, Gloucester, MA

August 2, 2013

Bogaerts, Middlebrooks will get their chances for Red Sox

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — The Jake Peavy Era in Boston will begin when the right-handed starter rolls into town today and the Xander Bogaerts Era in Boston might not be too far behind.

By shipping Jose Iglesias to Detroit in the Peavy trade, the Red Sox created an immediate hole at third base and opened a golden opportunity for Bogaerts or Will Middlebrooks to win that position at some point here in August.

“(Bogaerts) is part of a group in Pawtucket that includes a number of guys that we probably will need to rely on the rest of the year,” Red Sox GM Ben Cherington said. “I’m not going to single him out over anybody else. It’s not about who the best prospect is. It’s about who the best player is to help us win.”

That said, Bogaerts — who Baseball America recently ranked baseball’s fourth best professional prospect — is not only the best prospect in the Red Sox system, but he also is the best player right now among all the third base candidates.

Brandon Snyder and Brock Holt are platooning at third base for the time being. They both have done admirably in limited roles with Boston this summer. But they are short-term solutions to give Middlebrooks and Bogaerts a little extra time in Triple-A Pawtucket to work on their games. Either Middlebrooks or Bogaerts, or possibly both, should be with the big league club by the middle of this month.

The Red Sox never engaged in serious trade talks with any team regarding a right-handed hitting third baseman such as Philadelphia’s Michael Young.

“I feel like we can figure that out within the organization,” Cherington said about third base. “Right now, obviously Holt and Snyder are here. Both those guys have done a good job for us. We’ve got some other guys in Pawtucket that could help as time goes on. So we’ll just see how it all plays out.”

Bogaerts is a shortstop but he has played third base in five different games since his promotion to Pawtucket from Double-A Portland.

He has been impressive for Pawtucket, hitting .279 with a .383 on-base percentage, .481 slugging percentage, .864 OPS, eight homers, seven doubles and 24 RBIs in 154 at-bats.

“He’s a good young player,” Cherington said. “When you get to Triple-A there’s no such thing as a prospect. You’re part of the major league depth. It just depends on opportunity. So anybody down there could be up here the next day depending on what happens.”

By dealing Iglesias — a defensive wiz with a questionable bat — the Red Sox aren’t just showing they continue to value offense over defense at the shortstop position, but they also that they believe Bogaerts will turn into the type of franchise/impact positional player, or close to it, that everyone expects him to become. They believe he is the long term answer at shortstop.

Also, the Red Sox seem to feel that either Bogaerts or Middlebrooks will produce with Boston this season.

Bogaerts is only 20 but he is proving to be a better option than Middlebrooks, who is hitting just .253 with a .319 on-base percentage, .445 slugging percentage, .764 OPS, eight homers, four doubles and 30 RBIs in 146 at-bats for Pawtucket.

MIddlebrooks, of course, was demoted from the Red Sox after batting a horrendous .192 with a .228 OBP in 203 at-bats this season, his sophomore campaign.

Middlebrooks hasn’t been too pleased with his long stay in Pawtucket. Earlier this year, he questioned why Jonathan Diaz was promoted over him. He reportedly was frustrated when Holt was promoted over him to replace Iglesias yesterday.

Middlebrooks actually was ejected from yesterday’s PawSox game when he spiked his helmet after striking out during an at-bat.

As Cherington stressed, it’s about who the best player is right now. Middlebrooks is putting himself far down that list of best players with only a .319 OBP in Pawtucket. Bogaerts, meanwhile, is emerging as the clear-cut choice.

The Red Sox really are making a statement to Middlebrooks, that he has to improve as hitter or else he won’t be back in the majors this year. Like Bogaerts, the Iglesias’ trade has provided a golden opportunity for him. But it’s not just going to be given to him. He has to earn it.

“He knows what he needs to do,” Cherington said about Middlebrooks. “And he’ll be back in the big leagues when the time is right. We don’t know when that is.”

The Red Sox likely want to give Bogaerts another couple of weeks in Triple-A to see how he adapts more as pitchers adjust more to him. But so far, so good: He’s only gotten better since being at Triple-A.

Maybe the biggest concern with Bogaerts is his defense. He only has received seven chances in his five games at third base. He has made all seven plays cleanly. The 20-year-old likes to joke that the ball never comes to him at third so that makes the position much easier than shortstop.

In reality, he still feels more comfortable at shortstop.

“It (the ball) comes quicker and so you’ve got to let your instincts take place there,” Bogaerts said about third. “You’ve got to get different angles so it’s different.”

Adjusting to Triple-A pitchers is much difficult from adjusting to major league hurlers.

Just ask Angels center fielder Mike Trout, who finished second for the 2012 AL MVP but who hit just .220 with a .281 in his first major league stint, a 40-game stretch in 2011.

Jackie Bradley Jr. also experienced growing pains during his first major league stint in April, hitting .097 in 31 at-bats for Boston before being demoted to Pawtucket.

With Bogaerts being so young, he could experience the same growing pains Trout did at 19 and Bradley did at 22/23.

Or Bogaerts might hold his own like Baltimore Orioles’ Manny Machado did last year when he was promoted at 20 directly from Double-A to the majors and made an immediate impact, batting .262 with seven homers, 26 RBIs, eight doubles and three triples.

Machado certainly wasn’t an OBP machine — he posted just a .294 mark — but he provided some power and helped Baltimore earn a playoff berth. He also was a shortstop that adjusted to playing third base as needed.

Bogaerts’ minor league career OBP is 30 points higher than Machado’s was in the minors. Maybe he’ll struggle in the majors but it’s worth the shot this year.

“He’s a very talented young player who’s still developing,” Cherington said about Bogaerts.

Yes, it’s true he’s still developing. But that doesn’t mean he can’t help the big league club right now. It’s just a matter of time, maybe just days, before the Bogaerts Era begins.