The Red Sox lineup is one of the better ones in the league, but it has its weaknesses. The most glaring of these is at third base, where the likes of Will Middlebrooks, Jose Iglesias, Brock Holt, Brandon Snyder, and more have combined for a line of .239/.279/.388 in 107 games, a slash that's 20 percent worse than the average third base production. To put that into perspective, it's bad enough that it effectively negates the offensive output the Red Sox get from their all-world second baseman, Dustin Pedroia.
It's the place where they can most obviously upgrade, but going about said upgrades isn't as easy as identifying the issue. Michael Young, despite his defense, would be a significant boost at the plate compared to what they have received, but the Phillies seem reluctant to part with him for some reason. After that, there's little to nothing out there for the hot corner: Aramis Ramirez would be available, but he's on the disabled list and just suffered a setback on his way back to the Brewers, meaning he's more likely to be available in August. That, though, would require he get to the Sox via waivers, or clear them entirely, meaning he's no guarantee either.
Boston doesn't seem excited about the prospect of relying on Will Middlebrooks at third again in 2013, with manager John Farrell going out of his way to say that he looks like the same Middlebrooks who earned himself a demotion to Triple-A with his inconsistency. Iglesias has a fantastic glove at short, but his bat is a better fit for that position, too, and his potential value is significantly lessened by his presence at third. While he shouldn't be as poor at the plate as he has been in July going forward, it's not as if his current career line of .280/.333/.357 is enough for the position, either -- and that's assuming he can manage that much going forward.
So, what are the Red Sox to do, if they can't necessarily make a deadline deal, can't bank on an August swap, and can't rely on either Middlebrooks or Iglesias as definitive answers at the position for the season's final two months? They could call up Xander Bogaerts, their top prospect, but that move has questions of its own to answer.
Bogaerts began the year in Double-A, but the 20-year-old mashed his way into Triple-A, where he is currently the youngest player in the International League. This has not stopped him from producing, however, as he's hit .279/.380/.483 with 23 walks against just 29 strikeouts, and you could argue that he should be a bit better as his batting average on balls in play is .292 -- while that's pretty standard fare for the majors, minor-league BABIP tends to climb higher the lower the level.
How would all of that translate to the majors, though, especially after such a short stint at Triple-A? "The good thing about a young hitter is the unknowns, meaning the book isn't really out at the major league level," says prospect analyst and scout Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus. "This can allow young bats to thrive early before pitchers make the adjustments. For fastball hitters like Bogaerts, he can probably step onto the major league stage and flash the bat, but I can see the struggles when the off-speed stuff starts playing a bigger role."
A few weeks of quality hitting from the hot corner could be huge for a Red Sox lineup in need of the kind of boost Jose Iglesias provided prior to the league adjusting to him -- after a June in which Iglesias won rookie of the month honors, opposing pitchers stopped feeding him the kinds of fastballs he could feast upon, putting the onus on Iglesias to adjust. Bogaerts is a far, far superior hitter to Iglesias, though, so the fall from grace -- and delay in between successful adjustments -- might not be the same.
"He's a very good hitter and I think he can make quick adjustments, but the context is pretty heavy; young player, huge stage, consequences to the games, etc. It's a lot of pressure to put on a young player," says Parks. "If they do bring him up, its because they think he can handle it from an emotional perspective. I think the talent [physical] would be good enough to provide something of value." In short, the Sox won't call up Bogaerts if they think doing so will stunt his emotional development as a professional baseball player, even if his ability on the field has the chance to shine through. If they think he's mature enough mentally to assume the kind of role Manny Machado did for the Orioles in 2012, though, then it's a different story.
Of course, not everyone agrees that Bogaerts is big-league ready now, or, at least, ready enough for what the Sox need. Kiley McDaniel of Scout.com recently scouted Bogaerts, and came away thinking there was still work to do. "Bogaerts is still very young for Triple-A and very talented, showing those flashes in games. What I saw from him, though, was the same to less polish at the plate that Jackie Bradley Jr. and Will Middlebrooks displayed. Bogaerts was getting his foot down late, swinging through average fastballs and was off-balance on some off-speed pitches. This should all be fixable, maybe even later this season, but it's not usually the overnight type thing that could make him big-league ready in the coming weeks."
McDaniel did admit recently in a podcast conversation, though, that he might have simply caught Bogaerts during a poorer stretch, as his strikeout rates are lower than he would have expected from what he saw of him. Even with that, though, his perspective on Bogaerts serves as a reminder that the prospect is not a completely finished product, and there will be poor stretches, and that will only be magnified in the majors. The question is whether or not those bad stretches will outweigh the good, or if they're any worse than what the Red Sox are currently set to deal with from Iglesias.
The Red Sox are certainly thinking about bringing him up and what that would mean for them the rest of the year. The Boston Globe's Peter Abraham heard from Farrell on Bogaerts, and it comes off basically mirroring Parks' suggestion that whether or not he makes it to the majors has a lot to do with Xander Bogaerts. "Xander's doing everything that he can to tell us when he's ready to come to the big leagues. Whether that's this week or next month, that's still in the debate or in the conversation."
Should the Red Sox call him up? So long as they don't think the pressure of the situation is too much for a 20-year-old prospect in his second full season, it seems as if there is little reason to avoid doing so. His production at Triple-A has been excellent even without considering that he's all of 20 years old, and even if he's not the best Xander Bogaerts he will ever be right out of the gate, there is enough talent and natural ability here to potentially give the Red Sox lineup the shot it needs as they fight for a playoff spot down the stretch.
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