As previously detailed in my case for Noah Syndergaard, I’ll occasionally be interspersing my usual content with my (probably misguided) award predictions for the upcoming season. Today marks the next installment pertaining to my poor judgement – it’s time for an AL ROY pick. Let’s just say it isn’t quite the dark horse equivalent to my NL selection…
Brian Cashman only projects his Japanese import to be a third starter, despite Masahiro Tanaka’s Spring Training so far. Jose Abreu might hit 30 home runs, but he may also struggle to just make contact. Houston’s stud outfielder George Springer will similarly come up with nothing but air far too many times. Taijuan Walker already has shoulder soreness. Kyle Zimmer may not get an opportunity to crack the Royals’ rotation, especially if Ervin Santana returns. I briefly flirted with the idea of Nick Castellanos, but let’s face it – there can only really be one AL ROY. It’s obviously Xander Bogaerts.
It’s not often that a player can boast about being a key cog on a World Series champion one year while still retaining his rookie eligibility for the next, but the no. 2 prospect in all of baseball can. The fact that Bogaerts only flashed his potential in his major-league cameo too, yet still drew rave reviews for his performance, should have the rest of the AL East on notice. As assessed by Marc Hulet of Fangraphs, the Aruba native “could be a perennial all-star at either shortstop or third base for years to come in Boston.”
The then-20 year old earned his one-way ticket to Fenway Park on the back of his combining to accrue an .865 OPS between Double-A and Triple-A in 2013. He played sparingly during the regular season however, appearing in only 18 games and hitting .250/.320/.364 over 50 plate appearances. Then came October. Despite his youth, Bogaerts was asked to take over as Boston’s starting third baseman in the middle of the ALCS, and took full advantage of the opportunity; as put by Baseball Prospectus “he looked like a veteran of huge, high-leverage, bright-spotlight moments when it counted, drawing key walks and scoring runs when the Red Sox needed them most.” And if their testimony to his precocious ability to belie his years weren’t enough, just ask Max Scherzer about his already incredible approach at the plate.
At 6’3 and 185 lbs, Bogaerts is bigger than the traditional shortstop, but with Boston’s apparent lack of interest in re-signing Stephen Drew, that will be the position he plays everyday in 2014, with Will Middlebrooks back manning third. By all accounts, his defense will be at least average for the position, with his offense primed to set him apart from his shortstop peers. Dubbed by Keith Law to be “Troy Tulowitzki with a little less arm”, Fangraphs judged his approach to be advanced for age. Similarly, in their Top 100 Prospects write-up, MLB.com assessed of Bogaerts’ offensive skills “He uses his smooth, balanced swing to make hard contact and drive the ball to all fields. He has big raw power and already knows how to use it.” So while it may be hard for him to replicate the .893 OPS he put up during the postseason, it’s neither an unattainable target for the young star to strive for in his first full season. To put it plainly, such a mark will likely be the regulation mark for Bogaerts in the future should he continue adeptly handling the heightened competition – an adaptation he has made successfully at every stop of his professional career so far.
Projected to begin the season hitting seventh in a potent Red Sox lineup, and with no competition (yet) for his position, Bogaerts has a great opportunity to accrue the sort of counting stats (RBIzzzzzz!) ROY voters traditionally love. His being on a nationally recognized, winning team too will only further bolster his case, setting him apart from most of his fellow junior circuit rookies. The award is his to lose at this point, at least in my opinion. Now, if we had to choose where Bogaerts will rank among Boston’s best hitters by seasons end – that’s a question worth debating. For the record, give me somewhere among David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia on the Red Sox podium.
Did I mention this guy is 21?