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There is no better literal representation for the headache of a season Xander Bogaerts has had for the Red Sox this year than the 89 mile-per-hour changeup the 21-year-old took off the head Friday night.
Bogaerts’ night at the plate said it all, really. His first at-bat he crushed a Felix Hernandez pitch well over the Monster, but inches foul. It was close enough for Manager John Farrell to challenge, but much like the Red Sox season as a whole, it didn’t go their way. Bogaerts struck out later in the at-bat.
In his next time up, King Felix came up and in, beaming Bogaerts in the head and knocking his helmet off. The one thing the rookie had going for him this season was his health, and now a trip to the seven-day concussion disabled list will change that.
With just over a month to go in the 2014 season, Bogaerts is batting a mere .223 with only eight home runs and 30 RBIs. His numbers are well below projected, and jumping back and forth between shortstop and third base stunted his defensive development.
Ever since switching defensive positions in early June, Bogaerts hasn’t been the same. The acquisition of Stephen Drew to sure up the defense on the left side of the infield seemed to have a legitimate impact on the confidence of the young Bogaerts. Since June 2 — Drew’s first game with the Red Sox in 2014 — Bogaerts is hitting .161 with an on base percentage of .208. He was hitting .300 at the time, with a .391 on base percentage.
Bogaerts was among league leaders in on base percentage for the first two months. Now, there are questions of whether or not to send him down to Pawtucket. He is seriously struggling with sliders down and away, causing him to lunge at breaking pitching and chase balls out of the zone. He’s even missing fastballs now because he thinks too much about the breaking balls.
With the struggles at the plate and the innings missed at shortstop, the question arises about whether or not the Red Sox wasted a developmental season with Xander Bogaerts.
Red Sox fans, don’t worry — Xander Bogaerts has a lot of baseball left. At just 21 years old, Bogaerts’ struggles shouldn’t be too concerning. He’s one of the youngest players in the league, and has plenty of years to improve on this season. The key to his improvement is both rebuilding his confidence and bringing him back to the player he was before Drew joined the team in June.
What comforts the Red Sox is that Bogaerts has shown that he can play at the Major League level. In April and May, he hit .304 with an on base percentage of .397. He was arguably Boston’s best hitter to start the season.
Don’t forget what he did as a 20-year-old in the 2013 postseason. In 12 games, he hit .292 with a .412 on base percentage against three of the best pitching staff’s in baseball in the Rays, Tigers and Cardinals. Yes, Bogaerts did it playing at third base and not shortstop, as he prefers. However, he knew his position and was given the keys to third base. This season, he was told he was a shortstop before moving to third base. The difference is the assurance of having a definite position.
Bogaert’s success and failure can be traced back to his confidence and on field security. If the Red Sox want to get the Bogaerts of last year and of this spring, sticking with him at shortstop is the best method.
Every player struggles at one point of their career, and Bogaerts has been no exception. The Red Sox are staring down another last place season, and the team’s woes are not nearly all Bogaerts’ fault. If there was ever a season for the young shortstop to struggle, it’s this one.
For a player that hasn’t struggled throughout his minor league career, having an off year to learn how to get out of a slump is important. Bogaerts’ year wasn’t wasted; it was a reality check. Bogaerts has learned the hard way that the Major League season is constant grind — and not an easy one.
Welcome to the big leagues, kid. It doesn’t get much easier.