Xander Bogaerts: The Third Basemen That Wasn’t

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Updated: July 17, 2014
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Xander Bogaerts believes he belongs at shortstop. His heart is at shortstop. As the Red Sox opening day shortstop he lit the world on fire at the plate and opened eyes around Major League Baseball. Then the Red Sox moved him to third base and everything fell apart.

Bogaerts, 21, began the season ranked as the number two overall prospect in all of baseball, according to John Sickels of Minorleagueball.com This is no light compliment. Such a ranking is a definitive statement that, in a worst-case scenario, a position player (TNSTAAPP) should become a good major leaguer. In a best-case scenario, the player will become one of the handful of true superstars in the game. Sickels described Bogaerts as, “A Grade A prospect who should do everything well except steal bases. Power should steadily increase. Not hype, he is for real.”

One of the reasons Bogaerts inspired so much faith was his excellent 2013 post-season. During that magical run, which helped the Red Sox win their third World Series in the last decade, the then 20-year-old rookie played excellent third base and batted .296/.412/.482. He had already shined on the world’s biggest stage.

For the first two months of the season Xander Bogaerts validated all the praise heaped upon him by the prognosticators. After a solid if unspectacular April, Bogaerts chewed up major league pitching in the month of May to the tune of a .327/.407/.490 slash line which put him at .300/.391/.443 for the year. Through June 2, he was the second best hitting shortstop in the majors, trailing only National League MVP favorite Troy Tulowitzki. Bogaerts’ hitting performance was everything the Red Sox had hoped for and he was beginning to convince some that early career comparisons to Miguel Cabrera were not unfounded.

There was, however, the slight problem of Bogaerts’ defense. There has never been any question about his throwing arm, but at 6-3 and 185 pounds, the knock on Bogaerts has always been his lateral range, especially to his glove side, and it reared its ugly head early in the season. Through April, Bogaerts was, according to John Dewan of The Fielding Bible, the 33rd worst defensive shortstop in baseball. But Bogaerts improved steadily throughout May. While he was still struggling with balls to his left, there seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel and the Red Sox publicly scoffed at any talk of a position change.

All that changed May 20. That was the day the Red Sox re-signed their previous shortstop, defensive stalwart Stephen Drew, and opted to move Bogaerts to third. While Bogaerts’ defense at shortstop was a work in progress, it was actually the failings of his partner on the left side of the diamond, third baseman Will Middlebrooks, which necessitated the re-signing of Drew. Middlebrooks, an oft-injured mercurial talent, crashed and burned about as badly as possible when given the starting job to begin the year.


Unable to stay on the field and sporting a .197/.305/.324 line when he was on it, Middlebrooks was a sinkhole in a Red Sox lineup increasingly loaded with them. The Red Sox, in a desperate attempt to salvage their season, informed Bogaerts of their intentions to shift him to third and place Drew at shortstop. Bogaerts played the good soldier, but one of his quotes on the subject was telling, “My heart is always at shortstop. And I was always feeling so good over there.”

The move to third has been an unequivocal disaster for Bogaerts. Since his position switch on June 2, Bogaerts’ numbers have plummeted from .300/.391/.443 all the way to his current .235/.311/.348. His numbers at third base, .140/.181./.225, would make Middlebrooks blush. For the first time in his life Bogaerts has looked overmatched. Bogaerts has never struck out more than he has made contact at any level, but since the position change he is averaging more than 2 strikeouts per hit. In terms of walks versus strikeouts, his worst year in the minors was at high A Greenville, where Bogaerts averaged close to 1 walk per 3 strikeouts.

That was at the age of 18, facing competition with an average age of 22 . Since June 2, he is currently striking out at a rate of a little over 7 strikeouts per walk. To make matters even worse, while the transition to third has seen better range from him, he’s been identically bad in terms of defensive WAR due to an unsightly seven errors in thirty-three games.

Despite the Drew signing, the Red Sox season has devolved into a smoking pile of rubble, yet they stubbornly refuse to move Bogaerts back to shortstop. Instead they have opted to for a steady dose of Stephen Drew while testing out Brock Holt at the position. Holt may yet prove that his .327 average is no mirage, but his wildly unsustainable .395 BABIP and unsightly 2.8 strikeouts per walk would seem to indicate otherwise. Drew is a sunk cost. His re-signing was a desperation move due to the Middlebrooks fiasco and it has not worked in the slightest as his .151/.218/.269 slash line and the Red Sox 16-23 record since his comeback can attest. Neither Holt nor Drew are viable long-term options.

Xander Bogaerts is literally the most valuable player on the Red Sox roster. The only challengers to that title are John Lester and Dustin Pedroia. Lester is a an aggrieved pending free agent and Pedroia, despite being the best defensive second basemen in the majors, is on the wrong side of thirty and looking dangerously average at the plate. Bogaerts is a 21-year-old potential four-tool phenom under team control for the next six years.

This is the type of player whom you build a franchise around. You don’t let a 26-year-old empty batting average rookie and a 31-year-old batting .151 batting stand in his way. Even if Bogaerts never turns the corner defensively, if the only way to get him to hit like an All-Star is to play him at short, then play him at short. The Yankees won five championships with a guy like that. It’s time to find out if Xander is really everything he’s supposed to be, and playing him at third instead of shortstop is standing in the way of that.

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One Comment

  1. Kevin Moniz

    July 18, 2014 at 8:23 PM

    Interesting article and very nice site. Ill be back for sure!

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