Frustrated Bogaerts off to a Slow Start

The first two-and-a-half weeks of the season have been a struggle for Red Sox prospect Xander Bogaerts. Last year, the shortstop excelled in the Eastern League and earned his place as one of baseball’s elite prospects. But his return to Double-A Portland has been underwhelming thus far. Against New Britain, Bogaerts went 0-for-6 with a strikeout, a walk and a groundball double play. His frustration was palpable. But there were still plenty of positives too.

Bogaerts’s performance in his first 15 games has been poor. Overall, he’s been 18% worse than the Eastern League average — this, despite hitting .396 on balls in play. His 29.6% strikeout rate is too high and his power has evaporated. In nearly 100 Double-A plate appearances last season, Bogaerts slugged five home runs and 10 doubles. This year, in 71  trips to the dish, Bogaerts’s isolated slugging percentage is .047. He’s hit just three doubles and zero home runs.

The primary cause of his struggles on this night was his tendency to pull off the ball. Typically, a hitter’s shoulders should be square to the pitcher until they begin to rotate following his hip turn. Against New Britain, Bogaerts’s front shoulder was flying open too early and he was being exposed on the other half of the plate. The scouts behind the plate joked, “here comes another ground out to second.” A scout who followed Portland for a few games noted weak contact became his expectation, and Bogaerts had not been playing up to his tools.

Bogaerts was noticeably frustrated. With the bases loaded in the fifth inning, he worked a full count before he struck out swinging on a breaking ball. He stood in the batter’s box, looked to the sky, exhaled, then stared at the ground as he walked back to the dugout. Later on, he grounded into a double play and failed to run hard to first. In the field, Bogaerts was rarely challenged, but on his sole attempt he gingerly charged a slow roller up the middle and flipped it underhand past Travis Shaw‘s outstretched arm.

Is his slump due to Eastern League’s brisk climate? An erratic spring? Recall, he left Boston’s major league camp to represent the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic, then returned after losing his starting role. Or maybe it’s just mechanical. It’s hard to pinpoint the cause, but his tools are loud and he will rebound.

Bogaerts will hit. He relies on his quick hands to pull the bat through the hitting zone, efficiently generating outstanding raw bat speed. The natural loft in his swing enables him to hit for power without “selling out” — over swinging and changing his mechanics to hit for power — and his approach is sound too. He’s a disciplined hitter with a fair understanding of the strike zone. He’s unfazed when working deep into a count and rarely expands the zone, waiting for a pitch he can drive.

Questions about whether the 20-year-old’s frame will force him off shortstop will follow him until he proves he’s a capable major league defender. Last year, Bogaerts had a thick lower half and if it grew as he aged, he wouldn’t resemble a shortstop for long. But, his entire body is noticeably less muscular and it is more well-proportioned now. His foot speed and range will always be below average for the position, but a smaller frame will allow him to maintain his agility and give him a shot to stick at the position.

With under a month of the season’s games played it would be foolish to overreact to a small sample size of minor league statistics. The tools that made Bogaerts an elite prospect are not in question, and a more natural frame is a promising development for his defensive future. There will always be hiccups in a player’s development, they are just more noticeable at the beginning of the season. The ability to adjust is essential for a major leaguer, so overcoming this challenging time will be an important lesson for his career.

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Formerly of Bullpen Banter, JD can be followed on Twitter.

19 Responses to “Frustrated Bogaerts off to a Slow Start”

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  1. @AHume92 says:

    How do you see the Boston infield situation ultimately working out? There seems to be an impending logjam with Iglesias, Bogaerts and Middlebrooks for two spots.

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    • LuckyStrikes says:

      Same question here. I’m sure Bogaerts will make the necessary adjustments, but if they aren’t made soon it’s looking like his ETA may now be mid 2014 (or later), much to the disappointment of BOS fans.

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      • JD Sussman says:

        He only had 97 plate appearances in Double-A last year, if Red Sox fans thought he was going to have a MLB impact in 2013, they were too optimistic to begin with. Early to Mid 2014 is realistic.

        The Red Sox will give him every chance to play SS. I’d give him at least a season to prove he can handle it. He’ll probably be a below average to start out, but his instincts will develop over time.

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    • YanksFanInBeantown says:

      Oh how I wish that I lived in a world where Sox management was stupid enough to consider Jose “Rey Ordonez without the bat” Iglesias a competitor for Middlebrooks’ and Bogaerts’ playing time.

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    • B N says:

      I don’t know if you could call it a logjam with two logs and a twig out there. Iglesias does not have an MLB starter’s bat. Unless that miraculously changes, he’s not in either position. And it’s had a long time to change so far. And Bogaerts may not even stick at SS. Won’t be much of a logjam if Bogaerts is starting at 1B in a two years, Iglesias is a utility IF, and Napoli is the DH… The only logjam there is if Ortiz stays productive and is still around to DH!

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      • Jonathan says:

        “Iglesias does not have an MLB starter’s bat. Unless that miraculously changes, he’s not in either position. And it’s had a long time to change so far.”

        Except he hasn’t, he’s barely 23. Deven Marrero, one of last year’s first rounders, is all of about six months younger than him.

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  2. mike wants wins says:

    Any comment on any of the NB players?

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    • JD Sussman says:

      Yes and no. NB is one of my “home parks”, I’ll see those players more than I will the Portland guys. I’ll develop pieces for those guys as the season wears on.

      But, it’s a weak position player roster… who were you interested in?

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      • mike wants wins says:

        As a Twins fan, I weep for the AAA and AA rosters…..I’m looking for hope for 2014 more than anything else. Sorry, the prospect of 8 more inches of snow tonight is putting me in a sour mood….I’d be shocked if there was a position player in NB that was ever a major contributor to the Twins…so I guess May and Meyer….

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  3. Conrad says:

    He’s had multiple hits in three of his last six games, so it looks like he may already be coming out of the slump, at least a little bit.

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    • JD Sussman says:

      I hope so! I root for all these guys to be stars, obviously that doesn’t always become the case. I’d caution you not to break up a small sample into a smaller sample though. Statistically, Sunday was a poor day and Saturday his sole hit was an infield it. The BABIP vs. ISO vs. wRC+ is very telling.

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    • Synovia says:

      He’s hitting .370/.469/.481 his last 7 games. (tiny sample size alert).

      My thought here is that its WBC hangover. I think the WBC totally messes these guys preseason routines up, and they’re atleast a couple weeks behind the guys who don’t play in it.

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  4. @dcholcomb says:

    Reminiscent of Matt Holiday in that final swing.

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  5. Blofkin says:

    Addison Russell is off to a similar start in the Cal League, hopefully they can both turn it around, Bogaerts was an exciting player to follow last year.

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  6. Will says:

    Appears from final swing that he’s not getting his stride foot down in time.? He does have a moderate leg kick in stride, this can often get out of sync cascading into a late load and then “rushing” at the ball. What do you think JD?

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  7. McWisdom says:

    Can you add Michael Tonkin and Danny Santana (if he looks like more than a utility guy) to the New Britain guys people are interested in list? That was Tonkin throwing right away in the video, no?

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  8. james wilson says:

    His front foot is open before contact, which leaks power if you do not lock the knee and dig in the heel like Jeter or Thome, who are among the few who open the foot but still lock the knee. His head is drifting for the same reason. I don’t know if he has always hit this way, but flaws become more exposed at higher levels.

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  9. jordodinho says:

    Update! Update! Bogaerts is heating up.

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    • NS says:

      Not even 2 months after the writing of this article, Bogaerts is promoted to AAA after mashing AA to the tune of .311/.407/.502. Pretty impressive.

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