Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts is coming off a disappointing season. Is this the year that he finally puts it all together?
Xander Bogaerts has been projected to become a superstar since he debuted with the Boston Red Sox at the age of 20 just in time for the team’s World Series run in 2013. A handful of years later, we’re still waiting for him to reach that lofty ceiling.
Sure, Bogaerts was an All-Star in 2016 and has a pair of Silver Sluggers on his resume. Those are great achievements for a young player but we still expect more. Untapped potential remains in a shortstop who is still only 25 years old.
Bogaerts has been in the hunt for a batting title and he’s given us a glimpse of his power potential with a 20+ homer campaign. He’s just never done both in the same season. Is this the year he finally puts it all together?
Many will be skeptical that a career-year is coming in the wake of a down season that rates as his worst since his rookie year. Bogaerts saw his batting average tumble to .273 and his OPS fall to .746 last season. The power boon that fueled his All-Star campaign the previous season evaporated, with his home run total being sliced in half.
The shine on the former top prospect has started to fade. While we once envisioned Bogaerts ascending to the top of the list at his position, he has instead been surpassed by a new wave of young shortstops that has taken the league by storm, led by Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, and Corey Seager.
Bogaerts fell behind the elite tier of shortstops this year but there’s reason for optimism that he can rejoin that group.
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The point where his season went off track can be traced back to when Bogaerts was hit on the hand by a fastball from Tampa Bay Rays starter Jake Faria on July 6. Bogaerts was removed from the game and sat out the next day as well but the bruise on his hand was not deemed serious enough to warrant a trip to the disabled list.
In retrospect, he could have used some time off to heal. Bogaerts was back in the lineup by July 8 but clearly wasn’t the same hitter. He went 11 for his next 67 (.164) from the point he returned to the end of the month. A pair of doubles were the only extra-base hits he tallied during that span.
Bogaerts was on his way to a strong season before being hit by that pitch, only to fall into a two-month slump in the aftermath of the injury.
Before HBP: 308/.361/.455, 20 doubles, six home runs in 312 at-bats.
After HBP: .232/.321/.340, 12 doubles, four home runs in 259 at-bats.
These results undersell how dismal his production was while dealing with a bruised hand. By September, the discomfort had subsided enough to allow Bogaerts to find his swing again after months of altering his mechanics to compensate for the soreness. He finished the regular season hitting .284/.393/.411 in September and October.
Bogaerts didn’t suddenly forget how to hit. He was having a great season, battled through an injury that sapped his production, then finished strong once his hand was fully healed. The overall results aren’t encouraging but take his production before being hit by that pitch along with his strong finish and we have a drastically different view of Bogaerts’ season.
A healthy Bogaerts can be expected to return to the .300 hitter we’ve seen in the past while continuing to approach the power ceiling he briefly explored.
Then we’ll only have to worry about his defense, which has been subpar his entire career. Under the guidance of new manager Alex Cora, a former shortstop, perhaps Bogaerts can improve with the glove. Cora has discussed his plans to incorporate more infield shifts. Even if Bogaerts improves only moderately in the field, the strategic infield placement set by the manager may help hide Bogaerts’ limitations.
A top-tier bat at the shortstop position who can at least hold his own with the glove? The Red Sox will certainly take that.
Fearless Prediction: .314/.370/.450, 22 home runs, 105 runs, 90 RBI, 15 stolen bases.