April 3, 2013

On Baseball: It's not a question of whether ...

... but when Xander Bogaerts will fulfill his potential and join Jackie Bradley Jr. as a young star with Boston.

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Standing in front of his locker in Fort Myers, Fla., last week, Xander Bogaerts wanted to know about Maine weather. He saw the frightening pictures of recent snow at Hadlock Field.

click image to enlarge

Xander Bogaerts, who will start the season with the Sea Dogs, is open to a position change – some feel he's too big to remain a shortstop – but the Red Sox have made it clear short is where he'll be.

The Associated Press

Xander Bogaerts
click image to enlarge

Xander Bogaerts


"So, how cold?" Bogaerts asked.

In the 40s at night, he was told.

"Forties? That's not too bad," Bogaerts told himself more than anyone.

"When does the cold go away?" he asked.

June, came the answer.

"June!" Bogaerts said. "Man, I was hitting .100 in April last year and it wasn't that cold."

Bogaerts paused, a smile coming over his lips. "I might bunt a lot," he said.

That comment cracked up his clubhouse neighbor in spring training, Jackie Bradley Jr. Bradley can laugh. He played in Portland last year when it was warm, and he isn't coming back.

Bogaerts? He played in Portland for 23 games at the end of last year and now he's back, ready to start the Sea Dogs' season Thursday at Hadlock, where the snow has been cleared away.

Bogaerts is only 20 but its conceivable he could join Bradley in the major leagues this year.

The current hysteria over Bradley and his major league debut Monday with Boston overshadows one point -- Bradley isn't considered the best Red Sox prospect. He's No. 2 on Baseball America's list.

Bogaerts is No. 1.

While Bradley groomed his game in high school and American Legion ball, then with the stellar University of South Carolina program, Bogaerts hails from Aruba, the southern Caribbean island known for its beaches, not its baseball.

Bradley is gifted and polished. Bogaerts is pure, raw talent.

"He's blessed with such great hand speed and some strength," said Dave Joppie, Portland's hitting coach last year.

"He has a knack for finding the baseball with the barrel of the bat."

And to think the Red Sox almost didn't find him.

In 2009, a Red Sox scout was conducting player evaluations in Aruba, in that constant search for unknown talent.

Xander Bogaerts, then 16, wasn't there. He was still bedridden, recovering from chicken pox.

The phone rang at the Bogaerts home. Xander's twin brother, Jair, was calling from the tryout.

"He told me to get down there," Bogaerts said. "I had to ask my mom. She finally let me go."

The Bogaert brothers impressed.

Both eventually signed with the Red Sox, Xander for $500,000 and Jair for $180,000.

Both played in the Dominican Summer league in 2010.

Then in 2011, at the age of 18, Xander was pushed past two rookie leagues, to Class A Greenville. He hit 16 home runs in 72 games. Boston had a top prospect on its hands.

The 2012 season began with Jair being traded to the Chicago Cubs in the deal involving General Manager Theo Epstein leaving Boston for Chicago.

"That was tough," Xander said. Jair eventually would be released by the Cubs.

But Xander kept hitting. Bogaerts hit .302 with 15 home runs last season in advanced Class A Salem before jumping to Portland for those 23 games (.326, five home runs, 10 doubles).

Bogaerts simply crushes the ball. He is 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, and expected to get stronger.

The potential is there. The talent simply needs to be refined.

"There are still some inconsistencies, approach-wise, that still need to be ironed out," Joppie said. "He's learning how to slow the game down because he can go 100 mph. He's learning how to replicate his swing from the ground up.

"Once he learns how to stay consistent, it's going to be very scary."

Boston invited Bogaerts to major league spring training. His time there was interrupted by the World Baseball Classic. Bogaerts played third base for the Netherlands (Andrelton Simmons of the Braves was the shortstop).

(Continued on page 2)

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