Once Stephen Drew is ready to join the Red Sox, rookie shortstop Xander Bogaerts will be rookie third baseman Xander Bogaerts. Sure, they might play around with a Drew/Will Middlebrooks platoon that sees Bogaerts playing short against left-handed pitchers, but he'll be the primary third baseman from the moment Drew returns to the Red Sox. While that much is clear in the present, signing Drew has only further confused the conversation about what Bogaerts' long-term position will be. Regardless of where he ends up, Bogaerts is going to block someone else: at the same time, though, that means that a spot will open up for another prospect elsewhere.
With that in mind, third base should be not just the position of the present for Bogaerts, but also his position of the future.
If Xander Bogaerts becomes Boston's third baseman from here on out -- even after Drew is a free agent once more and presumably signs elsewhere now that he won't have draft pick compensation attached to him -- he'll be blocking not just Middlebrooks, but also prospect Garin Cecchini. The 23-year-old Cecchini is currently at Triple-A Pawtucket, and while he hasn't exploded offensively, his .295/.385/.360 line with 34 strikeouts against 20 walks shows an understanding of the strike zone that would likely allow him to succeed in the majors. He also just got to the level, and has all of 41 games and 161 plate appearances there: by year's end, he could look far more prepared for life in the bigs than he does as of mid-May. If Bogaerts is at third, then Cecchini cannot be.
There are other options for him. Cecchini could be part of the solution in the outfield -- in left, specifically -- if the Sox think he can handle defensive duties there. Offensive levels at third and left are generally similar, and it's not as if Cecchini is a quality defender at the hot corner: Unlike with the hypothetical position shifting of Middlebrooks, who is a productive defender, Boston doesn't lose anything by bumping Cecchini elsewhere. It would also give Cecchini a year in the majors to work on his bat. If he ends up adding power to his patience as some scouts believe is possible, then maybe he becomes an in-house option at first base in 2016 or beyond. If the confidence in his bat isn't that lofty following his rookie campaign, at least the Sox have converted from their surplus -- infield prospects -- to a place of need.
Who plays shortstop in this potential future, though, when Bogaerts is a third baseman and Cecchini is in the outfield? That's where Deven Marrero comes in. Marrero is the same age as Cecchini, and is the shortstop for the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs. In his 35 games this year, he's hitting .288/.373/.439 with a pair of homers and 16 extra-base hits overall. He's a plus defender at shortstop, and his bat projects to be good enough for the position. While his struggles in 2013 dropped his stock in the eyes of many, these things can happen when your glove is so good that it pushes you through the system faster than your bat is prepared for. Jose Iglesias knows how that goes, as does current Triple-A catcher Christian Vazquez. Right now, though, Marrero looks like disciplined hitter with a plan at the plate, putting him well ahead of Iglesias at any point in his career. He's playing like a potential shortstop of the future.
He didn't come out of nowhere, either. Marrero was Boston's first-round pick in 2012, 24th overall, but he was a typical Boston selection at that stage: He had the stock to go much earlier than that, in the top-10 even, but slipped due to some concerns about his bat, and the Sox just couldn't let someone with his upside go by. He's now at Double-A and hitting well, so while he hasn't conquered everything yet, he's probably closer to the player the Sox hoped they were getting than your typical 24th overall selection would be.
As far as concerns about his bat go, it's also worth pointing out that Marrero is currently showing more power for Double-A Portland than Cecchini did in his own 66 games at the level: Cecchini's .292/.420/.404 line (with a .108 Isolated Power) was certainly impressive thanks to his on-base percentage, but Marrero's work to this point -- which includes a .151 ISO -- also merits attention, especially since he's at shortstop with a plus glove. Don't take this to mean that I believe Marrero is the superior hitter. The only point is that Marrero is patient in his own right, is the same age (albeit one level behind), and has shown more power in the upper levels than Cecchini has. When combined with his glove, all it means is that it's time to remember he's another legitimate prospect who might not be all that far off from the bigs. That also means he's part of this whole position puzzle.
As is Will Middlebrooks if he suddenly puts things together. His injuries and continued struggles coming off of a tough 2013 have made that hard to bank on, though, as he's gone from someone the Sox have considered an important figure to one who might be on the short side of a platoon or playing out of position at Triple-A -- that would be the third non-rehab stint at that level in his career. Any plans involving Middlebrooks might need to be written in pencil at this point, especially with Cecchini potentially looming. There is a very good chance he ends up like Iglesias a year ago: Someone in need could come calling, risk-be-damned, and the Sox will deal from depth to improve their standing.
If Bogaerts sticks at shortstop, it robs the Red Sox of Marrero's glove, but lets Cecchini play third base. While the offensive output from the pair could be lovely (especially if Cecchini starts to put balls over the heads of outfielders) the defense might be, at best, sub-par. Bogaerts could learn to be a better defensive shortstop, but he won't necessarily ever be a good defensive shortstop, and the same could be said for Cecchini, who projects as steady, but also a bit below-average. Bogaerts will likely be a better defensive third baseman than a shortstop, and Marrero is a plus glove at the position. That could be the optimal alignment, since it's the best balance of both offense and defense for the left side.
Putting Bogaerts at third base when there is no available shortstop option to replace him would be weird, since even with his glove he can be a high-quality contributor at short once his bat takes off. The Sox have Stephen Drew in the present, however, and Deven Marrero waiting in the wings. They can squeeze all of Bogaerts, Marrero, and Cecchini in more easily if Bogaerts is at third, and might end up with the optimal left side of the diamond for it. Moving Bogaerts to third might seem like a win-now move, but if Marrero and Cecchini keep developed as hoped, it's a win-later move as well.