Will Xander Bogaerts mirror Rico Petrocelli?
Two Red Sox players from two different eras who were both young, played the same position and disappointed – at least in the short-term.
Rico Petrocelli has a unique place in Red Sox and baseball long ball history.
One of the classic Red Sox moments is Rico waving his arms as he is ready to secure a pop-up that would give the “Impossible Dream” of 1967 the first step to the World Series. The second coming, when Dick McAuliffe of the Tigers grounded into his second double play of 1967 to end the Tiger’s chances and catapult the Red Sox into the series.
The “Impossible Dream” started a cottage industry on books detailing that wonderful season and the personalities that comprised the surprising Red Sox and a picture becomes clear of a young Petrocelli, a potential right-handed bat to tattoo the left field barrier.
Petrocelli came up briefly in 1963 at age 20 and returned in 1965 to be the starting shortstop at age 22 despite a difficult 1964 in Seattle.
In Seattle, the Red Sox 3A farm club, the city boy Rico (Brooklyn) was homesick, injury prone, questioning his own ability and not hitting – even attempting to switch-hit. Despite all the negatives Petrocelli moved to the big club and was considered the shortstop of the future. What to lose as the Red Sox were now generally assigned to the lower depths of the American League. On the job training for a player considered a top prospect.
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Things did not improve for Petrocelli when the 1965 season opened.
A sore elbow, conflict with manager Billy Herman and a dismal start had those few who actually attended games at Fenway clearly disappointed in Petrocelli’s performance with the bat and especially in the field.
I remember attending one game where a routine grounder to Rico’s right scooted into left field. A leather lung fan held up a postage stamp and loudly stated “Hey, Rico, this is about as much ground as you cover.”
Xander Bogaerts had a difficult 2014 season. A fast start and a decent finish were sandwiched between a prolonged inability to hit with RISP and just hit period. No wall rattling doubles. No home runs from the lanky Bogaerts. A power outage that was coupled with defensive mental and physical errors. This, to me, brought back memories of Petrocelli of 1965. The same inauspicious start.
By 1969 Petrocelli put his game together. A near .300 average. An All-Star selection. A then record for home runs by an AL shortstop (40) and an improved defense. In 1970 Rico showed 1969 was not just a mirage by going deep 29 times and having 103 RBI.
By 1971 Petrocelli was switched to third base a position often mentioned as being where Bogaerts will eventually land. The combination of injuries, range, and getting future Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio had made the decision and easy one.
Rico had one last moment of success left by hitting .308 in the 1975 World Series loss to the Cincinnati Reds. Injuries and diminishing skills caught up with Petrocelli and he was released in the spring of 1977 after hitting only .213 in 1976.
Will Bogaerts eventually show the power that Petrocelli displayed?
Petrocelli was a perfect Fenway power fit with 136 of his 210 career home runs being hit at Fenway and averaging 42 points higher at home. You look at Bogaerts and he appears made for Fenway Park. Bogaerts has hit 30 points higher at Fenway than on the road. Will his power eventually develop as well?
In his first full season Bogaerts slashed .240/.297/.362 compared to Petrocelli’s .232/.309/.412. Rico managed 13 home runs to Bogaert’s 12, but for Petrocelli it took 363 plate appearances and for Bogaerts his total was accumulated in 538 appearances.
Bogaerts needs patience from RSN. After 50 games Bogaerts was hitting .327 and then he went downhill until a .288 September. The talent is there with the bat. What about the glove?
The metrics show negatives. Bogaerts’ defensive limitations became fodder for the sports talk show circuit and with the media. Footwork, his range, jump on the ball and poor feeds to Dustin Pedroia were either well stated or over-stated. An eerie flashback 50 years ago to Petrocelli. Can that patience be seen by the team, media and fans? 2015 will give some insight.
The Red Sox seem to have made a choice and that is to hand the key infield position to Bogaerts for 2015. It will be his to lose. All may not go well as Bogaerts could take a few more years as it did with Petrocelli, but in the mid-1960s the expectations were much less than in 2015.