“FENWAY'S BEST PLAYERS”


 
2013-PRESENT
#6   XANDER BOGAERTS

Xander Bogaerts and his twin brother, Jair, got their first looks at baseball from a stroller, when their uncle Glenroy Brown often brought them to the Little League field where he coached in San Nicolaas, Aruba.

The twins didn’t grow up in a well-known baseball hotbed like the Dominican Republic, nor did they play in youth leagues as competitive as those that exist in the United States. But they were born on an island that’s enjoyed baseball since long before they were born, even though that part of the Caribbean has only recently drawn increased attention from American baseball fans.

Bogaerts, who was called up to the Red Sox on August 19, 2013 had the chance to become Aruba’s first true major league star.

Bogaerts is the fifth player from Aruba to make it to the majors (13 from Curacao have done it). The longest-tenured of those was Sidney Ponson, a pitcher who was signed by the Orioles in 1993 and debuted as a 21-year-old in 1998.  Andruw Jones was also signed out of Curacao as a 16-year-old in 1993. Consequently, Bogaerts grew up watching the Braves and rooting for a local player.

For MLB scouting purposes, Aruba and Curacao, a pair of islands about 20 miles off the coast of Venezuela, generally are grouped together. Both are constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and their official languages are Dutch and a creole language called Papamiento, although English is widely spoken and taught in schools.

The Lago Oil and Transport Company brought American and Dominican workers, among others, to Aruba in the first half of the 20th century. Those workers helped introduce baseball to Aruba by building a sports complex near the refinery. While soccer was and remains more popular on the island, the complex also held a baseball field, where many of Aruba’s young players still compete today. Proximity to Venezuela, which has produced 296 major league players, also fueled the game’s growth in both Aruba and Curacao.

Bogaerts says he isn’t especially surprised by the recent wave of players from the Dutch Caribbean in North American professional baseball. He’s just surprised it didn’t happen sooner.

The boys got involved in Little League and Bogaerts began traveling around the Caribbean to play in tournaments when he was 9 years old. That gave him a chance to experience the game in countries with more intense relationships with baseball, and he enjoyed the heightened level of competition.

The level of competition in Aruba may lag behind some of its Caribbean neighbors, but the island did send a team to represent the Caribbean in the Little League World Series as recently as 2011. Curacao has had even more success in the Little League World Series, winning the tournament in 2004 and winning the Caribbean region every year from 2001 to 2009.

The Bogaerts family moved to Bonaire, a smaller island east of Curacao, when the boys were 11. But they eventually moved back to Aruba, first Jair and then Xander, largely because the quality of baseball was higher there.

Bogaerts was signed at 16 and rose through the Red Sox’ system to the majors before his 21st birthday. He’s benefited from a combination of motivation and athleticism that’s rare in any country, along with at least one distinct aspect of his Aruban upbringing: He speaks English and Spanish as well as Aruba’s two official languages, Dutch and Papamiento. That’s eased his transition to the United States, and helped him ease others’ as well.

 Guys like Xander have always served as kind of intermediaries between the Latin players and the English players. Why? Because he’s bilingual and he’s a very intelligent kid, he can communicate directly with the coaches and not miss anything in translation. It’s a huge advantage for somebody like Xander. He’s always been very mature and helpful, in addition to that, so he’s been a tremendous help to a lot of players in the system.ť

Romero says Aruba and Curacao boast plenty of athletic, if unrefined, players in their youth leagues, and that Caribbean tournaments have played a huge role in giving those players a wider audience.

Mike Lord, a scout for the Boston Red Sox, discovered Bogaerts at the age of 16, in 2009. After not playing baseball for two weeks due to the chicken pox, Bogaerts played for Lord, who recommended him to Craig Shipley, the Red Sox' vice president of international scouting. Shipley flew to Aruba to watch Bogaerts play. The Red Sox signed him to a contract with a $410,000 signing bonus.

Bogaerts made his professional debut in 2010 with the Dominican Summer League (DSL) Red Sox, where he batted .314 with a .396 on-base percentage (OBP). He led the DSL Red Sox in batting average, hits (75), home runs (3), runs batted in (RBI) (42), total bases (101), slugging and on-base plus slugging (OPS). He was fifth in the DSL in RBI and tenth in total bases.

The next year, at age 18, he played in a full-season league for the Greenville Drive of the Class A South Atlantic League, with a .260 batting average, .324 OBP and .509 SLG, fielding .924 and hitting 16 home runs in 72 games. He then joined the Dutch national team for the 2011 Baseball World Cup, winning the gold medal.

