Bogaerts not wilting under stage's harshest lights
Phenom's rapid rise through the ranks culminates in ALCS starts
BOSTON -- Xander Bogaerts never could have envisioned how his season was going to play out when he reported to Spring Training in February.
The 21-year-old Aruban phenom was the prized asset of Boston's deep Minor League system, but he appeared to be at least another full year away from making any type of impact at the big league level.
A lot has changed since then, though. Bogaerts continued his ascension through the ranks at a rapid pace and now finds himself as the youngest player to start a postseason game in Red Sox history.
"Wow, it's a crazy year, I would say," Bogaerts said when asked to reflect on his improbable run through professional baseball. "Very blessed. I mean, sometimes I can't even believe I'm here -- at 21 and starting in Double-A, and now here in the [American League Championship Series], one game away from the World Series. Sometimes it's hard to believe, but it's good so far."
Bogaerts entered the season as the 20th-best prospect in baseball as ranked by MLB.com. There was very little doubt he would eventually play a role in Boston's plans, but the timing remained uncertain.
Boston already had Stephen Drew and Jose Iglesias splitting time at shortstop, and Will Middlebrooks began the season as a seemingly permanent fixture at third. That didn't bode well for Bogaerts' chances in the big leagues, but that was just fine, considering he started the year with just 23 games above Class A ball under his belt.
There was a need for more development in the Minors, but Bogaerts certainly didn't make things easy for the Boston brass. He forced a promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket after hitting .311 with an impressive .909 OPS in 56 games, then proceeded to continue that type of success at that level.
An opportunity then presented itself when Iglesias was dealt to the Tigers as part of a three-way deal prior to the non-waiver Trade Deadline. That opened a spot on the bench, and within a few weeks, Bogaerts received the news that he was heading to Boston.
He understandably didn't get off to a fast start, as he struggled to receive everyday at-bats while at the same time adjusting to Major League pitching. He proceeded to hit just .250, but he added three extra-base hits and impressed his teammates by how at ease he seemed to be in the spotlight.
"He's always under control," second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. "It feels like he's been in the big leagues for 10 years. Thinking out situations. Great approach at the plate. He's going to be good for a long time."
Bogaerts now finds himself under an even more powerful microscope, as he has suddenly emerged as a viable starting position player in the ALCS vs. Detroit. His chance came in Game 5, when he received the start at third base over the struggling Middlebrooks, who is just 4-for-23 during the postseason.
It would have been understandable if nerves took over, but Bogaerts looked right at home. He hit a key double in the second inning off Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez and later turned a crucial inning-ending double play on a ball hit by speedy outfielder Austin Jackson.
Bogaerts had doubled in Game 4 of the ALCS when he came off the bench as a defensive replacement for pinch-hitter Mike Carp. That makes him one of just six players to record multiple extra-base hits in an LCS before his 22nd birthday, a group that also features Wayne Garrett (1969, Mets), Chris Speier (1971, Giants), Gregg Jefferies (1988, Mets), Miguel Cabrera (2003, Marlins) and Justin Upton (2007, D-backs).
Bogaerts' recent performance has earned him another start at third base, in the potential deciding Game 6 at Fenway Park on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on FOX.
Manager John Farrell confirmed the decision during a news conference on Friday afternoon and had nothing but positive things to say about his surprise contributor.
"It's definitely special," Bogaerts said. "I want the manager to have confidence in me, especially in the playoffs. Every game is important, every at-bat. It's definitely huge."
Bogaerts will have it tough with Max Scherzer on the mound for Detroit, but the challenge won't be any more difficult than all the others he's already overcome this season.
So his unlikely ride continues, and he intends to enjoy it every step of the way. He knows what's at stake, but his confidence only appears to be rising, and the timing couldn't be any better for a Boston organization that is just one win away from reaching baseball's biggest stage.
"I try to have fun," he said. "That's the one thing I always do when I play good -- have fun. Baseball is the one thing I know how to do good, so have fun while you're doing it.
"We're going up against a tough pitcher. We also have [Clay] Buchholz. Buchholz versus Scherzer is a good matchup. Whoever makes less mistakes wins. That's all I can say."