that's what I kept in my mind," Bogaerts said. "I'm not a pull hitter trying for home runs. I like to go to right field, center field. It's just natural."
The Feats of Xander became a common topic among members of the Sox organization last year. See the ball he hit over the batter's eye? The 0-2 breaking ball he drove out to right-center?
Ask members of the Sox organization to whom Bogaerts' package of tools and performance compare to at such a young age, and the list of answers is short. Some profess to have never seen the combination of tools and playability at such a young age; some mention the breathtaking pro debut of Ryan Westmoreland in 2009; others suggest that Hanley Ramirez, the player whom Bogaerts cites as his favorite, was the last Sox prospect to be so good and so young.
"Hanley was probably a more electric all-around athlete, better runner, at that age, a better first step on defense, but less advanced as a hitter and less feel for his swing than Xander has now," said Sox GM Ben Cherington, who was farm director when Ramirez made his way through the system. "They're different players, but both with big upside at the same age."
Ups And Downs
The Sox are mindful that tools and potential—even for someone like Bogaerts, whose intelligence and drive are to date unquestioned—don't guarantee future success. Because he has already been put on a fast track (the 19-year-old will open 2012 either back in Greenville or perhaps in high Class A Salem), there will be struggles at some point against more advanced pitchers with sharp breaking stuff. He is still working on pitch recognition and the ability to implement the Sox' preferred approach of selective aggression at the plate.
"We know it's not going to be a straight line," Cherington said. "We'll assume there's going to be some ups and downs in performance."
There is also the question of future position. Though Bogaerts is a shortstop, at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, he is filling out in a fashion that ultimately may lead to a shift to either the outfield or third base. That said, for now, he will continue to develop as a shortstop.
"The body type will allow him to play shortstop right now," Sox farm director Ben Crockett said. "If things change in the future, as with any player, if the body type changes significantly and the guy can't stay in the same spot, then we'd look at that. But he came into camp pretty lean and athletic and looks really good at shortstop. That's certainly where we see him right now."
As for the future? Even if Bogaerts does end up moving off of shortstop, then the Sox occasionally daydream about a player with 30-plus home run potential and a chance to become a special talent.
Already, for a player who remains years from the majors, the drumbeat of anticipation is starting. Yet even as he begins to catch wind of the "Next Hanley" hype, Bogaerts insists he cares less about potential than process.
"I don't think, 'Wow, my name is becoming mentioned,' " said Bogaerts. "I've just got to keep working hard to get where (Ramirez) is. That's what I'm trying to do."