PORTLAND — Shortstop Xander Bogaerts emerged from the Portland Sea Dogs’ dugout in the second inning to bat for the first time Tuesday night.
His helmet seemed to fit just fine – not too tight.
Bogaerts’ head has not inflated from all the hype and if you take him at his word, it won’t.
“I’m not thinking too much about it,” Bogaerts said.
But others are certainly paying attention.
Bogaerts, 19, may be the most anticipated Red Sox prospect in years. He already is considered the top prospect in the Boston system now that Will Middlebrooks is in the majors.
Promoted to Portland six days ago, Bogaerts became the first teenager to reach the Sea Dogs in the Boston organization.
The last 19-year-old to play for Portland? First baseman Adrian Gonzalez in 2002, when the Sea Dogs were a Marlins affiliate.
Gonzalez turned out OK.
As for Bogaerts “obviously, he’s very talented,” Sea Dogs Manager Kevin Boles said.
Bogaerts played for the World team in the MLB Futures Game in July — part of the All-Star festivities. Pawtucket Manager Arnie Beyeler, formerly of Portland, was a coach on the World team. He said Bogaerts reminded him of Hanley Ramirez.
Is that good or bad?
Ramirez was the last young international phenom for the Red Sox, reaching Portland in 2004 as a 20-year-old. Immensely talented, Ramirez also had attitude issues. He might have made it to Portland sooner but was suspended twice by the Red Sox for discipline problems in 2003.
After a so-so 2005 season in Portland (.271 average, six home runs), he was traded to the Marlins in the Josh Beckett deal.
With Bogaerts, the Red Sox say attitude is not an issue.
“This kid is very intelligent, very personable,” Boles said. “Great reviews on his work ethic and his character. He’s very confident – and coachable.”
Center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. played with Bogaerts in Salem.
“Everybody knows he’s good. He knows he’s good,” Bradley said. “But he works hard and blows off the hype. He knows he’s not there yet.”
But he’s getting closer. And Bogaerts is off to a hot start in Double-A: .421 average, two home runs and four RBI in his first four games.
As a 16-year-old international free agent from San Nicolas, Aruba, Bogaerts signed with Boston in August 2009.
Just before signing, Bogaerts made his first appearance in Maine, in the 2009 Senior Little League World Series in Bangor. He played for the Caribbean country of Curacao.
“I remember it being cold sometimes,” he said.
In 2010, Bogaerts played in the Dominican Summer League. He began opening eyes in 2011.
Boston rushed him over two rookie leagues last year and started him at Class A Greenville. He responded by batting .260 with 16 home runs in 72 games — rare power for an 18-year-old shortstop.
He also struck out 71 times in 265 at-bats.
“I’ve had to make some adjustments with the breaking balls and the change-ups,” Bogaerts said.
Excuse Bogaerts for being inexperienced. He not only is young, but Aruba is not the Dominican.
“In Aruba, I played only on weekends,” he said. “In the summer I’d go to tournaments and play seven or eight games.”
Sent to advanced Class A Salem this year, Bogaerts batted .302 with 15 home runs in 104 games. He stuck out only 85 times in 384 at-bats. In his last six games for Salem, Bogaerts batted .538 with five home runs.
“Having a pretty good season,” he said. “I’m recognizing breaking balls earlier and not chasing them so much.”
Bogaerts knows what to do with a fastball. In the fourth inning, he worked a 2-0 count and got an outside fastball.
He tattooed it. Bogaerts’ blast kept rising to right-center. It cleared the Gorham Savings Bank sign — 40 feet up.
“He’s definitely strong and very athletic,” Boles said.
While Boles also praised Bogaerts’ defense, the speculation is that Bogaerts eventually may be moved to another position. The Red Sox have better fielders at shortstop and Bogaerts may continue to lose mobility as he fills out. He’s 6-foot-3 and 175 pounds, and expected to get bigger and stronger.
But his head will stay the same size despite the frenzy over his potential.
“I try not to let that get to my head,” he said. “Just come in, do my work and try to get better every day.”
Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org