Brandon Jacobs and Xander Bogaerts

The release of Baseball America’s South Atlantic League top-20 list is essentially Christmas for me, as much of my time is spent scouting the league. This season, I had the opportunity to see 11 of the top-20 prospects featured in person, which is actually a down year for me. Fortunately, the Greenville Drive, the Boston Red Sox “Sally” affiliate was well represented, with four players in the top-20, including two of the highest ceiling prospects in the system in outfielder Brandon Jacobs and shortstop Xander Bogaerts.

As two of the best hitting prospects in the league this past season, both Jacobs and Bogaerts deserve to be ranked highly on the list, and they check in 8th and 10th respectively. However, I was pretty surprised to see Jacobs edge out his teammate for a higher position on the list.

After a slow start to his professional career, Jacobs began making great strides offensively in instructs prior to the 2011 season. Chris Mellen of soxprospects.com noted,

A high-ceiling player and very raw when entering the system, Jacobs has begun to look more and more like a baseball player making strides honing his tools into the beginnings of a more polished package.

In seeing Jacobs both early, as well as later on in the season, his growth as a hitter was easily apparent. More comfortable hitting to the opposite field, Jacobs worked deep counts and chipped in a couple of two strike hits on pitcher’s counts leaving me impressed with his more professional approach. At 20, Jacobs is just beginning his development as a baseball player and has significant room for offensive growth.

Beyond what Jacobs does with the bat in his hand, he is the appropriate age for a prospect for the level playing the season as a 20-year old. In projecting Jacobs to advance one level per season, one can expect his ETA sometime in 2014-2015 as a 23-24 year old prospect. This allows me to envision Jacobs with 2-3 years of big league development before he enters his prime and comfortably project him as a “big league regular”.

Lessening his prospect value some is the fact he projects as a true left-fielder at this time. Yes, he’s an excellent athlete, but Jacobs reads the ball off the bat poorly and his arm strength would not play particularly well in center or right. This leaves Jacobs as a prospect who will have to slug his way into a big league lineup as a player with limited defensive value.

As for Xander Bogaerts, the young shortstop has shown significantly more power early in his career than the aforementioned Jacobs. And while Jacobs did outpace Bogaerts by a single home run this season (17 to 16), the outfielder also held 206 more plate appearances.

On paper, Jacobs’ triple slash line is also significantly more impressive than Bogaerts, but when considering his BABIP advantage of .381 to .291, regression to the mean would likely affect Jacobs to a larger degree.

In 2011, Xander Bogaerts played the season as a 18-year old and will turn 19 this Saturday. This leaves Brandon Jacobs with a 22-month age advantage, which may not seem like much for players in the big leagues, but is really an enormous gap when considering the full scope of age-versus-level and how low on the totem pole these prospects are. Additionally, using the same basic level-per-season development plan, Bogaerts should surface in Boston at age 20-21 leaving him a full 5-6 years of plate appearances before entering his prime. To review prospects who began their Major League careers at such a young age is tantamount a whose who of major league leader boards.

Additionally, Bogaerts currently plays a premium position in shortstop, although he may slide over to third base in time. However, the inherent value of a defensive position on the left side of a big league infield is significantly more valuable than that of a left-fielder.

David Laurila previously spoke with Red Sox Assistant Farm Director Ben Crockett who noted:

Xander has really impressed in his first season in the States, both with the bat and the glove,” said Crockett. “He’s made huge improvements defensively since the beginning of spring training and has consistently displayed his athleticism at shortstop. At the plate he’s shown an impressive ability to drive the ball to all fields and at times shows an advanced approach for his age. Overall, Xander has excellent tools that profile at the highest level.

As a believer in both prospects, their both being ranked in the top-10 is well-deserved and I commend Baseball America for it. However, to rank Jacobs above Bogaerts means the young outfielder is expected to profile as an elite power bat at the big league level with enough offense to offset the added value Bogaerts brings as a younger talent playing a premium position. This is extremely high praise for Brandon Jacobs and may set unfair expectations going forward – to justify this ranking, he’s going to have to really hit well, given his limited value in other areas of the game.

