The object of this article isn’t to compare Manuel Margot to Xander Bogaerts. That wouldn’t be fair. The latter is one of the top prospects in the game and just made his big-league debut. The former is playing short-season ball. There are other notable differences as well.
There are also notable similarities, which is why it is hard to write about Margot without mentioning Bogaerts. Each signed with the Red Sox as an international free agent at age 16 and excelled in the Dominican Summer League at age 17. Each proceeded to hold his own against older competition at age 18: Bogaerts in the South Atlantic League two years ago, Margot in the New York-Penn League this season.
Then there is the wow factor. The buzz surrounding Margot hasn’t reached Bogaerts proportions, but it’s definitely there. And it’s getting louder.
Predicting that Margot will go from 18-year-old phenom to 20-year-old big-leaguer, ala Bogaerts, would likely be foolish. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t been turning heads with the short-season Lowell Spinners. A pair of anecdotes help tell the story.
Earlier this season, a long-time member of the Lowell front office told me he considers Margot, on raw talent alone, “one of the four or five best players we’ve ever had.” Hyperbole or not, that’s high praise. Spinners alumni include Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie, Hanley Ramirez, Kevin Youkilis, Clay Buchholz, Justin Masterson, Jonathan Papelbon and Anibal Sanchez.
On a subsequent trip to Lowell‘s LeLacheur Park, multiple people — including players — asked if I saw the catch Margot made the previous night. It was as good as any they had seen.
As for what scouts have told me, the young Dominican is by far the best and most-exciting player on the team. He has one of the highest ceilings in the league. They love his speed, athleticism and instincts. His right-handed bat speed is good and he projects to develop more power. His defense is ahead of his offense.
Is he a future big-league star, or even a future big-leaguer? Only time will tell. Margot has a world of potential, but it’s too early to call him the next Xander Bogaerts. Not yet, anyway.
Margot, with teammate Carlos Asuaje serving as interpreter, talked about his game earlier this season. Also weighing in were Spinners hitting coach Noah Hall and Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett.
Margot on his baseball beginnings: “I didn’t really start playing baseball until I was 14 years old. When I was younger, I would play from time to time, but I kind of just didn’t like it. I didn’t play with too much enthusiasm. I would come to the field and not really care about it.
“What ended up getting me in the mood to play — what finally made it click — was seeing older friends and colleagues signing to play here. They were excited about it and that made me want to play more.”
On adjustments in pro ball: “When I signed, I pretty much just went out and had fun playing baseball. I just did what felt natural; I didn’t really worry about stuff like mechanics and technique. Now it’s a little different. I work more now on my mechanics, trying to get better. I understand that working in a more methodical way is going to make me better. My swing isn‘t different, though. I’ve always hit the same way.”
On his approach: “I always look for a fastball to hit. I’m not sitting on much else. When I get curveballs, I just react. I follow the ball as long as I can and react to what I‘m seeing. I don’t really look for anything, I just react to whichever side of the plate the pitch is on. On defense, it is the same.”
On his style: “The game is all enthusiasm for me. I play with a lot of energy. When you’re a little kid, you dream about what this would be like. I never want to leave this dream.”
On his role model: “Manny Ramirez. I love the way he hits, and the way he approaches the game with a lot of fun. I dream of being as good as Manny.”
“He was in the Dominican Summer League last year, and I was in the GCL, so I never saw him until this spring. But I’d heard about him. Some of other coaches would say, ‘Hey, we’ve got this guy in the Dominican who is really good.’ When I saw him this spring, I was like, ’Wow.’ This kid is just really advanced for his age.
“He’s a student of the game. You can tell. He pays attention to details. Anything I tell him to work on, he’s right on it. I’m working with him on using the whole field — not just staying in pull mode, but taking advantage of the right side of the field. I told him that one day, and that game he did it; he hit a line drive the other way. He translates information well, and for a young hitter, that’s key.
“He’s a really good fastball hitter. He jumps on fastballs; he’ll get on top of fastballs on occasion, and really hammer them. Pitches in his zone, he can handle.
“He’s very physically gifted. He has some of the best raw talent I’ve seen. He’s not a huge guy, but he’s fast and has quick-twitch muscles. And I’ve never seen a better outfielder his age. He’s ridiculous out there. I should add he’s also a good kid. He’s humble and respectful.”
“Margot is a very athletic centerfielder with above-average speed and defensive ability. Offensively, he shows a compact swing with a middle-of-the-field approach, though he also shows the ability to impact the baseball. At this point he is an advanced defender and can take over a game at times on both sides of the ball. However, like most young players, he has been subject to periods of inconsistency.”