Xander Bogaerts, SS
Hey remember when Xander Bogaerts started out the year kind of slow and wasn't hitting at Double-A, and you weren't worried, necessarily, but were kind of wondering if this was going to be the start of his first disappointing season as a prospect, now that you had pinned all the hopes and dreams for the franchise on his youthful back? You can relax your stance for now, as he's hit .415/.500/.634 with three doubles and triples apiece, as well as seven walks, in his last 10 games. Amazingly enough, the first of those 10 was an 0-for-4 performance, so dude has been seriously raking for nine games now, and owns a career .318/.364/.518 line at Double-A in 184 plate appearances.
Bogaerts could have had his quiet little stretch in June and no one would have noticed much other than to say "Bogaerts hasn't hit much over the last week or so," but since it happened to begin the year, it was just that much more noticeable. Until further notice, he remains Boston's best prospect, with the highest ceiling and a possible future in the bigs as soon as 2014 depending on how things go. Given that speedy timeline, just a skip and a hop away from the majors, he's allowed a couple of weeks to struggle in the high minors at the age of 20, because he's way, way ahead of schedule for your average prospect, or even most talented ones.
Christian Vazquez, C
Vazquez was okay last April with High-A Salem, but looked completely over-matched in May. That's why, even though it's just 53 plate appearances, it's good to see him avoiding strikeouts, drawing walks, and showing some pop in the early going at Double-A. Maybe the struggles after his promotion to Portland last year helped prepare him for a positive 2013 showing at the level -- that would be helpful when it comes to evaluating just where he is offensively as a prospect, because we already know his defense is legitimate and fantastic.
Vazquez is something of a sleeper prospect because of his bat. The defense is there, and everyone knows it, but his bat will determine if he's going to be a super effective backup catcher, or a starting backstop in the bigs. If he can make contact, draw some walks, and slug anywhere near .400, then it's going to be the former, so his line at Double-A in 2013 is going to be a focal point. Boston might need another catcher in the majors in 2014, depending on how thing go with Jarrod Saltalamacchia in free agency, so Vazquez hitting the ground, well, hitting, could end up being significant in the long run. No pressure!
Travis Shaw, 1B
Travis Shaw is something of a mystery at this point, because we've seen him hit, and hit more than anyone outside of Boston's scouts and front office thought he would, but he's mostly done it at the lower levels. That -- the skepticism, I mean -- is kind of a normal thing for a first base prospect outside of the elite, as you don't necessarily want someone to enter the minors as one. The preference is to have a more athletic player move over from another position when their bat shows they can handle first. First base is Shaw's home already, however, so he'll have to start to hit like one before he can be taken seriously as someone with major-league potential.
The fact he's making contact often -- he's striking out just 18 percent of the time -- is a positive, as is his mildly crazy ability to draw walks. You'd like to see him be a little more aggressive, though, and start to drive pitches he can do something with -- and far -- rather than take a walk all the time. As he moves up the ladder, there will be fewer and fewer walks coming from the more experienced pitchers he faces, so having something to fall back on is important to his development and his future in this game.
Kevin Youkilis made the leap from quality hitter to one of the game's very best when he tightened up his approach and went into what, for him at least, constituted an attack mode. Shaw still has time to make the same adjustment, but the sooner he does, the sooner we can believe in him.
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