1998 was a different time. A two liter of Coke cost only 89 cents, Sony produced a camcorder that could see through clothing, and Burger King bamboozled the United States on April Fool’s Day by releasing an ad to promote a Whopper specifically designed for left handers… we were a simpler folk, suffice to say.
And, on a baseball related note, Adrian Beltre, age 19, made his major league debut for the Dodgers, hanging tight with the big club for 77 games. While considered now to be a first or second ballot Hall of Famer, it’s easy to forget that he wasn’t very good as a young Dodger, and was only able to cash in on a $65M deal with Seattle after a colossus MVP runner up 2004 season, when he blasted 48 bombs for LA.
In fact, it wasn’t until he was 31 years old, and on a one year deal with the Boston Red Sox, that Beltre earned himself his first All-Star nod, and in the seven years following, has become one of the American League’s top run producing – as well as run saving – household names.
But, in a city like Boston, patience is a virtue not generally worn on the sleeve. Just ask Dustin Pedroia, who was booed routinely in the very early stages of his career, when he swung out of his shoes on every pitch, and could barely muster the talent to scratch the Mendoza line. Fans of all franchises have had to bear witness of their own favorite players’ growing pains at one time or another; the gamut runs from a beardless Jayson Werth in Toronto, to the delayed development of Edwin Encarnacion. Then you have Dan Uggla, a rule 5er who slugged 31+ homers five times, just not until he turned 27. And how about Cliff Lee and his 6.34 ERA, before becoming a four time All-Star with Cleveland and Philadelphia?
Getting to my point, there’s a young player, with a sky high ceiling of potential, but has gotten some unfair criticism throughout his first five years in the game: Xander Bogaerts.
Now, it’s important to note that I am not pounding my fist on the table, proclaiming that the X-man is a future Cooperstown inductee, and to just wait and see that he’ll start producing Adrian Beltre type numbers; what I’m trying to convey is that not every player makes his mark immediately, or even three, four, five seasons into their big league career. But what I can say is that the career trajectory of Beltre and Bogaerts are linear, and the latter could be poised for a break out season with the Red Sox.
Xander debuted when he was just 20 years old. That’s an age where most of us are trying to acquire some form of a Mclovin’ ID card, or are stressing out over whether or not we want to stick with our college major or decide upon a new path in life. As mentioned, Beltre was 19 in his debut, and throughout the first five seasons of their respective careers, they posted cumulative slash lines as seen below:
Bogaerts: .283 / .339 / .409 / .748
Beltre: .267 / .327 / .429 / .756
As if those numbers aren’t analogous, each right handed hitter totaled over 400 strikeouts, were within 26 RBI of one another other, and had bounced between shortstop and third base, a no-no for young players who are still developing defensively, with frames that are yet to fill out, and are learning nuances and tendencies of the major leagues.
Xander was heralded as a five tool player as he rocketed through the Sox farm system, and the Fenway Faithful have seen glimpses of that throughout his 623 games. While his range can be questionable, he is no doubt an athletic middle infielder, and when his swing is on, it’s beautiful to watch. Heck, he’s even earned himself an All-Star appearance and a pair of silver slugger awards, telling us that not only is the talent there, but we’re merely just waiting for it to come together, to perhaps produce something along the lines of a .300 / 26 / 96 season.
But why hasn’t he done it?
Well, there are a lot of factors that go into a professional athlete’s performance, and some are less obvious than the others. Why I ultimately deduct that 2018 is going to be Bogey’s breakout campaign comes down to one important addition to the team, and that is Alex Cora. The Dodger turned Red Sox utility player was brought in partly because of his ability to work closely with young players, and considering how Carlos Correia and Jose Altuve performed in 2017 under his eye as the bench coach for the defending champs, you can’t really argue against the notion that he’s great for a still-young Xander.
What has been somewhat understated over the last five seasons has been Bogaerts inability to work with a player relatable manager. While not much has gone public in regards to the John Farrell-Xander Bogaerts relationship, the media leaked that the two simply did not get along, which isn’t much of a surprise if you follow the Sox and Farrell’s demeanor towards his players and clubhouse. And you can’t even blame Xander, as he was beat into the ground over the last three years in Boston. When you log over 2,000 plate appearances and 461 games at the demanding shortstop position, your body will wear down. Your bat speed will slow, your ability to bust it out of the box will be delayed a split second, and the aggravation will mount against your boss, as it can quickly appear that one’s health is not in his best interest.
A telltale statistic that supports plausibility to the notion that Xander’s performance suffers due to fatigue and lethargy is provided, using his 2017 first and second half splits as a reference:
1st Half: .806 OPS / 6 HR / 20 2B / 9 SB
2nd Half: .671 OPS / 4 HR / 12 2B / 6 SB
So is getting the youthful shortstop some much needed R&R a top priority? Well, the proof is in the pudding for Alex Cora, and if the answer is obvious to us, it must be to him as well. With a restful offseason underway, and Bogaerts now having four full seasons under his belt, can the former international free agent signing put it all together? Yeah, I think he can. And if the Red Sox front office can add a much needed power bat – or two, which would behoove of them – over the coming months, combined with a breakout Bogey, the defending division champions can alleviate the run scoring issues that plagued them in 2017.
In 1998, we were naive enough to fall for a sandwich designed for lefties, and some of us even fell prey to believing Carmen Electra and Dennis Rodman’s marriage would exceed nine days. But don’t be fooled by Boston’s shortstop of the future; here’s hoping that Dave Dombrowski recognizes the asset at hand, and not only hangs on to Xander throughout the winter, but can afford to negotiate a deal with Scott Boras to keep the shortstop in a Sox uniform, long term.