Xander Bogaerts Debut Puts Him in Elite Company

Xander Bogaerts is in elite company. The 20-year-old Red Sox shortstop made his Major League debut last night hitting seventh against pitcher Ryan Vogelsong and the San Francisco Giants.

Between 1970 and 2013, 38 hitters’ rookie seasons came at the age of 20. Some of those names include Rickey Henderson (-0.7 WAR), Sammy Sosa (-0.4), Gary Sheffield (-0.4), Miguel Cabrera (1.0), Buddy Bell (1.5), Giancarlo Stanton (2.3), Alan Trammell (2.7), Andruw Jones (3.7), Roberto Alomar (3.9), Jason Heyward (4.7) and Mike Trout, who had the best debut season of any rookie with 10 WAR.

Of those 38 players, nine were shortstops (including some who later switched positions), including Sheffield and Trammell, as well as more recent players such as Elvis Andrus, Jose Reyes, Starlin Castro, and Ruben Tejada. Clearly, reaching the Majors at 20 years of age doesn’t guarantee success but there is a lot of star power behind the above names.

Sheffield — who played shortstop in his first two MLB seasons before moving to third base and later the outfield — is probably a good comparison for Bogaerts. The former Milwaukee Brewers first rounder (sixth overall in the 1986 draft) actually debuted at the age of 19 but appeared in just 24 games. His rookie season did not officially occur until the next season at age 20.

After last night’s game, the Red Sox have 34 games remaining in the regular season. That means even if the Red Sox prospect were to play everyday, he likely wouldn’t exceed the 130 at-bat mark that would caused his rookie eligibility to expiry. As such, his true rookie season will come in 2014 at the age of 21.

The teenaged Sheffield got his feet wet during his debut season by hit .238/295/.400 in 24 games at the end of the 1988 season. The next year, he hit .247/.303/.337 in 95 games. Injuries plagued his career but he went on to hit 33 home runs at the age of 23. In his career, he had nine all-star appearances and finished second in the AL MVP voting at the age of 35 with the New York Yankees. In total, he finished with a .292 batting average and slugged 509 home runs over a 22-year career but he could have produced even more impressive numbers if he had been able to avoid the regular trips to the disabled list.

Drawing comparisons between Sheffield and Bogaerts certainly sets the bar high for the Red Sox freshman. The 6’3” Aruban is actually more physically imposing than Sheffield, who stood 5’11” but the latter player was known for generating his power with otherworldly bat speed. Bogaerts’ above-average bat speed isn’t at the same level but he still generates plus raw power. He doesn’t have the same eye that Sheffield, a Tampa native, had but he also comes a country where baseball is not nearly as popular and he didn’t face a comparable level of talent as an amateur.

As mentioned above, Sheffield played shortstop for just two seasons and later moved to the hot corner for six seasons. He then made his way to the outfield for the remainder of his career, spending most of his time in right field. Bogaerts is very athletic, like the former Brewer, but he’s arguably more steady at shortstop at a younger age. He makes his fair share of youthful mistakes but his above-average arm helps him compensate for some of his errors.

At least for the remainder for 2013, the rookie is expected to split time between his natural position at shortstop and third base. Bogaerts has just 10 games of pro experience at the hot corner but Ben Crockett, the Red Sox director of player development, told FanGraphs that he’s not worried about Bogaerts’ ability to adapt. “Xander shows enough athleticism to play third base despite his limited reps, but will continue to get better the more he plays,” he said. “Like any rookie, Xander will need to adjust to the off-field component of being called up and finding his place on a new team, but he’s ready for that challenge and more than capable on the field.”

The young player will definitely be looking to make an impact in hopes of securing a spot on the first-place club’s playoff roster. It’s already been a long season for Bogaerts, who opened the year playing the World Baseball Classic during spring training, and isn’t used to a 162-game schedule.

