I could take the disingenuous sports-radio route and, for the sake of contrived outrage, pretend it’s a mystery why 20-year-old phenomenon Xander Bogaerts has not been called to the big leagues yet.
But I think it’s fairly obvious to those of us who aren’t deliberately looking away: The Red Sox want to make sure he’s comfortable and competent defensively, particularly at third base, a position he has played for all of six games at the minor-league level.
I respect that thinking. I do. Patience and prudence have served Ben Cherington well since his hands have been untied as the general manager. We’ve spent the summer applauding the several smart, subtle decisions that have waited out the “this needs to happen now” conventional wisdom from many fans and media.
It’s generally a wise approach. I just wonder whether last night was the tipping point that leads Cherington to recall the franchise’s most dazzling prospect in recent memory. I hope it is, because there’s a very reasonable chance that Bogaerts would make the Red Sox immediately better in an area where they could use some help.
The Red Sox lost, 2-0, to the Houston Astros last night, a team in such a condition at 38-74 at the major league level that calling them lowly seems like a vast understatement. The Sox were limited to five hits by three pitchers, most notable rookie lefthander Brett Oberholtzer, who is not, in fact, Wes Obermueller in a poor disguise. They advanced one runner to third base. They looked lethargic against a Houston team that stole six bases.
As Joe Castiglione said during last night’s radio broadcast, anything less than a sweep in this three-game series would feel like a disappointment for the Red Sox. Yep, the series is already disappointing with two games yet to play.
They can’t afford to be punting away opportunities against teams like the Astros. The Rays are just a half-game back in the division, and with the addition of the second wild-card and the prefab drama of an annual one-game playoff, it is pretty much essential for the Red Sox to win the division. One stolen win here, one frustrating loss there may make all the difference.
Bogaerts himself may make all the difference. I’m not suggesting he’ll definitely come up and light the American League on fire — even Mike Trout took time to find his sea legs, hitting .163 in his first taste of the big leagues July 2011.
But it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Sox, in need of that jolt, could catch lightning in a bottle with this kid, who has met every challenge along the way. He’s had a wonderful season — in 104 games between Portland and Pawtucket, he has an .879 OPS, 14 homers, 60 RBIs, a .295 average and a .392 on-base percentage. Did I mention he won’t be 21 until October 2?
That OBP is perhaps the most encouraging stat of all — after walking just once in 97 plate appearances at Portland last year, he has 60 walks this season, including 25 against 34 strikeouts in just 205 Triple-A plate appearances. He’s mastering the strike zone exceptionally fast for such a young player. It’s something Will Middlebrooks, four years older and about to be surpassed, still struggles with, and perhaps always will.
Here’s where I’m convinced Bogaerts can help right now: against lefthanded pitching. As Peter Abraham noted in his game story this morning, the Red Sox are hitting .249 against southpaws this year. It’s a puny sample, but in 59 plate appearances against lefties since he joined Pawtucket, Bogaerts has put up a .318/.492/.545 slash line.
There are easy and heady comparisons to made about what he might provide. Gary DiSarcina, his manager in Pawtucket and not one for hyperbole, can’t help but compare him to Trout. It wouldn’t be original to suggest he could be to this year’s Red Sox what Manny Machado was to the Orioles a season ago. His 2013 path is somewhat similar to Jacoby Ellsbury‘s 2007 season, which began in Portland, percolated in Pawtucket, and ended with him winning everyone in the land a free taco during a star-turn in the World Series.
I’m particularly fascinated by a comp to Dwight Evans in 1972. He was called up at age 20 after a brilliant season at Triple A Louisville …
… and gave the Red Sox a bit of a boost in what ultimately was a failed bid to win the AL East, putting up a .747 OPS and a 117 OPS+ in 64 plate appearances. The hunch is that Dewey’s defense was a bit of a revelation to American League baserunners as well.
Sure, maybe Bogaerts’s defense hasn’t quite advanced beyond adequate yet. Neither has Brandon Snyder‘s, you know? The Red Sox have received crucial help from their stash of Quadruple A-types this season. But those players are eventually exposed over time. It’s time to let the elite talent take over and see where it goes.
Bogaerts is a special prospect, and if anyone tells you that, oh, Andy Marte was too and look how that turned out, disregard their opinion for they haven’t done their homework.
He is as can’t-miss as can’t-miss gets. And even if he isn’t fully formed as a major league player, there’s an area where he can almost certainly help — against those pesky lefties. And the potential is there to help in so many other ways.
Cherington’s habitual patience is admirable under most circumstances. But the time for action is near, and perhaps even past due. Despite a small slump with the PawSox (he has a .753 OPS over the past 10 games), Bogaerts will be here soon, perhaps even on this road trip.
I just wish he was in there Monday night. The small difference might have made all the difference.