Xander Bogaerts’ time is now.
Bogaerts, who shined as a third baseman during the Boston Red Sox’s 2013 World Series run, is set to become the team’s everyday shortstop in 2014 if Stephen Drew signs elsewhere in free agency.
It’s possible that Drew still could return, especially since there aren’t many suitors for his services. But Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington sounds comfortable handing the reins to Bogaerts. The 21-year-old recently was ranked the No. 2 prospect in baseball by ESPN’s Keith Law and MLB.com.
Drew, who turned down a one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer at the beginning of free agency, is believed to be seeking a multiyear contract on the open market. The Red Sox appear hesitant to make that type of commitment, largely because Bogaerts already looks primed to make an impact at the major league level.
The Red Sox’s shortstop picture will remain somewhat unclear until Drew finds a home this offseason. But let’s dive into Boston’s shortstop situation to see where the club currently stands with spring training getting underway.
1. Xander Bogaerts
2. Jonathan Herrera
The shortstop depth chart — as well as the third base depth chart — obviously depends on whether Drew returns. If the 30-year-old re-signs with the Red Sox, he’ll garner plenty of at-bats, with Bogaerts likely bouncing between shortstop and third base, which currently is occupied by Will Middlebrooks.
Adding Drew to the mix would mean decreased playing time for everyone involved, as manager John Farrell likely would divvy up the at-bats based on matchups, trends and who’s hot at any given moment. While such a scenario certainly has its drawbacks when developing young players like Bogaerts (age 21) and Middlebrooks (age 25), Drew undoubtedly would make the Red Sox a much deeper team in 2014.
Assuming Drew signs elsewhere, Bogaerts will be the Red Sox’s starting shortstop. Jonathan Herrera, who was acquired from the Colorado Rockies this offseason in exchange for reliever Franklin Morales and minor league reliever Chris Martin, likely will be the club’s backup shortstop to begin the season.
Points of optimism
-Bogaerts is a stud, plain and simple.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a scout, analyst or teammate who doesn’t think Bogaerts will have a great career. If Bogaerts reaches his ceiling, he’ll be a perennial All-Star and a staple in the Red Sox’s lineup for many years.
-Bogaerts already has experience on the big stage, which could expedite his development.
It’s not often that a 21-year-old gets thrown into the fire during a World Series run, and Bogaerts handled himself with tremendous poise last season. He won’t shy away from the challenge of being the Red Sox’s everyday shortstop in 2014, if that’s the direction the club goes in.
-Bogaerts’ 2013 production suggests he can hit big league pitching.
Bogaerts hit .250 (11-for-44) with a homer, five RBIs, seven runs scored and a .320 on-base percentage in 18 regular-season games. He hit .296 (8-for-27) with nine runs scored and a .412 on-base percentage in 12 playoff games.
-Bogaerts added some versatility to his game last season by learning to play third base. While the Red Sox still view Bogaerts as a shortstop, his ability to play third could help Boston at some point in 2014, especially if Drew re-signs and/or Middlebrooks struggles.
-Bogaerts’ offensive approach fits perfectly into the Red Sox’s overall offensive game plan. He has tremendous plate discipline, and has shown a willingness to grind out at-bats. Oh yeah, his power to all fields doesn’t hurt, either.
-The Red Sox can afford to be patient with Drew.
There don’t appear to be many suitors, and the Red Sox have Bogaerts ready to roll. Boston can wait for a team-friendly deal, or move on if Drew’s price remains too steep.
Plus, the Red Sox’s familiarity with Drew should mean a seamless integration if the veteran re-signs. In other words, the Red Sox don’t need to set a deadline, as they’d be comfortable adding Drew back into the mix at any point.
-While Drew was solid last season, the Red Sox could be tougher against left-handers with him not around. Drew hit .196 with a .246 on-base percentage in 153 at-bats against southpaws last season.
-Herrera, a switch-hitter, hit well against right-handed pitching last season — .317 (46-for-145) with a .361 on-base percentage. He should be a nice complement to the right-handed-hitting Bogaerts.
-Brock Holt, who likely will begin the season at Triple-A Pawtucket, played in 26 games with the Red Sox last season. There’s some familiarity there if the Red Sox need to bring up someone for whatever reason.
-Deven Marrero still needs to develop offensively, but the 23-year-old’s defense has been encouraging. He could factor into the Red Sox’s major league infield plans — perhaps in a utility role — before long.
Points of skepticism
-Bogaerts’ potential is undeniable, but he’s still just 21 years old. Growing pains aren’t out of the question.
-The Red Sox would be showing a lot of faith in both Bogaerts and Middlebrooks by not re-signing Drew. Boston could be in some trouble if either or both struggle this season.
-Bogaerts’ defense isn’t too shabby, but Drew was extremely sure-handed last season, particularly in the playoffs. There could be a defensive drop-off, as well as an adjustment period while Bogaerts and Dustin Pedroia get on the same page as a double-play tandem.
-Will Bogaerts’ defensive development be stunted if at some point he’s forced to go back and forth between shortstop and third base? And will Bogaerts eventually “outgrow” shortstop, like some experts suggest?
-Marrero’s defense has been a bright spot in the minors. The Red Sox would like to see more offensively, though.
Reasonable expectations for 2014
Bogaerts has the makings of a superstar. But it’s important to keep in mind that he’s still very young. While Bogaerts could be an impactful player as soon as 2014, it’s also likely that he’ll go through a rough patch or two — perhaps later in the year, when the wear and tear of a full major league season sets in.
If Bogaerts starts 130-140 games, then 15-20 home runs, 70-80 RBIs and an average around .280 sounds reasonable. But again, don’t expect Bogaerts’ maximum potential to be reached in Year 1.
Position beyond 2014
Bogaerts is the present and the future.
The Red Sox could move Bogaerts to third base at some point, but with both Middlebrooks and third base prospect Garin Cecchini in the mix, Boston is better served keeping Bogaerts at shortstop for as long as it can. He could become a Troy Tulowitzki-like offensive force at the position.
If Bogaerts eventually shifts to third base, Marrero is the most likely internal option to fill the shortstop void. Jose Vinicio and Tzu-Wei Lin are intriguing defensive-minded shortstops in the Red Sox’s system, though.
Down on the farm
Notables: Holt, Mike McCoy, Marrero, Vinicio, Lin
Holt and McCoy will serve as organizational infield depth this season. They could enter the equation at some point in 2014 by virtue of circumstance.
Marrero is a candidate for a late-season call-up, although the more likely scenario is that he’ll find his way to the majors as a utility infielder in 2015.
Vinicio and Lin — both 20 years old — were signed to rather lucrative deals as international free agents. Both are very good defenders who could find their way to The Show with some offensive development over the next couple of seasons.
Editor’s note: NESN.com will provide an organizational outlook for each position in the days leading up to the Red Sox’ first full-squad spring training workout. The schedule for the outlooks is below. Click the links to view each outlook.
Monday, Feb. 10: first base
Tuesday, Feb. 11: second base
Wednesday, Feb. 12: third base
Thursday, Feb. 13: shortstop
Friday, Feb. 14: outfield
Monday, Feb. 17: catcher
Tuesday, Feb. 18: starting rotation
Wednesday, Feb. 19: bullpen