A playoff berth would just prolong the year for the rookie so it will be interesting to see how he responds, and perhaps it helps to explain why Boston isn’t committing to playing him everyday. However, according to Crockett, the club feels that Bogaerts can bring something of value to the veteran squad, even though he’s not a finished product.

“Xander should provide energy, versatility and the chance to give the offense a different look when he plays,” Crockett said. “He will continue to work on the smaller things he was focused on in [Triple-A] Pawtucket – consistency of approach at the plate, the defensive nuances at multiple positions and running the bases with precision.”




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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects, depth charts and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.


45 Responses to “Xander Bogaerts Debut Puts Him in Elite Company”

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  1. Cream says:

    This isn’t intended to be predictive, right? More of a “here’s a list of players whose rookie seasons came at age 20”?

    By the way, I believe by the criteria used to select the comparables, there’s a good chance that Xander wouldn’t be included in future comparisons. For example, Trout and Sheffield (just to name a couple) both made debuts during age 19 seasons, but didn’t have enough AB’s to qualify as rookies. Depending on how things shake out, Xander might not either, so his ‘rookie’ season may end up being at age 21.

    If people are curious to some more players (who weren’t as great) who debuted in their age 20 seasons:
    – Delmon Young
    – Rafael Belliard
    – Travis Snider
    – Rennie Stennett
    – Jose Gonzalez
    – Willie Greene
    – Luis Rivas

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    • Cream says:

      D’oh. Missed this paragraph:

      ‘After last night’s game, the Red Sox have 34 games remaining in the regular season. That means even if the Red Sox prospect were to play everyday, he likely wouldn’t exceed the 130 at-bat mark that would caused his rookie eligibility to expiry. As such, his true rookie season will come in 2014 at the age of 21.”

      Ignore what you wish.

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  2. TKDC says:

    I know this won’t keep the Sox from having six more years of control, but isn’t it a bit odd to bring him up 11 days before he could be brought up without gaining any service time?

    Also, he compares closer to guys that got Sept. call ups at 20. As you said, he isn’t really a rookie this year.

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    • Cream says:

      Agreed.

      I mean, if you look at age 21 rookie seasons, you can find tons of “star power” power as well (Pujols, Bonds, Eddie Murray, Molitor, Strawberry, Mauer, D Wright, Winfield). You can find greats and you can find stinkers who debuted at all ages.

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    • Jonathan says:

      Bringing him up in September means he can’t be utilized in the playoffs. That’s definitely a factor.

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      • Cool Lester Smooth says:

        Exactly.

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      • josh says:

        Same with Wong in STL, both could be solid bench pieces for their teams come playoffs.

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        • Jonathan says:

          Not even necessarily a bench piece. I’m not entirely convinced I trust Middlebrooks right now. He’s still making the same mistakes he was making before his demotion (Chasing bad pitches outside the zone, not working the count well), he’s just getting the favor of the babip gods to the opposite extreme of his poor luck to start the season.

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        • Eric M. Van says:

          @Jonathan: those are some BABIP gods, since they also seem to have reduced his K% from 27.9% to 17.1%, and increased his UBB% from 4.2% to 12.2% (the latter being statistically significant even in this SSS).

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        • Jonathan says:

          I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to agree to disagree here: Absolutely no stat is “significant” in that small of a sample size, he’s had less than 50 AB.

          Sure, he wasn’t as bad as he was to start the season, but nor is he as good as his stats look right now. He’s still swinging at a lot of garbage and the fundamental problems he was exhibiting at the start of the year, while ever so slightly improved, are still there. He’s got a long way to go before I’m convinced he’s a first division starter.

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      • TKDC says:

        This is simply not true. You can bring guys up on Sept. 1 and use them in the playoffs. Also, you can replace any injured or “injured” player with anyone in the organization as of Sept. 1, including guys not on your 40-man roster.

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        • Nicolas C says:

          No, you can’t.

