Xander Bogaerts will be the starting shortstop for the 2014 Red Sox in his rookie season. That is the only thing we know for a fact about his upcoming campaign, as the rest is all speculation. It's not speculation out of nowhere, of course -- we have his time in the minors, and his brief stint in the majors, to pull from -- but no one knows exactly what Bogaerts is going to be for the Red Sox in his first full year with the club.
The openness of possibility is one reason there's so much excitement surrounding him: Bogaerts went from a promising prospect who hit some homers in the low minors at age 18 to a playoff hero in the span of two years, before he had even had a legitimate stay on a big-league roster. It's easy to see him once again exceeding reasonable expectations, and producing an even better campaign than the high-quality one of the man he's replacing at short, Stephen Drew.
Let's pull back from what we want to happen, though, and focus on what seems to be everyone's idea of what will happen. For that, we can turn to the various projection systems to see if there is any kind of general thought or consensus as to what Bogaerts can reasonably expect to produce.
- PECOTA: .261/.322/.426, 2.4 wins, .273 TAv
- Steamer: .263/.324/.416, 2.3 wins, .325 wOBA
- ZiPS: .267/.331/.419, 2.7 wins, .334 wOBA
Let's explain a few things, for those unfamiliar with the above or in need of a refresh. "TAv" is True Average, Baseball Prospectus' primary offensive statistic, while "wOBA" is weighted on-base average. TAv always has an average of .260 (much like OPS+ being at 100), so you can see that .273 is above-average by a solid amount, especially when you look at the 2013 shortstop average of .248. The wOBA figures are not adjusted -- they are based on on-base percentage, which is a moving average -- but wRC+ is the OPS+ of this particular statistic, and Bogaerts projects to 100 and 107, respectively, according to Steamer and ZiPS.
So, we have a baseline here -- that's what projections tend to forecast, the most-likely, median outcome of all potential outcomes -- that sees Bogaerts as an above-average talent in his rookie season, one who will bat for a low average, but draw walks, hit for what's considered power at shortstop in his first go-round of the league, and field well enough that his wins above replacement values won't take a hit. That's actually incredibly encouraging, because Bogaerts is absolutely capable of more.
Again, these projections represent the middle ground of expectations for Bogaerts. Sure, he could fail and be worse than these, but he has few holes in his game, has a high baseball IQ, and is a very quick learner capable of adapting to what the league is giving him. It's how he began to tear through Double-A pitching after about a month of the Eastern League adjusting to him, how he managed to turn a Triple-A promotion into a stepping stone to the majors in the same year, and how he was able to stay focused and productive at the plate in his first taste of postseason ball to cap it all off. Players like that rarely fail for extended periods of time: they adapt, and they thrive, so long as they get to keep playing.
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Chances are good that Bogaerts will best these projections, or, at the least, will be hitting much better than them by year's end at the latest. It's actually hard to buy into his hitting for as low of an average as these systems project, even, considering he struck out under 20 percent of the time and just over 17 percent of the time as one of the youngest players in both Double- and Triple-A in 2013. He's a year older now, and with some -- albeit limited -- big-league exposure to his credit -- I'd be surprised if he punched out with the regularity ZiPS (just under 25 percent) believes.
If he can put the ball in play, with his ability to go to all fields and get consistent, quality contact, the possibility of hitting 20-30 points higher is there, and with that comes an increase in on-base percentage and slugging. An optimistic -- but reasonable -- expectations for Bogaerts is probably something more like .280/.350/.450 or so, which would probably put him closer to four-win territory. That's definitely on the optimistic side, as stated, but you have to work to concoct a scenario where it isn't viable for a player with his talent.
We're talking about a prospect that MLB.com's team described as having "all the hallmarks of a future star." Baseball Prospectus sees him as an "all-star level player", projecting him for high averages and plenty of power. Baseball America describes Bogaerts' development and maturity as "shocking" for his age, citing his "game-changing patience and power." That's all the player he'll eventually become, assuming things go to plan, but with the way he's developed so far, seeing him tap into a significant percentage of his future lines wouldn't be a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to him.