Xander Bogaerts shows why he’s on the fast track
|07.15.13 at 7:45 am ET|
NEW YORK — Xander Bogaerts was in one of the signature batting practice groups of the All-Star Futures Game at CitiField, a session particularly noteworthy for the presence of World teammate Miguel Sano, one of the foremost slugging prospects in all of baseball. Just as Sano was launching pitches into the recesses of the seats in left field, so, too, was Bogaerts expected to highlight the considerable raw power that has led to industry consensus that he’s a future middle-of-the-order power hitter.
Didn’t happen. Bogaerts mostly sprayed line drives around the field. He wasn’t selling out his usual batting practice approach just for the sake of the setting (a major league ballpark) or the onlookers (a ton of front office executives, scouts and media members).
Admittedly, the decision not to swing for the fences wasn’t entirely by design.
“It was actually a quick [batting practice]. The last round, I wanted to go a home run round — just the last one — [but] when I wanted the last one, it was over. I didn’t even know what was going on,” said Bogaerts. “It happened so quick. I didn’t get a chance to do it.”
Still, he was not disappointed. The more important work had been done.
“Most of these guys were just hacking — excited, in the moment, going for home runs, got out of their approach a little bit and took it into the game. I just stayed relaxed, not try to hit home runs. I’m not trying to impress nobody,” said Bogaerts. “Just be me, and it just carried on into the game.”
Indeed it did. Though one of the game’s youngest participants, the 20-year-old Bogaerts also played with an unmatched polish in the contest. He collected two of the three World team hits. He went 2-for-3 with a walk, the only player on either side to reach base three times. He showed baserunning acumen, scoring on a sacrifice fly to medium depth in left field and beating a rocket of a throw to the plate by sliding smartly to the inside of the plate and around the tag of catcher Austin Hedges.
“I saw [Hedges go outside], but I didn’t know how far, so once I saw him catch the ball, I just tried to go inside corner and made a beautiful slide,” said Bogaerts.
He handled his opportunities at shortstop cleanly as well, most notably showing quick hands on a shovel play to get a force at second.
“How’d I look at short? Good?” Bogaerts laughed in deference to the ongoing conversation about whether he will stick at the primary position where he has come up. “I can’t stay at shortstop?”
Still, it was his plate approach that stood out the most. On both of his singles, he got to two-strike counts and then stayed with an up-the-middle approach on pitches in the strike zone, first lining a single to center against World team starter (and Mets prospect) Noah Syndergaard on a 96 mph fastball and then doing the same against fellow Sox prospect Anthony Ranaudo‘s 1-2 93 mph fastball in the fourth inning.
“Bat speed is still there,” a relieved Bogaerts noted.
Each instance of reaching base carried considerable significance. The first hit was the one that the 20-year-old craved the most. Bogaerts had received a surprise visit from his mother and brother at the contest — neither of whom was able to attend last year’s Futures Game in Kansas City — and so he wanted to perform for them.
“I just wanted a hit for my mom,” said Bogaerts. “After I got the first one, great day.”
It got better. The single against Ranaudo, with whom Bogaerts played in Portland earlier this year, ensured that the organization’s top prospect did not have to sacrifice bragging rights.
“I started laughing at him actually — my teammate, you know,” Bogaerts acknowledged. “I just didn’t want to strike out against him so he could talk crap. I just wanted to put the ball in play no matter what happened.”
For his part, Ranaudo offered praise after having been bested in the confrontation.
“He’s such a great hitter. He made that obvious,” said the pitcher. “I had him in a 1-2 count and I threw a fastball and kind of ran it back middle in and he did a great job just hitting it back up the middle. You can’t do that to such a great hitter like that.”
Yet as much as it meant to claim success against his fellow member of the Sox, Bogaerts, who struck out in his third at-bat, then followed with the plate appearance with which he seemed most satisfied from an approach standpoint. With the World team down by two runs in the ninth, the precocious shortstop for Triple-A Pawtucket negotiated a walk from Giants right-hander Kyle Crick.
“I liked the last at-bat — the walk,” said Bogaerts. “We really needed to reach on base, start something going, I was thinking all the way. Just 3-2, I was ready to swing, he just threw a ball. I just wanted to reach on base on that situation.”
That sort of willingness to work a count and take a walk has been a staple of Bogaerts’ game this year. After he raised questions about his plate discipline by walking just once in 23 games in Double-A at the end of last year, Bogaerts posted an OBP of over .400 (.407, along with a .311 average and .502 slugging mark) while returning to Portland to start the year. He’s continued to show the ability to work counts and earn first base in Triple-A, having had a recent streak in which he walked at least once in eight straight games en route to a solid .260 average, .353 OBP and .462 slugging mark with seven homers and 15 walks in 29 games.
“I love walks. That makes me feel good that I know the strike zone and everything is OK,” said Bogaerts. “When you get walks, it means you’re focused and doing everything right. I don’t mind an 0-for-3 with a walk. It’s good.”
That approach was evident. Accordingly, in a contest of the game’s most luminous prospects, Bogaerts stood out as the position player who looked (arguably) like the closest thing to a big leaguer. Given that he has never spent more than 104 games at any single level, it’s not hard to forecast that he could be ready for his next challenge on the big league stage before the end of this year.
Indeed, the point was underscored for Bogaerts by seeing that Brandon Workman — with whom Bogaerts has played most of the last three seasons — is now in the big leagues.
“When he got promoted to Salem, he got promoted, then I got promoted. Then this year, he got promoted to Triple-A, then I got promoted. Now, he got promoted to the big leagues — am I going? It’s just a joke, but it’s been a weird thing, thinking back,” Bogaerts said. “A little bit of time in Triple-A is not bad — a little bit more. I’m not saying the whole year, but a little bit more is OK to really get settled in. … [But] I’ll be ready [for a call-up]. Definitely. I’ll be ready for that one.”
That much was on display at the Futures Game on Sunday.
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