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        • Jonathan says:

          MLB Rulebook says otherwise:

          “(1) Major League Roster Players. To be eligible to play for a Major League
          Club in a Division Series, League Championship Series, or the World Series, a
          player must
          (A) have been on a Major League Active, Disabled (subject to the
          exception in Rule 2(g)(2) (Major League Disabled List; Transfers)),
          Bereavement, Suspended or Military List of such Major League Club as MAJOR LEAGUE RULES
          MLR 40(a)
          118 3/08
          of Midnight Eastern Time on August 31, or on such date be under control,
          but not yet reported, on assignment from another Major League
          organization; and”

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        • Richie says:

          Well, yes you can a la FRod back in whatever year it was. I think how it works is some guy has an ‘owie’, then you replace with whomever you want from the 40-man.

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        • TKDC says:

          Does “midnight Aug. 31st” actually mean what “midnight Aug. 31st” actually means? I was always under the impression that Sept. call-ups could play in post-season. Anyway, the second way is without dispute, so it seems completely unnecessary to worry about this.

          I think the real concern is it is somewhat harder to keep a guy down in the minors to start the next season if you bring him up before rosters expand. I believe the Rays used David Price in Sept. and the playoffs in 2008, then kept him in the minors to start 2009. Seems if you bring a guy up beforehand, there is a greater risk of hurting player relations if he performs well and you still stash him in the minors to start the next season. Of course, I’m not sure how much “player relations” really matters.

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        • Jonathan says:

          @Richie,

          Given, but part of the issue there is potentially having to manufacture an injury and, more importantly, Bogaerts wasn’t on the 40 man roster yet.

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        • Jonathan says:

          “I think the real concern is it is somewhat harder to keep a guy down in the minors to start the next season if you bring him up before rosters expand. I believe the Rays used David Price in Sept. and the playoffs in 2008, then kept him in the minors to start 2009. Seems if you bring a guy up beforehand, there is a greater risk of hurting player relations if he performs well and you still stash him in the minors to start the next season.”

          I’d say that’s pretty far down the list of concerns if you’re expecting them to legitimately contribute. Price is a perfect example of why you just go for it sometimes considering the Rays quite possibly lose the 2008 ALCS without Price around.

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      • AsDevilsRun says:

        There are a few ways around that rule. Look at how the Angels used K-Rod in 2002.

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        • Jonathan says:

          There are ways around it, but sometimes the best way is the simplest way: following said rules.

          Lord knows, the Sox aren’t shy bending rules, but it’s a pretty obvious answer as to why call him up now instead of September.

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        • Scraps says:

          But everybody, in this case, bends the rules. It’s essentially not a rule, like many in baseball (unfortunately, IMO). TKDC and Richie are right, even though everybody citing the rule is also right.

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        • Jonathan says:

          @scraps,

          Well, when it comes down to it Richie is right in that there are ways around it. TKDC’s initial claim, however, was that we were all wrong, which is patently false.

          Without gaming the system or other such shenanigans, the player needs to be on the roster by August 31. Additionally, even in instances of injury, the player needs to be on the 40 man, which Bogaerts was not.

          So no, TKDC telling me “This is simply not true” is completely wrong.

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        • TKDC says:

          @Jonathon

          Well, I was wrong but so were you. You said bringing him up in Sept. meant he couldn’t be used in the playoffs, which isn’t true.

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        • TKDC says:

          So the only thing I was wrong about was one of my two reasons, but one is enough.

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    • matt w says:

      I’m pretty sure that September callups count as service time for the purposes of team control. They just don’t count as time on the roster for purposes of Rookie of the Year eligibility.

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      • exxrox says:

        I remember this happening some-what recently when a Diamondback 2B got injured and they had a minor leaguer make his major league debut, in the playoffs. Ogando? It was a few years ago so I hardly remember

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    • Mr Baseball says:

      God….stop with delaying everything approach to game the system. Stat geeks forget winning is most important, not gaming the system.

      There is a World Series to be won.

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  3. Cool Lester Smooth says:

    Shit, Xander’s a stud and I’m really not looking forward to watching him play the Yankees for the next 6+ years.