During the 2012 season he started out in Class-A and ended up playing with the Portland Sea Dogs of the Class AA Eastern League. He was named to appear in the 2012 All-Star Futures Game. He played for the Netherlands national baseball team in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

Heading into the 2013 season he was ranked the 5th overall prospect by ESPN's Keith Law. Entering 2013, Bogaerts ranked 6th in the MLB.com Top 100 Prospects list, and 8th in the Baseball America Top 100 Prospects list.

He started the season with Portland and was promoted to the Pawtucket Red Sox of the Triple-A International League in mid-June. The Red Sox promoted Bogaerts to the major leagues on August 19th. Bogaerts made his MLB debut on August 20th against the San Francisco Giants. He got his first major league hit five days later against the Los Angeles Dodgers. On September 7th, Bogaerts hit his first MLB home run against New York Yankees’ pitcher Jim Miller. At the end of the 2013 Minor League season, Bogaerts gained USA Today’s Minor League Player of the Year honors and was named to the 2013 Baseball America Minor League All-Star Team. During his brief stint in the Majors of 2013, Bogaerts appeared in 18 games batting .250 with a home run, 5 RBI, and a stolen base.

Despite debuting late in the season, Bogaerts was part of the 25-man active roster during the postseason run. Bogaerts had a strong performance in the postseason as he batted .296 with 2 RBI in 12 postseason games, eventually leading to the Red Sox winning their eighth overall World Series.

Bogaerts started 2014 as the starting shortstop for the Boston Red Sox on March 31st. On June 2nd, Bogaerts was to third base, after the Red Sox resigned Stephen Drew. He was moved back to short once again when the Red Sox traded Drew to the Yankees at the trading deadline on July 31st.

In 2015, Bogaerts started to make everyone take notice. At the end of June, roughly a year and a half into life as an everyday big leaguer, he delivered reminders of why he was so highly regarded. On a team that had offered few signs of offensive promise, Bogaerts represented an exception. Bogaerts led all American League shortstops in batting average (.287) and OBP (.332) while ranking third in slugging (.391). In the last 100 years, the short list of Sox players who performed at such a level at Bogaerts' age (or younger) is limited to names like Rice, Carl Yastrzemski, Tony Conigliaro, Bobby Doerr, and Ted Williams.

In the first game of the final week at home on September 21st, Xander Bogaerts' eighth-inning grand slam enabled the Sox to overtake the Tampa Bay Rays, 8-7, and move out of last place for the first time since June 9th. Bogaerts drove in five runs and was up to 78 RBIs to go with his .323 average, which was second in the American League.

He finished the season second to Miguel Cabrera for AL batting title, with an average of .320.

In 2016, Bogaerts begun on a shaky note and finished strong. In his third full season, he took a half-step backwards both at the plate and on defense, where his glove was simply average at best. He did reach the 20-homer barrier for the first time, but his batting eye and discipline began to desert him as the season went on.

By the end of May he was batting .350, with a steady, consistent barrage of hits over nearly four weeks.  He had a 26 game hitting streak during the month that ended the first week of June. A couple of weeks later, he had four hits and drove in four runs in Minnesota. He added four more hits and drove in three runs in the next game.

By the middle of June, he had a major league-leading 96 hits. Through 65 games it was the most by any Red Sox player, in at least the last 100 years, surpassing the prior standard of 95 set by Ted Williams in 1948. On June 23rd, he delivered the winning single in the bottom half of the 10th inning to give the Sox an 8-7 victory over the White Sox.

On June 11th, he was hitting .358 and for the rest of the season, he batted .253. Chasing breaking balls that were low-and-away, proved his undoing, as pitchers started to shy away from throwing him strikes. He had a really bad stretch in August, but he was still able to punish pitchers when they didn’t properly execute their game plan, or when he was able to lay off early and get ahead in the count. His problems weren’t exactly surprising or new. But the difference in quality both in good times and bad between 2014 and 2016 goes to show how far he has come.

He was named to the 2016 American League All Star team and went 1 for 2, with a double.

Defensively, in 2016, he committed a career-high 13 errors, dropping his fielding percentage to .977 compared to .983 a year ago. He also finished with -10 defensive runs saved, next to last among AL shortstops and the worst rating of his career.

Despite the dip in production, there are a lot of positives to take away from Bogaerts’ season. While his batting average was lower, he nearly doubled the number of walks he drew a year ago, resulting in a .356 OBP that was a tick above last year’s. He also saw He went into a funk at an inopportune time, but his overall numbers were very solid this season.