With Bogaerts, the fact that he was able to hold his own in a full-season league as a teenager is very encouraging, and his added defensive value means that we don’t have to be quite as aggressive in projecting the development of his offensive abilities. Of course each prospect is unique and the norm certainly does not always apply, but the fact that Bogaerts is significantly younger than Jacobs, and performed well at the same level, should be given significant weight. Putting Jacobs ahead of Bogaerts implies that there’s a large expected offensive gap between the two, but having watched them both in person, I’d argue that’s probably not the case, and if asked to pick one of the two Sox prospects from Greenville this year, I’d take Bogaerts.



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Mike Newman is the Owner/Managing Editor ofROTOscouting, a subscription site focused on baseball scouting, baseball prospects and fantasy baseball. Follow me onTwitter. Likeus on Facebook.Subscribeto my YouTube Channel.


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SteveMcAnderson
Member
SteveMcAnderson
4 years 8 months ago

Do you notice how Xander’s first step is backwards? I’ve never seen that before. Players like Edmonds, Pujols others took no step or just lifted the foot, but it seems like some of the time he actually moves his front foot backwards. I wonder if it helps him stay balanced or maybe it is a flaw in his swing that only really exists when he is lazily hitting BP. Either way, good article.

Scott
Guest
Scott
4 years 8 months ago

Jeff Bagwell did something similar in his pre-swing load up.

Also SHHHHHH!!!!! Don’t advertise Bogaerts being any more awesome! I’m trying to snag this guy at a value pick in my dynasty draft!

Steve Carter
Guest
Steve Carter
4 years 8 months ago

Since he’s so spread out in his stance and has no real forward movement with his stride, his leg really has no choice but to move back so his body can regain it’s center at foot plant. In his case, it’s a great thing to see since he’s 18 but relies on no momentum to provide power. Most young hitters have no choice until their strength offsets it. He can just stay centered and use his natural strength and bat speed. Good to see on any 18y/o. Though it wouldn’t surprise me if somebody stood him up a bit, shortened the stance, and got him a little better weight transfer down the road. They pull that off without him losing his center= my goodness.

Paul
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Paul
4 years 8 months ago

Billy Butler does an extreme version of this.

Chippchipp
Member
Chippchipp
4 years 8 months ago

Great article. In a dynasty fantasy league would you rather have Jurickson Profar or Xander Bogaerts? Thanks.

Earl Sweatshirt
Guest
Earl Sweatshirt
4 years 8 months ago

The Red Sox minor league system is in an extremely interesting state. The upper minors is probably the weakest it’s been in Theo’s tenure, there is no pitching whatsoever and only Middlebrooks, Iglesias and Lavarnway intrigue me as future major league regulars, even though all are flawed at the moment. But the lower minors looks absolutely stacked with Bogaerts and Jacobs leading the way along with Ranaudo, Cecchini, Brentz and Coyle…throw in their great draft this year and this system will look great in a year or two. The narrative all offseason will probably be how weak their system is because of the lack of MLB ready talent though.

Tom
Guest
Tom
4 years 8 months ago

Let’s be honest, I love BA, but they still have one foot in the dark ages. I realize they base these lists mostly on what managers/coaches from the league say, as well as scouts, but the fact that Jacobs batting average was far better than Bogaerts is probably the main reason for the rankings.

I’m not implying that BA is meaningless, especially in the minors, but Bogaerts K/BB numbers compare very favorably to Jacobs, so as you said, a lot of the difference in BA is probably just noise.

Paul
Guest
Paul
4 years 8 months ago

Love everything about Bogaerts’ swing. I can see why you have such a man-crush on him, Mike.

Maybe I’m wrong, but it doesn’t seem like I see a lot of major league hitters get their front foot down so early. Paul Goldschmidt has an extreme version of this, but he is actually quite a bit more fluid than Jacobs. I guess if he’s really strong and has good bat speed it will work, but it seems like he’s costing himself some power there.

Eric M. Van
Guest
4 years 8 months ago

That was a deep league.

Jacobs: born 12/8/90, .303 / .376 / .505 = 143 wRC+, defensively challenged LF, ranked 8th.

His teammate Christian Vazquez, born 8/21/90, .283 / .358 / .505 = 133 wRC+, voted best defensive catcher in the league … unranked.

How the best defensive catcher in the league can put up a 133 wRC+ while being relatively young for the league and not get ranked is a little puzzling. But after reading these lists for 20 years, I’ve come to believe that the managers often have no idea how old the opposing players are and/or don’t appreciate the importance of age relative to league.

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