The BoSox Injection staff’s preview of the Boston Red Sox 25-man roster continues with a look at shortstop Xander Bogaerts.
Last season we saw Xander Bogaerts deliver the breakout performance we had eagerly anticipated ever since the former top prospect made it to the big leagues at the tail end of the 2013 season.
Bogaerts earned the Silver Slugger award at the shortstop position while finishing as the runner-up in the batting title race with a .320 average. This came as a welcome sign on the heels of a disappointing rookie season where he often appeared overwhelmed as a 21-year old. With a year of experience under his belt, Bogaerts quickly proved he belonged.
Considering he is still years away from hitting his prime, it’s fair to assume that Bogaerts has yet to reach his ceiling. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll see another huge leap in 2016. He should continue to be one of the best hitters at his position, but his batting average is due for some regression. His .372 BABIP is well above what he had ever previously produced at any level above Double-A and likely isn’t sustainable. Cutting his strikeout percentage from 23.2 to a much more palatable 15.4 played a significant role in boosting his average, so it certainly wasn’t all smoke and mirrors. He should still flirt with the .300 mark even if he isn’t chasing batting titles.
If a decline in batting average is offset by an uptick in power, Red Sox fans won’t have much to complain about. 40+ doubles and double-digit homers could be within reach as his 23-year old frame continues to fill out.
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One thing Bogaerts needs to focus on improving is his walk rate, which was near the bottom of the league last season at 4.9 percent. Being aggressive at the plate was a factor in his inflated BABIP, but even if taking more pitches results in a lower batting average it could ultimately lead to a higher on-base percentage. He also has to be cautious of opposing pitchers catching on that he rarely walks, as it could lead to them tempting him to chase more pitches out of the strike zone, resulting in his strikeout rate trending back in the wrong direction.
An area that Bogaerts showed great progress in last year was his defense. His defensive runs saved total ended up at zero, signifying he was league average, but that’s light years ahead of where he was at as a rookie. He cost the Red Sox 16 runs with his glove in 2014 in time split between shortstop and third base, but cementing himself back at his natural shortstop position for a full season seems to have restored his confidence.
Bogaerts moved up and down the lineup last season before eventually settling into the No. 3 spot, where the 361 plate appearances he received were the most he saw at any spot in the order. We should expect to see him penciled in at that spot again this season, sandwiched between Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz.
If Bogaerts can carry over the momentum of his breakout season, while continuing to improve defensively and developing a bit more pop in his bat, he could be in line for his first All-Star appearance this year.