The evidence wouldn’t be hard to find, so I’ll come clean: I figured Xander Bogaerts would be batting third for the Red Sox by now.
It feels like a long time ago, but the early days of June were heady times even for a 21-year-old player who, in his first full big league season, was accompanied by great expectations.
After going two-for-four with a homer and a double in a 5-3 loss to Cleveland on June 3, Bogaerts, situated in the No. 2 spot in the batting order, seemed on the verge of fulfilling even the most optimistic prognostications. Yes, such as one made at this address that predicted he would be an All-Star this season.
He was on the way, batting .304/.395/.464 at that point, a staggeringly impressive performance even for a player generally regarded as the second-best prospect in baseball to the Twins’ Byron Buxton.
Since then … well, you know. It’s been ugly. Crespo-level ugly. Grebeckian, even. He’s fallen into such a drastic slump that it’s easy to wonder whether he should be hitting third — or somewhere deeper in the lineup — for the Pawtucket Red Sox right now.
I don’t think anyone expected Bogaerts to be immune to a slump, even with his obviously elite talent and the beyond-his-years poise he showed in the postseason last year. But I don’t think anyone expected this — the .133/.142/.230 slash-line since the beginning of June, the plummeting of his OPS from that .859 peak on June 3 to the .681 he takes into tonight’s game against the White Sox, the recent 0-for-27 skid that amounted to him being a one-man no-hitter.
I do think — speaking for myself here, anyway — that we thought he’d struggle less, and for shorter spans, than the vast majority of young players. That was a mistake, given how young he is not only in years, but in actual experience, what with 84 major-league plate appearances entering the season and just 116 minor league games above Single-A.
There are occasional phenoms who find stardom from their first plate appearance and make the adjustment look easy. Fred Lynn came up at the tail end of the ’74 season, hit .419 with an 1.188 OPS in 51 plate appearances, then glided to the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards in ’75.
But most young players — even those who become future stars and cornerstones — do struggle. Dustin Pedroia’s unimpressive debut late in 2006 and early in 2007 had some suggesting Alex Cora should play second base. As a 23-year-old for the Twins in ’99, David Ortiz had 25 plate appearances and not a single hit.
Mike Trout, who at 22 is well on his way toward establishing himself as this generation’s Mickey Mantle, found himself hitting .204/.260/.381 after his first 123 plate appearances in 2011.
While his cheating heart makes it difficult to measure the authenticity of his accomplishments, it is worth noting that through his first 65 games over the 1994-95 seasons, a span of 208 plate appearances, Alex Rodriguez hit .224/.255/.352 with a walk/K ratio of 9/62. The next season, he batted .358 with 36 homers and 54 doubles.
While it’s jarring to watch Bogaerts struggle to this degree, especially against sliders, I don’t think it portends that he is something less than all of the scouts and minor-league analysts and, hell, Red Sox fans who fell for him last October. He’s an obvious mess at the plate right now — though maybe yesterday’s two-hit game is a turning point — but the supreme talent is there, and anyone who saw him shoot Max Scherzer’s killer slider off the right-center field wall during the ALCS has to figure he’ll solve the pitch again soon enough.
I’m not worried about Bogaerts turning this around, as much of a bummer as it is to watch him struggle like this. He’ll get it going, and hopefully it will make the ancillary noise go away instantly. He is not evidence that the Red Sox over-hype their prospects; it’s simply that we know so much more about the minor leagues now than we did even a decade ago, and that familiarity heightens expectations when the jewels of the farm system arrive at Fenway. Sometimes a prospect’s promise leads us to forget how difficult it is to establish yourself in the big-leagues. But over-hyped? That’s nonsense.
And so is this — the suggestion that the arrival of Stephen Drew, which bumped Bogaerts over to third base and reestablished an alignment that worked just fine last October, has affected his hitting.
That is nothing but the transparent agenda of fans who refuse to acknowledge that Drew helped the Red Sox win a World Series last season, don’t like the guy despite his contributions a season ago, and feel like they need more evidence beyond Drew’s lousy performance this year to rip the decision to sign him.
It’s just not true that Drew’s arrival sent Bogaerts into a funk. The Red Sox announced the Drew deal on May 20. From May 21 through June 3, Bogaerts went 23-for-59 — that’s a .389 average — with three homers, four three-hit games, and eight multiple-hit games.
That’s not a funk; that’s a tear.
If you don’t want to bother studying up on causation and correlation since it damages your narrative and agenda, at least give Bogaerts’s words some credence.
“Two parts of the game,” Bogaerts told the Globe’s Peter Abraham a couple of days ago. “I don’t think about defense when I’m at the plate.”
To suggest that the position change has had some seismic adverse effect on Bogaerts’s frame of mind is to do him a disservice. This is a kid who has demonstrated that he possesses the even-keel mindset so important to surviving the peaks and valleys of major league baseball’s long season.
He handled his postseason success with poise, and by all accounts, he’s handling his slump the same way. Sure, he was obviously frustrated initially by the move to third base. He wants to be a shortstop. It was a perfectly human response. Then, you know, he got over it. Yet I’ve been hearing on Twitter that he’s mad that the Red Sox didn’t communicate with him and it’s one more reason they shouldn’t have signed Drew.
I mean, c’mon. You don’t know what was said or how it was said or who said it or how often. What we do know is that John Farrell’s best asset as a manager probably is his ability to communicate honestly, and the Red Sox were not about to leave their organizational pride in the dark, wondering about what they think of him.
Xander Bogaerts is struggling, his slash-line this season (.241/.320/.362) in weird, near-perfect alignment with his numbers (.250/.320/.364) during his small-sample debut last September.
It’s hard to watch him struggle, but it’s also part of the process. It’s his turn to adjust, and everything in his makeup and skill-set suggests he will. He’ll solve the slider, just as he did Scherzer’s.
The Red Sox’ faith in him hasn’t wavered — yes, you can be sure they’ve told him that — and yours shouldn’t, either.