    That said, what’s a reasonable projection for his age-21 season? I’m thinking Harper’s 2012 is probably a good median.

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    • Pirates Hurdles says:

      4.5 WAR is the median projection, lol. At least you’re optimistic. Xander is not Bryce Harper or Mike Trout. We have been spoiled by their ridiculous ability and have quickly forgotten that 20 and 21 year olds don’t usually excel.

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      • Nick says:

        Ceiling-wise, we’re talking about a SS with average to slightly above-average defense, 30+ HR and a good OBP. He’s not there yet, obviously, but don’t tell me he can’t be in their class (let’s leave Trout out of it for now, he’s on another planet from everyone).

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        • MrMan says:

          Maybe in their “class” yes…but 4.5 WAR as a “median” projections seems optimistic in the extreme.

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        • ed says:

          Bogaerts has never projected to have much more than average defense at SS, if he can stick there at all. His bat seems solid, but it remains to be seen how good his fielding really is.

          Frankly, I prefer iffy defense to an iffy bat. You know that bat will play somewhere.

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        • Jonathan says:

          @ed, the question of sticking was because of his projected frame. He’s always been considered defensively “adequate” for SS.

          Basically we’re looking at two probable situations with him, either he never fills out as projected which means he doesn’t hit his probable 30 HR peak, but manages to stick at SS or he fills out as projected and moves off 3B but starts hitting for a lot more power thanks to added size.

          Either way, it’s a win if either of these probables shake out.

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      • MrMan says:

        Yes.

        Consider Jurickson Profar….who was the #1 prospect in the majors this year. While he’s been used as a utility guy and hasn’t had a consistent role, his -0.3 WAR, 75 wRC+ and .646 OPS are more indicative of youngster’s contributions than those of Trout and Harper.

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        • NS says:

          Profar has been jerked around pretty hard this season. Consider Manny Machado, who is really a pretty good overall comp for Bogaerts.

          To be clear, I agree it is absurd to suggest 4.5 WAR is a reasonable median prediction. But 5 WAR seems like a realistic ceiling.

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        • Nick says:

          Profar doesn’t have Bogaerts’ offensive upside. He is a definite and plus shortstop, unlike Xander. Not a great comparison.

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  4. Hurtlocker says:

    Baseball has changed over the last 30 years on the philosophy of when it is “time” to bring a talented rookie up. Teams used to want most players to be “polished” before they came up, now players are brought on pure talent and have to learn at the MLB level. Look at Puig, a great talent, but very rough on some baseball skills.

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    • Jim Price says:

      Puig’s not a good comp. He’s already got a major league contract, $42 millions. You don’t pay that for someone to spend 2 yrs developing in the minors.

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    • Scraps says:

      I don’t know; Robin Yount came up awfully early; they didn’t care about “polish”.

      If baseball has changed in the last thirty years regarding when they bring players up, it would probably be easy to check. (Yes, I’m inviting people to work for me.)

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    • Eric M. Van says:

      There have indeed been changes over the years in the number of 21 and younger rookies, but I’m skeptical as to whether that’s been driven by any change in philosophy, as opposed to changes in the available talent *and its perception.* Players have always been promoted when it was felt they could help the big league club, period. What other rationale could there be?

      Looking just at position players, from 1963 to 1978 there were an average of 6.8 such rookies per year. From ’79 to ’83, it was 4.2, and then came the drought you refer to: 2.4 per year from 1983 to 2000. From 2001 to 2012, it’s been 4.1.

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  5. BigPattyG says:

    Bogaerts’ bat speed may not be at Sheffield’s level, but maybe if he juiced up like Sheff, he’d get there.

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    • JamesDaBear says:

      Which is a good reason to stop bringing up Gary Sheffield for anything other than being a cheater. I cringe every time someone says it about Javy Baez.

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  6. Jay29 says:

    If Bogaerts were an everyday player, he’d play every day.

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