Red Sox: Xander Bogaerts is finally the hitter we expected

BOSTON, MA - JULY 14: Xander Bogaerts #2 of the Boston Red Sox looks on after hitting a walk-off​ grand slam in the bottom of the tenth inning of the game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park on July 14, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JULY 14: Xander Bogaerts #2 of the Boston Red Sox looks on after hitting a walk-off​ grand slam in the bottom of the tenth inning of the game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park on July 14, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images) /

Bogaerts found great success in the big leagues prior to this season, but his bat had not lived up to the early hype. This year that has changed.

It’s funny how time flies isn’t it? It has been just over nine years since the Boston Red Sox signed a16-year-old Aruban shortstop named Xander Bogaerts. It was a rather ho-hum moment at the time – I can’t even find any contemporary write-ups on Bogaerts’ acquisition – but the young islander would soon make waves in the baseball world.

Bogaerts made his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2010 and performed well, but it was his stellar season in the South Atlantic League in 2011 that put him on the radar of prospect junkies across the sport. That season, at the age of 18, Bogaerts slashed .260/.324/.509 with 16 homers in 72 games with the Greenville Drive. Following that performance, Baseball Prospectus ranked Bogaerts the 32nd best prospect in baseball heading into 2012 and many in Red Sox Nation took note of the teenager’s impressive power numbers.

I was one of those Red Sox fans that taking notes. I was only 13 when that season concluded, but, after watching the chicken and beer debacle that was Boston’s 2011 collapse, I wanted anything positive involving the Red Sox to latch onto. And so I got caught up in the Bogaerts prospect hype.

Bogaerts was the first prospect that I intently followed. I kept a pulse on Boston’s minor league affiliates prior to his ascent, but my interest was casual. After that season, I religiously checked the box score for Xander’s line every morning. I watched as Bogaerts, the youngest player in Double-A, tore up the Eastern League. And I watched as Bogaerts, the youngest player in Triple-A, tore up the International League. When the dog days of August rolled around in 2013, it became apparent that the minor leagues could no longer contain Bogaerts. At that time, Xander was one of the consensus top-five prospects in baseball and I, along with many in Red Sox Nation, had starry-eyed visions about the Aruban sensation.

It seemed like every scouting report on Bogaerts was gushing about his Tulowitzki-like ceiling. I didn’t yet understand at that age the difference between ceiling and projection. I didn’t understand that most prospects bust. In my mind, Bogaerts was destined to be a middle of the order threat in Boston’s lineup for the next decade.

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Unfortunately, Xander taught me some hard lessons about prospect hype in his first full season in the majors. Through 144 games in 2014, Bogaerts posted a toothless slash line of .240/.297/.362. He looked entirely lost at the plate and was barely replacement level on the season. Unbeknownst to 16-year-old me, sometimes even the best 21-year-old prospects don’t win batting titles in their rookie season.

Xander would adjust, of course. Over the next three seasons, Bogaerts quietly became a bona fide star. In that stretch, he won two silver sluggers, made an all-star appearance, and accumulated more fWAR (12.7) than every shortstop besides Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, and Carlos Correa. But he wasn’t the player we all expected him to become. When I was reading his scouting reports as a wee lad six years ago I thought Bogaerts would remind me more of Nomar Garciaparra than Marco Scutaro. I thought his career slugging percentage would’ve towered over .409. I thought he would’ve had seven homer months, not seven homer seasons.

But this year, Bogaerts has been a different player. It became apparent early on this season that we were no longer watching a Marco Scutaro clone at the plate. Last season, Bogaerts earned a barrel only six times in 635 plate appearances according to Statcast. This season he has already accumulated 35 barrels in just 474 plate appearances. He has also increased his exit velocity from an average of 87 mph last season to 90.9 mph and his average launch angle from 8.2 degrees last season to 11.5 degrees this season. He has gone from a slap hitter with gap power to an actual slugger. And he has not sold out his approach in the process. Currently, he is striking out in just 17.1% of his plate appearances, which is below his career mark of 18.3%, and he is walking in a career-high 9.0% of his plate appearances. Across the board, Bogaerts looks like a much better hitter this year than he ever has before.

It’s weird to say that this has been a breakout year for a hitter who already has two silver sluggers under his belt. However, Bogaerts’ newfound ability to consistently drive the ball has paid huge dividends. Through 110 games this season Bogaerts has hit .285/.355/.525 with 19 homers and 39 doubles. His 62 extra-base hits rank seventh in all of baseball and his 132 wRC+ is right in line with those of Giancarlo Stanton (132) and Bryce Harper (131).

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Those are the numbers I envisioned as a tenth grader too many years ago. He was already one of the best shortstops in the game. Now, at the ripe age of 25, he has taken his game to another level. It took longer than many of us initially expected, but Xander Bogaerts the middle of the order bat has arrived.

Lock him up, Dombrowski.